The fear of God can be a confusing concept as we look at seemingly contradictory verses such as 1 Peter 2:17 and 1 John 4:18. In this post, I am hoping to bring clarity to what the fear of God as taught in the bible really is. And no, it is not simply an Old Testament concept.
Here are some verses in the New Testament that talk about fearing God or the fear of God being a godly thing.
“They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.”” –Luke 5:26
“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
“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does His will, He hears him.” -John 9:31
“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.” -1 Corinthians 5:11
“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 14:7
“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
Here are my thoughts on the Fear of God.
I think the fear of God has a lot to do with a sensitive conscience. To use a classic illustration of the conscience, picture an open cookie jar. Your mom told you not to eat those cookies. They’re for later. But they look and smell REALLY good so you walk over to them and look around to make sure no one is looking. As you are about to reach out a grab one, you hear that still small voice. Your hand stops mid-air. You could uncomfortably shrug it off and ignore the voice of your conscience. But if you have cultivated the fear of God in your heart, you will stop and think in awe “This is God! How could I disregard him!”. Your awe or fear of God affects your actions.
Being afraid when you do something wrong is not the fear of God. We’re not talking about the fear of judgment. The fear of the LORD is pure awe of the God whose voice speaks inside of us and therefore an overriding of any other fears you may have.
“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.” -1 John 4:18
Punishment and judgment are much different than discipline. We fear the God who disciplines, for the very reason we love him. We fear and love him for his majesty and power. Our desire to not sin stems from our love for him. But it also stems from the horror connotative with sinning against such a great God whom we love so deeply and who loves us deeper still. It is not a contradiction that we are to fear and love the God whose love casts out all fear. It is a beautiful paradox.
Your sin should grieve you not because of the discipline or perhaps punishment that may come as a consequence but because of a deep disgust for your sin and a sincere grieving for having sinned against your loving Father in heaven after all he has done for you. Our LORD being so utterly loving is deeply rooted in him so great and just.
Why should we fear God? Firstly, because he commands us to. But also because it helps us. When we have a tender and sensitive conscience it helps us to grow. It also helps us to fight sin. In fact, we cannot fight sin without a fear of the God who hates and detests sin. God loves us so much that he was willing to give his only son to rid us of the sin that clings so tightly to us. He wanted to be with us but the reality is that we cannot go into his presence with sin or we will die. That is why we need someone perfect to die in our place. That person was Jesus, the one and only perfect mediator between the Holy, Holy, Holy infinite God of all heaven and earth and us finite and sinful human beings. Without an appreciation for God’s holiness we cannot and will not regret and turn from our sin. The fear of God is essential to our salvation.
Ecclesiastes ends with this saying:
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” -Ecclesiastes 12:13
“The Preacher” as he is called gives this reason for fearing God:
“For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” -Ecclesiastes 12:14
We do not fear punishment for our sins because we are forgiven children of God, but that does not change the fact that every deed we do is not hidden.
“Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” Luke 12:2-3
God knows and sees everything. We cannot justify sin by saying that no one will know or that no one sees. We fear God because he hides nothing. He is completely just and he is TRUTH itself. He sees right past our excuses and into the heart.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12
Maybe when you think about that you feel afraid, because all the horrible “secrets” and sins that you have thought and done come to mind and you are terrified of having them exposed and judged by a holy and just God. But this is not the end of the story. Because if you turn from your sin and cast yourself on the perfect, holy, and completely loving God, HE WILL forgive every single thing you have done. Don’t wait for it all to be painfully exposed little by little and finally in full on judgment day. Don’t shrink into your shame and run from the God who while being completely just, loves you beyond all imagining. Confess all of your sin, and I mean all of it to him and he will utterly forgive it and more. He is faithful and just to forgive and will pile on mercy after mercy and grace after grace. Our awe and wonder of God cannot be and is not complete without appreciating his love, because we do not see truly how great he is until we look upon his loving kindness.
When you do not know God personally but know of him all you see is terror and dread. But as you come to know who he really is and to simply KNOW him your dread turns to trembling which turns to astonishment as you realize his love. As you come more fully into his presence and love your astonishment turns to awe and reverence. Devotion follows as you accept his outstretched hand and you begin to truly trust him. And as you see his magnificence and stand in wonder at his infinite love, your devotion and trust turn into heartfelt worship. This is fearing God. You do not fear punishment. You’re not afraid of the discipline the Father gives to his children. You are simply amazed beyond belief at the power and majesty of our God.
Thanks for reading and may God grant you fear of him and devotion and trust!
I would highly recommend reading a book called “When People Are Big and God is Small” by Edward T. Welch. Much of what I’ve learned about the fear of the LORD has been from that book. It truly is a life-changing book, and I would particularly recommend it to anyone who struggles with what the world calls “low self-esteem” as well as “ peer pressure” and “codependency”. But whether you think you struggle with those things you still need to read this book, and when you do you will realize how much you’ve been depending on people when you need God. Here is the Amazon link. May God bless you and keep you!
“Come, behold the works of the Lord,
Who has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two;
He burns the chariots with fire.
“Cease striving and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.” -Psalm 46:8-11 (NASB)
Here is the current featured song How Great is Our God (Gadol Elohai). I hope you are blessed by it!
*All Scripture Quotations are from the NASB translation unless otherwise noted.