We are told, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). We are also told, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).
The primary interest of the Christian is in the command to “fear God.” There is a tendency among Christians to either misunderstand or minimize this command.
Why Should We Fear God?
Any student of the Bible recognizes the awesome power of God. He is the very creator of life, having formed man from the dust of the ground. Such power, when fully realized is cause for fear. “For in him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God’s omniscience is compelling reason for fear as well. Imagine the power possessed by one who can read every inner thought of a man.
God’s righteousness, the fact He never errs in judgment, compared to our frequent errors, is yet another cause for fear. We often use the word “reverence” to describe this feeling, but its basis is in fear of anyone so superior.
Perhaps the most often cited cause for fearing God is the Bible teaching concerning His judgment. The writer of Hebrews, in describing the plight of those willfully sinning after receipt of the truth, says of the future: “But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and bath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense, said the Lord …. It is a fearful thing to fall unto the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:27-31).
That each of us will be held individually accountable (2 Cor. 5:10-11) and that God is “no respecter of persons” (1 Pet 1:17) builds that fear in light of the impossibility of anyone escaping that answering to God. The punishment promised to the wicked is no slap on the wrist for Romans 6:25 says “the wages of sin is death.” God has created a place of punishment called hell, where “the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:44). The very description of that burning place of torment sends an involuntary shudder through the believer. Beyond that, the bottom line of God’s punishment for sin is eternal separation from Him, a situation not even faced by the vilest sinner as he lives in this world today.
Judgment and punishment are sufficient causes for fear but the love of God likewise compels us to fear. Paul describes God’s love by saying, “He that spared not his own son, but delivered him for us all. . .” (Rom. 8:32). God’s own son was the sacrifice for our sins. Imagining a man, much less our creator, offering his only son for savage abuse and tortured death certainly commands reverential fear in the face of such love. On the other hand, to ignore that sacrifice and its purpose is justification for stark terror of His judgment as righteousness is vindicated.
What Fear Accomplishes In The Life Of A Christian
Fear of the Lord brings obedience. We have in Noah an example of this incentive nature of fear. “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house. . .” (Heb. 11:7). God has always warned His people. He has threatened punishment and given the opportunity for fear to accomplish obedience in the hearts of those who believe Him.
Fear also serves to keep the obedient holy. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, the Apostle Paul put it this way: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” Explained yet another way, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it” (Heb. 4:1).
Knowledge is a by-product of godly fear. The writer of the Psalms said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and Proverbs 8:13 explains, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Summed in these passages are the elements of true knowledge, philosophy and life goals.
Conclusion: Fear is a motivator. Because of fear we don’t step in front of speeding cars, or jump from a top high building or place our hands in a fire. Our fear of pain and death constrains us. The Bible utilizes fear in the same mode, commanding us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” and threatening everlasting punishment to all those unwilling to obey the will of God.
We can fear the wrong things. Fear of men, their ridicule, of being an outsider or different, or even of being harmed or killed, is discouraged by the teaching of Scripture. Yet we are commanded to fear God. The latter fear, as it develops, chokes out the first fear. First century Christians were beaten, castigated, even fed to hungry lions, but refused to renounce their loyalty to the God of heaven.
Fear and love often are spoken of as if they exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. In fact, neither exists without the other.