Should we really fear God or just have reverence for Him?

by Luke Wayne
5/12/17

Yes, we are to truly fear God. Indeed, perhaps one of the central sins of our age that gives birth to so many others is that we, often even in the church, have such a low view of God that His might and grandeur do not strike fear in our hearts. People take other sins lightly because they have no fear of God.

This theme of fear God runs straight through the whole Bible. Abraham is said to have "feared God" when he offered Isaac (Genesis 22:17). The Hebrew midwives "feared God" when they protected the newborn boys from Pharaoh (Exodus 1:17, 21). "Fearing God" was one of the attributes demanded of the leaders of Israel (Exodus 18:21). Job, likewise, is repeatedly described as "fearing God," (Job 1:1, 8; 2:3, 4:6), as are many other biblical heroes. When commanding the forgiveness of debts on the year of Jubilee, God says:

"So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God. You shall thus observe My statutes and keep My judgments, so as to carry them out, that you may live securely on the land. Then the land will yield its produce, so that you can eat your fill and live securely on it," (Leviticus 25:17-19).

The book of Proverbs continually rings the refrain that the fear of the Lord is the foundation of all wisdom, and the wise king Solomon also wrote at the end of contemplation of the purpose of life in the Book of Ecclesiastes:

"The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil," (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

This brings us to the crux of the matter. While well-meaning Christians often say that this does not really mean "fear" but rather just reverence or deep respect, such an assertion simply doesn't fit the context of many of these passages. I do not merely salute God when I hear that He will "bring every act to judgment," I rightly fear Him for that reason. Even as a Christian who knows my ultimate eternity is secure, I still fear the correcting rod of my heavenly Father and King just as I feared the proper discipline of my earthly father when I was a child. I had a wonderful and loving dad, but when I was misbehaving, and my mother uttered the words, "just wait until your father gets home," I trembled to the core and rushed to repentance. Righteously fearing God does not conflict with a loving relationship with God. Indeed, we cannot love God for who He is if we do not fear Him.

Righteous Fear and Communion with God

God had much to say through Moses about the righteous fear of the Lord. For example, He proclaimed:

"Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children," (Deuteronomy 4:10).

Deuteronomy 6, famous for the crucial commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, and strength, also says:

"Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged," (Deuteronomy 6:1-2).

And again:

"You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, any of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth," (Deuteronomy 6:13-15).

Reminding them to pass on His severe and mighty judgments on Egypt, he emphasizes the need for each generation to continue walking in fear of Him yet again:

"When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the Lord our God commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and the Lord brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. Moreover, the Lord showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ So the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God for our good always and for our survival, as it is today," (Deuteronomy 6:20-24).

Joshua continued this theme when God miraculously brought them across the Jordan, stating:

"you shall inform your children, saying, ‘Israel crossed this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan before you until you had crossed, just as the Lord your God had done to the Red Sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed; that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, so that you may fear the Lord your God forever,” (Joshua 4:22-24).

But perhaps the definitive example comes at Mount Sinai when God spoke to Israel from the fiery presence on the mountain before Moses ascended to receive the Law. The people were terrified, and responded:

"Behold, the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives. Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, then we will die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? Go near and hear all that the Lord our God says; then speak to us all that the Lord our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it,’" (Deuteronomy 5:24-27)

You might think this was an inappropriate reaction. God's assessment was clear, however:

"The Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!" (Deuteronomy 5:28-29)

The people of Israel were right, and God said that if they could only hold on to that righteous fear of Him they would continue to walk in his ways and remain in proper fellowship with Him. And this was not merely reverence, honor, or veneration. The people were afraid of God simply because He is God. The presence of the almighty, unfathomable LORD is an inherently terrifying thing. If we don't realize that fact, it is because we have diminished God to something far less than He really is. God is someone we can love, trust, adore, and delight in, but He is not our buddy with whom we can be comfortable. He is God, and we must not forget what that means. He is a consuming fire. The life and death of all things flow from the breath of His mouth. Fear of God as a necessary foundation for loving and rejoicing in Him is a theme repeated often. The prophet Samuel said:

"If you will fear the Lord and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the Lord, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God. If you will not listen to the voice of the Lord, but rebel against the command of the Lord, then the hand of the Lord will be against you, as it was against your fathers," (1 Samuel 12:14-15).

And a Psalmist named Asaph sang:

"Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods," (1 Chronicles 16:24-25).

He declared that the whole earth should "tremble before Him," (1 Chronicles 16:30). That this same song also insists that we should rejoice at God's goodness only magnifies the wonder at this terrible yet wonderful almighty God, Judge, and King of all existence!

Fear of God in the New Testament

This is not merely an Old Testament reality done away with in the word of Christ. The gospels affirm the goodness of fearing God. For example, after Jesus healed the paralytic, Luke tells us:

"They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, 'We have seen remarkable things today.'”

And after Jesus raised a widow's son from the dead:

"Fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!' and, 'God has visited His people!'” (Luke 7:16).

When one of the robbers crucified next to Jesus mocked him, the other rebuked him, saying:

"Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds," (Luke 23:40-41).

And the man blind from birth, whom Jesus healed, said to his accusers:

"We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him," (John 9:31).

The church is likewise described:

"So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase," (Acts 9:31).

Peter writes:

"Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king," (1 Peter 2:16-17).

And Paul instructs:

"Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God," (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Paul also points to the idea that this is still real fear and not just high respect when he says:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences," (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).

The fear of the Lord is connected not only to God's mighty power and holy nature but also His future judgment. We only truly grasp God's grace when we realize this reality.  The final Book of the Bible also brings these ideas together, such as when the angel proclaims to the world:

"And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, 'Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters,'" (Revelation 14:6-7).

And the saints in heaven sing:

"Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed," (Revelation 15:4).

And right at the very coming of Christ, we read:

"And a voice came from the throne, saying, 'Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great,'" (Revelation 19:5).

The New Testament unequivocally upholds the virtue of a proper fear of the might, power, and judgment of the God we love which draws us ever back to obedience, awe, and worship. This is not a sinful fear that fleas from God or doubts His promises, but a holy trembling to our very core at the right realization of who God is which leads to righteous obedience.

Conclusion

This is only a small sampling of all that the Scripture has to say about fearing God, but is sufficient for us to see that a certain kind of genuine fear is a proper response to knowing who God is, what He has done, and what He is going to do.

 

Inside the Bible

Jesus said
Matthew 10:28, "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

Paul said
Romans 3:10-18 "as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving, The poison of asps is under their lips Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.'"

The Law says

Deuteronomy 10:20, "You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name."

The Prophets said

Malachi 4:2, "But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall."

The Psalms say:

Psalm 33:8, "Let all the earth fear the Lord; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him."

 

Inside CARM

As a Christian should I fear God?
Yes, we should fear God because He is the Almighty Creator who can discipline us should we rebel against Him.  He is so holy and so awesome that being in His presence brings an inspiring fear.

Is Christianity based on fear?
Christianity is not based on fear, but fearing God is a logical as well as wise thing to do because God is the judge who has the right to execute lawful and moral judgments upon sinners.