Throughout its 2,000 year-long history, the church has struggled to find the balance between extremes. Martin Luther, the great Reformer, compared us to a drunkard who tries to mount a horse: He falls off one side, determines not to do it again, then falls off the other side. The extremes I’m talking about today concern the issue of sin and forgiveness. On one side you have legalism (epitomized by the Pharisees), which basically tries to earn God’s approval by what you do. It majors on externals and forgets how dependant we are on his grace. The opposite error is antinomianism. It’s a long term, but it’s well worth learning, since I believe it’s infected much of American Christianity. It comes from the Greek word nomos, meaning “law.” So literally it’s “anti-law.” This is the heretical belief that once you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you don’t have to be concerned about living a holy life or pleasing him. It’s summed up by the statement “I’ve been forgiven, so now I can live however I please.”
Today’s passage, particularly vss. 3-4 provides a corrective to both errors. Verse 3 provides a great declaration of the universality of sin. Of course, we need to take it context. The rest of Scripture makes clear that he is keeping a record of sins. I think that what the Psalmist is referring to is the possibility of God acting on those records. Psalm 103 says that he doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. If he did, if he announced that starting at midnight tonight everyone would get exactly what they deserve, who would still be standing at one minute past?
Then we get to the kicker. In fact, we might've found another one of my beloved “tension” verses. Remember what we said about the “fear of the Lord” around this time last year? When we talk about the “fear” of something, we usually mean it in the sense of being afraid of something, trying to avoid it. But the Bible, especially the O.T., means something very different by the term. It’s a reverence mixed with awe mixed with a desire to know him and please him. To quote Ruby Shelly again from last year, it’s “not dread but astonishment. Not terror but reverence. Not shaking-in-your-boots panic, but enraptured-with-love fascination.”
Do you see the paradox, why I love this verse so much? Even with this enlightened understanding of the concept, what do you think would inspire us to fear him? His power, his majesty, his omnipotence, his omniscience, his holiness? The fact that one day all of creation will stand before him to be judged? Absolutely. But there’s something more. It’s his forgiveness, his grace, his mercy, his kindness to us which leads to fear of him. When we see how much we’ve sinned and how much he’s forgiven forever, never to be brought up again, then we experience the fear of him. It’s when we contemplate what it took for him to be able to do this, that’s when we fear him.
Father God, words utterly fail me right now. I just want to bow down in worship of you. With you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.