What Does It Mean to Fear God?

Posted on Aug 26, 2022

I've heard that I should fear God. If God is so wonderful, why should I fear him? If I do fear him, what good will it do me? Fear is often discussed in God's Word. In some places fear is condemned, yet elsewhere it is encouraged. The difference in these cases is the original meaning and context.

Fear is often discussed in God's Word. In some places, fear is condemned, yet elsewhere it is encouraged. The difference in these cases is the original meaning and context.

How Scripture Says to Fear God

God’s Word says we should fear God (Deuteronomy 6:13). Godly fear may be better understood as profound reverence. This reverence is our response to God's power (Joshua 4:23-24), goodness (1 Samuel 12:24), judgment (Revelation 14:7), and forgiveness (Psalm 130:4). Godly fear is also constructive, leading to wisdom (Proverbs 1:7), purity (Psalm 19:9), and satisfaction (Proverbs 14:27).

How Scripture Says Not to Fear

At other times fear implies dread, dismay or anxiety. This fear results from, among other things, disobedience (Genesis 3:10), suspicion (Acts 9:26), or even death (Hebrews 2:15). This type of fear is destructive, leading to demoralization (1 Samuel 13:5-8) and paralysis (Matthew 28:4).

Whether we admit it or not, we are born with knowledge and fear of God (Romans 2:14-15). The difference is Jesus. If you choose to follow Jesus, your fear of God is liberating, otherwise it is debilitating (Galatians 5:1). Those who deny Him dread what they will one day find out. Those who proclaim Him revere what they already know.

“Once we are in Christ and he has taken our sins and we are forgiven and we are justified, and we stand before our maker, then we no longer fear in that same way because we don’t fear that punishment. But there’s still a reverence that we have before the Lord.”

What is the Fear of God?

When you look at the idea of the fear of the Lord, I think there are two different categories that we need to come at it with. The first is, what does it mean for a non-Christian to fear the Lord? Because I think the way that a non-Christian fears the Lord is very different than maybe somebody who does follow Jesus? For somebody who's not a believer in Christ, to fear the Lord, I think it really means you're supposed to be afraid of the Lord, that there's a reality that he is our maker and that because he's a good God because he's a holy God because he's a just God, there's a day coming that Jesus tells us that, every idle word, that we're going to be given account for, and I don't know about you but that's terrifying if Jesus isn't standing between us to intercede. 

Because this same Jesus, though he came and he died for sinners, for those who don't trust in him, the Bible tells us that he's going to be a lion on that day and that we should tremble in fear before him knowing that we will be exposed fully and that if we haven't repented of our sins before we die and stand before him that we will endure God's wrath for eternity. And that's a terrifying thing that ought bring us to repentance. I know it's one of the things that God used to draw me to himself, was that I came from a background where there was a lot of partying and all that kind of stuff. And there was one night I stepped away from a party and starting diving through God's word and came to passages that made me realize that I had sinned against my maker and if I died at that moment I was doomed. And that fear drove me to Christ and praise God for that. 

Now, as a Christian, what does it mean? So do we still fear God in that way? I don't think it's the same. We still fear him. There's a lot of commands to do that. First John, chapter 4, verse 18, it says, "There is no fear in love but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment." Just what we were talking about a moment ago for non-Christians. "And whoever fears, has not been perfected in love." So there's a sense that once we are in Christ and he has taken our sins and that we are forgiven and we justified and we stand before our maker, that we no longer in that same way because we don't fear that punishment. But there's still a reverence that we have before the Lord and one of the illustrations I'll use when I talk about this is the way that I feel when I come before the ocean.

You come before the ocean and you look at it and its majesty and you realize that it's enormous and it's beautiful and it's a glorious thing and you can appreciate it and enjoy it. But, at the same time, there has to be a reverence and a respect of it because if you get out into the tide or certain wave, it can sweep you away. And I think in a lot of times, for Christians, this is the same way that we ought to view our maker now, that we fear him in the sense of, not that he's going to judge us anymore because in Christ all of our judgment is gone, but now we revere him and know that he's still God and we are. But that in Christ we can come boldly to the throne of grace and plead for whatever it is that we need. So there's a balance and, in that, Proverbs says that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." 

It's in that understanding that he's God and I'm not that we can step back and say, "Okay Lord, show me how I should live." And there's a wisdom that comes with that, with the humility of realizing that God is our maker and he knows how to live life and not us and we should trust him and follow in that. 

Original article: What Does It Mean to Fear God? 

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