|The Journal of Biblical Accuracy|
The fear of the Lord
I would like to start this article with a different way than usual and instead of saying anything else to give some of the multitude of the Scriptures that refer to the fear of the Lord and the promises of God that are connected with it. Please read carefully:
I believe it is obvious from the above that we are dealing here with a very important subject. What is the fear of the Lord that all that have it are subject of the so many promises we read? What does it mean “fear the Lord”? Does it mean to be afraid, terrorized, in the idea of God? Could it be that this subject of the “fear of the Lord” is a kind of not valid today as today we are children of God? Furthermore doesn’t I John tell us that there is no fear in love? Could it be then that this “fear of the Lord” is something for the Old Testament only? The purpose of this article is to answer these questions.
1. The fear of the Lord: it is not a simple respect but it is not a terror either
Depending on somebody’s background, there are those that understand the fear of the Lord as a kind of terror, of being afraid of God. Others again they understand it like a simple respect, like the respect for example they show to their colleagues or… they do not understand it at all as they consider it not relevant for the present age of grace. I don’t think that any of these views is correct. Starting with the simple respect: the respect that may exist between equals is not the same with the respect towards the Most High One. In a kingdom a subject does not respect his king the same way he respects his colleagues. Even if he has full boldness before the throne, as we, through the blood of Christ, have before the throne of God, even if he is a child of the King, as we are through faith, he continues to also be a subject before the King. And as to every King, let alone to the King of kings, deep respect is due. In other words, the fact that we are children of the King does not annul the fear, the deep respect that is due to the King, to the Most High One, nor does it convert it to a simple respect, like the respect due to co-equals.
On the other hand, a son of the king would indeed not approach the king the same way a stranger would approach him. A son would approach the king not with terror but with boldness and confidence, knowing that the one he is speaking to is His loving Father. At the same time and as we already said above he would also approach Him with deep respect recognizing that he does not approach a colleague but His Father, who at the same time is the Most High, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. In other words, the fact that we are children of King it also means that the fear of the Lord should not be understood like a terror, like being afraid, of the King. Instead it should rather be understood like the very deep, the highest respect that is due from kids to the most loving Father, who at the same time is the Creator of everything, the Most High One.
Having clarified the above let’s see some passages that show the majesty of God and are associated with the fear of God. I use these passages as an indication of the majesty and highness of God and not to say that Christians should be afraid, terrified, of God. As we already said and as we will see later fearing God does not mean being afraid of God. I believe in our age, where Jesus Christ has bridged the gap between God and man, fearing God means approaching Him both as a Father (with boldness and without being afraid of Him) and as the Most High One (with the deepest respect). Turning now to the passages we mentioned, let’s start with Jeremiah 10:6-7:
and Revelation 15:4
and Jeremiah 5:22-24
GOD MADE US AND THE WHOLE UNIVERSE. EVERYTHING, SEEN OR UNSEEN, WAS MADE BY HIS OWN HAND. He is our Father and our Lord. He is the Most High One. Knowledge of the Scriptures without fear, deep respect of the majesty of God is just head knowledge that will definitely lead to pride (I Corinthians 8:1). As Proverbs tells us:
Only if the Word of God is stored within us, only if it becomes part of our heart will we understand the fear of the Lord. If we therefore don’t have deep respect for the Most High, then any knowledge of the Scripture that we may have is just head knowledge which, unless we store it in our hearts instead of our heads, will not give fruit and will eventually lead to pride.
2. Boldness and the fear of the Lord in the New Testament
A view that some, implicitly or explicitly, hold about the fear of God is that it has somehow been ceased by the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I don’t think that this is correct. Here are some New Testament passages that speak about the fear of God:
I Peter 2:17
II Corinthians 7:1
Cornelious, the first Gentile at whose home the gospel was preached, was a man that feared God. As Acts 10:1-2 tells us:
and as Peter said in Acts 10:34-35
As we see the fear of the Lord is present in the New Testament too. At the same time I do think - and I have already mentioned it - that there is a vast difference between Old Testament and New Testament. This is due to the fact that there is now available, due to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, a very different kind of relationship with God. This different kind of relationship should also be taken into consideration when we try to understand what fearing God means. Using the example mentioned before, there is a vast difference between citizens of a kingdom that are just outsiders and citizens that are children of the King. The outsiders and the children do not approach the king in the same way. The outsiders are approaching the king perhaps in terror due to His majesty and due to lack of any relationship with Him other than that of a subject. But this is not valid for the children. The children approach the Father with boldness, without being afraid of Him, like kids approach their loving Father. This is also how the Scripture tells us to approach the throne:
To the throne of grace we come boldly. This is not because of us but because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who bridged the gap between us and God and made it possible to those that believe that He is the Son of God to become children of God (I John 5:1). As also I John 4:17-19 tells us:
„There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has torment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.“
If we love God we will not be afraid of Him for fear and love do not go together. At the same time I repeat this does not mean that it is right to approach God the same way we are approaching equals, with some perhaps simple respect and without realizing the Highness of the one we are approaching. But again this is not a terror nor are we to be afraid of Him. If it is a terror then we don’t really love Him as we should, as there is no fear in love. Instead, as we said: fearing God means approaching Him both as a Father (with boldness and without being afraid of Him) and as the Most High One (with the deepest respect).
3. Fearing God: doing His will
Taking the above one step further, I really don’t see how can somebody walk in the will of the Lord if He does not have this fear of God and how can somebody fear God if He does not do the will of God. Fearing God means then doing His will. It means to take a step of faith on what God has told us even if we don’t understand how everything is going to work and have not seen the whole picture. Those that fear God will want to do the will of God. Whatever the Father says has for them the greatest value and it is non-negotiable for it came out of the mouth of the Father. The fear of the Lord, the deep respect for the Lord and His will, and obedience to the Lord and His will go then hand by hand. For really imagine kids that are disobedient. Would you say that these kids respect their father? Perhaps they approach the Father to get things from Him but they do not really love Him or respect Him. Had they loved Him they would treasure His will in their hearts and they would do this will. Unfortunately there are some Christians that are like this: they go to God only when they have a great need and the remaining time they live exactly like the world. This will obviously have to change. Instead of approaching God like this we should deepen our relationship, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). As Philippians 2:5-11 says about our example, the Lord Jesus Christ:
Let the same mind be in us, says the Scripture, that was in the Lord Jesus Christ. What was this mind? It was the mind of obedience, even unto death. It was the mind of “not mine will but thine be done” (Luke 22:42).
What I want to say with the above is that we cannot really say that we fear the Lord if we don’t do His will. It is in fact the same as with loving the Lord. As He said:
We cannot say that we love the Lord if we don’t do what He says. Similarly, I believe we cannot say that we fear the Lord if we don’t do what we know it is His will.
To conclude therefore this section, fear of the Lord means also obedience to the Lord. It means treasuring God and His will no matter what. It means in one phrase: holding God and His will to the highest esteem.
We started this article showing the source of blessings the fear of the Lord is. Really it is difficult to find another subject in the Scripture that contains so many promises: long-liveness, prosperity, deliverance and many other promises accompany those that fear the Lord.
We then tried to define the fear of the Lord making clear that this is neither a simple respect, like the respect equals show to each other, nor does this mean to be afraid of God or in terror of Him. In contrast the fear of the Lord is the very deep respect that is due to the Father, to GOD, to the LORD, to the CREATOR OF EVERYTHING.
Finally we made clear that there is no fear of God without doing the will of God. In other words whoever fears the Lord does also His will and whoever does not fear Him, but want to satisfy his flesh, does not do it or he does it whenever he likes it, depending on the circumstances.
Closing this article let us listen carefully this instruction from Ecclesiastes:
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