History reveals that reformation and revival only occur in the context of the fear of God. One reason Martin Luther was effective in bringing reformation was the dominating attitude of the fear of God among the population of his day. Luther himself exhibited an overpowering fear of the Lord.
Savonarola preached to the people of Florence during a time of affluence when little fear of the Lord was exhibited. It was only as he instilled that fear through preaching largely from the Book of Revelation that revival began.
The First Great Awakening in America was precipitated by Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a sermon that included numerous passages such as the following, which addresses the unconverted:
They are now the objects of that very same anger & wrath of God that is expressed in the torments of Hell: and the reason why they don’t go down to Hell at each moment, is not because God, in whose power they are, is not then very angry with them; as angry as he is with many of those miserable creatures that he is now tormenting in Hell, and do there feel and bear the fierceness of his wrath. Yea God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubtless with many that are now in this congregation, that it may be are at ease and quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the flames of Hell.
The Second Great Awakening was accompanied by a similar focus on the fear of God.
America cannot experience revival in its current condition because several factors have eradicated the fear of the Lord from our culture.
The first is our post-Christian mindset that gives us the right to do our thing. Possessing that prerogative leaves the individual with nothing to fear. Likewise, the contemporary psychological assertion that we should be accepted unconditionally indicates that we are okay regardless of how we live. Added to this is the evangelical assurance to unsaved people that “God loves you,” which in the minds of many eradicates any fear of the Lord.
In addition, evangelicals assert that the biblical teaching related to the fear of the Lord is not referring to actual fear but reverential awe, thus assuring people that we need not actually fear God.
Beyond that, the absence of teaching on judgment and hell by evangelicals excludes from the national mindset the major reason for fearing God—the prospect of eternal damnation. In fact, various evangelical writers convey embarrassment over a previous “hellfire and brimstone” evangelical message, conveying that today we have grown beyond that.
In the midst of both the secular and church cultures described above it would be unpopular in the extreme to introduce biblical warnings regarding the fear of the Lord, especially those referring to an eternal hell.
Jesus included this message in His preaching.
“And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (Luke 12:4-5 NKJV)
But He often found himself unpopular in the extreme.
I wonder what might be the outcome if the evangelical church in America tactfully but pointedly and prolifically focused people on their eternal destination. Imagine a series of billboards blanketing the nation that read something like this. “You will spend eternity somewhere. Have you made arrangements?” Imagine if every month a new statement about life after death appeared, each one a little more direct and descriptive, maybe leading to displaying the passage above. Though many might be turned off, I believe that it will require engendering the fear of God in the hearts of Americans before revival can take place. Doing so will require an evangelical church that believes the whole truth of Scripture and is willing to convey to our society the whole truth, even those parts incongruent with our culture.