Few other aspects of human-to-God belief are promoted as significantly within Scripture as Fear of God. And yet, we often hear far more about love, joy, peace, and similar qualities of pleasant feelings that seem to stand in stark contrast to fear. The swinging pendulum of pulpit opinion may simply avoid the subject, even though we find it cited well over 300 times and evenly distributed through Old and New Testaments. In other generations or cultures, we may find it brandished along with the fires of Dante for purposes quite opposed to its use in Scripture. Frequently we find it simply redefined from fear to awe, even though it cannot be supported biblically. It seems that many want to be teachers of the law of Christ, but don’t know what they are talking about, in spite of all their documented confidence. In effect, their discomfort with the truth has driven them to mislead gullible sheep from the words of God to some concept of circus marveling, where the crowds stare upwards with craned necks to gawk at a holy God with applause and shouts of “way cool”. The fear of God does not mean awe, although such an attribute likely exists within it. The word of God makes it very clear that fear means fear. What makes fear of God different from natural fear is not the meaning of the word fear, but its focus and what it is intended to produce within a person. The simplified definition of godly fear is expressed through the recognition that God is God and I am not. He is righteous, and I am not; as such, he has the right to do as he pleases, and before whom I am deeply humbled with the recognition that my nature is in a constant state of rebellion. The result therefore is to fear the Lord with a longing for his mercy and grace. There are many ways of expressing the gospel of Christ, but when reduced to its basic foundation, here is the “eternal gospel” as proclaimed from heaven itself, by divine declaration: “Fear God and give him glory”. It is a message that few today are willing to hear, let alone profess. The fear of the Lord is like garden soil within which the seeds of righteousness and the character traits of Jesus find a fertile and nutrient-rich environment for sustainable growth. It is a demonstrable truth that faith can shipwreck, love can wax cold, and peace can be falsely claimed where there is no peace. Even the god-given wisdom of Solomon can turn away from God. And, in terms of salvation, believers can “fall from your secure position”. All of these (and much more) depend upon the accepted gift and chosen application of godly fear. According to the Holy Spirit, no fruit of the Spirit, no trait of Christ, no gift of God, nothing can survive outside of the environment of the fear of the Lord. This truth will be proved through the 77 following verses breathed by God and cited here as part of this Bible Study. Not only is the fear of God essential for retaining and growing in Christ, it is stated as the principle key to the greatest treasures of heaven: wisdom, knowledge, and even salvation itself. To know God and to dwell with him are dependent upon godly fear. The fear of the Lord is not a character trait, like love or other fruits of the Spirit. Godly fear is not something we do, as if we could ever earn or contribute to our salvation. It is described more as a beginning, a foundation, a key, an attitude, a viewpoint or outlook, a way of acknowledging, or an approach. It begins with the dual recognition that God is holy, perfect, all-powerful, completely righteous, and will never show favoritism AND that we are completely sinful and undeserving even as his chosen people. God is God and we are not. When offered by God through the Spirit with faith in Christ, that is the first part of developing godly fear, acknowledging the irreconcilable differences in identity between us and God. The next part, according to Scripture, comes from the humiliating admission of guilt. We are not only unrighteous, but God intends to resurrect every human being to stand before his judgment and give an answer for every careless word, let alone every sin. It is not just an identity difference that produces humility, but an overpowering recognition of coming judgment (even for Christians). What allows for us to develop godly fear, rather than to spiral at this point into hopeless despair, is the grateful acceptance that God desires to draw us near to him, to fix all wrongs through Jesus as demonstrated through the Cross. It is the Cross that sustains our hope in Jesus’ loving promise to bring us into the kingdom of God our Father. Many people are consumed with fears of all kinds. Natural, worldly, human-based fear is not godly fear. The difference is not in the definition of fear, but rather in the focus and product. Godly fear results in a humble, cautious submission to strive carefully to obey every detail or hint of desire coming from God. It focuses us on pleasing God and produces within us a longing to obey him in every detail. Both the motivating influences of love and fear play a part in how we view God in comparison to ourselves, but that cautionary stance to treat him as utterly holy and avoid casualness in how we obey him, launches us from a position of humble fear of God toward honoring interaction. Although it contains a fear of punishment, due to the pending judgment for which we are all still infected with a sinful nature, it is far more about gratitude for the hope we have in his gracious kindness displayed toward us through Christ. God does not explain everything for us to understand, but we trust him in faith because he is God and we are not. He is good, kind, patient and loving, and by nature we are not. That understanding produces within the faithful a soberness, a carefulness, a willingness to obey even to our momentary hurt (ie: suffering), because he can do everything and we can ultimately do nothing and deserve nothing. That results in godly fear. Sadly, many theologies have developed over the centuries to discard or explain away the necessity for fearing God. The passage in 1 John 4 that appears to undermine any type of fear in favor of love, will be addressed within the following list of Scriptural evidences, because everything must be understood within context, and no Spirit-inspired interpretation of Scripture can ever refute other passages breathed by that same God. Those who ridicule the necessity of the fear of the Lord are bringing judgment upon themselves. They are the ones who fulfill the prophecies that many will say “nothing bad will every happen to us”. They have no fear of God. They are unable to uphold the New Covenant mandate that God be shown as true and every man a liar. Such ministers fulfill Jesus’ condemnation “For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you yourselves did not enter, and you hindered those who were entering.” According to the Bible, God specifically requires godly fear of his ancient people Israel, of Gentiles and unbelievers, of all peoples, of Christians, and even of his Messiah. As prophesied, some will fall upon the Stone and be broken and others will have the Stone fall on them and be crushed out of their existence. But the right kind of fear of God is not something imposed. It is offered, it is taught, it is required, but it remains optional in applying by each individual. It is something you and I must accept, surrender to, embrace, and apply through our everyday choices, if we want to retain what God has promised. It is not my words that establish the truth, so let us take some time out of our easily distracted lives to consider carefully what God has to say to those who have ears to hear about godly fear. As prophesied in the parable of the soils, the seed of the gospel will die off in most people who receive the grace of faith in Jesus, because of a bad soil environment. Only those with the fear of the Lord can endure and produce eternal fruitfulness. The choice is yours. Do you care enough to discover what God has to say by demonstrating your passion to uphold his holy name and obey every word that proceeds from his mouth? FEAR OF THE LORD as defined by the word of the Lord
Genesis 9:2 (NIV throughout) “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.”
The first use of “fear” in Scripture is part of God’s declaration on how all creatures will from that point forward view man. It is a positive statement asserting the dominion of man and it does mean “fear and dread”.
Genesis 22:12 “’Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’”
The third reference of “fear” in Scripture is part of a praise by God regarding how Abraham’s demonstration of his fear of God proved his faith and obedience. Don’t miss this significance: the one Scripture calls the father of our faith is described by God as having expressed that righteous faith within the context of a humble viewpoint called fear of God. Christians who desire to be identified with that same faith, commended by Jesus, the prophets and apostles, must likewise sustain it within the same attitude of godly fear.
Genesis 42:18 “On the third day, Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God”. Exodus 1:17 “The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. (v.21) And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.” Exodus 9:20 “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside.”
Both Joseph and the midwives (around the birth-time of Moses) are described as doing what is right as a direct result of their conviction of their fear of God. In neither case is their viewpoint an expression of weakness or timidity, but rather a show of reverence toward the will of God formed upon their recognition of the perfect holiness of God in contrast to human fallibility, including their own. That is why it is phrased as the fear of God. Even the pagan officials in Pharoah’s court demonstrate what the fear of the Lord produces–not a frightened running away but a conviction toward obeying God.
Exodus 14:31 “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”
The fear of the Lord is shown as the contrasted recognition of frightening judgment coupled with a reason and desire to trust in God’s grace. In the case of ancient Israel, it produced (albeit temporarily) a trust in God and in his chosen servant-leader.
Exodus 18:21 “But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.”
Moses identifies the basis for trustworthiness in godly leadership as those who fear God. There is something about that cautionary foundation in governing authority that inclines a man away from his natural tendency toward upholding what is right.
Exodus 20:20 “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.’”
Consider the apparent dichotomy in the statement “Do not be afraid…so that the fear of God will be with you”. The Bible separates the type of fear that turns away from God from that more mature cautionary attitude that inclines toward what pleases God: namely, “to keep you from sinning”.
Leviticus 25:17 “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.”
This pattern is repeated extensively throughout Scripture: Fear your God so you don’t end up doing wrong. These are not two competing desires being listed, but rather a cause-and-effect: Those who are careful not to offend God are the same who end up avoiding offenses against others. They recognize that taking advantage of others would turn God’s anger toward them and thus their fear of God protects them against selfishness.
Deuteronomy 5:29 “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”
By God’s definition, fear and obey top his list of desires for those he intends to bless.
Deuteronomy 9:19 “I feared the anger and wrath of the Lord, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the Lord listened to me.”
Moses describes the fear of the Lord as “fear the anger and wrath…to destroy”, not as modern preachers are often want to discolor as “awe”.
Deuteronomy 10:12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,”
The desire of God is listed as: fear the Lord, walk in obedience, love God, and serve him with all your being. Love is not a New Covenant desire, nor is fear the Lord an antiquated hold over from the Old Covenant. They are what God has always wanted from his people.
Deuteronomy 25:18 “When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.”
Fear of God is not a spiritual concept that metaphorically implies awe. It means what it says, even for non believers, that those without an actual fear of God think they can abuse others without concern. Fear means fear, but when it focuses upon God, it results in pursuing rightness before God.
Joshua 4:24 “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” Joshua 5:1 “Now when all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings along the coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan before the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted in fear and they no longer had the courage to face the Israelites.”
These two verses go together (before chapter divisions were inserted) and are intended to be compared. The stone memorial reminded the people that God had the power to dry out a path right through the middle of otherwise impassible water (Jordan and Red Sea)–the purpose of the reminder was so the people of God would fear the Lord AND so that all others would also melt in fear before the people of that same powerful God. The fear is the same, but what it causes within a person depends upon whether they turn toward God or shrink away from him.
2 Samuel 23:2-4 “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning as sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.'”
These are cited as the final recorded words of King David. The Spirit inspired him to identify godly leadership as in righteousness and in the fear of God. The context then lists his mighty men and concludes with “again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel and he incited David against them to sin (24:1,10). The result was that David had to choose his punishment and 70,000 people died. In the end, it was not David’s righteousness that prevailed, but through his fear of the Lord, God showed mercy and stopped his fearful judgment.
1 Chronicles 16:25, 30, 33 “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods…Tremble before him, all the earth!…for he comes to judge the earth.”
In context, the fear of God is described with the verb “tremble”, not some kind of circus act marveling like “awe”. The emphasis of the fear of God is because there is a pending judgment for each and every one of us, for which we have no righteousness to offer of our own.
2 Chronicles 19:7 “Now let the fear of the Lord be on you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.”
King Jehoshaphat set up judges in Israel with this instruction: fear the Lord. Their own function as judges would be “not judging for man but for the Lord” and that Lord would not tolerate misuse of their power. The admonition was a sober caution against thinking they could do as they please and not end up falling under the wrath of the Authority over them–ie: fear of the Lord. This holy fear was intended to direct them toward serving faithfully and wholeheartedly, rather than shying away. Their specific instruction was to be passed on to those who came before them with this description of fearing the Lord: “you are to warn them not to sin against the Lord; otherwise his wrath will come on you and your brothers. Do this, and you will not sin.” The fear of the Lord was clearly a warning in terms of pending judgment to be careful to do what is right rather than sin.
2 Chronicles 26:5 “He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.”
16 year old Uzziah was instructed with one primary vision (some manuscripts actually insert “vision” in place of fear in this passage), to fear the Lord. So long as he sought God with this attitude and approach, God gave him success. “But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God”. When he turned away from being careful to fear the Lord, his faith collapsed. The context for maintaining faith was a purposeful vision of fear toward God. He ended up with Leprosy and was excluded from the Temple for the rest of his life. His end result reveals the reason for godly fear–fearful things happen to those who act casually before God and are not careful to uphold his every word.
Ezra 10:3 “Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.”
The Israelite men agreed to give up their ungodly marriages which violated the Law of God in accordance of those who feared the commands of God. The same reference of fear is used, but in this case it is directed at a caution regarding the commands of Scripture which helps make the point that fear is not about awe, since the context doesn’t allow for awe toward laws.
Nehemiah 7:2 “I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.”
The high responsibility at the gates was given to a man who demonstrated a caution to both do what was right as defined by God as well as to avoid what dishonors God. That approach toward his life was identified as on who was careful to live with fear of God more that most–a statement that the fear of God is something chosen and developed.
Job 1:8 “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.’” Job 1:9 “’Does Job fear God for nothing?’ Satan replied.” Job 2:3 “Then the Lord said to Satan, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.’” Job 3:25 “What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.”
The context around God’s praise of Job that he fears God shows that fear means fear. Notice how Satan questions the validity of Job’s apparent fear of God in that there was no reason for Job to be concerned with difficulty in his life. As Job himself confirms, what he feared and dreaded is what occurred. To his credit, even with the suffering of what he feared from God, he maintained his integrity by still fearing God and not turning away from him or his expectations of righteousness. Biblical fear of God keeps a person inclined toward what is right in God’s eyes, even though it involves angst about suffering that could come from God.
Job 23:15 “That is why I am terrified before him; when I think of all this, I fear him.” Job 31:23 “For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.”
The one whom God identifies as one who genuinely fears the Lord defines what that means as being “terrified before him” and “dreaded destruction from God”. That view conditions how he lives before a holy God and helps keep him from sinning.
Psalm 2:11 “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.”
As Scripture supports throughout, fear of God involves trembling before his authority over us. It is not often you hear the encouragement to “celebrate…with trembling”. Upon reflection, that may be why so few know what it means to fear the Lord.
Psalm 25:12 “Who, then, are those who fear the Lord? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.” Psalm 25:14 “The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.”
Those who choose to fear God are then instructed by him and receive revelation from him because their fear acknowledges the desire that God “take away all my sins”. It is from the recognition of our sinful condition, even as believers, that we walk humble before God since we admit that we can easily offend God and bring his deserved wrath upon us. God only directs the free-will choice for those who fear him.
Psalm 34:11 “Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
This psalm repeatedly cites the fear of the Lord and helps “teach” what it means–“for those who fear him lack nothing”. In contrast to those who act from the basis of godly fear, others experience a powerful reason to be afraid because “the face of the Lord is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.” And, that damnation, by nature, is what every person deserves for “all have sinned”. As the last verse promises: “no one will be condemned”, in spite of their sinful, natural condition, if they live and act with fear of God.
Psalm 40:3 “He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.”
From out of the pit of our sins, God willingly extends his mercy and saves those who “fear and trust”. It is true that upon this experience, a grateful believer will praise “the wonders you have done” (v.5), but that awe is not the basis for the fear. Rather, it extends from the humble admission that “my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me” (v.12). It is that fear of knowing our sinfulness, and God’s justified hatred of such, that turns believers toward God with humility for “yet I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me” (v.17). Fear of God develops from the reality that God is righteous and we are not, yet those who seek him anyway to try to please him, are assured his merciful forgiveness.
Psalm 50:7, 21-23 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God…you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face. Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue”.
By God’s words, he tells his own that they deserve to be accused and torn to pieces, because at times they viewed him as like themselves and didn’t adjust their orientation with fear of how wholly different a righteous and all-powerful God is from sinful man. As the opening verses declare: “Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages…that he may judge his people” (v.3-4). Compare with the cautionary conclusion, in spite of the current “kindness”, shown through Heb 12, where “our God is a consuming fire” even to his own, who are there reminded to submit to the necessary discipline.
Psalm 64:9 “All people will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.”
The pondering upon the works of God are here cited as “But God will shoot them with arrows; suddenly they will be struck down. He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake their heads in scorn” (v.7-8). This kind of reflection is not intended to produce a marveling type of awe, but rather a fear of God, as this verse clearly states.
Psalm 76:7-10 “It is you alone who are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet–when you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land. Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained.”
The pattern here should be obvious by now. Fear of God results from a recognition that God gets angry and no one is capable of consistently standing sin-free. God punishes every son he loves, so fear the Lord and act accordingly. His judgment is just and everyone will experience punishment–some as discipline, some as destruction–but either way, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But, in hope of his mercy and salvation for the humble, “bring gifts to the One to be feared” (v.11).
Psalm 89:7 “In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him.”
This great fear does include amazement in the grand power and works of God, but the text also shows that it involves recognition that God “crushed” people. This psalm is a prayer of praise in God’s eternal covenant with David, but along with all the great promises of blessing, it also states that “If his sons forsake my law and do not follow my statutes, if they violate my decrees and fail to keep my commands, I will punish their sin with the rod, their iniquity with flogging” (v.30-32). In spite of the eternal promise to David, he and his descendents still have cause to walk in fear of God, not because of divine fickleness–like some mythological, petty god–but because of their own human tendency to still violate the will of God and bring disaster upon themselves (something, the rest of this psalm records is actually what occurred). Yes, God is greatly feared, even by his holy ones.
Psalm 90:11 “If only we knew the power of your anger! Your wrath is as great as the fear that is your due.”
This prayer of Moses longs for the widespread acceptance of real fear of God’s powerful wrath in order to “teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v.12). Those days are described as “you turn men back to dust…as you have afflicted us”. Wrath and fear are intentionally linked as equal. Fear is a teaching tool, that rightly placed in God, is described as righteous and “due” by all men toward God. It is also the singular, fertile soil in which real wisdom develops.
Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17 “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him….As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust….But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children”.
We ought to fear God with fear, because we “deserve” his anger and to be treated as sinners. And yet, he refrains from persisting in such correction and instead extends love–but only for “those who fear him”. God knows our tendencies, and our fear of God extends from that comparable admission of sinfulness ourselves. This is why godly fear is the foundational environment for faith and growing in his righteousness. It counteracts our pride and arrogance in assuming we have progressed beyond need for correction.
Psalm 111:10 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”
Fear is the beginning, as in foundational environment and individual admission of humility, in which real wisdom develops.
Psalm 119:120 “My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.”
Notice the distinction between fear and awe; both are appropriate, but one is not the definition for the other. Fear involves trembling rather than marveling.
Psalm 147:10-11 “His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.”
God’s delight is not simply in what he has made (horse, man), but specifically in the subsequent choice of man to fear him by putting their hope in what they don’t deserve but nevertheless believe is still offered to them: “his unfailing love”. When a sinner desires God’s love, that can only be possible through godly fear, for it is not what they are entitled to, but what is promised for the contrite in heart.
Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Knowledge and godly wisdom must start with a human choice to adjust their natural orientation in fear of God.
Proverbs 1:29 “since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord.”
Fear of God is a free will choice available to each person, but not imposed as an automatic trait. We must demonstrate through our attitude and choices that we recognize God’s right to deal harshly with sin and our natural condition to sin against him. When that kind of fear turns us toward God rather than away from him, it becomes the right kind of fear that God honors. But it must be chosen.
Proverbs 3:25 “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,”
Natural, worldly fear does not recognize the Sovereignty of God over disasters and thus dishonors him. That kind of fear cannot be made perfect in godly love. It is the by-product of the wicked.
Proverbs 8:13 “To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech.”
Rather than a definition, fear of God produces a distaste for anything God dislikes and inversely a hunger for whatever he desires. This is still called fear of God, because it develops these inverse by-products unnaturally–by way of Spirit encouraged choice of belief, even when our senses scream against it. It chooses to hope beyond what we deserve for something promised “beyond all hope”. That kind of faith pleases God.
Proverbs 15:33 “Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord, and humility comes before honor.”
A principle ingredient within fear of God is humility–not as just a trait of meekness, but rather as an acknowledgement that we deserve wrath even while being offered grace, and that conditions our entire outlook on life from then on. As the writer also states: “Humility is the fear of the Lord” (22:4). It is the attitude of the former that allows for the latter to exist.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.”
The obligation of those who desire to live is to fear and obey, both of which are optional, and both of which the Bible declare result in real love.
Isaiah 2:10 “Go into the rocks, hide in the ground from the fearful presence of the Lord and the splendor of his majesty!”
Three times (v.10, 19, 21), the same fearful response of hiding is encouraged because “He will judge between the nations” (v.4), in order to humble the arrogant (v.11), “when he rises to shake the earth” (v.19). God is to be feared, because what is prophesied upon mankind is not going to be pleasant.
Isaiah 8:12-13 “Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”
The focus of fear is separated between human-based and godly-based. We are instructed to only fear (aka “dread”) God.
Isaiah 11:2-3 “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;”
As a prophecy of the Messiah, he will be thrilled to live with fear of the Lord–in his case, not because of his own sinful condition, but rather as an extension of his carefulness to do everything God instructs in every hidden detail (ie: not judge by what he sees with his eyes). He must trust in the Spirit’s guidance in order to complete the work of God, rather than trust in his natural senses. The next verse makes it evident that this still involves both judgement and pain, because “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth” (v.4). If Jesus finds this kind of fear “delightful”, then it must be acceptable as righteous before God and not something immature that must be overcome.
Isaiah 33:6 “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure.”
The stated key to receiving salvation, wisdom, and knowledge of God is the fear of the Lord. Whether key or foundation, this godly fear forms the Spirit-declared environment required for receiving salvation: it comes through Jesus, but can only survive within individual fear of the Lord. The fear doesn’t earn salvation, for that is a gift of grace, but fear is the response within which God promises to grow faith into eternity with him.
Isaiah 57:11 “Whom have you so dreaded and feared that you have not been true to me, and have neither remembered me nor taken this to heart? Is it not because I have long been silent that you do not fear me?”
God questions the human tendency to fear man rather than to fear him. Numerous times through Isaiah, God says “do not be afraid” in reference to worldly concerns, but here he also contrasts his desire that believers never forget to retain the right fear of God.
Jeremiah 5:22, 24 “‘Should you not fear me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Should you not tremble in my presence?’… They do not say to themselves, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives autumn and spring rains in season, who assures us of the regular weeks of harvest.’”
The rhetorical question is meant to convey that we ought to fear God in terms of “tremble in my presence”. In fact, God even condemns those who refuse to fear him. This isn’t about misplaced fear, but the unwillingness to uphold a right kind of fear. To these arrogant types of believers, he says, “Should I not punish them for this?…Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?” (v.29). Perhaps they bought into the lie that fear is always bad. To those who like it better without promoting this kind of fear of God, the Spirit declares: “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priest rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way.” (v.30-31).
Jeremiah 32:39-40 “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.”
The millennial prophecy for Christians speaks of the internalized continuation of godly fear, which here is revealed as eternally necessary to prevent turning away. This is not some useless appendage of a bygone era under a wrathful God of the Old Covenant; it is the everlasting soil of human reverence.
Micah 7:17 “They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the Lord our God and will be afraid of you.”
At the final prophesied rebuke of God by Micah, those left alive will humble themselves in fear of God and of those who represent God. They will respond with godly fear and say, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy.” (v.18). They will acknowledge thereafter that God is right in rebuking and he is also praised for forgiving–that is godly fear.
Zephaniah 3:7 “Of Jerusalem I thought, ‘Surely you will fear me and accept correction!’ Then her place of refuge would not be destroyed, nor all my punishments come upon her. But they were still eager to act corruptly in all they did.”
God reveals that what he expects of fear of him results from a recognition of pending punishments. If they demonstrated recognition, and showed fear of him by humbling themselves, then God promised to avert and limit the punishment in their favor–but that favor will not come if people refuse to show that they fear him.
Malachi 1:14 “’Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and my name is to be feared among the nations.'”
Fear of God is meant to condition our responses away from treating God with less respect and honor than due one as great and holy as he is and toward great reverence and submission.
Malachi 3:16 “Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.”
As the concluding reference out of the Old Testament, God takes note, eternally, of those who fear him and engage others with similar views. No other phrase is used as often throughout Scripture of that which God desires from his people and which directly links to entry into the Book of Life. Even though the word love is recorded more often, our English word is used for many different references of which a smaller number than godly fear are used to speak of love toward God. This is not to subordinate love, but to elevate what God elevates as the required environment into which biblical love of God can thrive: fear of God.
Luke 1:50 “His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.”
Mary sings praise for the mercy of God extended to her, even as a sinner, as one who embraced fear of God. She believed she experienced grace, not because she deserved it but, in spite of not deserving it, as one whom God favored in her heart’s attitude of humble submission (v.48, 52). Fear and humility (the latter being what demonstrated the former) are all that she lists as her contributed distinctions in receipt of God’s favor; not that she thought she earned anything, but rather that such qualities reveal the internal condition of her faith through which God chose to bless her and without which she would have been passed over. Those who do not fear God, will never receive similar grace.
Luke 12:5 “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.”
This is not a matter of human opinion or interpretation. Jesus commands that believers “fear him”–to which he repeats it twice. In defiance of any syrupy deception away from fear and toward awe, Jesus declares that (among other reasons) it is because of the higher-than-any-human authority of God to condemn sinners and cast them into the tortures of hell, that those who desire eternal salvation must have fear of God. This is not in contrast to love; it is the basis upon which true love from a limited human being becomes capable of expressing eternal agape-type love for an unlimited God.
Luke 23:40 “But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence?'”
As shown in ancient times, fear of God develops in part from recognition of our sinful and condemned condition. It is what can produce hope in spite of getting what we deserve.
Acts 9:31 “Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.”
As an eternal necessity and not just some outdated concept, Church growth is specifically linked to “living in the fear of the Lord”.
Acts 13:26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.”
It is by their identification as God-fearing Christians, that both Jew and Gentile are extended salvation. The gospel is sent to no others than those who fear God.
Acts 13:50 “But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region.”
Notice that fearing God is not a guarantee to be perfect or to always make right choices. It can regress into a label of tradition of past belief but without ongoing life. It must produce a response of submission and obedience or it will stagnate into an empty claim.
Romans 3:18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
This is Paul’s concluding quote out of Psalms on his theology of why “no one is righteous” and why all have “become worthless”. The reason: there is no godly fear. The solution (thank God) is Jesus Christ (v.22), but his sacrifice does not exclude the necessity of regaining the fear of God, a truth sadly lost on many professing pastors.
2 Corinthians 5:11 “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience.”
Only those who have regained the perspective of God’s righteousness expectation and our desperate condition are capable of receiving the offered grace of forgiveness through the Cross. Without this fear of God, we cannot receive the gift. It is inspired but not imposed, for it is by faith that we are saved, and that faith must extend from acknowledgement of our condition before a holy God and God’s offered solution through Jesus’ sacrifice. Reconciliation with God is only understood through those who know what it means to truly fear the Lord.
Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”
As a result of accepting what Jesus accomplished for us upon the Cross, we are taught to strive forward in our salvational development with a fear coupled with trembling. The definition of fear here remains as it has throughout Scripture; it has not shifted meanings to something metaphorical or wondrous; it means fear that focused toward obeying God.
Hebrews 11:7 “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.”
Holy fear in Noah developed as a result of God’s declared judgment to destroy all living things in a massive, earth-swallowing flood. Noah had every reason for his fear of the Lord to be fear that motivates toward careful obedience. And, that is why it was both commended in him and recorded as the basis for his inheritance of righteousness through faith–the same basis upon which Christians express faith in Jesus: fear of the Lord.
Hebrews 12:21 “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, ‘I am trembling with fear.’”
When God does something that frightens a person to obey and believe, then that motivator is both godly and righteous. Moses wasn’t just in awe; his knees trembled in fright. This entire chapter presents the apparent different method of approach between Old and New. In the Old Testament, God interacted in such a way that people had cause to fear him. In the New, his gentle kindness is emphasized. However, so as not to lose the point, the chapter concludes with a warning on Christians who think that God’s kindness will remain tooth-less, for he has not changed, even though he is dealing kindly for the moment. He remains a God to be feared: “If they did not escape…how much less will we, if we turn away from him” (v.25). The next verse prophesies that even though it was in the past that God caused fear and shook the mountains, and for the time being he is being gentle with us, he has promised to shake the entire heavens until everything is destroyed by fire. The “reverence and awe” that are commended are in response to the unshakable, promised kingdom. The reason the KJV translates it as “godly fear” is because the conjoined warning (in v.25) demonstrates that Christians can still “refuse him who speaks” and miss out on the unshakable kingdom. Those who don’t live with godly fear have “only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:26).
1 Peter 1:17 “Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” 1 Peter 2:17 “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:18 “Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.”
Peter, to whom the keys to the Kingdom were given, repeats this key for Christians: live in reverent fear, no matter what your circumstances or current level of authority may be, but in full recognition that judgment is coming and God will not show favor to anyone, not even those who claim to be Christians. Be careful. Fear God.
1 John 4:18 “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.”
Perhaps more than any other passage (on this subject), this verse has been abused and used to deceive many away from what God declares: fear God. For many, this one quote is justification to deny the hundreds of admonitions toward God with the apparent discarding of all types of fear as toxic to eventual completeness in love. Without delving into a full exegesis, John uses love as a replacement word for obedient devotion to the will of God and limits fear to anything that turns us away from God and onto a focus of loss (aka: worldly fear). In this way, he upholds all that otherwise is encompassed within the fear of God by stating that those who live in love (by obeying every command) will find completeness within the will of God and maintain confidence toward the pending judgment (v.17). This very uncommon kind of love accomplishes exactly the same objectives as godly fear. He speaks in terms of the positive, even to the point of stating “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin” (5:18), but that is a developmental target (something to shoot for, but not something as of yet completed in us), not an incidental reality (something actually completed and fully existing within a person at that moment). In a similar way, motivation through the term love is a developmental target, not a denial of our current, in-process condition, which Scripture makes very clear is not yet completed pre-second-Advent. He points toward the target, and in so doing, begins to shift our primary motivation toward the nature of God and beyond the comparison between the nature of God and the “former” nature of man. In this sense, fear of God–that includes everything from submission, reverence, wisdom, caution, and humiliation, and is shifting toward eternal life and away from the need to be reminded of our sinfulness–can attain the same outcome by emphasizing God’s love as the model for every detail of our choices and existence. In a new heaven and earth without sin, born again believers will inherently live in complete devotional obedience and reverence out of love. However, like an immature believer who remains stuck on “milk”, John is striving to move us beyond the primacy of trembling under judgment (which was never the objective, even while it was part of the package) toward the primal motive of devotion beyond judgment. That is what John is pointing toward. He is speaking of the same thing using different terms. He is not denying either the fear of God or what it has always intended to produce in believers. I would suggest that while sin is disappearing from the equation within believers, fear of God will always remain and retain the dominant aspect of: God is God and I am not!–something that can easily be missed if love is taken out of that environment and defined using human terms. True biblical love produces identical qualities as godly fear, but so few seem to also recognize the meaning of love within Scripture that the two seem like polar opposites from many commentators. Whereas John treats love and fear as focal traits, the rest of Scripture tends to reference love as a motivating character quality sourced in the Divine while presents the fear of the Lord as a motivating environment, key, foundation, or basis within which healthy development can exist and grow. Fear of God is not a character trait, it is more of a viewpoint, orientation, attitude, or mental framework within which righteous qualities, like love or wisdom or faith, can rightly develop. Outside of this womb-like environment, love and wisdom and faith will always shipwreck in a human, even though they come from God The trait of fearful obedience can be replaced by the trait of loving obedience, but the environmental attitude of humble submission by a limited creature toward an Almighty God, identified as godly fear, will always remain. With all that said, it should be highlighted as well that the context of this verse is set in the requirement to “rely upon” that form of love emanating from God, and as one depends on that, images that, and resists the natural tendency to build our own version of love, then in that way we will discover that God has removed all need for fear when eventually standing before him in judgment. In other words, it is not love itself that rejects fear (including fear of God), but rather our own rejection of doing love our way while relying upon his love in how we live, that is promised to remove all reasons for ultimate fear. Specifically, John is not talking about fear of God that must be driven out, but rather the fear of condemnation when standing before God. But that is only promised to those who seek to reflect the source of love rather than promote their own goodness. It is a promise of salvation, under the revealed conditions. Be aware, the common interpretations on 1 Jn 4:18 are not God’s final words on this matter (as if he intended through John to change everything stated before), because as we see below, he sustains the same interpretation of necessity for fear of God from Genesis through his own words recorded in Revelation (which happen to also be recorded by the same John). Thus, those to suggest that fear of God is contrary to love, misinterpret John’s statement, and demonstrate that they don’t have the ears to hear what Jesus actually says through John and all other inspired writers of Scripture about the absolute need for maintaining the fear of God.
Jude 1:23 “save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.”
Mercy and fear seem like odd bedfellows, but Jude was inspired by the Holy Spirit to uphold the caution of needing both reward and punishment motivation in our current Christian development so that we don’t mush back into corruption.
Revelation 14:7 “He said in a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.’” Revelation 15:4 “Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” Revelation 19:5 “Then a voice came from the throne, saying: ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!’”
As the final arbiter of dissension on what the Bible means by fear the Lord, the angels around the throne of God uphold the necessity to fear God in the light of “the hour of his judgment has come”. It is those who willingly fear God who give him glory, who worship him rightly, who uphold his incomparable holy name, who acknowledge that righteousness comes solely from him. In all these, both the uniqueness of God and the admission of our extreme lack of similarity stem from godly fear, and no other quality. Fear God and give him glory, you who have been granted the grace to hear and accept his truth!