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INTERSECT: From Rebellion to Reverence
By Matthew Bracey
Appear before the Queen of England and you’ll quickly discover a clear list of dos and don’ts.
For instance, you stand when she enters the room. You don’t speak unless first spoken to. If spoken to, you address her in a manner worthy of Her Majesty. You don’t initiate physical contact. If she deems your hand fit to shake, your handshake should be brief. You even dress in a particular fashion, depending upon the occasion. Appearing before the Queen is serious business, because she
deserves reverence. How much more is this true of the King of Kings (Revelation 19:16)? This begs the question: how do we express to God the reverence due His name?
Definition and Principles
Ask three people to define reverence, and chances are you’ll get three different answers. I did.
One pointed to the natural wonders of the created order, another to the amazing miracle of birth, and yet another to corporate worship. When we look to Scripture, we find that reverence refers to a godly fear that acknowledges God as God in every aspect of life.
Reverence concerns our disposition before God. It pertains to the quality of our character, lived day-in and day-out. It functions as a filter through which we approach all of life. And it inspires a conscientious walk that results in a life-encompassing outlook of admiration, awe, honor, praise, respect, wonder, and worship for God.
How does this affect the way we approach God? Do we approach Him as we would our best friend, the Queen of England, or somewhere in between? Referring again to our definition, in answering these questions, we acknowledge God as God. And to do this, we must know something of His character.
God is holy. In the beginning, perfect reverence characterized sinless man’s disposition before God. However, mankind exchanged reverence for rebellion (sin). Because God is holy, He judges sin. And as sin spread to all and hence judgment (Romans 2:12; 5:12), the prospect of appearing before God was no longer a happy one. In fact, it was quite terrible! It is no wonder that men like Moses, Job, Solomon, and Isaiah approached God in near-silent awe, fear, and wonder (Exodus 3; Job 38-42; Ecclesiastes 5; Isaiah 6). However, from God’s holiness flows another characteristic.
God is love. Although God judges sin, He provides an escape from its punishment through Jesus Christ, in whom believers may appear before God’s throne with boldness (Hebrews 4:16; 1 John 4:16-19). This is good news.
This narrative tells us much concerning God’s character. As He sanctifies us in Christ through the Spirit, we’ll increasingly reflect His character of holiness and love as we’re transformed from youthful rebellion to mature reverence. Thus, we don’t approach God with carelessness or flippancy, but with careful, joyous reverence worthy of our King. The apostle John’s example is instructive: when faced with the risen Christ, he falls at His feet in holy reverence (Revelation 1:17).
In the context of our personal lives, we learn reverence from God’s Word (Deuteronomy 17:19-20) and through prayer (Psalms 86:11). The simplest things are often the most important. In Scripture, we see people express reverence most clearly by bowing prostrate (Genesis 18:2; 2 Samuel 9:6). Whether we do this literally or figuratively, we too should exercise humble reverence as we read the Bible and pray, eagerly anticipating God’s instruction.
In the context of church, reverence means honor. If the examples of Moses, Job, Solomon, Isaiah, and John are any indication, we should not enter our times of worship in a fantastic hubbub as we might a coffee shop, but with an attitude of solemn reverence befitting a King. In addition, we do so in an honest, transparent fashion, forsaking any pretense. From our heart and mind’s condition and our physical appearance to the way we sing and preach, reverence should impact everything (Exodus 14:31; Deuteronomy 31:12-13; Psalm 2:11; Hebrews 12:28; Revelation 19:5).
In the context of society, reverence means countercultural obedience. Rather than asking, “Is this sinful?” we ask, “Is this best?” Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes is instructive. In a book about a man who tries everything under the sun to satisfy his soul, Solomon concludes by encouraging his readers to revere God and obey His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Admittedly, such obedience is difficult, but it is the way of Scripture.
Noah’s story provides another example. When God instructs him to build an ark because a flood is coming, he does so. But with no apparent access to water, onlookers probably mocked him (2 Peter 2:5; 3:3-7). In the face of such ridicule, Noah counter-culturally obeyed God in reverence (Hebrews 11:7).
Such obedience should also characterize our lives. The world will ridicule us. Sadly, so will other Christians at times—calling us names, telling us to loosen up, and talking about us behind our backs. Such is the cost of reverent, countercultural obedience. To some extent, Jesus even warned us about these prospects (John 15:18; 1 John 3:13).
Are we serious about holy living? Is our life’s trajectory moving from rebellion to reverence? How is this reflected in our choice of clothing, entertainment, language, and worship? We should be careful to avoid participating in irreverent behavior, or even shrugging it off, especially with fellow Christians. To do so reveres the gods of self or tolerance over the God of the universe. Instead, we should allow His perfect, pure Word to shape our every sensibility.
If the Queen of England warrants such esteem, how much more does the King of Heaven and Earth? In the context of our personal lives, the church, and society, the Bible invites us to take a serious look at its teachings on reverence. It challenges us to practice a godly fear that acknowledges God as God in all aspects of life. Indeed, it promises to take us to new horizons.
Intersect: where the Bible meets life is a regular column of ONE Magazine. Adapted from an article that first appeared in The Brink magazine (Fall 2013).
About the Writer: Matthew Bracey and his wife Sarah live in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. Matt works at Welch College, where he serves as Registrar and member of the faculty, teaching courses in history, law, and theology. He holds degrees from Cumberland School of Law (J.D.), Beeson Divinity School (M.T.S.), and Welch College (B.A., History, Biblical Studies).