Psalm 36:1-12, “Whatever Happened to the Fear of God?”
Dr. Jeffrey K. Boer
[New Year’s Sermon]
Our society today is being deceived by a false Gospel!
"By whom?” you ask.
By the church. By ministers and evangelists and missionaries. By those who’ve been called and sent to proclaim the Word of God to the lost!
Due to the false preaching of many of those false prophets of our day, most
people in our generation have been taught to believe that God is basically loving and kind to everyone. In fact, they’re taught to believe that God is almost exclusively loving and kind. They’re taught that God loves everybody and wants only good for all men.
The question I want to ask today is, “Whatever happened to the fear of
There was a time when “hellfire and damnation” preaching caused sinners to
tremble with threats of eternal punishment under the wrath of a holy God. We don’t hear much of that any more because we’ve been taught that God is essentially loving. Bumper stickers and smile buttons remind us constantly, “Smile! God loves you!” From pulpits across our land, both in churches and on TV, we hear preachers and evangelists pleading with sinners to “Please accept God’s love! God loves you and wants to save you, if you’ll only accept Him into your heart!” The Gospel is presented today as if God’s feelings will be hurt if we don’t “accept” His offer of love that He “offers” to all men.
Such an imbalance and overemphasis on the love of God has given many people a distorted view of God. All too often, people today view God as little more than a kindly, old, gray-haired grandfather, sitting up in the clouds
with a big, friendly smile on His face. And even though He’s not always happy with the words and actions of men, He always smiles and says, “Don’t worry. I’ll forgive you! I love you no matter what.” And apparently, all that’s required in order to receive this forgiveness is a casual nod toward heaven, acknowledging that God is there. After all, God knows, nobody’s perfect!
The problem is that those “God Loves You” bumper stickers assure even unrepentant sinners that they, too, are secure in God’s love. People are led to believe that God is just tickled to death with this generation and that He loves them all to pieces.
Well it’s high time for our society to “wake up and smell the judgment fires burning!” In Psalm 5:5, the psalmist says, of God, “You hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the LORD abhors.” Proverbs 11:20 says, “The LORD detests men of perverse heart.” Psalm 7:11 says, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day!”
How can we expect sinners to fear God or to take seriously a God Who can just sit back and watch His holy law being broken and trampled, left and right? And through it all, He simply smiles and says, “Hey, don’t worry about it! I love you anyway! ‘To err is human – to forgive, Divine!’”
The problems is that until men come to see what God is really like, they won’t
even begin to see their great need for a Savior.
Romans 1:7 is very clear on this. It says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness!”
The God of modern day, lovey-dovey, “positive thinking,” evangelical Christianity is not the God of Scripture. The God of today’s evangelicals is a joke! He’s a helpless, doting Grampa who allows people to walk all over Him and even to spit in His face while He just keeps on loving them anyway. It’s no wonder, then, that there’s no fear of God among men any more. There’s not even any fear of God among many so-called
And yet, we read in Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”
Our text in Psalm 36 shows that it’s a mark of the wicked to have no fear of God. V. 1 says, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.”
That famous description of depravity in Romans 3:10‑18 is a description, not of believers, not of Christians, but of all men before they repent and believe. In other words, it’s a description of the wicked. And that description begins, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God…” And it ends with this summary of the matter, a direct quote from Psalm 36:1, “There is no fear of God before their eyes!”
So it’s the wicked who have no fear of God. “No fear,” by the way, usually translates into, “no obedience,” as well. That’s also the point of Psalm 36:1, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.”
That description continues, in Psalm 36:2-4, “For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.”
The point is, he doesn’t fear God, therefore he doesn’t try to obey God. He follows his own, evil course, with no thought for the consequences.
Psalm 36 is also very clear about the fact that God’s love is not for everyone, at least not in the sense of His saving love. Of course we know that God provides many good gifts, even for evil people who are not chosen by Him to be saved. God sends His rain on the evil as well as on the just. If you want to call that “love,” I think you’re using the term in a way the Bible doesn’t ever use it. But in any case, we know that God gives everyone a far better life in this world than they deserve. God doesn’t immediately destroy sinners in their sin, for example. Even to sinners He gives His blessings of sunshine and rain and food and clothing and shelter. And God gives sinners plenty of time to repent and plenty of good reason to repent as well. But since they don’t repent, God’s patience and His goodness and His kindnesses toward them will one day come to an end, and He’ll throw them down into the darkness of Hell, never again to rise and do evil in His sight!
You see, God’s love is a holy love. It’s a just love. Some people think that the only way for God to love someone is to decide not to justly punish their sin. They think that love and justice can’t possibly exist together.
Actually, the truth is, love and justice can’t possibly be separated! We read in Psalm 36:5-6, “Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.”
Here we see that the highest love is perfectly compatible with the deepest justice. God loves all that is good and He hates and punishes all that is evil.
So God is a God of love, yes. But it’s a holy love. It’s a just love. And it’s a love for those who’ve been given the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ
through faith in Him. It’s a love for those who’ve come to repent of their sins and who’ve turned, in faith, to Jesus Christ, because they fear God.
In Romans 3:21-28, we see how God’s justice and His love met in Jesus Christ as Christ suffered and died on the cross: “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”
So God’s love and His justice are not merely compatible – they’re
inseparable. Only by justly punishing our sins in Christ Jesus could God demonstrate both His perfect justice and His perfect love for His chosen people at the same time.
Although God picks and chooses those upon whom He will set His mercy
and love, there’s a sense in which God’s love is indiscriminatory. God
doesn’t discriminate between people based on anything in those people
themselves. All men are sinners. None of them are worthy of God’s love, and yet God chooses to set His love on some of those sinful men. But He chooses to love men from all stations of life, both high and low, and from all races and nationalities. In that sense, God doesn’t show discrimination on the basis of anything in man.
But there’s another sense in which God’s love is discriminatory. God does discriminate between men in that He sets His love only upon those whom He decides to love. The Scriptures make very clear, however, that this discrimination in the love of God has nothing to do with any differences among men. For, when it comes right down to it, no one deserves God’s love. All men have fallen far short of proper obedience. Yet God chooses to set His love upon certain people, merely out of His free mercy and grace. His love is His to give, and He decides to whom He will give it.
Our text continues in Psalm 36:7-10, “How priceless is your
unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you
is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
[That verse, according to some sources, was John Calvin’s favorite verse: “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.”] Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.”
So we see that God’s love is, in one sense, a discriminatory love. It’s a love that causes men, by grace, to come to “know Him.” It’s a love toward those who, by grace, have been given His righteousness and have been made “upright in heart.” The psalmist says, “Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart.”
You see, God wouldn’t really be loving toward those who feared Him if He loved those who hated Him and who persecute His beloved, holy children
as well. What kind of love is it that says, “I love you, but I also love that person who wants to destroy you”? What kind of person is it who says, “I love righteousness, but I also love wickedness”?
Psalm 36:10-12 shows us what kind of love God has for His own. The psalmist writes, “May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away. See how the evildoers lie fallen – thrown down, not able to rise!”
So God does not love the wicked. The only reason God can love His own, chosen people is because He views them, from all eternity, as righteous and holy in His Son, Jesus Christ. God does not and will not love men who are outside of Christ. That would make Him a “two-timer.” And God is not a “two-timer.” His is the most faithful love that’s ever been.
God brings a just and holy end to the lives of those who have “no fear of God before their eyes.” Those who never come to fear God in this life will all be thrown down to Hell, never able to rise.
I certainly don’t say this to gloat over such men. I consider it a grave
tragedy for anyone to be cast into Hell, and I derive no pleasure from it
at all. But there’s a reason that I must preach to you that this will happen. I must preach these things to you because men who refuse to fear God need to know what God is really like so that they’ll fear Him and repent. To know God is to fear Him and to obey Him by believing in Jesus Christ. And such knowledge is the gift of God which He gives through the preaching of His Word.
Modern day “experts” on evangelism tell us to emphasize the positive. They tell us to emphasize the love of God. They say, “Speaking of the wrath and holiness of God might keep people from coming to church. Nobody wants to hear that fire and damnation stuff!”
Exactly! Nobody wants to hear that they have cancer, either, but that doesn’t mean the doctor would be doing them any favors by refusing to talk about their cancer or by telling them that everything is fine when it’s not.
Nobody wants to hear that they need to repent and believe in Jesus Christ or else they’ll go to Hell for all eternity to suffer the wrath of a just and holy God. But if they don’t hear that, they’ll never come to know the true God, because that’s what the Bible reveals as the truth about God.
In the Bible, all those who come into the presence of God are immediately struck with fear as they sense the holiness of God. When
God appeared to save Israel in the OT, Moses saw God in the burning
bush. God didn’t tell Moses to take off his sandals because he was
standing on loving ground. No, God said Moses was standing on “holy ground!”
All through the OT, God’s prophets preached that Israel must repent for they
had sinned against a “holy God.”
When Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord God, the angels weren’t crying out, “Loving, loving, loving is the LORD!” They were covering themselves with their wings in shame and crying out, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD
When the apostle John was caught up to Heaven and had a vision of God in Revelation 4:8, he heard the four beasts crying out, non-stop, day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”
Read through the book of Acts sometime, all at once. Acts is “the” book of evangelism in the Bible. It records the dramatic spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Some of you may be surprised to learn that the word, “love,” doesn’t occur even once in the book of Acts! Check it out if you don’t believe me. In their preaching in the book of Acts, the apostles never once appealed to unbelievers on the basis of God’s love!
Peter preached a sermon at Pentecost in which he exposed the sin of
the Jews, and in which he threatened them with the wrath of the now ascended and exalted Christ Whom they had crucified. He proclaimed loudly so all could hear, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
In other words, he “put the fear of God in ‘em” to such a degree that Acts 2:37 says, “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?”
At Solomon’s Colonnade in Acts 3:15, Peter preached, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this…Repent, then and turn to God!”
And I can guarantee you that Stephen wasn’t stoned for preaching the “love” of God! In Acts 7:51-53, he proclaimed, “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet whom your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him – you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it.”
How did Stephen ever expect to win the lost with preaching like that?
And the apostle Paul wasn’t any better. He preached on Mars Hill calling
men to repent in view of the coming judgment. He said that the resurrection of Christ meant the assurance of judgment for all unbelievers.
In Acts 17:30-31 Paul preached, “In the past God overlooked your ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead!”
When Paul stood before Governor Felix, he didn’t whip out his “Four Spiritual
Laws” booklet and say, “God loves you, Felix, and has a wonderful plan for
your life!” No, Paul broke all the modern day rules of evangelistic technique that the experts could devise. We read, in Acts 24:25, “As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid…!”
Paul’s aim was to instill the fear of God into Felix, and he admirably accomplished that aim!
If any of you have one of those red-letter Bibles, sit down sometime
and read some of Jesus’ sermons. Jesus was a judgment preacher! Jesus spoke often about fire and Hell, and weeping and gnashing of teeth! He preached to call men to repentance. Jesus didn’t run around begging people to please let Him love them and to please let Him come into their lives!
And yet, a preacher such as Dr. Robert Schuller speaks for many modern evangelicals today when he says, I don’t think anything has been done in the name of Christ and under the banner of Christianity that has proven more destructive to human personality, and hence counterproductive to the evangelism enterprise than the often crude, uncouth, and un-Christian strategy of attempting to make people aware of their lost and sinful condition. [Christianity Today, October 5, 1984]
Really? Because of such preaching the modern day evangelical church
has retreated from the truth. People today don’t learn to fear God, because as far as they know, there’s nothing to fear about Him! The God of the OT was fearful, maybe. But now, in the NT, God’s in a better mood they think, so we don’t need to fear Him any more.
Well if any of you here, today, think that’s the case, let me disabuse you
of that notion once and for all. Let me read for you from the NT text, Hebrews 10:26-31. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. [In other words, “That was the case in the OT. Now what about in the NT? Is God more loving toward unrepentant sinners in the NT?” The writer of Hebrews continues…] How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
That passage is talking about so-called “Christians”! It’s talking about people
who’ve heard the Gospel and may have even joined the church, but who later
fell away. They stopped attending worship. They just sort of drifted away from God. They got caught up in their own sinful pleasures and abandoned their only hope of avoiding the wrath of God. There was no fear of God before their eyes. They thought they could just live as they pleased and not have to suffer the consequences one day.
I pray that there are none of you here today who lack the fear of God. If you don’t fear God enough to do what Paul says in Philippians 2:12, beware! God’s wrath is being kindled against you, even now. Paul told the Philippians: “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
In Psalm 2:11-12, we read, “11 Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. 12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”
The beginning of a new year is always a good time to take stock of our lives. Time is passing swiftly by. The day of God’s wrath and judgment is approaching. Will you be able to stand on that day? Will you be able to enter into the presence of a holy God without being destroyed?
God’s Word is abundantly clear: Either fear Him now, or you will fear Him later! Our God is not One to be trifled with. Our God is a “consuming fire!”
But “blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Take refuge in Jesus Christ, your only hope of that perfect righteousness that’s necessary for you to enter into that glorious heaven where our holy God dwells!