Learning from the Past: The Importance of Purity of Heart and the Fear of the Lord
The question we have to ask ourselves today as Gospel people is whether the God we are preaching is really him. Often, as quick-to-preach, desiring-revival types, we need to be careful that our passion is not self-involved but is really passion for and from the true God, YHWH, revealed in Jesus Christ. One way we can do that is to fearfully look back at the past and to make sure we learn from it.
Germany as a nation birthed the Moravians, a pietist movement that inspired David’s Tent, and also many of today’s worship-movements like Bethel and Burn 24/7. They were a large part of John Wesley’s awakening, Pentecostalism and also, the anti-slavery push of certain evangelical Christians across the UK, leading to its glorious abolishment.
And yet, Germany was also the site of something far uglier. In the 1930s, Germany was an ostensibly majority-Christian nation, that claimed to worship a Jewish Messiah. However, the Berlin declaration (German: Berliner Erklärung), a theological statement, signed by 56 leading Evangelical theologians in 1909, condemned the Pentecostal renewal as from Satan. The Holy Spirit of Jesus, and His gifts were rejected out of the national protestant Churches. This was a theological tragedy, and meant the Church remained powerless from freeing itself from idols like the nation through the power of the Spirit and the renewal that swept the globe from Asuza Street.
Decades later, Germany was thrown into national idolatry, worshipping their Fuhrer, Hitler. This involved the formation of the Deutsche Christen, a populist Christian movement that idolatrously worshipped Hitler and his regime. The result was the murder of millions. The question should linger in each of our minds – how could a majority-Christian nation be susceptible, and the perpetrators of such evil be enslaved so profoundly to the idols of the German state?
Arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Karl Barth responded to the question and the god-forsaken evil of the holocaust by reasserting
1. The primacy and centrality of Word of God, Jesus Christ and
2. The importance of the fear of the Lord.
A nation that claimed to worship a Jewish Messiah, killed 6 million Jews. If they truly lived in the fear of the Lord, this would never have been possible. One of the keys here is that Karl Barth emphasised the fear of the Lord, but he took and reversed the dictum from Luther's Smaller Catechism, “We must fear and love God.”
The problem here was that Luther posited a “God” to be feared before he knew the love of God that corrected our image of Him. Luther was, in many of his later writings, anti-Semitic. Luther’s work was also twisted by many to split the person of Jesus, as a Jewish carpenter, a loving, compassionate rabbi who never acted, but overcame the world through love, from his work to justify us by faith, meaning people could receive salvation simply by belonging to the Church, not following Him as Lord. Without the love of God, we don’t really know him, but without the fear of the Lord, our love for him is not real.
In scripture we see that the fear of the Lord is the power that cleanses us from a false understanding of who God really is. On the day of Pentecost the apostles were filled with awe and praise, two signs of true fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord also keeps our heart pure, and our mouths clean. With purity alone can we see, through Jesus, God’s image, the invisible God.
Without the Spirit of Holiness who pours out the love of God in our hearts we risk preaching and following a false, self-constructed, politically-edited God.
Jesus was clear that the pure in heart will truly see God, and if we don’t truly see him, we are bound to worship a false god.
The fear of the Lord protects us from fleshly emotions and the desire to take revenge into our own hands. It’s the power that Jesus had when he was rejected and murdered by religious leaders and the state. It enabled him to resist fighting back, trusting God’s justice in dying on a cross, and receiving his vindication in rising again.
In Isaiah 11, it was prophesied that the coming Messiah would have “the spirit of the fear of the Lord and his delight would be in the fear of the Lord.” The fear of the Lord is the recalibrating power of the Holy Spirit to keep us centred on the real God. It keeps us away from worshipping idols like politics, the state, or an over-focus on moralising others, or even hatred for the other, instead of humbly hating our own sin:
“The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether... The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Jesus gives us the same spirit of the fear of the Lord to centre and anchor our desire for intimacy with him, as we, Jesus Fields, look toward bringing His revival. We want the real love and intimacy of God that comes through the purifying presence. This is the key to a pure heart, freeing us of false images and idols, and the counterfeit loves and salvation that are preached and worshipped by this world. Purity costs us sinning, and destroys a cheap-grace Gospel, unlocking saints that in wisdom, hold out the Word of the Gospel that God calls all to a repentant intimacy with the One True Living God. We can’t do anything without Him.
David Bennett is a Speaker and Fellow for the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA) and Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM).
As a passionate Christian apologist, theologian, and communicator, David speaks and writes on a wide range of topics, inlcuding the hiddenness and nature of God, the reliability of the scriptural witness, human nature, worship, and knowing the love of God.
He is frequently asked to appear and speak in a variety of settings including national radio and TV, most recently BBC 1’s The Big Questions and an upcoming interview with VICE Australia. As a celibate gay Christian, David is seeking to be a fresh voice on questions related to the nature of love, desire, and sexuality in order to remove obstacles to the abundant life that comes from following Jesus and to help others find the positive moral vision God has for all people.