A Healthy Fear of God
Believers have fears related to their surroundings, future, or relationships, just as unbelievers do. But, there is a difference in the way a believer fears God from that of someone who doesn’t know God personally.
To know God is to trust him in a personal way. A healthy fear of God is to fear him as your loving father. It might be better to use the word “respect.” One way to distinguish a dreadful fear of God from a worshipful fear of God is to call it the fear of the Lord. In Hebrew, the phrase is “Yerah Jehovah.” Yerah means to fear and Jehovah is the personal or covenantal name of God reflecting his imminence or closeness through tender mercies and love for his people. Faith in God’s goodness is part of what it means to trust him as your Lord.
This type of fear is similar to the respect you have for your parents (Mal 1:6). The fear of the Lord is what David felt when Nathan the prophet encouraged him with the promise that God would be his father. This happened after David was discovered committing a capital offense (2 Sam 7:14). God promises to be a Father is extended to all of God’s people (2 Cor 6:16-18). He establishes a new covenant bond with his people when they trust him. God chooses to dwell intimately with sinners by his Spirit through the atoning blood of Christ shed on the cross.
The fear of the Lord is a deep trust in God as Father and not to fear judgment that would be expected from a Judge. It’s a reverence for his majesty (Ex 15:11), his name (Deut 28:58), and because he forgives (Ps 130:4-5). Christians live with a hope that draws them closer to God. Divine love sets the sinner’s heart free to worship with a clear conscious and a willing spirit. The fear of the Lord motivates a person to serve God as their Lord (1 Jn 4:18-19).
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom
The fear of the Lord is the foundation for living a wise life (Pr 16:16, Rom 11:20-21). It’s an expression of healthy piety (Job 22:4, Ac 10:2, 35). Jesus’ fear of the Lord was evidenced by his morally holy lifestyle and his openly expressed obedience to God’s Word (Isa 11:2-4, LK 22:42). To fear the Lord means to hate evil (Pr 8:13, 16:6). The fear of the Lord gives life and blessings (Pr 10:27, Ps 128:1,4, 34:9). Fearing the covenant God means friendship, protection, deliverance, and forgiveness (Ps 25:14, 34:7, 85:9, 130:4). The worship of God includes a sense of fear but it’s not a frightful fear (Ps 2:11). Believers fear (reverence) Christ (Eph 5:21). In Christ, God becomes someone you can be close to, even though his almighty power is at times scary.
The fear of the Lord is not without trepidation. To speak with God personally can be a fearful experience (Gen 15:1, Ps 119:120). Even Moses feared the presence of God when Israel disobeyed (Deut 9:19, Heb 12:21). When angels bring God’s message humans are filled with fearful emotions, partly because angels are celestial warriors and partly because of the weightiness of their divine message (Mt 28:5, Lk 1:13, 30, 2:9-10).
A subjective sign that a genuine conversion has taken place includes an emotional release of unhealthy fears and the development of a healthy fear of the Lord as Creator. The release of debilitating fears and the possession of healthy fear is a by-product of trusting in God. When the Spirit of God enters a person, their soul is regenerated. With regeneration comes many benefits. One benefit is the grace to face fear through faith in Christ. Jesus blesses his people with a peace, a sense of acceptance, and a confidence from God that is more powerful than any sin or fear. Sin has as its goal to distance people from God. Faith in Christ encourages us to move closer to God and to commune with him.
Identify your fears
Identify your fears and bring them to the throne of grace as an offering of repentance to God. As an act of faith in the power of God’s forgiveness give him the reverence, devotion, and trust that comes from a proper fear in the One who is all-knowing and all-powerful, yet also all-loving and full of grace.
Fears usually don’t die instantly. Their power over the soul may radically subside at conversion, but overcoming fears is a lifelong project requiring a daily walk with God. As you share your faith make sure your sense of respect and adoration for God is part of your presentation. Someone who doesn’t know God doesn’t know how to properly fear the Lord. God promises that those who do fear him will lack nothing and will live a full and God-honoring life (Ps 34:9-14).
Personal Time: Read a number of the Scripture references. Explain in your own words how you understand the difference between fearing God and fearing the Lord. What makes the fear of the Lord so fundamental for a healthy and abundant life? How do you align not being terrified of God with the fact that we should, to some degree, be terrified of an all-knowing and all-powerful God? If learning to properly fear the Lord is part of the spiritual maturing process, then at what level of fearing God should we expect from a new convert? What about someone who is on the brink of confessing Jesus as Lord for the first time? How can you describe your fear for the Lord as you share your testimony?