Fear God And Walk In His Ways
The following is edited from a message given at the Simulcast Event "Has the Church Lost the Fear of the Lord?" hosted by SermonIndex.net in October 2011 at Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. Used by permission.
Scripture Reading: The Book of Malachi
The prophet Malachi’s message was God’s final word to His people Israel before some four hundred years of silence. Time after time in this prophetic message God confronts His people about their evil ways only to have His people challenge Him on every issue He raises. Their responses are in the form of retorts, sharp accusatory replies. Unfortunately, I believe there are a number of similarities between Israel’s condition during the time of Malachi and what is happening in the Body of Christ today. Consider four such similarities with me:
1. The Fear of God Was Missing from Their Worship.
The Lord says to them, "A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a master, where is My respect?" (Mal. 1:6). God’s complaint to His people was that they failed to give Him the honor and the respect He deserved. They treated Him with contempt and no longer held Him in awe. In their eyes He was no different than they were.
This was evidenced by the way they worshipped Him as they were guilty of bringing Him sacrifices that were lame, sick, diseased, blemished or stolen. "But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil? …You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’ And you disdainfully sniff at it…and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I receive that from your hand?" (1:8, 13). God rebukes them saying that they would never treat an earthly ruler or dignitary in that way (1:8). Rather, they would bring a gift worthy of the office the ruler bears. God further rebukes them and reminds them who He is: "‘But cursed be the swindler who has a male in his flock, and vows it, but sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord, for I am a great King,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and My name is feared among the nations’" (1:14).
Now before we criticize Israel, we must realize that we are guilty of the same thing, and much worse. We do not bring to God sacrifices worthy of Him. We give God our sins, but refuse to surrender our lives to Him. Jesus Christ did not simply die for your sins or mine. Jesus says, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Matt. 16:24). His purpose in dying was not simply to provide forgiveness. No, He came to lay claim to us. He died "that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession" (Titus 2:14). He died to establish His Lordship and Kingship over our lives. "For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living" (Rom. 14:9). "…Thou was slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). We are not our own for we have been bought with a price; therefore, we are to glorify God in our body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
The Apostle Paul writes about the sacrifice that is acceptable to God, that which is our spiritual service of worship: "I urge you…present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1). Have you withheld from God the sacrifice that He requires? If so, you are no different than Israel in Malachi’s day, in fact, worse. You do not even give Him that which is blind, that which is lame, that which is diseased. You do not give Him any sacrifice at all, except your sin. You gladly accept Jesus as Savior, but readily reject Him as your Lord and King.
Why was Jesus crucified from man’s viewpoint? We know from God’s point of view that the Crucifixion was because He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. But what about man’s viewpoint – why did man crucify Jesus? In Luke 19:12-27 Jesus tells about a certain nobleman (referring to Himself) who went to a far country (referring to the world) to establish a kingdom. After he departed, the inhabitants gathered and said, "We do not want this man to reign over us" (v. 14). That is why Jesus was crucified. The people did not want His ownership and Lordship over their lives.
What do we do? We look at the Cross from a selfish point of view, for our own gratification. We look at the Cross and say, "Savior, I need You. I can’t get to heaven without You. I need Your shed blood. Thank You for Your grace. But let’s get one thing straight, now that I am cleansed, I will not have You rule over me."
Oh, we don’t preach it! We just neglect it. It is not that important to us because it is all about me getting through the pearly gates. It is not about Him having a claim to my life. It is not about me bowing to the King of kings and Lord of lords and saying, "Jesus, rule and reign over all the kingdoms of my heart." And we present that which is defiled.
The Apostle Peter warns that false teachers will come into the church, and "secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them" (2 Pet. 2:1). The idea that you can accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and deny Him access as Lord and Master is false teaching according to the Word of God. He is the King. We need to give ourselves and all the kingdoms of our hearts fully to Him.
What is it to fear the Lord? The 1828 edition of Webster’s dictionary states, "In good men, the fear of God is a holy awe or reverence of God and His laws which springs from a just view and a real love of the divine character, leading the subjects of it to hate or shun everything that can offend a holy being and inclining them to aim at perfect obedience." A. W. Tozer says that to fear God is to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. God is looking for a people as His own possession, a people that will respond to the very slightest word.
When Saul (Paul) got saved on that Damascus road, he did not begin by saying, "Savior, thank You for lifting that burden of sin," but "What shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 22:10). Saul recognized there was Someone greater and more powerful, Someone to bow to in obedience. He yielded his life fully to the Lord and followed His instructions, and the Lord informed him of the calling upon his life. Do you know what the calling is upon your life? Until you accept Him as Lord, you will never know.
Again, to fear the Lord is to have a holy awe, a deep respect and a reverential love for Him. I remember as a young teenager, even before I was saved, I had such a love for my father (Leonard Ravenhill) that every time I was confronted with the temptations of the late 1950’s and 60’s, I thought that if I did such things and he found out, it would literally break his heart. I would be violating everything that he stood for, everything he represented and everything he taught. And even though I was not saved, I was able by the grace of God to turn away from those temptations.
I got saved at the age of eighteen, and after a few years I heard an entire message devoted to the fear of God. I gathered several godly leaders around me and shared with them that I had known all my life that sin was wrong, but that I had never had a fear of sin, a hatred of sin. I asked them to lay hands on me and pray that the fear of God would come into my life. Over the years I have renewed that vow many times and God has put the fear of Him in my life. He has given me a hatred of sin. You may know sin is wrong, but do you hate it? When you hate something, you automatically want to stay away from it. If you hate heights, you are not going to stand at the edge of a cliff. If you hate spiders, you will stay away from them.
We need a holy hatred of sin. We need the fear of God to come into our life, the reverential love and respect for Him that would never think of violating our relationship with Him. Just as a husband who dearly loves his wife would never think of being unfaithful to her, so we need to have such devotion toward the Lord.
2. The Fear of God Was Missing from Their Preaching.
In Malachi chapter two the Lord is addressing the priests, the spiritual leaders. He tells them that if they do not listen and take it to heart to give honor to His name, He will curse their blessings. In fact, He has already cursed their blessings (2:2). Not only that, He says, "…I will spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your feasts; and you will be taken away with it" (v. 3). Does anyone know that sort of a God? Today it is popular to parrot, "God is good, all the time. And all the time, God is good." Yes, God is good all the time, but He is an angry God some of the time. He has righteous anger, and He is angry at these leaders.
He tells them the reason He chose Levi was because he had the fear of God and stood in awe of God’s name (v. 4). You may recall that during the immorality, idolatry and perversion surrounding the golden calf, the tribe of Levi was the only tribe that separated themselves in response to Moses’ charge, "Whoever is for the Lord, come to me!" (Ex. 32:26). Moses bestowed God’s blessing upon them for observing God’s word and for keeping His covenant: "They shall teach Thine ordinances to Jacob, and Thy law to Israel…" (Deut. 33:10).
The Lord chose the tribe of Levi based on separation, and He is looking for a people today, especially leaders, who will have a holy hatred of sin. You should not be in the pastorate unless you have a fierce loyalty to the Word of God. Today we are more afraid of offending people than we are of offending God. We no longer preach against sin. Why? Because someone may leave. We have developed a whole new way of presenting the Gospel, a "seeker-sensitive" way, in which God’s judgment against sin is downplayed or ignored and God’s love wins no matter what.
Yet, the Lord says of Levi, "True instruction was in his mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many back from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 2:6-7). One of the responsibilities of those in leadership is to turn people from sin. God’s Son is named Jesus not because He saves His people in their sins, but from their sins (Matt. 1:21). But we have come up with various doctrines today that give people the security that they can continue to live in sin.
The very first lie the enemy ever concocted in the Garden of Eden was that you can sin and not die. And man found out the consequences – he was driven out of the presence of God, banished from the Garden, and the land was cursed as a result. He was separated from God and the only way back was through the atoning blood of an animal. And yet, we have bought into the lie, and hardly anyone is preaching against sin.
Notice what these leaders were doing. "‘But...you have turned aside from the way; you have caused many to stumble by the instruction; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 2:8). "You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you say, ‘How have we wearied Him?’ In that you say, ‘Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in them…’" (2:17). These leaders were telling God’s people that it does not matter how they live, and that God delights in those who sin. This is very wrong in God’s sight.
The Lord opens His message in Malachi with an emphatic declaration of His unconditional love for His people: "I have loved you" (1:2). But He goes on to say, "I am not pleased with you" (1:10). Jesus said, "…I always do the things that are pleasing to Him" (John 8:29). The Father declared, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased" (Matt. 3:17). Paul writes, "…We have as our ambition …to be pleasing to Him" (2 Cor. 5:9). Is your life pleasing to the Lord? I tell you that He is not pleased with you when you are in sin.
One of the strongest typologies in the Bible is the Passover. During the Passover, the Israelites were to apply blood to their doorposts and rid their houses of leaven for seven days. Failure to do so meant they were cut off from Israel (Ex. 12:15). Seven represents totality and completion. God was establishing a powerful typology showing that when He saves His people from sin, He can keep them from sin.
Paul uses this typology when he deals with an immoral situation in the church at Corinth (1 Cor. 5:1-13). He says that the man living in sin needed to be delivered over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his soul might be saved (v. 5). He tells the church, "…Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (vv. 6-8). It is a very serious thing for a man who is born again to refuse to remove leaven from his house. We weary the Lord when we say that those who sin are fine in the sight of the Lord (Mal. 2:17). Anyone who believes that the Lord overlooks sin in the church should consider His message to the seven churches in Revelation: "Repent!"
3. The Fear of God Was Missing from Their Daily Lives.
Malachi also declares, "Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god" (2:11). God’s people had begun to mingle with the nations and to adopt their practices and their ways. Psalm 106 talks about this: "…They mingled with the nations, and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them" (vv. 35-36). Here they are practicing what the nations practiced, divorcing their Jewish wives and marrying "the daughter of a foreign god" (Mal. 2:11). It is in the context of this compromise, this worldly standard, that God says, "I hate divorce" (2:16). We need to see this in the context of worldly compromise.
Where do we hear anymore the message, "Come out from their midst and be separate"? (2 Cor. 6:17; Rev. 18:4). We live no differently than the world. The Bible says to love not "the world, nor the things in the world. If any one loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). Jesus is coming back for a church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:27). He said that His people are in the world, but are not to be of the world (John 17:11-16). And yet today we live not only in the world, but we are of the world. There is very little difference between our standards in the church and the standards in the world. We have married a foreign god. We have adapted to the world’s ways. We are more excited about football games than the house of God. We have put God on the back burner. We have done that as a nation. We are like the people of Haggai’s day whose lives said in effect, "God, Your house is not as important anymore. You are not as important. Your ways are not as important as our ways."
And so God says in effect, "I’ll riddle your purse with holes." That is what is happening in America right now. This economy is going down, and no one is going to be able to patch the holes. Why? Because we have put God on the back burner and said in effect, "We don’t want You in our schools, we don’t want You here, we don’t want You there." And the church is no different than the world.
Again, God says, "…Come out from their midst and be separate...and do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me" (2 Cor. 6:17-18). There are standards necessary for calling God your Father. You cannot say He is your Father unless you have separated yourself from the world. God does not want children who are living in sin and then saying they belong to Him. Jesus is coming back for a church that is pure and passionate. When Jesus began to wash His disciples’ feet, He said to Peter, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (John 13:8). I believe Jesus is saying the same thing to the church today, to each of us. He is not looking for those who are living in worldliness and sin, but those who are pure and devoted to God, those who find their satisfaction and joy in Him.
4. The Fear of God Was Missing from Their Relationship with God.
The Lord says, "From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes, and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you…" (Mal. 3:7). When you no longer love someone, you lose respect for them. Israel lost their love relationship with God and they no longer honored Him. In fact, they got to the point of saying, "It is vain to serve God…" (3:14) and "My, how tiresome it is!" (1:13). When you do not have a love relationship with God, then it becomes wearisome and tiresome. You go through all the rituals and rules and regulations, but there is no relationship, it is just a form of godliness.
Remember how Jacob worked hard for Laban for seven years in order to marry Rachel and "they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her"? (Gen. 29:20). Listen, if you do not have a love for God, it is going to be a long seven years. Love makes all the difference! Jacob loved Rachel and those years seemed to fly by. And what an honor it is for us to serve the King of kings! It is not tiresome or wearisome.
God is looking for a passion-driven church. So often we are purpose-driven. We serve out of a sense of obligation, a sense of duty instead of devotion. Consider the Ephesian church, the first one on Jesus’ list in Revelation. He says of them, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance…" (Rev. 2:2). How many pastors would love to have such a church made up of men and women so deeply involved in the things of God? And not only that, this church held strictly to evangelical teaching and practices. They tested those who called themselves apostles, but were not, and found them to be false (2:2). This church was filled with men of holiness and integrity, men who refused to compromise.
But then Jesus reveals a critical problem: "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (2:4). And to see how serious this is, look at the judgment He places on them. He says He will remove their lampstand (2:5). This was a purpose-driven church, but not a passion-driven one.
Jesus says you have left your first love. You have become so enamored with purpose. You are so caught up and cumbered about like Martha, and you are no longer sitting at Jesus’ feet in adoration. I am not suggesting that we give up deeds, but we must first of all love the Lord. We are to love Him and serve Him with all our heart and soul (Deut. 11:13).
Again, love makes all the difference. I remember when Nancy (my wife) and I were dating and she would write letters to me, I never felt it drudgery to read them. Instead I opened and read them as quickly as I could. I read them inside out and upside down. I devoured them. And you tell me that you have lost your interest in God’s Word.
The most dangerous place the church can get into is to be comfortable, stagnant in spirit, and lukewarm. The church in Laodicea says, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing…" (Rev. 3:17). And the Lord stands at the door and knocks. He longs to come in and renew friendship, fellowship and intimacy (3:20). What a tragedy when His people do not respond to Him.
"Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 3:19-22).
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).