One of the major problems in society today is a lack of the fear of God. Unfortunately, there is a shortage of the fear of God in the church too.
The Fear of the Lord in the New Testament
Some consider the fear of God to be an Old Testament concept, no longer relevant now that we understand God’s love and are under grace. However, this is simply not true. The apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament, told believers to be "perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul, who was the apostle to the Gentiles, taught us that we are to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Again, in Ephesians 5:21, Paul instructed believers to be “submitting to one another in the fear of God”. The apostle Peter also instructed believers to “fear God” in 1 Peter 2:17. In fact, walking in the fear of God was something that characterized the church in the book of Acts, where we read that the churches were "walking in the fear of the Lord" (Acts 9:31). Furthermore, the book of Revelation includes the commandment to "fear God" as part of the “everlasting gospel” (Revelation 14:6-7).
The fear of God is so important, that the phrase “fear of the Lord” appears 27 times in the Bible (NKJV), “fear of God” appears 8 times, “fear Him” (with reference to God) appears 23 times, “fear the Lord” appears 33 times, “fear God” appears 17 times, “feared God” appears 5 times, “feared the Lord” appears 10 times, “feared Me” (with reference to God) appears once, “fear Me” (with reference to God) appears 8 times, “fears God” appears 4 times, “fears the Lord” appears 7 times, and “fears Him” (with reference to God) appears once. So that’s at least 144 references to fearing God in the Bible, with 19 of those appearing in the New Testament.
Jesus and the fear of the Lord
Our Lord Jesus Himself commanded, "do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). This saying of Jesus reveals two important things. Firstly, we are not to fear man. Secondly, we are to fear God. Jesus reveals that the fear of God is rooted in knowing His ability to punish us, and in knowing the severity of that punishment – “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”. We should walk with a healthy “fear”, knowing that we will one day appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Therefore, we ought to adopt the attitude that Paul commended to the Philippians when he wrote, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippian 2:12-13). We are to be aware that God is at work in our lives, and should respond to what He is doing in our lives with holy reverence and even “trembling”. We dare not disobey what He tells us to do, or do what He has told us not to do.
What is the fear of the Lord?
Rather than try and give a precise definition, I will simply say that the fear of God is what you have when you receive a revelation of how awesome and powerful God is. On one occasion in Israel’s history, after they came out of Egypt. God came to them and visited them on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19:18 shows us that the mountain itself was shaking because of God’s presence. God gave Israel a glimpse of His power and glory. When on the mountain, God began to speak in audible voice to the Israelites, giving them what became known as the Ten Commandments. After God reached number ten, the Israelites were very afraid, and thought they were going to die. So they asked Moses to speak to God and to receive the rest of the Law from God, and that Moses would speak the rest of the Law to them instead of God (Exodus 20:18-19). Moses then said to them, "Do no fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be fore you, so that you may not sin" (Exodus 20:20). Notice that Moses mentions two types of fear in this verse. He first says “Do not fear”, but then he speaks of “His (God’s) fear”. Let’s explore the significance of this...
The first thing that Moses said was “Do not fear”. In other words, do not be afraid – God has not come to destroy you. It is so important to realize that the fear of the Lord is not about being afraid that God is about to strike you dead. That is not the true fear of the Lord. Also, the true fear of God is not when you are so afraid of God that you dare not even approach Him. It is essential that we realize that the fear of God is not about that. That is the wrong kind of fear. Indeed, our Lord Jesus shed His blood so that we can “draw near” to God and have a relationship with Him (John 3:16; 17:3).
Moses then said something very interesting. He said, “…God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin”. We must not have the wrong kind of fear. But we must the correct kind of fear - “His (God’s) fear”. In other words, Moses was saying: “God hasn’t come to kill you. He doesn’t want you to be afraid that He is going to do that. But He has come so that you may see how awesome and powerful He is, so that you may always have a healthy fear of Him so that you won’t dare sin against Him”. The true fear of God is knowing how awesome and powerful God is, and consequently not daring to be so unwise as to sin against Him. No wonder Proverbs 9:10 says that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”. You probably wouldn’t mess with someone armed with a machine gun, so why mess with God? We need to recapture a correct view of God. He is more powerful and awesome than we can imagine (compare Psalm 33:8 ).
In closing, let me share the following with you. Our universe has billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars. When we look at the sky at night, we only see a portion of the galaxy in which we live, called the Milky Way. Within our galaxy, the nearest star to the earth is the sun. If we were to fly to the sun by airplane, it would take about 21 years to get there. If we were to travel by airplane to the next nearest star in our galaxy, it would take about 51 billion years … and that is within our galaxy. When we consider that there are billions of other galaxies, each having billions of stars, we begin to understand how huge our universe is. But here is the amazing thing; our God is much bigger than the entire universe! That is what Solomon meant when He said, "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You" (1 Kings 8:27). The first reference to “heaven” in this verse is not a reference to where God lives, but to the realm that we see in the night sky (i.e. outer space, the rest of the universe).
However, not only is God bigger than the entire universe, He measured it all with the span of His hand! In Isaiah 40:12, God is described as having “measured heaven [i.e. outer space] with the span [of His hand]”. Our God is an awesome God, and it is only right that we fear Him!
So, in summary, to fear God is walking in the awareness of how awesome and powerful God is, and not daring to sin against Him (Exodus 20:20). This includes awareness of His ability to punish us (Matthew 10:28 ).
Unless otherwise indicated, all verses in this post were taken from the NKJV.
Dr. Stuart Pattico
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Verses marked NIV are from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Verses marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers. Verses marked NKJV are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Verses marked NLT are from Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. Quotations marked NEB are from The New English Bible: The New Testament © ‘The
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