The Back Page – Fear of God


The Back Page

The Fear of God

We talk about love for God, trusting God, walking with him, listening to him, resting in him…. But
when was the last time we spoke of fearing God? Our failure to do so weakens both our understanding of
the Lord and our Christian walk. The Bible alludes to the fear of God at least 170 times. What is the
beginning of wisdom (Ps 110:11)? Why did Yahweh descend on Sinai the way he did (Ex 20:20)?
Some people try to soften the concept by saying, “The fear of God in the Bible does not mean ‘fear’,
but something like ‘respect’.” But is that so? Although the fear of the Lord may indeed at times connote
“respect” or “worship” (as in 2 Ki 17:34–39), the basic denotation of both yārē’ (Heb) and phobeō (Gr) is
“to fear, to be in an apprehensive state, to be afraid.”
What prompts a healthy fear of God is not simply that he is bigger than we, but that he is holy and
judges sin. We should fear falling afoul of such a righteous, all-seeing, impartial judge. The role that this
fear of God plays in dissuading us from sin runs through many of the 170 references (as, e.g., Ex 20:20).
“But,” you say, “that is not for Christians, because we have Jesus as our savior.” Really? When
Ananias and Sapphira died “great fear came over the whole church” (Act 5:11), which later went on “in
the fear of the Lord” (Act 9:31). Since we stand by faith we must “not be conceited, but fear” (Rom
11:20), and work to perfect holiness “in the fear of God” (2 Cor 7:1). Believers should “be subject to one
another in the fear of Christ” (Eph 5:21). Since God judges impartially, Christians should conduct
ourselves “in fear during the time of our stay on earth” (1 Pet 1:17). The “eternal gospel” is to “fear God
and give him glory” (Rev 14:6–7).
In one of the curricula Second Cape uses, children are asked, “Why should we obey God?” The only
answer the lesson offers: “Because we love him.” True but incomplete. God has shrunk if he need not be
feared. We are weaker and our resistance to sin lamer if we fear fearing God. I have no desire to be
crushed by an 18-wheeler. This kind of healthy fear does not keep me off the road, but it does encourage
me to obey traffic laws. Biblical fear drives us not from God but toward him for grace and help.

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