It seems odd to some people that we are supposed to fear God. Surely God is good and compassionate, righteous and just – what is there to be afraid of? Many people interpret the idea to be simply one of great respect and appreciation, awe and reverence. But surely not actual fear? The words are explained away and brushed under the carpet as meaning something far less intimidating.
Yet the fear of God is absolutely foundational to a right relationship with Him. When this is out of place, the whole building is on shaky ground. This is why we’re repeatedly told throughout the Scriptures that it comes first – at the beginning:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. (Psalm 111:10)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
If you want to be wise and understanding in your faith, fear of God must come first. Not only is the fear of God foundational for a healthy spiritual life, but God’s word promises a wealth of benefits to starting off on the right foot.
Downside up: Fearing God frees us from fear
Anyone who has been born again and crossed over from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light knows very well this is an upside down kingdom. A. W. Towzer expresses it like this:
“Well, it is not to be wondered at. A real [believer] is an odd number anyway. He feels supreme love for One whom he has never seen, talks familiarly every day to Someone he cannot see, expects to go to heaven on the virtue of Another, empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible and knows that which passeth knowledge.”
We may baulk at the idea of truly fearing God, thinking that fear is negative, but in the same way that we “go down in order to get up”, we must first enter into fear in order to be freed from fear. Jesus put it this way for us:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:5)
When we have that true appreciation the fact that God really can destroy us forever, all other fears have to take a back seat. God is terrifying – a terror to all his enemies. He is the only One that no-one – NO-ONE – has the authority to rescue you from. He is the last line of defence and if you’re in trouble with Him, that’s the end of that. But by His grace, he has made us who were once His enemies into His friends. He is now a dread warrior by our side. This truth, when it hits, liberates.
Adonai is for me—I will not fear!
What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)
If you have not grasped this yet, ask for God to help you perceive it. An understanding of who He is and what He can do, the position He truly holds over humanity, leads to unspeakable comfort when we realize that this God has forgiven us from all our sin. He Himself has rescued us from punishment and has adopted us as his children. Like many aspects of life in the Messiah, bending low in humility, bracing ourselves to embrace these realities, opens up vast arenas of freedom and joy that the human mind cannot fully fathom.
Dumbing down and diluting of the fear of God only results in us shooting ourselves in the foot. We are the ones who miss out if we do this. Fearing God is not simply a matter of enjoying His character or appreciating His wonders. The more we become God-fearing, appreciating the true position humanity is in before God, the more our lives will overflow with blessing. Those who pretend to themselves that God is just a cuddly teddy bear of a guy, a big softie in the sky, do so to their own great detriment.
Holiness, purity and power
A right fear of God leads us into holiness as we seek to obey and please God. God-fearing men and women desire to be pure in His sight, and the pure in heart get to see God, according to Yeshua’s sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. As it has been said, those who fear God, hear God. He speaks to those who come close to His heart, who delight in His ways.
If you search the phrase “fear of God” in the Bible, and note the benefits mentioned in every reference, you will be greatly encouraged. A friend of mine says that fearing God helps to remind us to be obedient. When we obey God, great blessings are the result, because His ways are right and true, and for our good. Here are some examples from the Bible of the benefits promised to those who fear God:
- A fountain of life (Proverbs 14:27)
- God’s mercy from generation to generation (Luke 1:50, Deut 5:29)
- Life, satisfaction, and protection (Prov 19:23)
- Friendship with the Lord (Ps 25:14)
- Confidence for you and a refuge for your children (Prov 14:26)
- Blessings (Ps 112:1, 128:1-4, Prov 28:14)
- God’s work in us (Phil 2:12-13)
- Riches, honor, and life (Prov 22:4)
- Safety from snares of men (Prov 29:25)
- Knowledge of God (Prov 2:1-6, 2:5)
- Help turning away from evil (Prov 16:6) and sin (Ex 20:20)
- Women who fear God are praised (Prov 31:30)
- God will hear your cry and save you (Ps 145:19)
- Our good and our preservation (Deut 6:24)
- God’s goodness stored up for us (Ps 31:19)
- We inherit His righteousness through faith (Heb 11:7)
- The Angel of the Lord encamps around us and delivers us (Ps 34:7-9)
- We shall have no lack (Ps 34:7-9)
- God is our help and our shield (Ps 115:11)
- Divine protection (2 Chronicles 17:10)
- God’s pleasure (Ps 147:10-11)
- Work and family blessings (Ps 128:1-4)
- God shows His compassion to us as a father (Ps 103:13)
But would you fear God for free?
Satan asks God in the first chapter of Job, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” The challenge was to see whether Job is motivated by the rewards that flow from fearing God, or by genuine and unconditional love – for free. We may never understand why life goes the way it does until we see God face to face in glory but come what may, He is still worthy of our love and obedience.
So now, O Israel, what does Adonai your God require of you, but to fear Adonai your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12)
This exhortation from Deuteronomy has its parallel later on in Micah:
He has told you, humanity, what is good, and what Adonai is seeking from you: Only to practice justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
Faith is failing all around us because people expect God to behave the way they think He should. These verses clarify that justice, love and mercy are all high on God’s agenda – they are part of His immutable character – and we must not be hoodwinked by those who suggest otherwise. There is plenty in the Bible to make you blink in bewilderment, but God’s plans are perfect and His justice impeccable. Fear of God recognizes God’s right to sit on the judgment seat and call the shots with childlike trust He knows what He’s doing. If your faith is built on that kind of foundation, you will not be easily shaken.
Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash