The Fear Of The Lord
A frequent command given to God’s people in the OT is to “fear God” or “fear the Lord.” It is important that we understand what this command means for Christ’s followers today. Only as we truly fear the Lord will we be freed from all destructive and satanic fears. By fearing God, we can avoid being trapped by the natural pull toward going our own way, defying God and giving in to the inviting ways of immoral behavior.
“Now these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son's son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.” Deuteronomy 6:1-2
What does it MEAN to FEAR God? The broad command to “fear the Lord” involves understanding several things about a believer’s relationship with God.
ONE: GOD IS LOVING & JUST
First of all, we must recognize that God is loving, merciful and forgiving; but he also is holy, just and righteous. Knowing God and understanding his character (Proverbs 2:5) means accepting the fact that his justice and holiness (purity, perfection, completeness of character and separation from evil) cause him to judge sin.
TWO: FEAR OF THE LORD CAN PRODUCE AWE
Fearing the Lord means to be in awe of his holiness, to give him complete reverence and to honor him as the God of great glory, majesty, purity and power. For example, when God revealed himself to the Israelites at Mount Sinai through “thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast,” they all “trembled” in fear (Ex 19:16) because of his great power. They even begged Moses to deliver God’s message to them so they would not have to encounter God himself (Ex 20:18-19; Dt 5:22-27). Also, when the psalm writer reflects on God as Creator, he says: “Let all the earth fear the Lord: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” (Psalms 33:8-9).
THREE: FEAR OF THE LORD CAN PRODUCE FAITH
True fear of the Lord causes believers to place their faith and trust in him alone for salvation. For example, after the Israelites crossed through the Red Sea on dry ground and saw how God destroyed the Egyptian army who came after them, they “feared the Lord and put their trust in him”. The psalm writer encourages all who fear the Lord to “They that fear the Lord have hoped in the Lord: he is their helper and their protector.” (Ps 115:11). In other words, fearing God produces confidence, hope and trust in him, which are necessary when we are looking to God for mercy, forgiveness (Lk 1:50; cf. Ps 103:11; 130:4) and spiritual salvation (Ps 85:9).
FOUR: GOD IS ANGRY ABOUT SIN
Finally, to fear God involves recognizing that he is angry about sin and has the power to punish those who stand arrogantly against him and break his laws (Ps 76:7-8). When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were afraid and tried to hide from God’s presence (Ge 3:8-10). Moses experienced this aspect of the fear of God when he spent forty days and nights praying for the sinful Israelites: “For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure, wherewith the Lord was wroth against you to destroy you. But the Lord hearkened unto me at that time also. ” (Dt 9:19). In the NT, the author of the letter to the Hebrews acknowledges God’s coming vengeance and judgment, and then writes: “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31).
WHY FEAR GOD?
The reasons for fearing God are found in the meaning of the “fear of the Lord,” as described above.
We should fear him because of his matchless power as the Creator of all things and all people (Ps 33:6-9; 96:4-5; Jnh 1:9).
In addition, the amazing power that he continues to exercise over his creation–including humankind–is cause for fearing God (Ex 20:18-20; Ecc 3:14; Jnh 1:11-16; Mk 4:39-41).
When we truly realize God’s holiness (his purity, perfection and separation from evil), the normal response of the human spirit is to fear him (Rev 15:4).
Anyone who sees or experiences a manifestation (a visible or physical sign or demonstration) of God’s glory cannot help but become afraid (Mt 17:1-8).
The continual blessings we receive from God, especially the forgiveness of our sins (Ps 130:4), should lead us to fear and love him (1Sa 12:24; Ps 34:9; 67:7).
Above all, the fact that the Lord is a God of justice who will judge the entire human race should be reason enough to produce a godly fear (Dt 17:12-13; Isa 59:18-19; Mal 3:5; Heb 10:26-31). It is a sobering and absolute truth that God is constantly aware of our actions and motives, both good and bad, and that we will be held accountable for those actions, both now and on the day of our personal judgment.
How will fearing God affect our lives? The fear of the Lord is far more than a Biblical teaching, principle or idea. It is relevant to our daily lives in many ways. Here are 6 to get started:
1. WE BECOME OBEDIENT
First, if we truly fear the Lord, we will obey his commands, live according to his Word and say “No” to sin. One reason why God inspired fear in the Israelites at Mount Sinai was so that they might learn to avoid and reject sin and to obey his law (Ex 20:20). In his final address to the Israelites, Moses repeatedly connected fearing God to serving and obeying him (Dt 5:29; 6:2, 24; 8:6; 10:12; 13:4; 17:19; 31:12).
According to the psalm writer, fearing God is equal to delighting in his commands (Ps 112:1) and following the principles of his law (Ps 119:63).
Solomon taught that “through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” (Pr 16:6; 8:13). In Ecclesiastes, the whole duty of the human race is summarized by two simple requirements: “Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecc 12:13). On the contrary, anyone who is content to live wickedly or defy God does so because “there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Ps 36:1-4).
2. WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN
Not only should the fear of the Lord affect individual lives, but it should also affect families. God instructs his followers to teach their children to fear him by training them to hate sin and to love God’s commands (Dt 4:10; 6:1-2, 6-9). The Bible often states that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10; Pr 9:10; cf. Job 28:28; Pr 1:7). A Christian’s basic goal for his or her children should be that they learn to live by God’s principles of wisdom (Pr 1:1-6). Teaching them to fear the Lord is a critical first step.
3. WE GROW IN SANCTIFICATION
The fear of the Lord has a sanctifying (i.e., purifying, separating from sin, spiritually maturing) effect on God’s people, just as applying the truth of God’s Word does (Jn 17:17). It compels us to hate sin and avoid evil (Pr 3:7; 8:13; 16:6). It causes us to be careful in what we say (Pr 10:19; Ecc 5:2, 6-7). It protects us from weakening our consciences and our moral sensitivity toward what is right. The fear of the Lord has a spiritually cleansing, purifying and restoring effect that can last forever (Ps 19:9).
4. WE WORSHIP WHOLE-HEARTEDLY
The holy and reverent fear of the Lord motivates God’s people to worship him with their whole being. People who truly fear God will praise and honor him as Lord of all (Ps 22:23). David said that a worshiping congregation is the same as “those who fear” God (Ps 22:25). At the end of history, when the angel who proclaims the eternal gospel–the “good news” about Jesus Christ–calls everyone on earth to fear God, he immediately adds, “and give him glory … Worship him who made the heavens, and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev 14:6-7).
5. THERE IS A PROMISED REWARD
God has promised to reward all those who fear him. “Humility and the fear of the Lord bring wealth and honor and life” (Pr 22:4). Other promised rewards include security and protection from death (Pr 14:26-27), provisions for daily needs (Ps 34:9; 111:5) and a long life (Pr 10:27). Those who live in reverent awe of God know that “it will go better with God-fearing men,” regardless of what happens in the world around them (Ecc 8:12-13).
6. WE GAIN A HUMBLE CONFIDENCE
Finally, fearing God brings a humble confidence and overwhelming spiritual comfort. The NT directly links the fear of the Lord with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit (Ac 9:31). Those who do not fear God will have little or no sense of his presence and protection. However, those who fear God and obey his Word will experience a deep sense of spiritual security and the anointing (empowering) of the Holy Spirit. They can be sure that God ultimately will “deliver them from death” (Ps 33:18-19).