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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, July 12, 2008

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

The purpose of the Apostle Paul in writing Romans 3:9-20 is to show that all mankind is “under sin” (Romans 3:9). It is important to understand what he means by that phrase, “under sin.” Dr. McGee pointed out that this means “man is a sinner by imputation [the imputation of Adam’s sin]…man is a sinner by nature. Sinning does not make a sinner; we sin because we are sinners” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 662, note on Romans 3:9).

Then the Apostle Paul quotes several passages of Scripture from the Old Testament to prove the point that all men are born sinners, that they are “under sin.” He quotes from Psalm 5:9; 10:7; 14:1-3; 36:1, etc. The quotation from Psalm 36:1 is given here, in Romans 3:18,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

Dr. McGee said, concerning that verse,

Paul seems to sum up all of man’s sin in this final statement. He has no fear of God at all. Man is living as if God does not exist…What a picture this gives of mankind! (ibid., p. 664, note on Romans 3:18).

The Greek word translated “fear” in Romans 3:18 is “phobos.” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says that “phobos” means “alarm or fright – be afraid, exceedingly, fear, terror” (Strong #5401). The word “phobos” came over into English as “phobia,” according to Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, which means, “fear of some particular thing” (ibid., p. 1348, see “phobia”). And that is exactly what is absent in man “under sin.” Man is not afraid of God! In an unconverted state,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

But when the Spirit of God reaches into a sinner’s heart, He does something very remarkable. A person who previously had “no fear of God” becomes convicted of his sin and begins to experience the fear of God. Please turn to John 16:8. This verse tells us about the work of God’s Spirit in sinners’ hearts.

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).

The Greek word translated “reprove” means “convict, rebuke” (W. E. Vine). The note on John 16:8 in the 1599 Geneva Bible says, “He will so reprove the world, that the worldlings shall be able to make no excuse.” They will be convicted of their sin. They will be convicted of their own unrighteousness. They will be convicted of the judgment that is coming to them. That’s where “phobos” comes in. They begin to “fear” God! It is plain to me that John 16:8 means that they will, in a word, be made to “fear” God. I fail to see how a person can be made to feel sinful, unrighteous, and the subject of coming judgment without experiencing some fear of God!

Isn’t that what happened at Pentecost? Turn to Acts 2:37.

“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).

This “heart pricking” was the work of God’s Spirit, convicting them of sin, righteousness and judgment. The meaning of “heart pricking” is made very clear a few verses later, in the first half of Acts 2:43. Please read the first half of the verse aloud.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

When their hearts were “pricked” they began to fear God! The word translated “fear” here in the King James Bible (and the 1599 Geneva Bible) is exactly the same Greek word translated “fear” in Romans 3:18,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

As I said, it is the Greek word “phobos.” It is precisely the same Greek word in both verses (Romans 3:18; Acts 2:43). Yet the NIV and the NASV mistranslate the word as “awe” in Acts 2:43. But the English word “awe” no longer conveys the idea of “fear.” It is a terrible shame that these modern translations render “phobos” as “awe” in Acts 2:43, because “fear” is exactly what unconverted people need to experience. Before conversion,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

But, at conversion,

“Fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

Listen to the words of Spurgeon,

Are there not some of you, who are unsaved, and yet you do not fear God? O sirs, may the Holy Spirit make you fear and tremble before Him! You have cause enough to fear…It is a great pity that many unconverted men do not fear God with a servile [slave-like] fear. If they would only begin with that, it might prove to be the lowest rung of the heavenly ladder, and lead on to the blessed fear which is the portion of the children of God (C. H. Spurgeon, “A Fear to be Desired,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1977, volume XLVIII, p. 501).

May I ask you who are still unconverted, which verse describes you? Is it,

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18)?

Or is it,

“Fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43)?

As I have said repeatedly, conversion is not something you can learn. It is an experience you must feel. Only when a man is pierced with the thought of his sin and guilt, and made to fear the judgment of a God who hates sin, only then does he fear God in a proper way. And only when he fears God, and Hell, is he prepared by God’s Spirit to come to Christ for salvation in Him alone, by His Blood alone. Conversion then ends with resting in Christ Jesus, who said,

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

You are laboring and heavy laden, under the conviction of sin, and the fear it produces. But when you come to Jesus, all fear is gone, and you are washed clean from your sins by the Son of God!

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