David, the great Psalmist, wrote of the salvation of the Lord, saying, “I waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3; ESV)”
There is embodied within these words an aid of sorts in understanding the “fear of the Lord,” showing that rather than being a fear born out of terror which compels the fearful to flee, godly fear is borne of awe, which draws men towards the object of reverence so that they, “trust in the Lord.” It is a fear which praises and rejoices, even as it trembles in wonder, for it sees the mighty manner in which the power of God is used, not simply to destroy, but to save, which is a much more difficult thing to accomplish.
But, while such a conversation would not be without value, what we want to draw our attention to is not the resultant “fear,” but rather the image of salvation which David paints so as to engender that proper trust in God.
David first draws our attention to his own patient trust in God. When danger loomed, the poet-king knew where to turn. He cried out to God, and God on high heard and acted.
David secondly describes the situation he was in, calling it a “pit of destruction,” and a “miry bog.” Like a man slowly drowning in a muddy, swampy morass, David was being overwhelmed by the world around him. Caught in the powerful grip, there was no way for David to free himself. He needed rescued.
The third image then is of God’s rescue. Reaching down with His powerful hand, God lifted the afflicted up, drawing him out of the bog. But the rescue is not finished until at last David’s feet are once more on solid land, secure on a rock, where there is no danger of sinking, no danger of drowning, and where David can walk securely.
Men, in sin, are in a situation analogous to that described by David. Having wandered from the path of righteousness, we find ourselves in territory that is unsafe and downright deadly. Once sin has ensnared us, we are drawn ever deeper into it’s grasp, finding ourselves unable to break free. There is no way to save ourselves, and as death draws ever closer, we know that we are under condemnation and without hope. Yet there is One to whom we can turn, a Savior in which we can trust.
“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” the Scriptures promise (Joel 2:32a). We can put our trust in God, and in His Son, Jesus Christ. We can repent of our sins and obey the Lord by submitting to Him in Baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37-38, 22:16).
And when we do so, God reaches down and lifts us from that place of certain death. But having freed us, He is not done yet, for He also places us in a place of safety, on a solid rock. The rock is Jesus and the place of safety is that church that Jesus built.
During His life, when Jesus asked His apostles concerning their faith in His identity, Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” to which Jesus replied, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:15-18).”
On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached salvation in Christ, telling the Jews to repent and be baptized. This message continued to be preached, and the Bible tells us, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:47; ESV).” The “number” to which the saved were added was the church, that congregation of the saved who were being built up by Jesus into a spiritual house (cf. 1 Peter 2:5).
Some today want salvation without the rock of safety. They want forgiveness but they don’t want to be joined to the church, which is the body of Christ (cf. Colossians 1:18, 24). Such a desire is like wanting God to save you from drowning, and then wanting Him to put you right back into the swamp afterwards. Such a desire ignores God’s full plan of salvation, of which the church itself is a prophesied and integral part.
When the saved are added to the church, when they work together with the church, so that the body is edified, building itself up in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15-16), it becomes a visible testimony not just to the saving power of God, but to the life-changing power of God: a sight which properly manifest will cause many to see, and fear, and put their trust in God.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.