The Foundation for All Peace Prior to a speaking event not so long ago, a staff member and I were enjoying a meal on the West Coast. While the young waitress attended our table during the meal, I asked her: “If you could ask God for anything in your life, what would you ask Him to do for you?” Without hesitation, she answered: “I’d ask for peace.” A tear made its way down her cheek as she shared with us about her beloved grandmother’s death a few days before. As she shared her story, I learned no one in her family believed in God—and neither did she. She’d not consciously rejected Him. All she knew was there was a deep restlessness inside, but she had no understanding about how to resolve that inner turmoil, or even what lay at the root of it. Like many people, she was living day to day, not having much purpose or meaning in her life. This young woman represents so many in our society today—going through the motions, striving to make ends meet, seeking a way where there seems to be no way, and trying to make sense of it all. Too often, there seems to be no adequate answers to our human dilemma—especially to the question of why we feel so empty, void, and lacking peace. Furthermore, there appears to be no satisfactory reason for us to keep putting out our best efforts and still suffering with life’s adversities. The young waitress serving us explained the issue in her terms by saying, “I need peace.” Others would say, “I’m so lonely.” Some would say, “If my spouse would only love me as he/she should, then I’d be happy.” Different variations but all the same melody: “There’s something wrong … I’m not happy. I have no peace. What’s wrong with me?” Most who are victims of the messages of our secular society experience this void and don’t equate their problem with God. We’re constantly bombarded with society’s claims: “If only you were thinner, dressed with more style, drove a Jaguar, lived in a better part of town, made more money …” the list goes on and on. But none of the aforementioned highly-prized answers to our problems or any of the hundreds of others offered to us can permanently and satisfactorily provide what we desperately crave. The young waitress had it right: Most of us feel strongly that we need something more—and the all-encompassing word that so well describes it is peace. And as a pastor for more than six decades, I can tell you that until you have peace with God, you will never experience true peace in this life.
What Kind of Fear Is Good?
Today’s culture tells us that each of us is good, deep down inside. It says that anything which stands in the way of our happiness is toxic and must be removed. It says that our behavior is never wrong if we are simply following our heart and pursuing our dreams.
The problem is that we have this frightening thing called guilt that constantly bothers us. It’s one of our best indicators that our fear is misplaced. Instead of fearing that we’re missing out on everything we think we want, there is a better fear that brings rewards.
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Our Sinfulness Can Feel Scary
The Bible says, “Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God” (Romans 3:19 NLT).
The reason we experience this pesky thing called guilt, the Bible tells us, is because we are guilty. The whole world is guilty before God.
We can pretend the guilt is not there. We can find someone else to blame for our problem. But the only real and effective way to remove guilt is to get to the root of the problem: sin.
No Human Is Actually Good
The truth is that humanity is not basically good. Humanity is basically sinful. Humanity is basically corrupt. That is God’s assessment of humankind. And it is confirmed by the way that we live and what we do.
We see it in the acts of terrorists who heartlessly murder people with no apparent pangs of conscience whatsoever. We see it every day in our own nation in the crimes that are committed, especially against children.
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Fear of the Lord Is Good
The Bible tells us that this is because people have no fear of God in their lives: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (Romans 1:28 NKJV). And Romans 3:11 says, “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (NKJV).
You see, the motive for humanity’s sinfulness is built in godlessness. This is the only explanation for the things that people are capable of.
This is why the fear of God is so important in the believer’s life.
Proverbs 16:6 NLT tells us, “By fearing the Lord, people avoid evil.”
One of the best definitions I have heard for the fear of God is “a wholesome dread of displeasing Him.” It is not a fear of righteous retribution. Rather, it is a sense of wanting to do what God wants you to do.
It is not about being frightened by God or afraid of what He will do to you. Rather, it is a love and a respect for Him to the extent that you want to honor Him and don’t want to do anything that would dishonor or displease Him.
The Wrong Kind of Fear
Jesus told the story of a man who entrusted money to his servants while he went away on a long journey. When he returned, two of the servants had invested the money and presented a healthy return on their investments.
But the third servant simply hid the money in the ground. When the master returned, he had nothing more to present to him. When the master asked why he had not even deposited it in the bank to at least earn some interest, the servant practically blamed the master. He effectively said, “You are a harsh man. I was afraid of losing the money, so I just hid it” (Luke 19).
What it came down to is this man had a faulty view of his master.
Many people have a faulty view of God. Many think that He is too harsh or demanding or unfair. As a result, they are motivated—or demotivated—by an unhealthy fear of God.
There is nothing wrong with fearing the Lord in the correct sense. In fact, the Bible commands us to do so. It even tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 NKJV). While there is a proper fear of the Lord that should be in every Christian’s heart, that fear should be the respect of a loving child and not the dread of a frightened slave.
It was A. W. Tozer who said, “Nothing twists and deforms a soul more than a low or unworthy conception of God.”
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God Is Not out to Ruin Lives
There are a lot of people running around who have a false concept of God. They see Him as someone who is out to ruin their lives. If they slip up, He is going to come down on them like a ton of bricks. He will be all over them like a cheap suit. He doesn’t want them to have any fun and He wants to make life hard on them.
How sad for you if you see God in that way!
You need to understand how much He loves you. You need to realize that His plan for you is better than your plan for yourself. You need to serve Him not out of terror and not even out of duty, but rather out of love.
Reverent Fear Fuels Compelling Love
Solomon, after his binge into every kind of sin imaginable, came to this conclusion: “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 NKJV).
He was essentially saying, “Listen, here is what I have learned from life. After doing everything that God told me I should not do, I have discovered that God knew what He was talking about.” We would do well to reverence God and to honor Him.
That is what is meant by a healthy fear of the Lord.
Along with the fear of God, we need to have love for God. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Christ’s love compels us…” (2 Corinthians 5:14). This means that we are to love God so much that we want to do what would honor Him. At the same time, we fear and revere God so much that we would never want to do those things that would dishonor Him.
Paul also wrote, “Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9 NKJV). So we are to revere God.
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Looking to Heavenly Rewards
The judgment mentioned above is not the Great White Throne judgment spoken of in Revelation 20. That is a judgment that is only for nonbelievers, where “whoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” That is not the judgment that believers will face.
Our judgment is not so much about a penalty as much as it is about a reward. And it is not a judgment according to quantity as much as it is a judgment according to quality. In other words, God is going to look at motive and at faithfulness.
So what should motivate the Christian to do good? 1) A healthy fear of displeasing the Lord, 2) a love for God that compels us to action, and 3) knowing that there is a heavenly reward waiting for those who serve and obey Him from a willing heart.
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Pastor Greg Laurie serves as the senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship, which has campuses in Southern California and Hawaii. He is the author of more than 70 books, hosts the nationally syndicated radio broadcast A New Beginning, and is the founder of Harvest Crusades, large-scale evangelistic events attended by millions of individuals worldwide. Learn more at Harvest.org.