If I said the phrase “fear God” to you, what would be the first thing to come to your mind? – A Bible passage? The famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon? …Or maybe it would be an image of the words tattooed on some person’s skin? Whether you claim to be a Christian or not, you’re probably familiar with the concept that God is to be feared. But is this topic really so familiar after all? Can most people – Christians even – say they really understand what it means to fear The Lord? According to God’s Word, fear of The Lord is Spiritually beneficial AND crucial. Yet, how is it that so many people who profess a relationship with Christ say otherwise? Many of them even go as far as to say that fearing God is unbiblical. If people who claim to be Christian don’t understand fear of God, how can we expect the rest of the world to understand? Non-Christians are receiving mixed messages about The Lord and His ways, while others who would have otherwise been sincere followers of Christ are getting dragged down by the “church’s” false teachings. In this post, I hope to help clear up some common misconceptions about fear of God, while showing readers that fearing The Lord actually brings us closer to Him. I want to make it clear that I’m not claiming to have “superior knowledge” in any way. I’m simply sharing what The Lord has already made known in Scripture and what He has put on my heart.
In my last post, I explained why we can’t go through life relying on the “Once Saved, Always Saved” teaching. That right there is a huge part of why we should be afraid of God – if we’re capable of falling away, this should scare us. In the next several paragraphs, I’ve addressed some arguments people generally seem to give for why they don’t see fear of The Lord as a Biblical concept:
- The word “fear” simply means to respect.
- There are many words used for “fear” throughout Scripture – yirah, pachad, phobeo, phobos, etc. – and, yes, many of them have secondary definitions of reverence, awe, and respect. But let’s do a search on Blue Letter Bible. This site gives the original translation of each word in Scripture. The word “pachad” is used numerous times in the Bible to describe terror or dread and it’s defined on Blue Letter Bible solely as “terror, dread” – no other definition is given. “Pachad” is used for “fear” in Psalm 36:1 when David says about the ungodly, “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” He’s not saying they don’t respect God enough to stop their wickedness…no, he’s saying they don’t dread The Lord and His wrath with terror. If they did, then they wouldn’t be full of wickedness. Fear is a good thing.
- Next, I did a search for verses that contain both the words “fear” and “respect.” Leviticus 19:32 is one example: Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the LORD. In this passage, the Hebrew word for “respect” is “hadar”, which means “to honor, adorn, glorify, be high.” On the other hand, “fear” translates to “yare”, which means “to fear, revere, be afraid.” These two Hebrew words clearly have very different meanings.
- In my last post, I gave my opinion regarding why there has been so much disagreement about whether a person can lose their salvation or if they remain eternally secure. I stated that one of the biggest problems when it comes to this debate is that people forget The Lord is sovereign over EVERYTHING. The case is the same with many when they’re considering the fear of The Lord. They say, “God doesn’t send people to Hell. People send themselves to Hell.” This is WRONG. Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of The One Who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” The word “afraid” translates to “phobeo”, which means “to put to flight by terrifying”, and it’s secondary meanings include “to be struck with fear”, as well as “to reverence, venerate, to treat with deference or reverential obedience.” What do you think Jesus was meaning to tell us? That we’d better respect God because He has the power to destroy us in Hell? No, Hell is terrifying; He is telling us to be afraid.
- Now, of course we need to respect The Lord as well as fear Him, so the definitions are correct. Anyone who really ponders God’s work of Creation – just the ocean alone, even – is going to be amazed and in awe. Whether they pay this respect to The Creator, or simply “mother nature” is a different story. However, the point is that respect is not enough and we need fear in the mix. For the average person of this world, “respect” is such an “on the surface” term. Many people say they revere God because His Ways are so amazing, but is this “reverence” enough to make them want to walk with God, having pure hearts toward Him? No, Satan’s influence in this world is too overwhelming for us if we’re merely going to “respect God.” But when we have a healthy fear, it’s easier to stand for The Lord in defense of Satan’s attacks. And this is why we cannot ignore the fact that “be afraid” is listed in these definitions, too…especially in the case of “pachad.”
- You could make yourself crazy by being so afraid of God.
- With Satan’s influence, anything has the potential of making a person go nuts. This is why we need to balance fear with love. Remember what Paul says in Romans 8:15: The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Those who have received Jesus are loved so much by God that He calls them His own children.
- This parent-child relationship is a great illustration for understanding the fear and love of The Lord. Think of how parents discipline their kids. They spank their children in order to prevent bad behavior from becoming a habit. I don’t know about you, but I was very cautious of misbehaving at school in fear that my dad would find out and spank me at home. So if, as children, we feared our earthly fathers, shouldn’t we be afraid of The Lord God, Who is able not only to punish us when we sin, but also has the power to throw us into Hell? At the same time, a loving parent will also hug their child after spanking them so as not to spark resentment in them. The Lord does the same with His children: if we were not reminded of God’s love, we would be in continuous discouragement, and probably even fall away from Him.
- A child who is not disciplined, on the other hand, has no fear of consequences because there are no consequences. They know they can get away with misbehavior, so they take advantage of that. In the same way, people who don’t fear The Lord will continuously THINK they are taking advantage of His grace. But God is not a pushover Father. Will He give grace to those who show no concern for obeying Him? Of course not – He didn’t for the Israelites, His people. In fact, here’s an example of how angry He was with Israel when they were repeatedly serving other gods: “For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, like a great lion to Judah. I will tear them to pieces and go away; I will carry them off, with no one to rescue them. Then I will return to my lair until they have borne their guilt and seek my face – in their misery they will earnestly seek me.” – Hosea 5:14-15
- The problem is that His discipline is being sugar-coated by many “Christian” teachers. It’s as if the countless instances of God’s judgment have been completely forgotten. Some may say, “That was the Old Testament; Jesus died for our sins and changed all of that.” They seem to overlook the fact that when Peter confronted Ananias and Sapphira when they lied to God, they were killed by God, and this event took place AFTER the resurrection of Christ (Acts 5:1-11). Verse 11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” The Greek word used for “fear” in this verse is “phobos”, which is defined as “fear, dread, terror.”
- 1 John 4:18 – “…perfect love casts out all fear.”
- John wasn’t saying we no longer have to be afraid of God once we’re covered by the blood. In the verse prior to this – v. 17 – John says that through God’s love we may have confidence on Judgment Day and not be afraid because, when we love God and God loves us, we are living like Him in this world (in other words, not part of this world). But in order to live like Jesus and to be made complete in God’s love, we must obey Him, as John emphasizes in 2:3-6. And how do we maintain obedience? Through fearing God. Solomon says in Proverbs 16:6, “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of The Lord evil is avoided.”
- Scripture also tells us not to be afraid of what man can do to us. Hebrews 13:5-6 – Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” When we stop thinking in worldly terms and focus on the Spiritual reality of each situation, we remember that God’s love and care are more than enough to get us through and, therefore, we have nothing to fear in this life. God means it when He says quite often throughout Scripture, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”
- Let’s also consider the scenario in Exodus 20:1-20 in which God is giving His Ten Commandments to the Israelites.Verses 18-19: When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”Then, in verse 20, Moses says something seemingly contradictory to the people, but really it’s not contradicting at all: Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.So basically he’s saying, “Don’t be afraid, but you’re actually supposed to be afraid.” How does that work? Well, The Lord wanted obedience and complete allegiance from the Israelites. Just as the Proverbs counsel us, God wants us to be afraid of Him so that we will obey Him and shun evil – if we’re doing those things, we’ll be alright.
This is it in a nutshell, really: as long as we remain afraid of The Lord, we don’t have to be afraid of anything else. In other words, when we fear God, we obey Him and turn from evil; and when we obey and turn from evil, His love and mercy are poured out on us, and we can rejoice in His love, comfort, and blessings. However, since we’re all human with a sinful nature, living in an evil world where Satan is always looking for ways to attack, this is not just a one-time deal. Fear is something that must be maintained because we’re going to keep being tempted. In fact, the only way that this “to fear or not to fear” misunderstanding can even be possible is through the deception of Satan. The Devil WANTS us to think, “Psh. Fear God? No way.” The thing is, even the most upright, God-fearing person on earth is going to sin and we ALL have the potential of being led into deeper and deeper sin, and falling away altogether.
Jeremiah 32:40 sums this all up really well, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.” There it is: if you fear Him, you’ll remain in Him. NOTHING is better than that.