The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 5: Joy in Fearing the Lord [3 of 3]
Once I relinquished legalism, once I let go of my Pharisaic mindset, once the Spirit convinced me that, as an adopted son of the Most High God, heaven was indeed my destiny and eternal life my reward, the terror of hell, which had preoccupied my mind for so long, gradually released its power, and I became free to live the life God intended for me. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” the apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians. “Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1 NRSVCE). And to the Romans he wrote “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” (Romans 8:15 NRSVCE). Abba is the Aramaic word for “Daddy,” and once I let go of the terror of hell and climbed up into my Daddy’s lap with awe and wonder, faith and hope, my heart opened to God’s continuous presence, and with it the potential and reality of the Spirit’s fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Because, as Paul wrote in Galatians 5:23, “There is no law against such things.”
“The fear of the Lord delights the heart,” Ben Sira wrote in The Book of Sirach, “and gives gladness and joy and long life.” (Sirach 1:12 NRSVCE). And as fear of the Lord brings joy and celebration to our hearts, “the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11 NIV). Growing up Catholic I experienced this fear in the reverential atmosphere of every mass, and especially in the Easter Vigil mass and midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In those celebrations we sent our prayers and praises to the Father on the rise of incense and the lowering of eyes, in the solemnity of hymns and the hush of Eucharist. I knew God sat on His throne, but at the time I didn’t comprehend I could “approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16 NRSVCE). It’s no accident the three Synoptic Gospels record that, at the moment Jesus gave up His spirit, the curtain of the temple “was torn in two from top to bottom.” (See Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45). This tearing of the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place–the Holy of Holies–symbolized the initiation of direct access to God (starting from the top) by anyone (ending at the bottom) through the blood sacrifice of the Jesus, the atoning Lamb of God, because “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22b).
Now I have no fear, no terror, no phŏbŏs, of God’s judgment, because I have been bought for a price, and have been found blameless in His sight as I walk in His righteousness willingly given and humbly accepted. “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,” Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “that we should no longer be slaves to sin–because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7 NRSVCE).
With this realization, the door to a satisfying, exciting, and joyful relationship with the Most High God, the Lord of lords, the King of kings can begin by letting go of your chains of slavery to servile fear and putting on the garment of filial fear, bowing your head, and opening your heart to the love, gifts, and promises of the One who deserves the focus of our entire being. As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 33:8: “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all who dwell in the world revere him.” (Psalm 33:8 NASB). Alleluia!
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes