• Ashish Roy

What Does the Fear of the Lord Mean?

For people who don’t know God, the fear of God is the fear of the judgment of God, the wrath of God, and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Hebrews 10:11; Luke 12:5).

For the people who know God, the fear of the Lord is much different. The believer’s fear is having deep respect, reverence, and awe for God’s power and authority. Rather than causing someone to afraid of God, a proper “fear of the Lord” leads one to love Him.

Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom. True wisdom comes only from understanding who God is and that He is holy, just, and righteous.

And if that verse is true, then the fear of the Lord is never to be feared. This fear is not a barrier to growth but a breakthrough to growth and eternal fulfillment. But the word fear needs clarification, doesn’t it? After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18)? Yes. So, there must be two kinds of fear.

One kind of fear is the fear that shrinks from the Lord in dread, that cowers from Him and turns away from Him in terror as if He were our problem. That kind of fear is pagan, not Christian. It has nothing to do with glorifying and enjoying God. It is suspicion and resentment toward God. The gospel does not create this fear in our hearts. The gospel shows us the glory of God's grace in Christ, and lifts us up, assured and fearless, to face life boldly as men and women of eternal destiny.

If you are not in Christ, you fear the Lord in all the wrong ways, and you don't fear Him enough. If you are not in Christ, you are God's adversary, headed toward judgment. But He is freely offering you, Christ, as your shelter.

You need shelter for many reasons. Here's just one: without Christ, you are all you have. If you are not in Christ, you are all you have. That is something to fear. But Christ is a shelter for people who are in deeper trouble than they even know. Turn to Him. Turn to Him now. He will receive you.

One cannot grasp the concept of the fear of God unless one does not know about the goodness of God. Because His fear lies in His goodness. That is why it is recommended to new believers to start by reading the New Testament because our minds and hearts can't understand the wrath and fear of God unless it knows about His graciousness, goodness, and mercifulness. That does not mean that God of the Old Testament is an angry God and the New Testament is a gracious one. That is the so wrong hermeneutical interpretation of both of these books. We have the same God throughout the whole Bible.

Here is the other kind of fear: "The fear of the Lord [as] the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10). This is a new attitude of openness to God, created by His love. If you are in Christ, His perfect love is casting out your fear of judgment. The Bible says, "Fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:18-19). The punishment fell on our Substitute at the cross. We have received Him with the empty hands of faith. We are under God's love now. The gospel frees us from the fear that God will, in the end, condemn us anyway. Nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:38–39).

Some redefine the fear of God for believers to “respect” Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin and fearing His judgment on sin—even in the life of a believer.

The fear of the Lord is another way of describing trust in the Lord. But the word fear adds connotations of reverence and awe.

The Greek word for fear, phobos can mean “reverential fear” of God, “not a mere ‘fear’ of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him.” This is the type of positive, productive fear Luke describes in the early New Testament Church.

“Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, emphasis added).

The fear of the Lord gains in appeal as we agree with C.S. Lewis that "in God, you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself." If we think we can live a single day of our lives without staying low before the Lord, yielding to His superior wisdom, and drawing upon His endless provision moment by moment, we are deceiving ourselves, no matter how brilliant we may be.

But as soon as we accept that we are not the measure but the measured, we are not the givers but the recipients, and that Jesus Christ is the universe's greatest expert in all things human, we embark on a wonderful new journey. We are free to grow and change.

Believers are not to be scared of God. We have no reason to be scared of Him. Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, obeying Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshiping Him in awe.

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