Throughout scripture, we are commanded to “fear the LORD”. What does it mean to fear the LORD, especially for redeemed believers in a relationship with Christ? Verses such as 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” Other similar passages also include 2 Timothy 1:7, Romans 8:15, etc.
At the same time, many references in the Old and New Testaments command us to fear God. Some examples in the New Testament are:
- 1 Peter 2:17 “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
- Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,”
Fearing the Lord is paramount to having a right relationship with Christ. Understanding the “fear” that the LORD requires is also essential. Proverbs 1:7 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
For someone who is not a follower of Christ, the fear they must possess is one of fearful judgment that can come upon them. Jesus warns His hearers to fear him who, after he has killed, has the authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:4-7). This type of fear is one of being afraid/scared of the one who can bring punishment for your sinfulness. On the other hand, a believer does not need to fear eternal punishment because we have been forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ and been gifted salvation.
Instead, we are to fear God by understanding how much God hates sin and knowing that even as believers, we can face the discipline as of a Father to a son (Hebrews 12:5-11). So, this type of fear is akin to a child and a Father, where a child can experience fear of the Father’s discipline in times of disobedience. The outcome of such a fear is that you will live in a way that pleases your Heavenly Father. Hebrews 12:7-8 says, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
This type of fear is one of being in reverent awe of His holiness, respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, worshipping Him, wanting to understand His will, and placing Him at the throne of your heart. Hosea 3:5 describes this type of fear by saying, “and they shall come in fear to the LORD and to his goodness in the latter days.” When you have such a fear of the Lord, then it produces faith, confidence, and trust in Him, just as a child to a Father. Psalm 115:11 says, “You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and their shield.”
Such a fear of the LORD is what starts you on the journey of true wisdom (Proverbs 1:7). The result of this fear is that you want to know God, and in knowing God, you have a reverence and awe for He is holy, righteous, and just. You will hate what He hates, and it is a hatred of sin. So, there must be an “actual” fear of God and a reverential fear of God. The fear for a believer must be one of a son to a Father, fearing His discipline when you are not walking according to His will, and also one of reverence and awe leading to worship. The fear of the unbeliever must be one of judgment and eternal punishment.
In essence, as a child of God, there is no conflict in fearing Him (fear as in afraid) as Almighty God, King of Kings, and Father, where we can expect discipline and, likewise, fearing Him with reverence, awe, and worship, entering into His presence with freedom and confidence. Ephesians 3:12 says, “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him.” Again, Psalm 2:11 says, “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”