Forgiveness and Fear

“If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.” – Psalm 130:3-4 ESV

Since the first of 2015 I have been studying the Psalms of Ascent (Psalm 120-134). These are the Psalms historically sung by the Jewish people as they journeyed up to Jerusalem for the appointed feasts of the Lord that required such a sojourn. (As a part of my study, I have been immersing myself in a great book by Josh Moody, called “Journey To Joy.” [http://www.thejourneytojoy.org/journeytojoy.asp] I would highly recommend it.)

So, I got hung up exploring a sidebar while in the middle of Psalm 130 that I want to share with you. In verses 3-4, I was arrested by the idea that the forgiveness of our sin leads to the fear of the LORD. When I read this, I immediately wrote in the margin that this fear is the beginning of wisdom according to Proverbs.

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – Proverbs 1:7 ESV

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” – Proverbs 9:10 ESV

This idea alone causes me to rejoice, but today I came across a New Testament passage where Jesus taught this exact principle: that forgiveness of our sin results in the fear of the LORD.

In Luke 7, Jesus is discussing John the Baptist and contrasting his role in the coming Kingdom with the prevailing attitude of the people and their collective dullness to what God was accomplishing before their very eyes. In vs 35 Jesus makes a statement that stopped me dead in my tracks. He said, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (ESV) I can hear a country preacher in my head paraphrasing this verse, “The proof’s in the puddin’!” Although there were varying opinions about John the Baptist and Jesus rampant in their day, time would tell if they truly were accomplishing God’s work or not.

My mind went back to Proverbs because repeatedly, Wisdom is personified as a woman and we are commanded to pay attention to her. So in a sense, if we are submitting to “Lady Wisdom” we are acting as her obedient children and reflect who she is to the world around us.

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof (Will you turn away at my reproof?) behold, I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you.” – Proverbs 1:20-23 ESV

“Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?…O simple ones, learn prudence; O fools, learn sense….All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge….I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength….I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me….And now, O sons, listen to me: blessed are those who keep my ways. Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors. For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the LORD, but he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.” – Proverbs 8:1, 5, 8-9, 12-14, 17, 32-36 ESV

But this gets better! In Luke 7, immediately following this zinger of a verse, Jesus goes to eat dinner at Simon’s house, who happens to be a Pharisee. While there, a woman comes in, uninvited, and begins to make a scene by washing His feet with her tears and anointing them with ointment from an Alabaster flask (vs. 36-38). Jesus reads His host’s mind as he disapproves of this act and mentally questions Jesus’ authority and discernment of who this woman is. She is simply referred to as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (vs 37). Based on the reaction of Simon, she must have had a reputation that most knew. Jesus speaks to Simon directly and tells a story of two men who owed debts to a moneylender. One’s debt was considerably larger than the other. The moneylender cancelled both debts because neither could afford to repay what was owed. Jesus asks his host which debtor would love the financier more. He rightly answers that the one forgiven the greater amount (vs 41-43). Then, with a verbal one-two punch, Jesus says to Simon, referring to the woman at His feet, “‘Therefore I tell you, her sins which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And He said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven…Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (vs 47-48, 50)

Because of grace, this woman feared the LORD in the way that Psalm 130:3-4 describes. Therefore, she was willing to approach Jesus in all-out, fully abandoned, worship. She was not willing to act according to the status quo. She responded to who Jesus is. This is the fear of the LORD that flows from God’s gracious forgiveness and leads to the wisdom of God in our lives. We, too have been forgiven much. We too can approach Jesus doubting, as Simon did, or in surrendered worship like this woman.

What will fuel your approach to Jesus? Forgiveness, fear, and wisdom? Or foolish pride and doubt?