The Fear of the Lord

angry_godWhat is the fear of the Lord?

This is an important question. You need to have a good answer to this question. Why? Because your answer reveals much about your faith and security. It reveals whether you are walking in grace or under condemnation.

For instance, if you think God is judging your behavior to see whether you merit his unmerited favor, you’re basically saying, “I don’t trust Jesus to finish what he started. Sure, I thank God for grace, but now I have to prove that I was a worthy investment.” Those who think like this fear God’s displeasure, and rightly so. After all, why would God be pleased with anyone who says, “I don’t trust Jesus”?

I’ve had people tell me, “I walk in the love and the fear of God,” by which they mean, “God is scary and will only accept me if I endure and overcome and obey and do all the other things the Bible says.” Or they say, “God qualifies me, but I can disqualify myself through sin, doubt, or insufficient repentance. A holy fear of a bookkeeping God keeps me on the straight and narrow.”

Statements like these sound pious but they’re faithless. They belie a confidence in the flesh that insults the spirit of grace.

This is not the time to get into all those great scriptures about abiding, endurance, and obedience – I’ll get to those later. For now, let me echo something John said: fear and love don’t mix:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

If you fear the punishment or chastisement of God, then love has not had it’s perfect work in you. Look again to the cross. See the finished work. If God loved you and did all that for you while you were a sinner, what won’t he do for you now that you have come home? God is for you, not against you.

Of course, not every Christian is afraid of God. If you count yourself among the fearless, let me ask you this question: What is the fear of the Lord?

If you are like me, you’ll probably say, “To fear God is to worship him. It’s to give him the reverence and honor due his name.” This sort of fear has nothing to do with pain and punishment but is a proper response to a God who is holy, righteous, awesome, and good.

I’m not saying that God isn’t scary and that his enemies shouldn’t be afraid. But if you’re not his enemy then you have nothing to fear. (See Luke 12:32, Rom 8:15, and Rev 1:17 if you need proof.) If you know God as your heavenly father, then understand that the fear of Lord is not cowering before his smiting hand; it’s trembling before his eternal goodness.

boy-worshippingDemonic fear would have you flee and beg the mountains to fall on top of you. But true, Biblical fear is where you fall in breathless adoration, marveling at God’s goodness and love.

“To fear God is to worship him”

Perhaps you’ve heard people say this, but do you know where this idea comes from? It comes from Jesus. Remember how he quoted scripture to silence the devil in the wilderness? Well let’s compare what Jesus said with the actual scripture he quoted. See if you can spot the difference:

What Jesus said: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Mat 4:10)
The original text: “Fear the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Deu 6:13)

Did you spot the difference? Moses said, “Fear God,” which Jesus interpreted as, “Worship him.” (I am grateful to Joseph Prince for pointing this out in his book, Unmerited Favor.) Whenever you read an exhortation to “fear the Lord” in the Bible, you can rightly interpret it as “worship the Lord.” Jesus gives you permission.

“But Paul, ‘through the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.’ It’s only the fear of punishment that stops people from sinning.”

Hey, that’s great advice when dealing with three-year olds – or stubborn Israelites. The fear of punishment can be a great motivator. It was used during the old covenant to keep people in line. Back then, if you didn’t keep the rules, you got whacked. This is why that covenant is known as a death-dealing ministry (2 Cor 3:7). Its purpose is to kill you – or at least kill your confidence in your own abilities so that you might see your need for Jesus (Gal 3:24).

But the good news is that in Christ you have died (Col 3:3). You don’t need to be killed any more. Your old self is in the grave. (Thank God for that!) Now that you have been raised with Christ you are free to live loved and live fearlessly.

Fear and love don’t mix

Fear has no place in a healthy, loving relationship. It’s important that you get this. You can’t balance fear and love. They are like light and dark. You cannot have a part of your heart shouting, “I love you Lord” while another part whispers, “but I’m afraid of you.” Why not? Because you will never give yourself wholly to someone you’re afraid of.

Your heavenly Father loves you more than you know. It grieves him when you hold back because you are uncertain of his love. And it breaks his heart when you shrink back because you think he’s going to hit you. Maybe your natural father did that but your heavenly Father never will. He loves you so much he died for you and now he lives for you. He longs for you to receive his undiluted love.

Fear not

If you ever hear a sermon or a message that leaves you fearful and uncertain of the Father’s love, reject it! The words may be from the Bible, but the spirit behind it is not from the Lord. God has not given us a spirit of fear and intimidation (2 Tim 1:7). Rather, he has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). The Holy Spirit will always seek to remind you that you are God’s dearly loved child.

“Sure, Paul, I get that. I know God loves everyone.”

Not just everyone; He loves you. You need to make this personal. You need to see yourself as the apple of your Father’s eye.

I encourage you to get into the habit of agreeing with the Holy Spirit. Tell yourself every day, “God loves me and there’s nothing I can do to make him love me any more or any less.” And as the love of God roots and buds in your heart, it will drive out fear. The oft-repeated phrase “Fear not” will become real to you. You won’t fear failure, you won’t fear men, you won’t fear death, and you certainly won’t fear your loving Father.

Unbelievers fear, but the sons of God are fearless. The wicked flee when none pursue but the righteous are as bold as a lion.

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him. (Psa 103:17)

LinksOnly those who are secure in the everlasting love of the Lord know what it is to truly fear the Lord. It is to see him as he truly is and respond with awe-struck adoration. It is to tremble in his presence knowing he is surely good, he is surely supreme, and he surely loves me.


Related links:
- What if I disappoint God?
- 10 myths about the ministry of the Holy Spirit
- Is God’s love unconditional? 7 reasons to say “Yes!”

Comments

  1. Rick Shafer says:

    You are spot on! Perfect love casts out fear as the non-Believer defines “fear”. I have had such a good time in the OT changing the word “fear” when I see it to “worship”–of course where appropriate. Israel feared Goliath, that certainly does not mean “worship” but a young teen, David, took 5 (# for Grace) and on this side of the line drawn in the sand, that red line, he did not fear Goliath he worshiped his God “for I come to you in the Name of the God of Israel”. After Grace defeated the enemy, David crossed the line and cut off Goliath’s head (or crushed it as in the serpent’s curse).

  2. Paul, I can’t tell you how thankful I am for not only the content, but the timing of this post. I have been receiving and preaching the wonderful gospel of grace for the past couple years. Last night, I started getting thoughts like, “you need to also preach the fear of the Lord” and “if you tell people they have been made perfect by Christ (Heb.10:14), they will never fess up to sin and go astray.” Now intellectually, I knew that these thoughts probably weren’t from God, but I was feeling tired and weak and the thoughts had some powerful emotions backing them up. This post was the re-enforcement I needed. So thanks for writing. This isn’t the first time this has happened with your posts!

    • That’s very interesting John. I am in the middle of a month-long study of eternal security. (I plan to write a bunch of posts later.) Yesterday, in the middle of my study the following thought came to me: Write a post on the fear of the Lord. Go on – it’ll be easy. Do it now. The intellectual part of me was irritated – this would be an interruption to what I was working on. But my spirit responded with excitement. Yes, this would be easy – and fun! And it was. So maybe, just maybe, this was a Holy Spirit thing. Walking in the Spirit is exciting!

      • Wow, how cool. Yes, walking with Him is fun. His interruptions become more enjoyable than our plans (in time at least). I look forward to the eternal security posts. Thanks again for listening to the Holy Spirit.

  3. I think even our OT view of the ‘fear of the Lord’ is a bit warped. Proverbs 8:13 says that to fear God, is to hate evil. Nothing for us to be afraid of there … it’s evil that should be afraid of us! Is that not the beginning of wisdom?

  4. Love it Paul- thanks so much for your words – the life of Jesus!

  5. Paul, this is a wonderful message of well-balanced encouragement, jam packed with gold nuggets. After reading this I feel less anxious and fearful, thank you! Yes we need an undistorted fear!
    I agree too that our past relationships with our parents especially have some weight on how easily we can absorb this message (perhaps an unhealthy fear of judgement can cause one to repent?). Wondering though, does fear and worship translate the same from OT to NT? p.s.Is that a photo of you above with your fearful look:-)

  6. Thnx Paul, Jus a thot. If “To fear God is to worship him. It’s to give him the reverence and honor due his name.” & …to tremble at God’s eternal goodness. Wouldn’t it stil be correct to say tht: ‘through the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil.’
    Wouldn’t that same worshipful fear of the Lord & hounouring Him cause us to shun/hate evil? Doing this, not to gain God’s approval but to show our reverence. In other words How do we show/ give reverence & honor to God???

  7. Paul, this was a timely reminder for me also. I agree with all of your content and have expressed the same perspective to others regarding this topic. A reaction that I’ve heard a few times and haven’t had a good reply to, I’d be interested in hearing your take on it if you’re able. No worries either way. In regarding the fear of the Lord and worship, I’ve had a few people react with, “Well what does it mean to worship the Lord?” I have answered similarly to your description of worship, but they then say, well the root word of worship is the same as “serve”, and if you are “serving” the Lord, you need to be reflecting good behavior or “doing stuff”, and if you are struggling in some area then how can you be truly serving or worshiping the Lord? I know they are twisting it to fit in a box it wasn’t meant to, but sometimes it’s hard to formulate a good reply. I have tried to explain that even “serving the Lord” is not “doing stuff” or acting right, it’s believing right, preaching the Gospel, making disciples, and having a heart of surrender inviting God to have His way in us. Some people accept that answer while others seem to think that is not a fair description of “worship” or “service”.

    • i think you could use Jesus’ own words to back up what you are already saying… true worshippers of the Father must worship in spirit and truth (john 4:23-24)
      ;)

  8. This is a great message! I have been bothered for a long time about what Paul wrote in Romans 11, when he warned the Gentile church to not become arrogant toward the Jews, but to fear. I was wondering if anyone else has found this disturbing…because it seems that falling from faith-righteousness and into works-righteousness is pretty much what happened to the church from the beginning. If you look closely at the Proverbs, the fear of the Lord means to have humility, and the evil that the Lord hates is pride…so that makes sense with what Paul was saying all throughout the book of Romans (also John in 1 Jn.). And worshiping in the Spirit, knowing that our righteousness is the gift of God, rather than according to our own flesh is what He approves of. But it’s really difficult sometimes to get rid of the self-righteous pride that comes from growing up in legalism…because it can become so ground in that you don’t even realize you’re being judgmental. (At least that’s what I’ve found to be true.) But I’m very glad to find that people all over the world have re-discovered the true gospel of Grace, so that we can begin to experience Life and Blessings instead of the curses of death…the way the Lord intended it to be when He re-created us: as though sin had never entered the world!

    Thanks so much for helping us to put fear into the right perspective!

    • Romans 11 is not a warning to the Gentile church; it’s a warning to Gentiles in general. “I am talking to you Gentiles” (v.13). What applies to the group as a whole does not necessarily apply to individuals within the group. The nation of Israel as a group were broken off but certain individual Jews (like Paul himself) were grafted in through faith. Paul is saying the Gentiles as a group have benefited from the kindness of God, but individual Gentiles may miss out through unbelief.

      And this passage really is all about faith. Although Paul writes that “certain of the branches were broken off” (17), the reality is the Israelites cut themselves off through unbelief (v.20). As Paul says: “God did not reject his people” (v.2). Rather, “they stumbled” (v.11) and rejected him. It’s the same thing that’s been happening since the Garden of Eden.

      • Thanks for explaining. That passage has been one of those things I prefer to overlook because it causes worry. It can be so easy to misunderstand these things and then end up in bondage to fear again.

  9. I have had a fear of God since listening to a sermon on Job with a focus on God’s sovereignty…. Basically that God was ok with what happened to Job and that God wanted to see Job’s reaction to what happened to him. Can you help me see the error in my reaction?

  10. That was a great post, thanks so much. I have always wondered about the fear of the Lord, and sort of interpreted as reverence and awe. I loved the bit from Joseph Prince too. That is awesome. Keep up the good work. :)

  11. Thanks so much Paul for the breath of fresh air that your posts are. Personally I get real uncomfortable when the person/people I am praying with keep telling God how unworthy ‘we’ are! I think It’s a form of false humility based on how bad we are at keeping the commandments. I often feel very out of step when I chime in with my own prayers in their presence – it’s almost like we are of different faiths talking to different Fathers. I simply cannot feel unworthy when He has made it clear that He values us so highly that He died to make a way for us to be in relationship with Him. We are His creation, and we are “good”; good enough to die for, good enough to fellowship with, good enough to spend eternity with, good enough to bestow His own righteousness on. And my other wonder…..how come Christians aren’t excited when they learn someone else is a Christian? Mate… I am excited! My face lights up in a big smile of comradarie only to be wiped off when there is ot the reciprocal reaction. Whats wrong with my brothers and sisters – it’s exciting to meet a brother or a sister in some random place!!! We’re family!! We know Jesus!! He knows us!!
    Keep up the good work Paul, I really appreciate you and I see heaps of others do also. Bless you brother :)

  12. Christine Cattanach says:

    Spot on Paul. I was only looking at the banner we have in our church this morning that proclaims this most freeing of truths. Only this perfect love can and does drive it out. Thank you :).

  13. I am blessed!!! Thank you for posting this!! Praise GOD!!! :)

  14. Roshan Easo says:

    I agree with the post but I have a question. Since we are dead to the death-dealing ministry of the Law, does that mean I am free to believe that I have already fulfilled it because of Jesus. That I therefore need not show any reverence? Or have I found “the secret”: worship? I am talking about the test of obedience in particular.

  15. Paul, you wrote the following:
    What Jesus said: “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Mat 4:10)
    The original text: “Fear the Lord your God and serve him only.” (Deu 6:13)

    Why is this explanation not sufficient to explain the discrepancy between the original quote from Prov 3:11-12 and the copied quote in Hebrews 12:5-6?

    Jesus equated ‘worship’ with ‘fear’. Does it follow then that the Hebrew writer intentionally equated ‘scourging’ with ‘correction’?

    I know this does not align with the gospel and it, honestly, does not take me out of rest. Just curious.

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