The Fear of the Lord: His Severity and His Kindness


Well, good morning, everyone! Thank you, Pastor Pat, for those kind words, and thank the Lord for the Lion and the Lamb! Who can stop the Lord Almighty?

With that question in mind, I want to direct your attention to the screen and to the graphic which depicts our current sermon series theme, Theology on Fire! When we say that, we’re really talking about God on fire because theology is the study of GOD! Scripture reminds us in Hebrews 12:29 that our God is a consuming fire!

[Hebrews 12:[28] – 29, 28 “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.”

I wish I could somehow pull back the curtain that separates us from seeing God face to face… but if I were to do that, all of us would be instantly vaporized! No man can see the face of God… and live! Exodus 33, verse 20.

[Exodus 33:20, “But,” He said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”]

He dwells in inescapable light! In that regard, He’s not unlike the sun, that brightest ball of fire in the sky. Do you know that temperatures at the surface of the sun reach 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit? If you were to dive into the deepest recesses the core of the sun, it reaches 27 million degrees Fahrenheit! The sun is amazing! While It is so powerful in its burning influence, it also has the power of life therein. Think about the contrasts of power of the sun for a moment. The sun, of course, according to both scripture and according to science, it shines and it blinds. The sun softens and the sun hardens. The sun heals and the sun destroys… and so does God! I want you to consider with me today this God whom the Psalmist described as our sun and our shield… Psalm 84, verse 11.

[Psalm 84:11, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”]

My objective today, unapologetically, is to try to so exalt God, to so raise Him up, that your hearts will burn within you for fear, the fear of the Lord! Scripture tells us “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” Proverbs chapter nine and verse 10.

[Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”]

So what is the fear of the Lord? Do you understand that phrase that’s used throughout scripture? We are to fear the Lord, but what does that mean? It starts, ironically, with a word that’s rather emphatic. It starts with terror! Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. [Hebrews 10:31] Saving faith moves from awe, to reverence or respect, to trust, to love and then finally to worship. We’re talking worship of the One true God of the Bible through His Son, by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We express our worship by way of obedience. This, my friends, is the fear of the Lord.

To light this fear, I’m going to use one text of scripture and then support it from numerous other texts, and in effect, I’m going to drop a rock in the center of the pond and then let the ripples cascade out from there. My text (the center of the pond, if you will) is Romans 11, verse 22.

Romans 11:22, “Note then the kindness (a reference, of course, to God’s goodness) and the severity (or the judgment) of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”

Friends, I don’t know what you think about God, but the God of the Bible is both kind AND severe! We must embrace BOTH if we are to have a correct understanding of Him. Starting with the latter, I want you to contemplate the severity of God.

I’m going to be very forthcoming today in what I share, because this message has been burning in my heart for decades! That’s why I’m here today to preach. I have increasingly grieved the collapse of our culture during the course of my life. The America in which I now live is not the America into which I was born. I’m going to resist the urge to indulge discussion of the political influences that have led to this demise. Instead, I want to zero in on the biblical reason why all of this has befallen us, and here it is in a nutshell, quoted from Romans 3, verses 18;

Romans 3:18, ”There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

How would you describe the culture? If you watched the evening news, what would you say about it? Well, let’s let the Apostle Paul describe our current culture from 2 Timothy, chapter 3, verses 1 through 5. See if you agree.

2 Timothy 3:1-5, “
“But understand this, (he writes) that in the last days (we’re in the last of the last days, the final of the final days) will come times of difficulty (perilous times! We need to be like the sons of Issachar who understood the days, the times! This is what people are like today…) For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. (Paul says, “You have to…) Avoid such people.”

I want to reflect on the two words “abusive” and “brutal” because they’re an apt description of the current culture of death in our culture. I’m talking about abortion, which is now being widely accepted in our society, I’m afraid, even among certain Christians.

This resonates with me after receiving a picture recently. My wife, Karen, and I are blessed with four children. My second born, James, and his wife, are expecting their fifth child. They just sent us a 3D ultrasound picture of this baby at only 18 weeks along. [The ultrasound picture of the baby was shown on the screen.] That’s less than half way through the pregnancy! Think about all the kids that are being murdered today in the womb! This is so touching to me to look at. By the way, a heartbeat starts at 5 weeks… 35 days. There was great joy when I listened to the sound effects of that baby’s heartbeat, but especially expressed by her older brother in his comment as he placed his hand upon his mommy’s tummy and felt his baby sister moving!

She’s a CHILD created by GOD… not to be murdered by her mother! The sixth commandment [Thou shalt not murder] is still in the Bible! I fight back the tears of gratitude for a new life! As I mentioned, we have 13 grandchildren, and we don’t take them for granted! There have been eight or nine miscarried along the way. This couple have lost four children by miscarriage, and now this will be their fifth live birth, Lord willing. I had to fight back the tears as I looked at these pictures, not just because of joy over this little baby girl, but more than that, over the multitudes, the millions who have not been celebrated, but have been terminated!

The demise of these last days did not somehow start here in the 21st century, or even in the 20th century. The loss of the fear of GOD goes all the way back to the beginning, back to Genesis 3, to the fall of man. The classic text that describes what is going on in our current culture is Romans 1:18-32.

Romans 1:18-32, 18 “For the wrath (we’re talking the severity of GOD) of GOD is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about GOD is plain to them, because GOD has shown it to them. 20 For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (No one is excused in this world.)
21 For although they knew GOD, (Everybody knows there’s a GOD! It’s placed deep within them by GOD Himself.) they did not honor Him as GOD or give thanks to Him, but they became futile (or empty) in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened (that is, blinded.) 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, (and watch now the word that’s used) 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal GOD for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore (as a result) GOD gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, (and here it is again) 25 because they exchanged the truth about GOD for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason GOD gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural (sexual) relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge GOD, GOD gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…
[29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of GOD, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.]
32 Though they know GOD’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

The lusts of their hearts, the dishonoring of their bodies, include every moral perversion that’s being promoted and celebrated today. In fact, I believe– I believe we’ve now reached the tipping point in our culture, where the truth doesn’t matter… because GOD doesn’t matter! We’re in a post-truth era. What is post-truth? That’s where society elevates feelings and preferences over facts.

Can I pause a moment just to address any pastor friends who may be watching this message after the fact online? Churches, evangelical churches, are really being overwhelmed today by cultural pressures to succumb to immoral ideologies. I’m going to beg you, my fellow pastors, do not bow the knee to the current culture but bow the knee to GOD! Be bold! Be strong! Be true! As a friend put it,

“Pastors who don’t prepare their churches to stand against the sexual revolution are preparing their churches to be conquered by it!” Anonymous

Let’s be loving! Let’s be kind and compassionate to those who are ensnared in sin, but let’s be bold as a lion and preach, ‘Thus sayeth the Lord!’ Ask what the scriptures say!

In a nutshell, what we’re seeing is a rejection of what has been called in apologetic circles “Two-ism,” distinguishing between the Creator and the creation, that stands in distinction from “One-ism,” that tends to blend both creator and creation together within one circle, making them equal… making them the same. One-ism. That’s the dominant philosophy of our day. When they do that, everything is placed within one circle, and frankly, it perverts the worldview. Let me give you illustrations.

There’s no distinction within One-ism, between God and universe. This leads to Pantheism (God is in everyone and everything.) It leads to Radical Environmentalism (The earth is the end all, the God of the earth.)
There’s no distinction between God and mankind. That leads to Humanism (Man becomes his own god,) Secularism (where the government rules God out of the public sector and even increasingly the private sector.) Then there’s Evolutionary Atheism (which dominates higher education.) They’ve sold their souls down the river to the ideology that we are an accidental creation, if you will, of somehow evolutionary processes which leads naturally to Atheism.
There’s no distinction between the worship of God and the worship of the creation. We’re talking Paganism, Radical Animal Rights Activism, and Universalism (a religious thought where all religious ideologies are considered equally valid.) And finally…
(This is Romans 1) There’s no distinction between the sexes. Feminism, Lesbianism, Transgenderism, and Homosexuality. My friends, creation order is fundamental! Without the creation order, a society crumbles. Biblical theology maintains that God is and that He speaks. He’s transcendent. He’s above all. He’s sovereign overall. He determines all. As Al Mohler put it, and I’m quoting now;

“The sexual revolution is not a modification of the creation order; it is a denial of the creation order. It is a denial of God. It is a result of the premise; “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” Albert Mohler

To quote, D.A. Carson, (Pastor Jason mentioned him a few weeks ago, and I’m going to repeat this quote.)

“The heart of all this evil is idolatry itself. It is the de-godding of GOD. It is the creature swinging his puny fist in the face of his Maker and saying, in effect, ‘If you don’t see things my way, I’ll make my own gods. I will be my own god.” D.A. Carson

To all of this, GOD announces His severity. Do you believe it? Do you believe the GOD of the Bible? Look again at his announcement of wrath in Romans:1:18.

Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of GOD is revealed from heaven against all… unrighteousness, against (all those who by their unrighteous deeds) suppress the truth.”

They suppress the GOD voice. They shove it aside… push it down. They reject that GOD voice within, and when a culture rejects the knowledge of God, judgment ensues. In this text, He’s talking about the judgment of abandonment. I do not have time today to address all of these various forms of wrath or judgment, but I will briefly give you an overview.

There is first of all the Eternal Wrath of Hell, which of course is revealed at the Great White Throne Judgment:
Revelation 20:12b, “… and books were opened. Then another book was opened… which is the Book of Life.”
Revelation 20:15 “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

That’s where the vast majority of mankind is going. They’re on the broad road to destruction;

Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

Then there’s the Eschatological Wrath (that is, end-time wrath) revealed in Bible prophecy,
Revelation 6 – 19. Even if you perhaps are a little confused by the symbolism that’s contained therein about the time of the tribulation, you’ve got to understand that these verses are talking about the wrath of the Lamb, the judgment coming upon planet Earth yet future at a time when God shows His anger for mankind’s rebellion.

Then there is, thirdly, the Cataclysmic Wrath of Nature, the natural result of living in a sin cursed world, Romans 18 – 23. This wrath includes tornadoes, hurricanes, forest fires, floods, earthquakes. To quote this same text from Romans 8, it says,

Romans 8:22, ”For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”

Friends, we’re talking the wrath of God. Pastor spoke to this when he said a few words in the announcements. Pastor did not prevail upon me to speak today. I felt I must preach because God has put this message into my heart! So, I come in weakness to beg you to flee the wrath to come!

James Cameron, the director of the blockbuster movie, Titanic, has spoken out of the submergence community about the senseless tragedy of the loss of five lives on that submersible called Titan. He said, there’s a remarkable similarity between these two stories. The captain of the Titanic ignored the warnings that he was moving rapidly into an ice field on a moonless night full steam ahead, running the risk of destroying multitudes on board because of his prideful resistance. There’s a parallel between the captain of the Titanic and the Ocean Gate captain of the Titan who also ignored warnings that it was not wise with his experimental craft because it hadn’t been fully tested. He, too, was risking the potential loss of life or limb of those five men on board. Both these entities now lie in ruins two miles below the surface of the Atlantic. Three hundred souls of the Titanic were drawn out of the waters and died above the surface, and 1200 were entombed down beneath. Now, five more joined them from the Titan.

What am I saying? I’m begging… I’ve been praying, that somebody would come to faith in Christ and flee this wrath to come! I’m giving you a warning from the Word of God! There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and you can only escape that hell by faith in Jesus Christ! He ALONE can save you by His shed blood! I’m begging you, while yet there is hope…!

You know, when you have heart surgery, you realize someday the Lord may call you home. I don’t know how many more times I have to preach, and I thought, “I’m going to go for it!” I’m going to preach, because I love you enough to beg you to flee the wrath to come!

Back to the judgment of the text here… We’re reading about the Wrath of Abandonment mentioned in verse 24, 26 and 28. Each of these three verses Paul uses a specific phrase,

Romans 1:24, 26, 28 …”God gave them up…”

In a sense, God gave up on them. They reached a point of no return. Specifically here, Paul, is saying that God abandoned them to their own choices and to the results of those choices. It includes the removal of God’s restraining grace when God lets go. The wrath is already at work in the culture, and we’re seeing those results in spades, even as I speak! Our culture is crumbling before our very eyes! The Titan is about to implode! Are you ready? This is why the answer to our dilemma is NOT political! NO political party will save us. The answer is SPIRITUAL! You say, well, what is that answer? The Bible commands us to preach the gospel to every creature, to preach the word of salvation to men, women, boys and girls and to teach them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Listen, to what Jude said in Jude 23.

Jude 1: 23, “Save others by snatching them out of the fire;” (and then he changes the imagery a bit) “to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.”

What does that mean? It means, in evangelizing the depraved, be careful that you don’t let their lifestyle infect YOU! If you’ve grasped the sobriety of what I’ve just preached from God’s word, (which in large part is absent in most churches in America) only then can you truly rejoice if you’re one of the elect who God has snatched from the fire of God’s judgment. If He has, you have the joy of knowing and reveling in His wonder throughout eternity!

That leads me to my second emphasis this morning, contemplate the kindness of God. The kindness here implies the ideas of mercy and grace. (Mercy is judgment withheld. Grace is undeserved blessing bestowed.) For all of the heaviness of the severity I’ve spoken of, kindness celebrates the unbelievable goodness of God to those of us who are in Christ! Are you in Christ? If you are, it is God who for no reason other than the glory of His sovereign grace has hunted us down and like a holy hound has led us to faith in his Son, the Lord Jesus, and He has drawn us to Himself to save us forever! This is a mystery! This is a spectacular sovereign serendipity! If you take careful note of the lyrics we sing in the songs here as we celebrate God, we celebrate the grace of God, the kindness of God and the mercy of God, because of our salvation through Christ, because we know from what we have been saved. That begs the question, ‘Saved from what?’ The late R.C. Sproul said,

“We’ve been saved from God!”
R.C. Sproul

What? What are you saying, R.C.? We’ve been saved from the wrath of God! It’s revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness! We’ve been saved from that. Why?… How? … Because God has poured out all of His wrath upon His Son as He hung upon the tree. Jesus Christ drank that cup of wrath to the very bottom of the cup… to the dregs! God separated Himself from His Son while He poured out His anger, and Jesus paid the penalty of atonement for our sins so that we might be forever saved! Through Christ’s sacrifice in our place, God’s righteous judgment has been satisfied, and we who believe are justified!

Romans 5:1, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

As a counselor, I have a unique perspective and my preaching has changed over the years, the last nine years counseling. It actually invades my preaching because of what I hear. Time and again, I have people come to me who’ve reached the bottom. They pour out their hearts in despair, thinking that for them there is no hope. They’ve sinned egregiously and think that their addictions and their perversions have forever barred them from the door to heaven. I beg to differ with them! They say, ‘Wait a minute, Curt! You just talked about God’s judgment and Him giving people up.’ Look at the context of Romans 1 and Romans 11. He’s talking about people groups. He’s talking about cultures. He’s talking about nations. Nations can cross over the point of no return. I believe America has already slipped across the precipice. God has given up on our country… but there’s always hope for individuals, because where there’s life, there’s hope! I’m preaching to individuals! Let me use my friend Brian as Exhibit A.

I pastored Grace Point Church in Western Washington for 27 years in the greater Seattle area. Years ago, a couple named Bob and Sheila and their two kids, Kathleen and Brian, moved in across the street from us. Through God’s sovereign grace, He was kind enough to allow me to lead Bob to faith in Christ. He became a leader in our church, and Sheila came back to the Lord. Their son, Brian, in late grade school, did a stage left, walking away from his faith. Frankly, in early adolescence, he entered a life of drug abuse and homosexuality. Recently, because Sheila was promoted to heaven after a bout with Parkinson’s, I’ve been on the phone with Bob and the family trying to walk them through that because of my love for them. I got a chance to talk to Brian, and I learned that God has been doing a work of grace in Brian’s life! He’s been transformed! He talked about it, he wrote me about it and we’ve also exchanged texts. Just two weeks ago, this is what he texted me! He said,

“I was overcome with tears at the magnitude of what Christ has done for sinners like me… His grace and mercy! I have turned away from my lifestyle of drugs and homosexuality. I know it is a part of my life that had to be put away with the old man if I’m a new creation in Christ.”

Thank you, Jesus! I’m praying for Brian.

You know, you can have that same testimony no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, because the severity of God’s wrath in Romans 1 is followed by the wonder of GOD’s grace, His mercy and His kindness in Romans chapters 3 to 5. In Romans 5:8 we read,

Romans 5:8”…but GOD shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

As a result of His resurrection, we can now have forgiveness of sins IF we believe in His Son. The invitation is extended to every person here! I have the privilege of talking with individuals in my counseling office, but I’d like to visit with each and every one of you row by row, all the way back to the nosebleed section. I’d like to ask you, are you right with God? Are you sure you’re going to heaven? God is inviting you. If you’ll provide this sinner, God’s already provided this Savior! Here’s the invitation.

Romans 10:9-13, 9 “…if you confess (that means if you agree with GOD) with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (that implies His death for us as a sacrifice) believe in your heart that GOD raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing His riches on all who call on Him. 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”

What I don’t want anyone here to think is that we who have been saved are somehow worth more than those who have not been saved. Despite how I have preached (what God’s word has had to say about the people of Romans chapter one) I’m not one whit better than any one of them or anybody else on planet earth! I agree with Paul who said “I am the chief of sinners!” Whether it’s heterosexual sin, or homosexual sin or any other kind of sin against GOD, He pronounces judgment upon it ALL! GOD sees all of us…

Romans 3:23, “…for ALL have sinned and fallen short of a glory of God.”

…and that includes me, and so I deal with these people in compassion and love, because they need Jesus!

I’ve found that many of GOD’s children who struggle with self-image have succumbed to a bad brand of theology of intrinsic worth apart from Christ. (Now, listen to me carefully!) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say something like this. ‘I found that Christ died for me because He saw that I was worth it.’ That is NOT Bible theology! I wasn’t worth it… and neither were you! God would be fair if every one of us went to hell! But in His mercy, He saves those who cling to Christ! I love what John Piper says,

“We are unworthy of Christ. But because of Christ, we now have great worth!”
John Piper

Do you see the difference? Christ died for us not because we were worthy, but because there was no other way for the unworthy to be saved! We must never forget where He found us and what He did for us! Now, you ought to be shouting from the mountain tops if you have been saved! If you’ve been delivered from this wrath to come, your heart ought to be exploding in joy for the eternal bliss that will be yours because of the grace of GOD in Christ! I love this classic description of it in Ephesians chapter two! Look at these words…

Ephesians 2:3b-4, “…[we] were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But GOD, (Oh, I love that!) … but GOD being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—“

Everyone here can be saved by grace. The invitation’s open. To you… I’m talking to you personally… YOU can be saved today! As I told you earlier, I’m begging God that someone will come to Christ today! I stand here in weakness begging you to flee the wrath to come and embrace the grace of GOD in Christ which is beyond belief in its wonder!

I’ve talked today about the fear of the Lord… the severity and the kindness. I don’t want you to experience the first. I want you to experience the second… the kindness of God forever in eternity! Would you pray with me?

Father, I pray that You will do what this poor preacher cannot. You know my heart. You know why I’m here. I’m so burdened for our nation, our culture… It’s gone headlong over the precipice. We’re seeing all around us being buried at the bottom of the Atlantic, the submersible. Our Titan is imploding. Please do what I cannot do! I’m just a man, GOD… just preaching Your word. I beg You that people will hear the gospel invitation and trust in Christ. I pray that those who have been saved will know they’ve been saved from the wrath of God, to the eternal bliss of enjoying You forever in the wonder of Your kindness to us in Christ. This is amazing grace! Help us to sing it from hearts overflowing in praise! We ask in Jesus’ name… Amen.


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