3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with You,
That You may be feared.
If fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10), then the beginning of the fear of the Lord is awareness of His forgiveness. Why would that be? Because, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) You see, awareness of God’s punishments and power is just part of the equation, because they simply show us His might. But it is in His salvation that God best demonstrates His rule over our lives, and in His sovereign mercy God most shows us that He is to be feared, respected, and adored.
At any moment, the Lord could choose to wipe humanity from the face of the earth, and yet He stays His hand. As the Psalmist says, if the Lord were really keeping tabs on all our sins, then He would have struck us down already. Who could stand before the Lord of hosts and expect to be found worthy of entry into His kingdom? Who could stand alone and defend himself before the Righteous Judge, the Lord God of Israel? Who could stand when the glory of the Lord stood before him, shining in all His purity, righteousness, and power? Who could stand?
Look at the times the Lord appeared to the patriarchs, heroes, and prophets of the Old Testament, and see what they did: they fell to their knees, prostrated themselves, and acknowledged that they were not worthy to witness the presence of the Lord. And these were the men and women God had personally chosen to serve Him! These people knew they could not stand before the Lord God, and yet God overlooked their innate sinfulness and found ways for them to serve Him. The Lord did not mark their iniquities but instead marked their FAITH.
And it is in that moment when we know our own unworthiness and acknowledge God as Lord that He then expresses His abundant mercy and He forgives us. Often I feel like David and I ask the Lord, “Who am I, O LORD God? And what is my house that you have brought me this far?” (1 Chronicles 17:16) And sometimes I express the surprise of Mephibosheth, the grandson of King Saul, when he was shown mercy and favor by King David: “What is your servant, that you should look upon such a dead dog as I?” (2 Samuel 9:8) I have to admit I am surprised that I am still standing.
And yet it is in that knowledge–knowledge of my own sinfulness and knowledge of God’s forgiveness–that true understanding and wisdom is found. God’s sovereignty over His justice is shown not so much through His judgments but through His mercy. When the Creator of the universe is able to stay His righteous wrath and instead extend grace to us, then we cannot help but fear and tremble before Him. Judgment so averted is the surest sign we could have of His power over our lives, and it ought to teach us to face Him with awe and devotion.
My fear of the Lord is tied less to His punishments than to His mercy toward me. I look at who I have been, the sins I continue to repent, and the “hidden faults” that I don’t even realize I have (Psalms 19:12), and then I regard God’s great love toward us in Christ… Well, isn’t that astounding love enough to make YOU tremble?
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) That ought to give us pause, make us look with trepidation and awe at the deep chasm into which we so nearly drove ourselves. Standing on the brink of an eternity in hell and yet forgiven and invited to heaven, ought we not to fear the One who forgave us and called us hence?
Who could stand and say that he or she is not a sinner? Who could stand and say he or she is able to stand alone in this sinful and broken world? Who could stand when the ledger is tallied of their lies, their pride, their stony heart and their utter disobedience? Who could stand before God without truly knowing if they have truly repented all their sins?
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
No one could so stand before the Lord our God without the forgiveness found through Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection. It is only through faith in Christ that we are able to say we stand in this world, and only through faith in Christ will we be able to stand before God in that last day and know that we need not fear His wrath. Knowing that God saw fit to pay the price for our sins Himself, how can we not thank Him and fear Him? When God is so faithful to forgive, how can we not respond with the faith He so desires from us?
The gospel is a mighty thing when we fully contemplate the wonder of God’s righteousness and mercy. Our Father in heaven might have just let things stand as they were, might have just left us to wallow in our sin until the final judgment.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,
5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),
6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
There is forgiveness in God through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Such amazing grace does indeed teach our hearts to fear God, and such grace also relieves our fears of the things of this world. Let us therefore fear and love the Lord our God not for His power and might, nor for His righteous judgments, nor for His discipline, but for His faithfulness and mercy toward us all.
Holy Father God, how precious indeed did that grace appear the hour I first believed! You remember how I wept at Your forgiveness, Lord, and You know how I still am amazed at Your mercy. And yet, Lord God, I cling to that grace, draw upon that grace for my hope and future, live within that grace because, truly, there is no better place to live. And so, Father, I fall before Your throne, worshiping You for Your salvation, and I seek but one thing, Lord: show me how I might stand in Your name and serve You better. Amen.