The concept of fearing God is not a popular topic in churches today. Most Christians aren’t interested in a God who commands us to fear Him, they would rather have a God who is syrupy sweet, easy going, permissive and who winks and smiles at their sin and says “its okay, don’t worry about it”.
However, the Bible is crystal clear, and it is repeated often, that God commands us to fear him. But what does it really mean to fear God?
it is very common to interpret the fear of the Lord as simply having reverence for Him. But this is a soft translation. While the Hebrew and Greek words for “fear” do include the idea of reverence, they also carry with them the idea of genuine fear or dread. The word “fear” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word yare, which means to revere or to frighten, In the New Testament the Greek word is phobos which means to be alarmed or to frighten. So fearing God includes both reverence and actual fear. Indeed, in the Old Testament, everyone who experienced a theophany (an Old Testament appearing of the Son of God before He became incarnate as Jesus Christ), or experienced a glimpse of God’ s awesome glory fell on their faces in reverence and at the same time were so overwhelmed that they were afraid that they were going to die (Exodus 33:18-20; Deuteronomy 4:33, 5:22-26; Judges 6:22-23, 13:18-22; Isaiah 6:1-5).
God is that awesome.
Fearing God, which He commands us to do, means that we hold Him in utmost reverence and respect, and knowing that He is a righteous and just God who does, and must, punish sin. Fearing God means that we walk in strict obedience to His commands, not wanting to experience His discipline if we stray from Him. To be sure, it is not a cowering terror that causes us to purposely stay distant from Him, but a healthy understanding and a keen awareness of who He is – the majestic, transcendent, eternal, righteous, just, holy One – and who we are – His creations who are sinners saved by His marvelous grace.
Additionally, and importantly, the fear of God must also be balanced with the love of God. This supremely awesome all powerful God is also our Father who loves us and cares more about us than we will ever be able to grasp. In Matthew 22:37 when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He repeated what Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6:5: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”.
Through Jesus, we have the incredible privilege of coming to the Father as Abba, which is the Aramaic word for “father”, and is used in an endearing emotional context. The English equivalent would be “Daddy”. On the cross Jesus reconciled us to the Father, and when we, by faith, trust in Jesus as our Savior, we are adopted into the family of God and become His sons and daughters, which connotes that we have both an intellectual understanding of our relationship with Him – the fear of God – and the relational connection to Him – the love of God. Indeed, when we truly understand the theology of the cross we can’t help but pour out our love, and fear, for Him.
Yes, both fear and love are crucial in our relationship with God. If we focus on just the fear of God, it can lead to cold, mechanical legalism. But focusing on just the love of God can lead to sloppy, casual, mediocre discipleship. Both the fear of God and the love of God must be grasped and held in a Biblically balanced way if we are going to have the deeply intimate relationship with Him that He wants us to have, and will lead to a life of holiness that brings Him glory.
Unfortunately, we tend to avoid or ignore the fear aspect of our relationship with God because we think it will be a life of drudgery and misery. However, Scripture tells us just the opposite:
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise“. Psalm 111:10
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”. Proverbs 9:10
“The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death” . Proverbs 14:27
“Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life”. Proverbs 22:4
“The fear of the LORD leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble”. Proverbs 19:23
The fear of the Lord is not to be avoided but is to be robustly embraced because it is the path that leads to real meaning and purpose – the life that glorifies God. And, my friends, that is the reason we exist. You are breathing and your heart is beating this very second for this sole purpose – to bring glory to God. It is not about us, it is, has been, and will always be about Him. And when we bring glory to God, we experience the reality for which we were created, and experience life at its pinnacle. Nothing this world offers comes even remotely close to living in God’s presence with deep intimacy. And this becomes operative in out lives when we anchor our relationship with God on a Biblically balanced understanding of the fear of God and the love of God.
Do you love Him? Do you fear Him? These two profound foundational truths will be the catalyst in developing a deep intimate relationship with Him. And possessing this relationship with the God of the universe is life at its utmost best.