Rejoice with Trembling

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We are well-accustomed today to approaching God out of the ordinariness of our daily lives. This modern age has done away with many of the crusty formalities of the past, after all, and this mentality has affected not only the individual Christian life, but the church.

As the music cranks up, and we sip our coffee, it can be easy to forget that the Bible does not in reality offer us a “normal” experience of God. We never get used to the majesty of the Being who has called us into existence, that is, and called us to Himself. Psalm 2:11 is one biblical text that makes this very plain: “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11). Life lived unto God is not the equivalent of spiritual elevator music. It is the equivalent of a roaring symphony, an exhilarating performance of holiness.

The psalmist’s words remind us of the experience of the young, pre-conversion Martin Luther. Officiating at his first Mass as a priest, Luther struggled to carry out his duties. He spilled the wine and felt sure he was inviting God’s judgment on his bumbling ministry. Before he grasped the gospel, Luther recognized the severity of God’s all-encompassing holiness. He lived in this conviction, or, perhaps more accurately, was tormented by it.

Luther did not immediately associate worship with rejoicing. It was only after he discovered in the Psalms and Romans that the biblical God met the terms of His own righteousness through the work of Christ that he felt free to be happy in the Lord. Luther’s experience sets our own in order. Before God opens our eyes to behold His wondrous beauty, we ultimately fail the Psalm 2:11 test. We either find some undefined comfort in God, or we’re terrified of Him.

It is only when we “rejoice with trembling” that we fully grasp who the God of Scripture is. He is the one who has made us and who has brought us to Himself in fulfillment of His covenant promises. Because of this, He lifts our burdens. But our consciousness of His love never leads us to forget the magnitude of His perfections. We are always delighted to be His, but also aware that He is a great and terrible God.

Our modern minds resist this kind of double-sided testimony. We would rather focus on one concept, not two. But Scripture pictures God as a resplendent king. He roars over His creation, claiming it all (see Isa. 45). As Christians who have fellowship with Him through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are subjects of the most powerful sovereign imaginable. We are able, by the kindness of His grace, to enter His court, and to  dine at His table, and to see Him smile at us with love. But we never forget whose kingdom this is; we never lose sight of how majestic is the King. We always rejoice to be with Him; we always tremble before Him, for He is holy. 

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.