Redemptive preaching should bear fruit of the fear of God...

Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1)

Some time ago, I was talking with one of the elders of a healthy CREC church and I asked him whether there was any fear of God in his congregation? At first he said "yes," but after thinking about it a minute or so he said "no."

Where is the fear of God in our churches? Or rather, where is the fear of God in our own minds and hearts and the minds and hearts of our children?

In the Reformed church of North America today, I fear the fear of God is almost nonexistent. 

Why?

Because there is no preaching of the Law and coming Judgment, nor of repentance... We have become precisely what Martin Luther warned we would if we refused to give equal time in our preaching to repentance and faith:

In regard to doctrine we observe especially this defect that, while some preach about the faith by which we are to be justified, it is still not clearly enough explained how one shall attain to this faith, and almost all omit one aspect of the Christian faith without which no one can understand what faith is or means. For Christ says in the last chapter of Luke [24:47] that we are to preach in His name repentance and forgiveness of sins.

Many now talk only about the forgiveness of sins and say little or nothing about repentance. There neither is forgiveness of sins without repentance nor can forgiveness of sins be understood without repentance. It follows that if we preach the forgiveness of sins without repentance that the people imagine that they have already obtained the forgiveness of sins, becoming thereby secure and without compunction of conscience. This would be a greater error and sin than all the errors hitherto prevailing. Surely we need to be concerned lest, as Christ says in Matthew 12:45, the last state becomes worse than the first.

Therefore we have instructed and admonished pastors that it is their duty to preach the whole gospel and not one portion without the other. For God says in Deuteronomy 4:2]: "You shall not add to the word...nor take from it." There are preachers who now attack the pope because of what he has added to the Scriptures, which unfortunately is all too true. But when these do not preach repentance, they tear out a great part of Scripture. (Luther's Works; Volume 40; Church and Ministry II; Edited by Conrad Bergendoff; Muhlenberg Press; Philadelphia; 1958; "Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors"; pp. 274, 275.)

This isn't exclusively the fruit of redemptive-historical preaching, but stop and think what the normal practice of this method has become. Start by asking what we mean by "redemptive?"

Obviously redemptive means grace and Jesus and the substitutionary atonement and effectual calling and growth in grace and perseverance (but really eternal security) of the saints--then Heaven. But if we allow the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to define the meaning of redemptive-historical preaching in the New Covenant, we find that the Old Testament account of the slaughter of many thousands of God's Covenant People because of their fornication and grumbling and idolatry was written down by the Holy Spirit for us for our warning. And what about all the warnings in Hebrews and our Lord's command, "Remember Lot's wife?" 

Let me put it this way: if purportedly "redemptive-historical" or "Gospel-centered" or "Christocentric" preaching really were redemptive, it would never fail to preach the Law, the Day of Judgment, and repentance because these are always the Biblical context for grace, mercy, and faith. But we preach grace and faith and forgiveness with no context of why anyone needs them. What's the point of grace if we're too timid to speak of God's wrath against the ungodly? What's the point of forgiveness if we don't open up the pit of Hell for all to see? How can there be faith where there's no explicit call to repentance? How can any man have Jesus as his Savior who consistently refuses to submit to Him as Lord?

You see, it's my conviction that redemptive-historical preaching has become the rubric for our doing what we want to do from the sinfulness of our unbelieving hearts, which is to make a big show of being faithful to preach all of God's inerrant Word while refusing to say God's "no" with His "yes." So redemptive means we take the easy path to gentle kind Jesus presented by our Old Testament text, and taking the path to Jesus never ever means Jesus as Judge and Lord and Master--only Jesus as Savior and Friend of Sinners.

Maybe you disagree with my diagnosis of the Reformed church today? Maybe you think the CREC is worse than the PCA? But let me say that, for myself, I mentioned the CREC because I think it's less taken in by the redemptive-historical fad than the PCA and I expect its preaching to be at least as good as the PCA.

Really, though, my main point is that if this is what we find in some of the most Biblical Reformed churches of the PCA, OPC, and CREC (the denominations where I've held membership and fellowship), what hope is there for the churches who don't even hold to Biblical doctrine?

If someone can come up with a flow chart for redemptive-historical preaching that restores the Law of God and the Day of Judgment and repentance by way of the preaching of the historical texts of the Old Testament, I'm all for it. That would be truly "redemptive."

The path to revival or reform--call it what you will--lies through the preaching of the Fall and Original Sin and total depravity and the wrath of God against all ungodliness. There's no detour around the fear of God that gets anyone to justification, sanctification, and glorification.

(With thanks to God for Max.)

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and fifteen grandchildren.

Comments

Probably the most formative pastor I've had used gospel-centered preaching but he also used to preach that while God is patient what is the nature of patience?  It comes to an end.  Preaching the law should be a natural complement to gospel-centered preaching.

>>Preaching the law should be a natural complement to gospel-centered preaching.

If I may, there is no gospel-centered preaching that doesn't preach God's Law. It's no complement, but integral; and "should be" would better be "must be."

Love,

Biblical doctrinal preaching about how total depraved we really are needs to be reminded each sunday or the church is rendered impotent and the saints are just floundering and ineffective to go out and be witness

>>If I may, there is no gospel-centered preaching that doesn't preach God's Law.

Works for me.  :)

You sound like a good Missouri Synod man...

I read some results from a recent Barna Survey on Christian women and it found that they are very hesitant to admit their sins and failings. Only 3% of the women said that fear or doubt or confusion in their faith was a problem for them. They said that disorganisation was their biggest sin.

If all this is true, we're in big trouble. It seems we've accepted a business model for the moral life, rather than using Biblical categories. Tim's comments about the lack of preaching of the Law go a long way to explaining how we got to this point and showing the way home. "Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." 

This would be funny if it weren't so sad. Can anyone imagine Jeremiah or Amos railing against the disorganisation of the Israelites?

I have conciously understood for the last 20 years that God's mercy means nada, zilch, zero outside an understanding of God's judgment and justice.  How any one can believe they should speak of God's mercy while never mentioning God's wrath for our unrighteousness, our rebellion against His Holy Name, is beyond me.  May God have mercy on such folks!

I visited a Mom's Bible study at a friend's church years ago.  When it was time for prayer requests, all the other moms said, "better time management" and "get organized".  This was met with understanding clucks and nods from the other moms.  When it was my turn I said, "I yell at my kids."  I got a lecture about how wrong and damaging yelling was and how concerned the leader was that I would start "hurting my kids."  There was a moralistic lecture because there was no possibility of repentence and forgiveness.

Here's what I've thought since then: Since grace is so cheap these days, our sin isn't allowed to be very bad.  That leads to confessing things like disorganization.  Jesus' blood can cover that one.  But REALLY bad things?  There's no cure for them, so let's not bring them up.

Dear Emily,

That is a very fascinating insight. Its amazing that as people move further from God's law, they do not necessarily become less judgmental. Rather, they simply develop an autonomous and unBiblical ethical hierarchy where sin is redefined and weighted according to an extra-Biblical standard. The judgment is still there, but there is nothing but condemnation, without a hope in the world.

Personally, whenever I have been at a prayer meeting, and someone offered to the group a prayer request like "better time management", I often wanted to tell that person to either tell us what they really wanted us to pray for, or to remain silent. I mean, we all need to be good stewards of our time, but for me, this is one or two ladder rungs above asking the group to pray for "an unspoken prayer request".

This is one of the main reasons I decided to stay away from the reformed Pres. churches when moving from Houston to San Antonio. Although it does seem like after a year of living in San Antonio that one of the PCA churches that is close by is waking up.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding something here. I do fear God, but not because I am a sinner and He morally pure. Rather I fear Him because He is exalted, lifted up, while I am but a lowly creature. I don't fear Him over my sin because that is already dealt with. I am saved to the uttermost, and beloved of my Father as much as His Son is beloved. The law strikes no fear in me. The angels in Isaiah 6 fear God. But they have no sin to worry about. Just like me. I, unlike them, have sin. But none to worry about because of Christ. I do not preach the law to elicit fear among the saints, but joy that Christ has overcome.

Brilliant Emily. Very insightful. And, I yell at my kids too. Thank God His grace is bigger than ours

That's a really helpful insight Emily. I remember hearing a sermon about marriage and the pastor's example of conflict was that he spoke loudly to his wife. Not out of anger, but that he was just raised in a home where everyone spoke loudly, so he had to learn how to communicate better. Well, where does that leave me, who has done more than "speak loudly" and indeed out of anger? 

Cheap grace leaves no room for honesty about our sin.

RCjr,

Should there not be an element of trembling in our fear of the Lord, especially given passage such as Is. 8:11-14, Matt. 10:28, 1 Peter 1:17, Rom. 11:20b-21...and especially Phil. 2:12-13 where the Holy Spirit tells us to work out our salvation with fear AND trembling..."? It seems to me this is another one of those antinomies of the Christian life--holding the tension of the above passages with Romans 8:1.

Blessings,

Andrew

I'm not sure you're misunderstanding, dear brother. It's long been the confession of church fathers (including men like Watson) that "in the godly, fear and love embrace." Thus we see this with our own fathers, also.

The godly do fear God as any son or daughter fears his or her father, and it's not just reverence or awe or non-mutual respect. It's fear which, when absent, is the very definition of wickedness.

To be sure, that fear lives in the cool and refreshing shadows of faith and love, but it's fear, nevertheless, and it's preached by the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to Christians baptized and fed at the Table of our Lord this way:

Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. 1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 and all ate the same spiritual food; 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. 6 Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. 7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY.” 8 Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. 9 Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. 10 Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; you judge what I say. 16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. 18 Look at the nation Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? 19 What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20 No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. 21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we? (1 Corinthians 9:26-10:22)

I could go on and quote other texts, but here's my point: the fear of God is  real fear and is a blessing that ought to be restored to the Godly by the Scriptures applied by the Holy Spirit through preaching. That fear is no cringing fear of a slave, but the faith-full fear of a beloved son. Yet it's the goal of preaching to remind those baptized and Table-fed that the Israelites before us also had Sacraments yet perished in the wilderness; that the Corinthians before us also had Sacraments yet some became sick and others died; and so any of us who thinks he stands must take heed lest he fall.

Our systematizing of Scripture's doctrine of sanctification must not be allowed to eviscerate the text of it's perspicuous meaning.

Has that made it better or worse?

Love,

Neither better nor worse. We seem to not be communicating well. I was trying to affirm the wisdom of fearing God. I was not affirming, and in fact regularly preach against such a silly notion, that fear is not fear but reverence. I was arguing that the fear I have, which is real fear fear, is grounded in the ontological gap (for want of a better term- ontology, as a word, certainly tends to denude the existential reality of the fear) between God and me. The angels did not merely revere. But neither did they fear because of their sin. They have no sin. And in God's eyes, neither have I any. Of course I work out my salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that I will appear before the transcendent God. But I will appear in the robes of Christ and so do not fear His judgment. So my problem isn't fear fear versus awe fear. It is will He judge me fear versus Look how big He is fear. I know I am due His wrath. But I have no, none, not one bit, fear of it.

"ontology, as a word, certainly tends to denude the existential reality"

Right. Noted. Chuckling.

But moving on...

I think my question is how you preach the texts I've cited? My conviction is we must preach them in such a way that we and our congregations tremble.

Grounded in my own existential reality, I is,

With love,

I certainly pray and labor to remain faithful, and for those under my care. If it turns out I am outside the camp, then of course by all means we have every reason to fear. But fearing that I am lost, in which case I would have reason to fear the judgment of God, is not in my judgment the same thing as fearing God, as a believer. To put it another way, to the extent I know I am in Christ is the extent that I do not fear His wrath, though I still fear Him for His transcendence. So no, I'm not seeing that text teaching believers to fear the wrath of God. Professing believers who are not possessing believers, yes, not not possessing believers. Now, were I an fv guy, that might change everything. Grateful that God loses none whom He regenerates, leads to repentance, indwells and sanctifies.

Dear brother,

In the Scripture I quoted above, was the Apostle Paul just speaking of being disqualified from the Hall of Fame? I hold to the perseverance of the saints and have never believed that meant we must not fear what the Apostle Paul himself feared; what he called his brothers in church after church to fear. Read Calvin and Edwards and Watson and Owen and it's hard to imagine them tightly parsing Scripture's warnings so that those Christians to whom they apply know it and those Christians to whom they do not apply also know it--as they read the words, that is.

Here's the thing: our Lord's rule is by their fruit you shall know them and fruit is over a lifetime. Only those who persevere to the end will be saved--those who love the Lord with a sincere love. Meanwhile, the Evil One's counterfeiting ability is magisterial and we must be on guard against it, not only concerning others, but also ourselves. We are commanded to test ourselves; and if ourselves, others also.

If we live and preach and teach in such a way that we leave fear and trembling behind, how can we do so except by denying huge amounts of the content and commands of the New Testament?

We must work to restore the fear of God to our flocks. Then and only then will we see those who are being saved added to our number daily.

The Old Testament's Nadab and Abihu are matched by the New Testament's Ananias and Saphira, following the deaths of which we read:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” 5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. 6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter responded to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9 Then Peter said to her, “Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.” 10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. 12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number... (Acts 5:1-14)

I'll leave the last word to you since this conversation is likely best continued in person. May God give you strength for fatherhood work. Love to your Dad and Mom, and you.

I'm not saying Christians need not fear. What we fear, however, is ourselves, our failures, our weaknesses, our propensity for unbelief. We don't, however, fear the wrath of God. If I am facing a two doors, one with a lady, one with the tiger, I certainly may fear the tiger. I may fear I will make the wrong choice. I may even fear the otherness of the lady. But what I don't fear is that the lady will tear me to shreds and eat me. 

>If I am facing a two doors, one with a lady, one with the tiger, I certainly may fear the tiger. I may fear I will make the wrong choice. I may even fear the otherness of the lady. But what I don't fear is that the lady will tear me to shreds and eat me. 

I may be the only idiot in the room, but I have no idea what you're trying to say here. 

which just won't work. I'm sorry for taking up so much time on this. Our differences in the end may just be semantic, and trying to find that out may have been counter-productive. The short version is I may fear that I am outside the kingdom but I would never fear the wrath of God from inside the kingdom

Mr. Sproul, 2 Corinthians 5:6-11 seems to smush all of this together: confidence, good courage, faith on the one hand; fear, judgment, recompense on the other hand. The apostle Paul's fear here is not ontological. It is explicitly judgmental. And his fear is the motivation for his obedience. Notice the conjunctions and the logic.

“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord--for we walk by faith, not by sight--we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”


Thoughts?

Respectfully,

Without writing too much, or assuming too much about what everybody thinks, I'm guessing that if we distinguish between fearing discipline vs fearing God's wrath, more progress will be made in this discussion.

I was just skimming through John Bunyan's The Fear of God, and I noticed that he speaks against Christians remaining in the fear of God's wrath that comes out of a knowledge of our deserving eternal damnation. That fear is meant to lead us to faith in Christ, and when it has done so, we rejoice because we have nothing to fear any longer in that regard.

However, he also goes on to explain that we are to fear God as sons, which means still fearing his discipline. This filial fear also keeps us from apostasy, as we remember the judgments that God will bring upon those who are hypocrites or who don't persevere.

It is also this fear that, by God's grace, causes Christians to turn away from sin they have fallen into and return to God. This goes perfectly with the passage from 2 Cor, doesn't it?

I absolutely LOVE this article and this discussion. 

Proberbs 15:22 says... "Without counsel, plans go awry,

But in the multitude of counselors they are established."

I have noticed when some have insight... some have greater insight... and above all Christ had the greatest for he was God's Word incarnate. 

How beautiful, clean and pure is God's Word... God's Truth.

I am not a theologian... but just a computer artist. But my spirit is so quickened when reading or hearing those pastors or writers who truly are speaking the full gospel... including Faith AND Repentance.  Not only speak about the love of God but the wrath of God to come for unrepented sinners. Our churches for the most part lack the Fear of God. It breaks breaks my heart in two.

Thank you all for writing and encouraging believers. We have been so hungry as of late... because of the anemic preaching in churches. We think to ourselves..."ahh... why even bother going"... "I get more insight from God's Word than a preacher whose primary thought is getting the light bill paid for the church building... or whatever other earthly reason he may have." 

  But we need true old fashioned preaching... from men who are truly filled with the Holy Spirit... who preach the full gospel. And who say to themselves... "The heck with tickling ears this sunday... I want to preach on repentance... and name what sin is... whether it be adultery, fornication, homosexuality... and all the other sins... so my flock will clearly understand what sin is... so they will know the importance from turning from their sins."  

 If pastors don't tell people what actual sin is (beyond that it is just seperation from God without giving them the details of HOW they got seperated from God)... and the congregation for the most part is not reading the Bible... how will they know that they specifically have sinned. That pastor is more responsible... because he knows the truth... and if he does not share it... I fear greatly for his soul at the Judgment! It is a very serious undertaking to become a pastor.

 So keep it up you men out there. If I were born a man... I'd preach... but I wasn't so I will encourage all pastors out there... preach the word in season and out of season! 

The salvation of souls depends on it!

You are an Ambassador of Christ! So be one! 

Redeem the time for the days are evil!

(Eternal) Souls are depending on YOU!... and this is NO game!

May the peace and grace of God be with you... to preach the Truth in Love. Amen. 

Thank you,

Carol

 

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