The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part III. Filial Fear in Relationship to Christ the Lord

This entire series is my 30-paged bachelor thesis I submitted to the theology department at Concordia University-Ann Arbor—a higher Lutheran education university—as part of the requirement to graduate from the Pre-Seminary programme. It has been reformatted to fit this blog.


So far, we have seen Adamic fear as fearing God’s wrath as a result of unbelief, being separated from God; and we have seen Mosaic fear as fear of disobedience to God’s Law. In either condition, there is no hope. In Adamic fear, there is no hope as one is separated from the One who gives us hope through Christ. In Mosaic fear, there is no hope as it is a reliance upon works to continually sustain the Law in order to please God, which the human is incapable of accomplishing. Through filial fear, however, we have hope because of what God has done out of love for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Thus, fear and love of God are complementary rather than separate. Filial fear is the result of justification brought about by Christ our Lord. Throughout the Scriptures, God and Christ are both confessed to be our Lord. What this means is that we are under the jurisdiction of God’s Lordship as well as Christ’s Lordship. As Christians who worship Christ, what does it mean that Christ is our Lord? As I have already shown, Christ reshapes what it means to both fear and love God. Luke’s account of Jesus Christ, in particular, gives us a picture of what it means for Christ to be our Lord, which helps us to better understand true Christian fear more clearly as a result of justification.

In the beginning of his account, Luke’s intention is for it to be a continuation of the Old Testament (Rowe, 32). He does not, however, use specific Old Testament prophecies or typologies to show this as the reader would expect. Instead, in the first two chapters he assumes the reader is familiar enough with the entire Old Testament narrative to come to the same conclusion he has that Christ is the fulfilment of God’s covenant promise to Israel (Rowe, 34). One prominent example is when Luke uses κυρίου (kuriou, Lord) in 2:23-24. In this statement he attributes the Law to the Lord to whom it belongs: YHWH. Luke’s use of Θέος (Theos, God) is also noteworthy. Three times at the beginning of his narrative, Lord and God are used together (1:16, 32, 68) while only using “the Lord” after verse 68 where it is used as a referent to YHWH. Therefore, according to Luke, the Lord is YHWH. For Luke, “the continuity of the ‘new’ events with the ‘old’ depend upon the purpose and action of God” (Rowe, 34, emphasis added). The fulfilment of God’s purpose in Christ, then, is enacted by the Lord YHWH Himself.

In this way Luke identifies Christ as one with YHWH, though He is also distinct from YHWH in the Trinity. In Luke, YHWH enters into the New Testament story of Jesus Christ, who is also called κύριος (kurios), the Lord. Theologian Lee Snook views Luke’s gospel as “re-interpreting God’s way of ruling in the world” (Snook, 306). Luke’s interpretation of how God rules in the world is understood in his emphasis on Christ’s Lordship. Throughout Luke’s account, Jesus is named and identified as the Lord. Early in the narrative, the first human being in Luke’s account to attribute “Lord” to Christ is Elisabeth, who says, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (1:43)? This is most significant when just before this in 1:25, Elisabeth says, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when He looked on me, to take away my reproach among the people” after she gave birth to John the Baptiser. The referent of this “Lord” in the context is YHWH, the God of Israel, who took her shame away by giving her the ability to conceive. The next time Elisabeth appears in Jesus’ birth narrative, she calls Mary the mother of her Lord. Hence, the referent of the Lord is the infant in Mary’s womb: Jesus Christ. For Elisabeth, and for all Christians, both YHWH and Jesus are κύριος. Luke gives his clear statement of Christ as Lord in 2:11where Jesus is σωτήρ (sotēr) as well as Χριστός (Christos) κύριος (kurios), Saviour and Christ the Lord respectively. Thus, beginning with Elisabeth’s confession of Jesus as the same Lord as YHWH, we see throughout the rest of Luke’s gospel Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:5), Lord of the Gentiles (7:1-10), and many other instances of His authority, most significant of which is His Lordship over death (7:11-17), which is ultimately revealed in His resurrection (24:1-12).

Crucial to our understanding of Christ as Lord is Luke 20:41-42 in which Jesus quotes from Psalm 110:1, “But He said to them, ‘How can they say that the Christ is David’s son? For David himself says in the Book of Psalms, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand…”‘” In Greek, Psalm 110:1 states: Εἶπεν κύριος τῷ κυρίῷ μου, “The Lord said to my Lord.” This is crucial to our understanding of Christ as Lord for two reasons. First, this verse is intimately connected to the confession Elisabeth made earlier in 1:43 by the virtue of the word kurios, a key Christological term for Luke, as Rowe has shown (Rowe, 175-177). (Note: Rowe lists three reasons, but only two are important for my purposes.) Second, Jesus confesses His unity with the Father yet also shows His distinction from the Father. The unity is that God and Jesus are equally Lord, yet Jesus also shows His distinction from the Father by sitting at His right hand (cf. Christ’s submission to the Father in the High Priestly prayer, John 17). Rowe summarises it this way, “The κύριος [kurios, Lord] who in Luke’s story is the presence of the κύριος of Israel brings to life the text which speaks of their identity and which points proleptically to their victory through the coming passion and death” (Rowe, 176-177).

Peter is also a prominent figure in identifying Christ as Lord. In Peter’s third denial of Jesus and after the third crow of the rooster, Peter notices Jesus looking at him. In the English text—the Greek concurs—it says the Lord turned and looked at Peter and Peter remembered the saying of the Lord (Luke 22:61). All three synoptic gospels record this account of Peter’s denial, yet whereas Matthew and Mark use Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous, Jesus), Luke uses κύριος (Rowe, 178). This connects back to the beginning of Peter’s discipleship with Jesus when Jesus calls him in 5:8whom Peter refers to Jesus in the vocative, κύριε (kuriê). The Jesus whom Peter called Lord when he was called is the same Jesus he calls Lord when he rejects Him. Throughout Peter’s story of his relationship to Christ, we see how Christ is not only his Lord, but also our Lord. Therefore, our understanding of Jesus as Lord “depends not upon permanence in human perception or depth of human faith but instead upon the ongoing story of the Lord” (Rowe, 179).

What is this story of the Lord? It is, “The redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith… It was to show [God’s] righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26). This passage is crucial to Rowe’s understanding of Christ as God’s purpose and action. As we begin to understand how God rules in the world through Christ, we have to “follow along the way with Jesus and try to keep up with the action, to watch how things go with Jesus” (Snook, 307). That is, what narrative is being told of God’s reign in Christ’s purpose and actions? The story of Christ is the story of the Lord’s ultimate purpose and action of bringing justification—the righteous act of God—to the human being who is alienated from God. As we have seen, Adamic fear is the fear of God’s wrath as a result of being alienated from God. Mosaic fear is a fear of disobedience to God’s Law since it requires a continuous effort to be holy. God, however, did for man what man is incapable to do for himself: He brought redemption to humans through the cross of Jesus Christ, who was put forth as the final sacrifice to appease God’s wrath, which is received by faith.

The cross of Christ is where humans come before God and acknowledge their natural enmity toward Him (Adamic fear). Koeberle calls this condition of enmity both aversus Deo (away from God) and adversus Deum (against God) where, “Man is totally ignorant of his condition, so pleased with himself, so self-centered, that he imagines that his flight from God and his enmity against God is actually a grand achievement” (Koeberle, 643). Because of this condition of ignorance and self-centeredness—or alienation—something like a mirror needs to be placed in front of humans in order for them to see their perversity (Adamic fear). This is accomplished in the second use of the law where the Christian recognises his or her inability to keep the Law (Mosaic fear) and only finds the end of their separation from God at the cross (filial fear). By this, the Christian confesses something similar to, “‘Justifying faith’ accepts God’s judgment over me which He rendered in the Cross of Christ; it affirms the overwhelming fact that God has abandoned His wrath, which I had merited; and it believes that God accepts me for Christ’s sake” (Koeberle, 653). In the alienated condition humans are born into (original sin), the person incurs God’s wrath because it is what all humans deserve (Romans 6:23a); thus, he also fears God’s wrath (Adamic fear). (While the atheist or unbeliever may not admit to fearing God’s wrath, fear is often expressed in hate and denial.) Yet Christ the Lord moves us from being enemies of God to being children of God (see Romans 5:10; Ephesians 1:3-6).

As a child of God, the Christian recognises she is to show her love for God by keeping His commandments (Mosaic fear), but at the same time recognises her inability to do this completely, Thus, the Christian exercises filial fear with the recognition that Christ is our Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) through whom we are justified by God (Romans 3:24-26). We are no longer bound to approach God in fear of punishment (Adamic fear) and fear of fulfilling the Law (Mosaic fear). Rather, as Luther says in his Small Catechism, we are free to “ask [God] boldly and with complete confidence” to forgive our sins and ask for all our needs, “just as loving children ask their loving father” (Kolb, 356). This is a result of our justification given through the propitiation of Christ on the cross, which enables us to exercise filial fear. This is especially seen in Baptism when we enter the same filial relationship Christ has with the Father, becoming children of God (Ephesians 1:3-5). Koeberle borrows the language of Luther when he explains how Christ as Mediator—as High Priest—reorients the Christian from fear to trust, “We are tormented by the question whether we dare approach God, since we have so often forgotten and despised Him in our life. Through Christ the Mediator, however, we receive the joy and liberty to approach God with all confidence and to address Him as dear children address their father” (Koeberle, 655). Thus, Hebrews 4:15-16 encourages, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (emphasis added). While we may certainly fear the consequences of our sin, that fear ultimately comes to an end as Christ the Lord reorients our fear when, because of our justification in His blood through His interception of the death we deserve, we are able to approach God in confidence.

Yet I do not want to ignore the use of fear in the New Testament, particularly those few characters who have feared Christ. Yet this fear is “a response to Jesus’ divinity” or some other divine creature (Aída Spencer, 60). Space does not allow for a full examination of Spencer’s analysis, but it should suffice to say that she has observed eight “word-families” of fear in Luke (note: she says seven, but she lists eight Greek word families). For example, φοβος (phobos) for “fear” is used in Luke 1:12 when Zechariah sees an angel of the Lord and experiences a “‘panic’ type of fear” (Spencer, 61) in response to the divine creature he witnessed, which is then counteracted when the angel subsequently says, “Do not be afraid” (v. 13). Conversely, the same word for fear is used in a positive sense when Mary the mother of Jesus uses the verb φοβέω (phobéo) when she sings praises to God (1:50). Whereas Zechariah was overwhelmed with fear, Mary was not. “In the context of her song, the people who continue to fear God are synonymous with the lowly and the poor as opposed to the proud, mighty and rich (1:48-53)” (Spencer, 62). For Mary, fear of God is good in that God exalts those who fear Him while he lowers those who exalt themselves. Throughout Spencer’s examination of the eight word families, we find numerous other examples of people fearing God, particularly the distinction between those who reject Christ and those whom Christ brings into a filial relationship with God as dear children.

As Christians who are baptised into the family of God, God deals with us as dear children because Christ our Lord has moved us into the filial relationship He shares with the Father by our imputed justification on the cross and our adoption in Baptism. As sons and daughters of God, therefore, our fear of God is shown in our love for Him through the act of repentance that is a result of trusting in God the Father.

To be continued on: Threefold Use of the Law.
Bibliography given at conclusion.

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2 thoughts on “The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part III. Filial Fear in Relationship to Christ the Lord

  1. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part II. Fear and Love | The Writeous Christian

  2. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part IV. Threefold Use of the Law | The Writeous Christian

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