What does it mean to fear God, and what are the characteristics of the fear of God? This is the discussion of today’s blog post.
Should We Fear God?
The Bible is full of verses about fearing God – telling us that we should fear God.
Psalm 2:11 says,
‘Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.’ESV
1 Samuel 12:14 says,
‘If you will fear the Lord and serve him and obey his voice and not rebel against the commandment of the Lord, and if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, it will be well.’ESV
Luke 12:5 says,
‘But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear.’NLT
These are only a few examples in the Bible of commands to fear God. And, YES, we are called to fear him. But it is also clear in these verses that fearing God is seen as something good for us, as well as something that results in good – ‘all will be well’.
What is the Fear of God?
Someone once told me that they didn’t believe the Bible to be true because it contradicted God’s nature. God is love, but fear is contradictory to love. They argued that we could not both love and fear God. This argument, which is a precept of New Age beliefs, states that fear is the opposite of love.
At first, this seems like a reasonable argument. Until you consider two things:
1. Hate is the opposite of love.
2. Not all fear is bad. Fear is a natural response (fight or flight) to something we consider potentially dangerous. In many cases, it can be an important response to have.
While fear is an emotional response, hate is a decision to hold a position against something or someone. We often confuse love as an emotion as well, but biblically, it is considered a decision to commit to another.
There is no contradiction in the Bible. God is love, and we are commanded to both love and fear God. So, what exactly does the Bible mean by fear?
A great way to understand the Bible’s definition of fear is by looking at examples of those who feared God in the Bible.
Examples of Those Who Feared God in the Bible
Isaiah 6:1-8 describes a vision Isaiah had shortly after a very wicked king, King Uzziah, died. In this vision he describes:
- God sitting on a throne that is raised up high, and the train of his robes trail down and fill the entire temple.
- Beside God are the seraphim (which means ‘burning ones’) strange and very powerful creatures with 6 wings. Two wings covered their faces, two wings covered their feet, and with two wings they flew.
- The seraphim were calling out to each other, saying ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The Whole earth is filled with his glory!’ (Isaiah 6:3 – NLT)
- The voices of the seraphim shake the Temple’s foundations and the entire building is filled with smoke.
This vision describes a frightful seen and ends with what seems like a great earthquake. But it is Isaiah’s response that gives away the power and fright of this seen:
“It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man…”Isaiah 6:5 (NLT)
This is not the response of someone filled with warm and fuzzy feelings, or even the response of someone simply bowing in reverence, but a response of fear; and Isaiah was a godly man, one who we would think could stand before God and not tremble.
Exodus 33:17-34:8 tells us about how Moses was not feeling confident about his task to lead the Israelites, and asked God to show Moses ‘his glorious presence’.
God agreed but told Moses to hide in the crevice of the mountain while God passed by him. He said to Moses, “But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Exodus 33:20 NLT).
God passed by Moses, calling out his own name, Yahweh, and described his character to Moses.
Exodus 34:8 says,
‘Moses immediately threw himself to the ground and worshiped.’NLT
As you can imagine, this would have been an equally frightful yet awesome experience.
David was known to have a fear of the Lord at a young age. He often wrote about the fear of God and said this in Psalm 111:10 ~
‘Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom.’NLT
But David also experienced a frightful moment with God in 1 Chronicles 13.
David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant. He rallied all of Israel to help with the task. But during the move, the oxen stumbled and an Israelite, named Uzzah, reached out to steady the Ark and dropped dead. God had commanded that only Levitical priests could carry the Ark and only by poles attached to the Ark by rings.
1 Chronicles 13:12 says that David was now afraid of God and would not continue moving the Ark into the City of David.
How Did These Men of the Bible Fear God?
It is clear that the fear of the Lord involves a reverent respect. But it is equally clear that fearing God also means a frightful awe.
I used to believe that the fear of the Lord only referred to a reverent respect. But frightful awe is an important and necessary component of the fear of God.
How do you view God? Our view of God will determine how we fear him. We often like to associate our view of God as a warm and loving Dad. We want to focus on God’s qualities such as goodness and love, but we forget about his holiness, justness, transcendence, and omnipotence.
We like to picture God as one of us, a buddy that we could hang out with. But Isaiah, Moses, and David realized how separate, insignificant, and sinful we all are in comparison to him, and it caused them to tremble in fear in his presence.
There are so many verses in the Bible that tell us not to fear anything: man, our enemies, and problems, yet at the same time, we are commanded to fear God.
This command is essentially telling us, ‘Know your place!’.
The Fear of God is a Command
Yes, we have the free-will to decide whether we want to believe in, and obey, God. But the fear of God is understanding this truth: that obedience to God results in life, while disobedience results in death. The fear of God is recognizing our insignificance, our sinfulness, and our unworthiness. It is realizing that God’s majesty, power, and transcendence leaves us with no other choice but to bend to his will.
Yet, we serve a God who is also good, kind, loving, and just. A God who died for us so that we could be made significant, holy, and worthy.
Characteristics of the Fear of God
Let’s look at the passage in Isaiah again, to learn what characteristics we should have when we fear God.
Isaiah 6:1-2 tells us that we need to realize and worship God’s majesty. God’s majesty is far grander, more impressive, and beautiful than anything or anyone else.
1. Fearing God is a reverence of God’s majesty
Isaiah 6:3 tells us that we must understand how holy God is. A godly man like Isaiah trembled in fear because of the awareness of his sinfulness in God’s presence.
2. Fearing God is humble trembling in the presence of his perfect holiness.
Isaiah 6:5 tells us that we must become deeply aware of our sinfulness.
3. Fearing God is grief and sorrow over our sinfulness.
Isaiah 6:5 also tells us that we must acknowledge our need for atonement and God’s grace.
4. Fearing God is admitting our need for atonement of sins and God’s grace.
Isaiah 6:6-7 tells us that our sins must be cleansed as we receive atonement and God’s grace.
5. Fearing God is accepting God’s gift of salvation for the forgiveness of sins.
Isaiah 6:8 tells us that, finally, we are commissioned for God’s service.
6. Fearing God is obedience and being commissioned for his service.
Benefits of the Fear of God
The Bible tells us that there are many benefits for those who fear God. The command to fear God is not just about paying homage to God, but that we might experience freedom in Christ!
Friendship with God
The fear of God restores our friendship with God. We were once enemies of God, but when we pledge allegiance to him and obey him, we become his friends.
Psalm 25:14 says,
‘The Lord is a friend to those who fear him. He teaches them his covenant.’NLT
The Bible tells us that God shows mercy to those who fear him. Mercy means to show favor to someone who does not deserve it. We do not deserve God’s mercy, or are owed it. He has the authority to decide who he will, and will not, show mercy. Yet he promises to show mercy to all those who fear him.
Luke 1:50 says,
‘He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.’NLT
Victory Over Sin
When we realize who God is, we realize our only option is obedience to his commands. When we also consider the incredible love and mercy he has shown us, it causes us to want to please him and serve him. The fear of God, therefore, gives us victory over sin and empowers us to live righteously.
Moses said this in Exodus 20:20 ~
‘”Don’t be afraid,” Moses answered them, “for God has come this way to test you, and so that your fear of him will keep you from sinning!”‘NLT
Fountain of Life
Choosing to fear God, to obey and serve him, gives us life. The alternative brings death. God is our Creator. He gave us life and breath. He created us to have a relationship with him. To fear our Maker is how we were designed. It is how it was meant to be.
Proverbs 14:27 says,
‘Fear of the Lord is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death.’NLT
Fearing God gives us wisdom. Understanding the fear of God and choosing to take this posture, is wisdom. The alternative is foolishness. God’s ways are best. God’s ways give us freedom and life. Fearing God and choosing to obey is therefore wise.
Job 28:28 says,
‘And he said to man, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”‘ESV
Protection For You and Your Children
Parents who model a life of godly fear and obedience provide a guard against Satan’s attacks on your family. A hedge of protection surrounds both you and your children.
Proverbs 14:26 says,
‘Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children.’NLT
Consequences of Not Fearing God
What happens when the fear of God is lacking? Can Christians lack a fear of God?
I believe that Christians can have a lack of understanding of God’s greatness and transcendence. Christians often only want to view God’s loving and kind nature, and not consider what his holiness and justness means.
This does not mean that the Christian who lacks a proper fear of God are not saved. Receiving God’s gift of salvation only requires faith in Jesus as our Savior.
But lacking the proper view of God – a fear of God – causes us to lack wisdom and the power to overcome sin. We might find ourselves constantly making poor choices because we lack godly knowledge and wisdom. We may find that we can’t overcome sinful desires and habits. We may feel powerless and weak. We may find ourselves not growing spiritually nor developing the fruit of the spirit. We are not becoming more like Jesus.
What is Our View of God?
We must examine our own view of God. Do we fear God, or we uncomfortable with that view, as we take on the world’s definition of fear.
Does sin really bother us? Do we find ourselves doing the “bare minimum” to enter the gates of heaven?
When we come to know and understand who God is, we not only revere and respect God in the right way, but we understand who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going.
We, who are insignificant, sinful, and unworthy, are made significant, holy, and worthy when we accept God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges. Isn’t the fear of the Lord kind of old-fashioned? After all, Christians are supposed to love God and live in intimate relationship with him. What kind of relationship can you have with someone you fear? A great one, asserts Jerry Bridges, as he unpacks the biblical promise that God delights in those who fear him.