Romans 11:1-24: The Beauty of Awe in the Presence of God
March 17, 2019
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Paul tells the story of Israel and its future salvation, making the point that those who are saved should in no way then be proud. Rather we should fear. For we stand by faith (11:20). What then should we learn from this part of Romans?
First, that the gospel is not to cause us to be proud. It is possible to become proud about being a Christian. To be proud of our Christian heritage. To be proud of the things that we know (and that maybe other people don’t know). To be proud of our successes. To be proud, perhaps, that we said “yes” to God when others said “no.” Maybe this stench of pride is partly what puts off non-Christians from hearing about Christianity? It feels as if we are trying to convert them to our way of looking at things, with the subtext that our way of looking at things is better than theirs. But the gospel is not to cause us to be proud.
Rather, second, the gospel is to cause us to fear! This seems a strange word for many Christians today. Surely fear is not something that Christians should ever experience in relation to God anymore. But there are two kinds of fear. There is the kind of fear which is closer to what we would call terror or being frightened. Sometimes in this kind of fear there is a sort of hate. Certainly a revulsion. A despising of the thing which we fear. But there is another kind of fear. Sometimes we call this kind of fear by the name “respect.” But respect is probably not quite strong enough a word to give a sense of this sort of fear. The old word which described it best was “awe.” It is the feeling that you have when you see the Grand Canyon. Or when you stand next to Niagara Falls. You are not revolted by the Niagara Falls. There is a stunning beauty to them. But they are also not to be played with. You would be extraordinarily foolish to jump in without any precautions. Similarly, we are to fear God. We cannot help but fear God when we get to know him. He is utterly awesome: to know God is to be filled with awe. And in particular, in this text, the kind of awe/fear/respect that we are to have is based on the nature of the gospel. We are saved purely by grace. That leads us to fear, for it is nothing that we have done and we rely entirely on his sovereign mercy.
Third, therefore, we are to trust God. Such an easy thing to say, and yet so hard to do in practice! It is so easy to say we trust God but hoard our money or our resources. It is so easy to say we trust God and yet be filled with worries and anxieties. It is so easy to say we trust God and yet do everything we can to make our lives as comfortable as possible just in case something goes wrong. We say we trust God, but we live as if God is not trustable – or not capable, which amounts to the same thing. But to live a life of trust in God is the freest kind of life possible, the most rewarding, and the only kind of life that is rewarded. It is this life of faith that many of the Israelites in Paul’s day rejected. And it is only by faith that we can be saved and please God. It is always active: look at Hebrews 11 for the deeds of great courage that are done only by faith. And it is faith that means we are not to be proud, and frees us from false fear and lets us instead live with beauty of awe in the presence of God.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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