Famous sermons of yesterday had names like Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. These days mainstream Christianity is all pretty much "positive and encouraging." So is there a place for the terror of the Lord, or is that out of date? Should anyone be terrified by God?
Job, Moses and David were:
"Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. God has made my heart faint. The Almighty has terrified me." Job 23:15-16, ESV
"Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, 'I tremble with fear.'" Hebrews 12:21, ESV
"My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments." Psalm 119:120, ESV
And these were men who had strong faith and intimate friendship with God!
But that was the Old Testament, right? Didn't God get 'nicer' in the New Testament?
What does Paul have to say? The apostle who wrote the famous 'love' chapter (1 Corinthians 13) and the also famous "nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ" chapter (Romans 8), also saw the terror of God as a motive for our spreading the gospel!
"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. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men..." 2 Corinthians 5:10-11, NKJV
But what about Jesus? Many people could never imagine Jesus speaking about the terror of God!
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ...But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5, ESV
The Bible teaches us to fear the Lord from cover to cover! This is often described as a healthy respect, but many places (some of which we've quoted) describe actual terror before the Almighty! Is there any room to be terrified before God?
For the believer, there is a friendship with God that calms the soul; but this friendship is a reverent one. We should never forget to stand in awe of the Almighty.
Christ was judged in the place of his people at the cross, and absorbed the full wrath of God that should have come upon us. He has reconciled us to God with his blood. So now, for the believer, the terrors of God are replaced by love!
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do
My Savior's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view!
Let us love and sing and wonder
Let us praise the Savior's name
He has hushed the Law's loud thunder
He has quenched Mt. Sinai's flame
He has washed us with his blood
He has brought us nigh to God
Rejoice, believer! Christ has taken the terror of God that was against us! The thought of it caused him to sweat blood in the garden - this is the terror of the Almighty! At the cross the dam burst and God's fierce wrath fell full-strength on our Substitute! "He has washed us with his blood! He has brought us nigh to God!"
But this mercy and grace in which we rejoice will not be enjoyed by all. Those who are still in their sins should be terrified by God (remember Jesus' words in Luke 12:5, above). Sadly, for those who are not born again followers of Christ, "the wrath of God abides" on them (John 3:36). For those who do not repent of sin, trust in Christ, and endure - by grace - to the end, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31, ESV).