What does it mean to fear God?
I was asked that question recently by a relatively new Christian; He’d been brought to faith, attracted by the love of God for him in spite of his complete immorality and blasphemy of God. Then he fell in love with Jesus and the rest, as they say, was history.
But, now he’s reading the Bible and Christian books and they talk of the need to fear God and he’s confused. (And truthfully, so am I occasionally.) “How do I both love God and fear him at the same time?”, he asked. A great question. So, here’s what I told him and I’d be interested to hear, if you agree.
God expects us to have a measure of fear and reverence when we think of him because he is holy, powerful, awesome and by comparison we are nothing. There were times when Moses, who was called a friend of God, was in the presence of God and fearful of him, “The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” Hebrews 12:21
The second idea of fearing God comes from the truth that while God is love, he also is our judge. For non-Christians the fear of the Lord is, or will be the fear of his eternal wrath. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” Hebrews 10:26-27
But for Christians, the primary reason we ought to fear the Lord is for his discipline. “Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:9-11 God disciplines those he loves, but it’s not pleasant.
Some of you may have had a distant or unkind father which makes it tough to imagine discipline based on love. But, that is the way God disciplines us.
I had a good father. He was kind, generous, wrestled with us kids on the floor. I had no fear of my father – except: The exception was if I disrespected either he or my mother or violated our house rules or God’s law. When that happened, my mother would say, “I’ll let your father handle that when he gets home.” For the rest of the day, I could barely keep down solid food.
I can’t remember him ever spanking me. But, even before he opened his mouth, I could read in his eyes his disappointment with me and I’d be undone with that alone. With rare exception, I knew he was right. I was wrong and the punishment generally fit the crime. He was fair. I feared my father because I was wrong and I knew I had disappointed him.
At that age, I couldn’t understand why a tearful “I’m sorry” wasn’t enough for him. There was always some punishment. But, it served the purpose of reminding me that sooner or later, sin always has consequences. His discipline was good for me. God’s is as well.
Therefore, when we sin, God either allows or causes things to happen in our life to punish us and to remind us of the consequences of sin choices. It also serves as a warning to others of what happens when we willfully disobey God. We ought to be fearful of disobeying God, even if only for selfish reasons.
However, the fear of God ought to also include the fear of his future judgment. Christians have somehow gotten the notion that because of the forgiveness of our sins through Christ, there will be no judgment for our sins on earth – that we have nothing to fear. However, the Bible tells us we will all stand before the Lord someday and judged.
“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” I Peter 1:17
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.” Rev. 20:11-12
On that day, when my name is read and when I’m reminded, of every sinful thing I’ve ever done and every opportunity to do good I might have done, I’ll be undone for a time. I won’t stand before God in terror as non-Christians will, but in shame. I think about that often. I realize that following that moment of truth before God, he will declare me forgiven by Jesus and then will “wipe away every tear.” I just don’t want to have to.
I find it helpful to remind myself to fear God occasionally. It clears my mind when I’m contemplating sin or spiritual laziness. A little reverent and holy fear of God is a very good thing for Christians.