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Grace and the fear of God

by Jacob Ninan

"God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (Jas.4:6). This is a promise in the New Testament. When we are humble God's grace will be over us, and when God's grace is over us sin shall not rule over us (Ro.6:14). His grace is sufficient for us in all situations and circumstances (2Co.12:9). When His grace abounds over us, we shall have all sufficiency for all things and an abundance for every good deed (2Co.9:8).

Grace is the favour God shows towards us. It is certainly an unmerited favour, because none of us deserves it. What we deserve from God is wrath, punishment and death. All of us have sinned, and even if we have done only one sin in our whole life, we still deserve only death. When God forgives our sins He is being gracious to us who do not deserve it. When He helps us to overcome temptations, it is His grace that He gives us. When He transforms our character into His nature, that is His grace at work. When He uses us to bless someone else, it is His grace that works through us. All of this is undeserved.

But at the same time we need to make a distinction between the grace God gives to the humble people and the goodness He shows even to wicked people out of the largeness of His heart. Jesus said that God is good both to the righteous and to the wicked in that He lets the sun shine and the rain fall on both types of people (Mt.5:45). But God forgives the sins of only those people who humble themselves before God, acknowledging their sins to God. They have become so convinced that there is nothing good and nothing to hope for in themselves that they are glad to receive forgiveness as a totally undeserved gift through the merit of Jesus. In the same way, those who put no confidence in themselves but trust in God receive grace that transforms their lives, giving them victory and the life of Christ.

So why is it that all people do not receive grace, even though they experience much kindness and goodness from God? Surely it is because God is against the proud and gives grace only to the humble, as we saw in the beginning. It is therefore absolutely necessary for us to be humble in the eyes of God if we are to receive grace. James says that it is before God that we need to be humble (Jas.4:10). It does not matter at all what we think of ourselves or how we make ourselves appear before people.

We saw above some of the characteristics of humility that are conditional to receiving grace. Acknowledgment of sin, having no trust or hope in themselves and looking to God for everything that is good are all part of humility. Acknowledgment of sin is not enough. It is also necessary not to have any confidence in ourselves but to have full confidence in God. These are the characteristics of faith Jesus admired in the case of two people on earth (Mt.8:5-10;15:22-28).

One characteristic of humility that is neglected by many people is that of the fear of God. Many think of the fear of God as an Old Testament concept. They misunderstand verses in the New Testament which refer to freedom from fear as if they include the fear of God also. It is the fear of man, fear of the future and the fear of the devil that we need to be free from. But the fear of God is an essential part of humility. Think of God as being almighty, all knowing and being present everywhere. Think of Him as One who knows us through and through, from whom nothing can be hidden. Then we fear Him. We know we cannot fool around with Him or take His commandments lightly. Certainly He is our loving Father, full of compassion and mercy, not counting our sins against us. At the same time He is God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, before whom we dare not lift up our head in pride. Do you think this is a contradiction - to say that the fear of God is a part of humility?

Jesus says we are to fear the One who is able to destroy us in hell (Mt.10:28). Paul tells us that we are to fear lest we should be finally rejected just as it happened to Israel (Ro.11:20). He mentions the need for fear because we know that we have to stand one day before the judgment seat of Christ and receive from Him according to what we have done (2Co.5:10,11). We are to cleanse ourselves from every defilement out of the fear of God (2Co.7:1). It is a good exercise to go through the New Testament and look at the many verses that speak about fearing God. When we see these in the light of verses in the Old Testament that speak of God being with those who fear Him, we can be convinced about the need for the fear of God.

Do you know what it says in the Bible about how Jesus humbled Himself? It was not by apologising for sins or confessing sins, because He never sinned. It was by becoming obedient to the Father to the point of death (Php.2:8). It means that Jesus obeyed the Father even when it meant that His own will had to die. We see the supreme example of that on the cross. But it was also true when He never did anything of His own initiative but did whatever the Father told Him (Jn.5:19).

If we do what we like even when we know that it is not what the Father wants us to do, it shows we are utterly proud. Why do we that? It is because we do not fear God. The devil has fooled us into neglecting the fear of God thinking that it is all by faith, all by grace, etc. The devil wants us to think that fearing God and keeping His commandments is "works." But it is really a mark of an attitude of humility! When we know God for how big He is and know ourselves for how small we are, we dare not do anything by ourselves or against His word. We are not trying to "earn" His favour. Not at all!

"By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil" (Pr.16:6). If we are not keeping away from sinning it means that we do not fear God. That shows we are not humble but proud. We can understand now how passively waiting to receive everything from God by faith and grace is a misunderstanding of faith and grace. Let us fear lest we miss out on what God has prepared for us (He.4:1).

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