This morning I preached my second message on a Philippians 2:5-11 Advent series. The focus this morning was on the phrase, “being in the form of God.”
In my introduction, I emphasized the frequency of the fear response in Scripture, even in the Christmas story. Even a glimpse of heavenly glory is enough to cause mortal man to fall on his face.
Christ, being fully God, one with the Father, took on a human nature, with all the attributes of God and man being found in one person. The fact that God Himself would come down to us as a bondservant to pay our ransom, our sin debt of death, is astonishing. May we never cease to wonder and worship God for the mystery of the Incarnation.
What I stood out to me this week in my preparation is that the Incarnation of Christ ought to change our perspective on the fear of God. The Incarnation resolves the tension between two kinds of fear: dread fear and holy fear (or faith fear). Or at least it should for Christians. I referenced Hebrews 12:18-29 to point out that fear is not an Old Testament concept only. In fact, the author of Hebrews points out that the stakes are much higher for failing to submit to Christ than they were for the Children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. This is because Christ is God’s Final Word (Hebrews 1:1-3).
What makes the difference is faith in Christ; faith that comes only by hearing the Gospel (Romans 10:17); faith that draws near to God and bows in worship. This is the humility of faith that causes the wise man to humble himself before God so that he might be lifted up in God’s time (1 Peter 5:6, compare James 4:10). Dread fear recoils from God and flees from Him. It says, like the Children of Israel, “Do not have the LORD speak to us again!” (Exodus 20:19).
I launched into an aside about the fear of man as well, which sometimes masquerades as a dread fear. Dread fear may cause us to flee to the cross. Fear of man turns us inward and is utterly futile.
There is an apparent contradiction between, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Understanding the difference between the dread fear of condemnation and the fear of faith resolves this difficulty.
Dread fear is entirely appropriate for unbelievers. In fact, if we love our neighbor, we must present God in His holiness to them so that they do fear Him and desire – by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Word – to repent of their sin and turn to Christ for salvation.
For Christians, however, fear is joyful and exhilarating. We dare not be presumptuous, but if we are in Christ, we may follow Him boldly and with confidence to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16).