The Question of Fear
A wise and respectful anti-Christian reader with whom I have communicated many times offered a challenge on the subject of mankind’s “fear of the Lord”. When he started quoting Scripture, it caused me to step back and reconsider my rather glib and poorly thought-out responses to his earlier statements on the matter. He used the following verses that would indicate Christians are commanded to fear God, similar to non-Christians.
- Deuteronomy 10:12 – “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,
- Ecclesiastes 12:13 – The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
More Bible Verses in Support of a Fear of God
In response, I would offer two more examples, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament, supporting his assertion that Christians need to fear God.
- Proverbs 9:10 – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.
- 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
But then there are verses that offer the opposite position for believers….
- Proverbs 29:25 – The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
- 2 Timothy 1:7 – for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
- Luke 12:32 – “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Of course, some of the potential confusion has to do with the context in that perhaps the reference is that, as Biblical Christians, we should not fear man over God. But other verses in the Bible make it clear that we are safe in the Father’s hands (John 10:28) and not to be fearful.
Reconciling the Fear of the Lord in Scripture
So how does one reconcile God calling Christians to fear Him but saying we are safe as His children?
For those who do not believe in the Bible and/or God, it’s easy… just a confusing mishmash of words written by multiple human authors that have no truth in them.
Those who accept the Bible as having some truth can pick and choose the verses they wish to accept and view the remainder as in error. So again, no problem with confusing verses.
Finally, for those who believe the Bible is inerrant, we are forced to reconcile what appear to be disparate verses. As a Biblical Christian who believes the Bible is without error in its original autographs, and that we hold a Book that is 99% true to the original, the answer to this apparent dilemma is to:
accept the reality that both Christians and non-Christians need to fear God, but for different reasons and outcomes.
Fear Defined for non-Christians
For non-Christians, sadly and respectfully (based on my personal worldview), a fearful eternity awaits which demands the payment for sins committed while on earth. Fear of God is a logical viewpoint for anyone who is not saved and has any modicum of trust or faith in God.
- Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
- Romans 6:23a – For the wages of sin is death,
- Matthew 10:28b – Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
- 2 Thessalonians 1:9 – They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Fear Defined for Christians
For Christian believers, there does exist a level of fear, because we remain sinners after we are saved. When we ignore God, when we stray from His will, we sin. Sadly, that is a constant condition as expressed by Paul as he laments his spiritual weakness (Rom 7:22-25). As any loving father toward his children, we are disciplined by our loving God.
- Hebrews 12:11 – For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
- Proverbs 12:1 – Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.
- Proverbs 3:11-12 – My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
- Hebrews 12:6-8 – For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Fear of God – A Conclusion
So, the point is that there are very different types or levels of “fear” for the believer vs. the unbeliever, and the Bible is offering insight into both. Respectfully, I would strongly prefer God training me in righteousness as a loving Father than Him serving at the end of my life, as a righteous judge.
- Psalm 7:11 – God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day.
- Acts 17:31 – because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The Truth About Fear
As mankind, we can choose between the fear of a loving Father or the fear of an impartial judge. The Bible is clear in expressing both the differences and the outcomes of our decision. When we die, our choice has been sealed for eternity, and, unlike on earth, there is no middle ground.
- John 3:17 – For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
- Romans 10:9 – if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
POSTSCRIPT… from a reader….
One of the things I have associated with “fear of the Lord” is fearing to offend Him because He loves us. We don’t ever want to hurt anyone we love, and if we truly love God with our heart, mind, body, and soul, we would be fearful (reluctant) to offend Him.