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The Forgotten Fear

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So here’s the challenge: “At every point in my Christian life, from the moment I breathe my first breath as a new creature in Christ to the moment when I take my last breath, the entire time of my sojourning—all of this is to be marked by the fear of God.” So says Albert Martin in his new book The Forgotten Fear. By that standard, how are you doing? Do you fear God?

The problem is that you may not even know. The fear of God was once a common subject among Christians. They knew how to define the fear of God and they knew how to examine their lives for its presence or absence. Today, though, the language of fear has been greatly diminished if not forgotten altogether. Martin goes to the Bible and comes to a concerning conclusion: “To be devoid of the fear of God is to be devoid of biblical and saving religion.” And again, “if you do not know what the fear of God is in your heart and life, you do not know experientially the first thing about true biblical and saving religion.” And this notion of fear does not only make a difference to the head of the Christian but also to his heart and hands. “One of the accurate measurements of true spiritual growth is the measure to which one increases in walking in the fear of God.”

What, then, is this fear of God? Martin follows the Bible in defining “fear” in two ways, the fear of terror or dread and the fear of awe or honor. Both of these are meant to apply to the relationship of humans to their Creator.

These two common uses of the word “fear” in the vocabulary of the people of biblical times (and also in some measure in our vocabulary) are both included in the biblical notion of the fear of God. There is a legitimate sense in which the fear of God involves being afraid of God, being gripped with terror and dread. Though this is not the dominant thought in Scripture, it is there nonetheless. The second aspect of fear, which is peculiar to the true children of God, is the fear of veneration, honor, and awe with which we regard our God. It is a fear that leads us not to run from Him but to draw near to Him through Jesus Christ and gladly submit to Him in faith, love, and obedience.

Having drawn in the reader with the importance and centrality of the subject, Martin dedicates chapters to the ingredients that together make up the fear of God, the source of this fear, the relationship of fear to the Christian’s conduct, and instruction on how to maintain and increase this fear. He maintains this singular focus on his topic and addresses it thoroughly but in a very reader-friendly fashion.

There is much to appreciate in The Forgotten Fear. I especially appreciate Martin’s tenor and tone. There is something delightfully old-school about his style of writing and even his approach to a topic like this. He represents a way of interacting with God’s Word and a way of calling on people to obey that Word that is rare today. Somehow this old style feels fresh, almost like writing in a Moleskine journal instead of typing on an iPad. It hearkens to something in the past that we should not forget.

I also appreciate Martin’s consistency in varying his application between younger and older believers. It is clear that he has a burden for young people who have grown up in the church but who are living rebellious lives, whether that rebellion is outright and blatant or quiet and seemingly respectable. For that reason, a good bit of the application is dedicated to calling on these churched kids to take hold of the gospel they have heard and rejected, or heard and neglected, so many times. This is a book I would comfortably encourage my teenaged or young adult children to read.

Finally, I appreciate his urgency. This is obviously a matter of deep importance to him and he truly believes that Christians are missing out on something that will motivate them to know God better and to live holier lives. He is convinced that many people are missing a key to understanding and honoring God. He believes that many other people are convinced they are Christians when they are not and that exposure to the fear of God may call them to true repentance. He writes urgently but not manipulatively.

The Forgotten Fear is a helpful, powerful treatment of a neglected subject. I enthusiastically recommend it.

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