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Loving God rightly means loving Him with a reverent love. To love God without the fear of the Lord is simply a made-up love, a love of some other object which we then call God. To truly encounter the God of Creation is to love Him with deep reverence. 

In fact, if you do a word search in your Bible, and look up the words fear, awe, reverence, trembled, marvelled, bow, dread, terror, honour, and wonder, the results are many hundreds of verses. Far more, in fact, than verses which use the words love or treasure and worship. Why? Because the Bible knows how easily we misunderstand the word love. Scripture lays heavy emphasis on the kind of love we give God, because this is where most go wrong. We might understand that love means desire and delight or treasuring and valuing, but we fail to understand that to desire and delight a being like God is a unique kind of desire. It is a special kind of love. It is holy love, the love of the fear of the Lord. 

By being in union with Christ, we are enabled to love God as God does. One of the wonders of the Incarnation is that by adding to himself a true human nature, Jesus loved God not only with the divine love of the eternal Son for the Father, but also with the human love of fearing God. Isaiah 11 predicts that Messiah will have the fear of the Lord. 

Isaiah 11:1 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. 3 His delight is in the fear of the LORD, (Isa. 11:1-3)

To be in positional union with Christ, and live that out, is to love God ultimately, and love God reverently. That’s because Jesus did so. He loved God ultimately, and according to his human nature, he loved God reverently. 

So what is this fearing kind of love? Again, the Bible uses many different words to capture and describe this kind of fearing love. The best way to describe it is to say that it is the kind of love that responds to both the greatness and the goodness of God. It is a love in union with God and therefore responds to God as He is.

Francois Fenelon said, “Two things produce humility when combined; the first is a sight of the abyss of wretchedness from which the all-powerful hand of God has snatched us, and over which he still holds us, as it were, suspended in the air, and the other is the presence of that God who is ALL.” (Spiritual Progress, 16)

Fearing God is cultivated to the degree that we see the glory of God revealed to us in his Word. Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Peter, James and John all saw the majesty of God, and the result was the fear of Lord. 

Fearing God floods the darkened room of our proud self-love with the light of truth. As Jan van Ruysbroek wrote in The Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage, “But humility brings man face to face with the most high mightiness of God, that he may always remain little and lowly, and may surrender himself to God, and may not stand upon his selfhood. This is the way in which a man should hold himself before God, that thereby he may grow continually in new virtues.” (p. 26). Rising from the sight is a posture of heart that we can safely call humility of the heart: “an inward bowing down or prostrating of the heart and of the conscience before God’s transcendent worth”, as van Ruysbroek put it. 

To compare ourselves to God is to be humbled. The heart bows. Love for his beauty grows as we compare ourselves to the supreme, sovereign, holy, just, omnipresent, infinite, faithful, immutable, omnipotent God. The spiritual vertigo we feel when seeing the chasm between ourselves and God is the fear of the Lord. This is the confrontation with his greatness and goodness.

Consider how Scripture reports some of the differences between us and God. While God is self-existent (Ex 3:14), we live and move and have our being in him (Acts 17:28). While God owns all things (Ps 24:1), we are mere stewards, and all we have (including our own lives), we have received (1 Cor 4:7). While God is perfectly free and can do all his holy will (Ps 115:3), we can do nothing without him (John 15:5). God’s vastness and glory dwarf man to near-nothingness (Ps 8:3-4, Is 40:15). God is holy, and his glory ought to have destroyed sinners, but for mercy (Lam 3:22). What is a clear-headed response to such overwhelming supremacy? Fear is truly a just posture.

As we encounter God’s greatness, there are several responses that the fear of the Lord has. As we encounter God’s goodness, there are several responses that godly fear has. We don’t have to memorise these as much as understand that they make up the experience of ordinate love, or appropriate love. If these are missing from our experience, we are likely not loving God appropriately. 

The fear of the Lord, or this holy love has six components. The first three are mostly responses to God’s greatness, and the second three are mostly responses to His goodness. That’s not to say we are splitting apart God’s attributes when we think this way. His simplicity means that His greatness is a good greatness, and His goodness is a great goodness. Instead, we are simply trying to see those parts of the fear of the Lord that emphasise the trembling, humbled side of reverent love, and those that emphasise the thankful, rejoicing side of reverent love. 

The six components are: otherness, openness, submissiveness, gratefulness, childlikeness, wholeheartedness. We’ll consider these in turn, as we pursue genuine reverence before our great God.

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