Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE FEAR OF THE LORD

Job 28.28

For the better part of almost twenty years, I have warned this congregation about the gradual slide of American evangelicalism and conservative Christianity into apostasy from the historical Biblical orthodoxy they used to embrace. I believe it began in the first half of the 19th century with the rising prominence of Charles G. Finney’s Pelagian heresy and the unscriptural approach to evangelism he fostered which is so popular even among independent Baptists today. For the past 180 years, most evangelical churches (including the best from the ranks of the independent fundamental Baptists in the 20th century) have been so mindlessly committed to swelling their ranks by means of empty professions of faith, the baptizing of unconverted people, and an eagerness to transfer members from other congregations, that they have filled their rolls with mainly unconverted members. Well, as they say, the chickens are now coming home to roost.

Listen to the dust cover comments from Christine Wicker’s New York Times best-selling book, The Fall Of The Evangelical Nation:

Evangelical Christianity in America is dying. The great evangelical movements of today are not a vanguard. They are a remnant, unraveling at every edge. Conversions. Baptisms. Membership. Retention. Participation. Giving. Attendance. Impact upon the culture at large. All are down and dropping. When veteran religion reporter Christine Wicker set out to investigate the evangelical movement, her intention was to forge through the stereotypes and shed new light on this highly divisive religious group. But the story soon morphed into an entirely new and shocking tale of discovery, as Wicker’s research unearthed much more than she bargained for.

 

Everywhere Wicker traveled she heard whispers of diminishing statistics, failed campaigns, and empty churches. Even as evangelical forces trumpet their purported political and social victories on the national and local fronts, insiders are anguishing over their significant losses and preparing to rebuild for the future. The idea that evangelicals represent and speak for Christianity in America is one of the greatest publicity scams in history, a perfect coup accomplished by savvy politicos and zealous religious leaders who understand the weaknesses of the nation’s media and exploit them brilliantly.

 

With her trademark vivid, firsthand reporting, Christine Wicker takes us deep inside the world of evangelicals, exposing the surprising statistics and details of this unexpected fall. Wicker shows us how the virtues of evangelicals are killing them as surely as their vices and that, to fully comprehend how and why this is happening, we’ll need to understand both.

It is not my purpose to stand before you and deliver a book report. For all the accuracy of Christine Wicker’s book showing the troubles of evangelicalism, which would include conservative Christianity and would certainly be true of many independent Baptists, she has not a clue as to the underlying whys of evangelical Christianity’s debacle. Neither is it my purpose to go beyond her book to draw your attention to what she and the evangelicals of this country have missed in their own lives. What I hope you will do is consciously dismiss evangelicalism as being representative of the Christian faith as it is revealed in the Bible. You have only to look around southern California to see the decay and draw your own conclusions from comparisons to New Testament Christianity. Do your best to avoid thinking of me as one of the fringe element pastors who just happens to be more conservative than most pastors, and our church as being basically the same as other churches you are familiar with, though somewhat less flexible than most churches when it comes to doctrine. That would be a mistake. I do not claim to be a unique pastor. Neither do I claim that our church is a unique church. I only urge you not think of me or our church in terms of contemporary evangelicalism, for that does me and our church a great disservice. You also do yourself a disservice when you make that mistake, because you then neglect to carefully listen to the message we bring from God’s Word.

You might wonder how our church’s ministry is different from a typical conservative church’s ministry. At this time, I would point out three differences for you to consider: First, there is the issue of decisionism. “Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.” On the other hand, “Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner’s standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.”[1] Though decisionism’s impact is seen throughout Christianity, it is most obviously seen in the evangelistic practices of the most conservative churches because of their commitment to reaching the lost. Closely connected to the issue of decisionism is contemporary conservative Christianity’s erroneous view of the salvation Jesus provides. Recognizing that there is a disconnect between what the theologians and Bible teachers of evangelicalism present to their audiences and what those same audiences embrace as being true, I can testify that my own conversations with church people over the years has convinced me of a great disparity existing between the salvation offered by Jesus in the Bible and the salvation envisioned by most church going people. The angel Gabriel was very clear in his explanation to Joseph concerning Mary and the son she would deliver. Matthew 1.21 reads, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” Throughout the Bible, the message is consistently that Jesus will save people from their sins, while most church people embrace what they call salvation as being related to someone who saves people in their sins. To illustrate, the Christian stops fornicating when he comes to Christ, while the evangelical as likely as not does not stop fornicating when he is supposedly saved. The gospel message found on the pages of this blessed Book makes no mention of any savior who saves people in their sins, which is no salvation at all. The Savior touted in this Book is a Savior who saves people, as the angel declared, from their sins. What is the difference, you might ask? Not only is it the difference between our church and far too many other congregations, I think it is the difference between heaven and Hell. Third, there is the fear of God. When the Apostle Paul presented himself and his ministry to the Christians in the city of Rome, in an effort to persuade them to pray for him and support his efforts to take the gospel to Spain in the far west, he set down his beliefs for their consideration in his letter to the Romans.

In that letter to the Romans, Paul powerfully and persuasively argued the need for the gospel which he preached by pointing out all of mankind’s need for justification, and by pointing out the nature of justification by faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Crucial to his argument that man needs to be justified by faith in Christ is the evidence he presents of man’s total depravity. What evidences every man’s depravity in the sight of God? Paul drives the point home in Romans 3.18: “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” My friends, there is no clearer or more convincing declaration of a man’s wickedness, a man’s spiritual stupor, a man’s blindness, or a man’s deadness before God, than the absence of any fear of God. How could anyone with the slightest understanding of God’s might and majesty, His greatness and His glory, not fear Him? That is the third difference I want to point out between the religion I embrace, however imperfectly, and what typically passes for Christianity these days; the fear of God. A clear distinction between contemporary Christianity (even including too many independent Baptists) and Biblical Christianity can be seen when considering this important matter of fearing God. How crucial a matter is the fear of God? My friends, the fear of God is a main branch of wisdom. In Psalm 111.10 and Proverbs 9.10, the fear of the LORD is declared the beginning of wisdom. That is, the fear of the LORD is the chief thing, the principle thing, and the first, in place, time, order or rank with respect to wisdom. In Proverb 3.15, we are told that wisdom is more precious than rubies. Thus, no jewelry that we can wear so adorns us, as does wisdom. How important is it that you acquire and possess wisdom? Listen to Solomon as he urges his son, in Proverbs 4.5-8:

5      Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.

6      Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.

7      Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

8      Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.

The importance of wisdom being clearly established in scripture, please turn at this time to my text for this evening, Job 28.28. When you find that verse in the Bible, please stand as we read God’s Word together: “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”[2]

How is the fear of God wisdom? The fear of God is wisdom in five ways:

First, THE FEAR OF GOD IS WISDOM IN THAT IT PROMOTES SPIRITUAL DILIGENCE

Wisdom is nothing if not attentive to detail and careful about keeping meticulous track of accounts. The fear of God teaches a person to examine the state of his soul critically and keep track of its well-being. The wise man asks, “O my soul, how is it with you? Do you gain or do you lose? Is your faith weak or is it strong? Or is it grown to some degree or still infantile? How is it? Does grace prevail or does sin reign?” The fear of God makes a man wisely balance his accounts, to see how matters stand between God and your soul. Psalm 77.6 reads, “I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.” The foolish, on the other hand, who do not fear God, are complacent. They never check.

What, pray tell, does the wise man check for? He checks for vital religion. He checks for real devotion and worship. He checks for the presence of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, the fruit of generous giving to the cause of Christ, and the fruit of sinners brought to Christ. Recollect if you can the most recent person you were instrumental in bringing to a saving and serving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Next, THE FEAR OF GOD IS WISDOM IN THAT IT MAKES US UNDERSTAND GOD’S SECRETS

“The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him,” Psalm 25.14. He must be wise who is acquainted with the secrets of heaven.

A fearer of God is first acquainted with the secret of election, First Thessalonians 1.4: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.” Interesting, is it not, that the word election produces such reaction in the minds of men, though Paul’s comment about election was written in First Thessalonians, that book of the Bible that must be the new converts course for new Christians since Paul wrote it to a congregation only weeks old in the Christian faith? The man who fears God thinks very little of the opinions of men regarding a word and a concept taught in scripture.

A fearer of God is next acquainted with the secret of God’s love, Revelation 1.5: “And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.” Ah, the potency, the power of Christ’s constraining love.

Third, a fearer of God has a holy unction from the Holy One, First John 2.20-21: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” This is a reference to the Holy Spirit given to us by which we have authority, by which we receive illumination, and from which we receive our enablement to effectively serve God. The man without an instructed fear of God is a man who persistently resists the instruction and guidance of the Holy Spirit of God, thereby grieving and quenching Him.

Finally, the one who fears God knows God’s mind: “. . . we have the mind of Christ,” First Corinthians 2.16. It is no wonder that Augustine wrote, “The crown of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.”

Third, THE FEAR OF GOD IS WISDOM IN THAT IT MAKES US THINK

Psalm 119.59 asserts, “I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto thy testimonies.” To paraphrase, “I thought about the things I was doing, and turned my direction toward God’s Word.” A great part of wisdom lies in thinking, truly thinking, really thinking. He who fears God thinks how empty and meaningless this world really is, and therefore dares not love the world or the things that are in the world. He who fears God thinks how short time on this earth is no matter his age, and therefore dares not lose any of it, but redeems the time at his disposal because the days are evil. He who fears God thinks how precious salvation is, and therefore dares not neglect it through misuse, ingratitude, or inattention.

Fourth, THE FEAR OF GOD IS WISDOM IN THAT IT MAKES US WALK WISELY

In Colossians 4.5, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without.” This would refer to conducting yourself with wisdom around those who are not God’s people.

In Genesis 23.7, we read that “Abraham stood up, and bowed himself to the people of the land, even to the children of Heth.” Though he was an extremely wealthy and powerful man, and was at that time grieving the loss of his beloved Sarah, he still conducted himself respectfully and courteously toward those he was dealing with. And why not? Piety does not exclude courtesy. The fear of God makes us walk inoffensively around others. It prevents not only scandalous behavior, but also indecent conduct. “But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion.” In other words, Paul writes, I so conduct myself that I avoid behavior that others might claim to be offensive, Second Corinthians 11.12. When you fear God, you do not want your conduct to reflect poorly on the One you serve. If anything scares you, it is the thought that by careless inattention you might somehow bring reproach on the church of God, the people of God, and the cause of God. No man scares the one who fears God, though he has a healthy dread of so stumbling that he might in some way be a stumbling block to others.

A true story about a beloved Christian woman in our church, now gone to heaven. A young lost man who was very fond of her sent her an e-mail severely criticizing me. His e-mail alarmed her because of the effect he might have on her unsaved loved ones, so she brought it to my attention. I told her, “He is attempting to take your pastor away from you when you most need him.” She broke off all contact with him to preserve her testimony with her lost family members. The Christian who fears God will sometimes make decisions about unsaved friends and influences, not out of concern for their effect on him personally, but motivated by a concern that critical person might have a bad influence on a lost loved one he is trying to reach. Do you really want to run the risk that a bitter and critical acquaintance will take your pastor way from the person he is best positioned to reach with the gospel? Rosa’s fear of the LORD prompted her to walk wisely. I urge you to follow her lead in this regard.

Finally, THE FEAR OF GOD IS WISDOM IN THAT IT PRESERVES US FROM HELL

Is it not wisdom that keeps a person from danger? Likewise, is it not wisdom that makes someone flee from the wrath to come? Of course it is. The sinner does not long fear God before he races to the safety and refuge from God’s wrath that only Jesus Christ can provide. The fear of God is the best proof you have that you are heaven-bound. Do you have knowledge? So has Satan. Do you have a profession of faith? So has Satan, he “transforms himself into an angel of light,” Second Corinthians 11.14.

What can you have that the Devil does not possess? The fear of the Lord. It not only distinguishes you from the Devil, but it is also the beginning of wisdom.

Allow me to conclude by elaborating on my last point, that the fear of God preserves us from Hell. Contrary to what evangelicals and too many independent Baptists believe (if their conduct indicates anything to us), the Bible teaches that our God is a consuming fire, Deuteronomy 4.24 and Hebrews 12.29. Additionally, the Bible teaches that God is angry with the wicked, Psalm 7.11. Therefore, since all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Romans 3.23, a wise response to God’s holy disposition toward sinners is godly fear. Connected to this body of Biblical truth is God’s love for sinners that prompted Him to send His only begotten Son, the virgin-born Jesus Christ, to suffer an atoning death on the cross for my sins. Thus, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, is that safe place of refuge from the wrath of God poured out on unrepentant sinners.

How, then, does godly fear wisely keep a sinner from Hell? In this way: The wise sinner’s appropriate fear of God the Father and His appropriate wrath prompts the sinner to flee from the wrath of God to the only place where safety and refuge can be found, the Savior of sinful men’s sounds, the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, by fleeing into the safe and protecting arms of the Lord Jesus Christ the sinner finds salvation from his sins, safety from God’s wrath, and preservation from the Hell that awaits those who foolishly remain in their sins by refusing Christ’s offer of salvation.

This type of salvation, offered by the Savior spoken of in the Bible, is salvation from sins (rather than being salvation so-called in sins), salvation from the power of sins, and ultimately salvation from the presence of sins, and it is offered only to those who are wise enough to fear God.

Do you have a healthy concern for your soul’s present condition? Do you feel welling up in your bosom a dread of God’s coming wrath? My Bible shows me that which rises in your bosom is a fear that is brought to you by the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. Do not resist. Do not distract. Do not dismiss.

Consider. Reflect. Ponder. Think on the state of your soul. Seek the LORD while He may be found. After our service is concluded, and people are winding down their conversations as they think about going home, come and talk to me. Even if you do not know what to say or what questions to ask, come to my office. Allow me to make some recommendations for you to consider so that I might guide you to Christ.



[1] R. L. Hymers, Jr. and Christopher Cagan, Today’s Apostasy: How Decisionism Is Destroying Our Churches, (Oklahoma City, OK: Hearthstone Publishing, Ltd., 1999), page 26.

[2] Sermon concept taken from Thomas Watson, The Great Gain Of Godliness, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006), pages 26-27.



Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org