Fearing the LORD…?
It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of bringing you a full sermon. I know it is long and it may be an intense read. However, I pray that you read it and are challenged in your walk with the Lord. This is one of the most asked questions not just to me, but also probably in the Christian faith: what does it mean to biblically fear the Lord? There are so many different interpretations that people have come up with including:
“respect the Lord.”
“to hide and run from God.”
“having an intense reverence for the Lord.”
“If I should be scared then I will not pursue God.”
Before I Start…
I have heard all of these answers and more, and although there is nothing wrong with having some of these opinions I will give you my opinion on what the Bible says on this topic. I encourage you to read through my interpretation of the passages and then go and read the scriptures for yourself. Ensure that what I am saying is the Bible and lines up with what is stated in scripture. If you see a fallacy in my argument or notice that I made a mistake, please email us with the Contact Us form. Do not take my opinion as your own without doing some research in the scriptures for yourself.
I am going to present two of the common answers to this questions and then I will present my interpretation of how to biblically fear the Lord.
Let’s start by introducing the most commonly accepted interpretation which is fearing the Lord as respect or reverence to God.
Reverence – a deep respect for someone or something.
This interpretation is commonly accepted in most denominations that do not make fearing the Lord a topic of conversation (which I disagree with). Here are some verses that support this claim:
Psalm 89:7- A God greatly feared in the council of the holy ones, And awesome above all those who are around Him?
Proverbs 16:6- By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD, one keeps away from evil.
The people that teach this angle are usually people who focus on the loving and merciful attributes of God (we will discuss the cons of this perspective later). The church that teaches this interpretation is one that probably does not challenge you as you need to be challenged and spoon feeds its congregation. To learn more about the theology of such churches and why they are failing, read my article on “The Failing Church“.
The problem with this view on fearing the Lord is obvious: it transforms God from an all-powerful, sovereign, king of the world into a mushy-gushy, commandable God.
This interpretation of the scriptures is highly accepted in Jewish and other similar, more legalistic denominations. We know that this is not the way to fear the Lord right from the beginning of scripture:
Genisis 3:8,10 – Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden…He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”
This is not the way to fear the Lord either… Later in that passage, we see God not only provide clothing for the naked, sinful people but also show His love and mercy to them.
After both of those views being examined (briefly, but not fully), we are ready to begin dissecting what the Bible has for us on the topic and develop a healthy fear of the Lord while not being scaredy cats.
To begin, we need to inspect aspects of God’s sovereignty. It is important to note that no part of God’s character, nature, or attributes changed from OT to NT. He is immutable. So, the same God that destroyed nations, including His own, is the same God that is (hopefully) the Lord of your life. Some of the best examples of God’s sovereignty are found in Job:
Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Dress for action[a] like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14 It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
15 From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.
16 “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.
19 “Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
20 that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
21 You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
24 What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?
25 “Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain
and a way for the thunderbolt,
26 to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man,
27 to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground sprout with grass?
28 “Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
30 The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.
31 “Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
32 Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth[b] in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
33 Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?
34 “Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
35 Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who has put wisdom in the inward parts[c]
or given understanding to the mind?[d]
37 Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
38 when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?
39 “Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
40 when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
41 Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?
After 4 more chapters of God questioning Job, Job replies in Chapter 42:
Then Job replied to the Lord:
2 “I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
4 “You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.’
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.”
This is by far one of my favorite OT passages. It just reminds me of a savage dropping the mic. This PROVES Gods UNLIMITED SOVEREIGNTY. He holds all things in His hands and nothing can come to pass without His approval (we see this when the devil asks the LORD to attack Job).
How can a sovereign God love a sinner?
Well, without His sovereignty, God would not possess the perfect love that He does. It is important to note that all of the judgment that is displayed throughout the OT and NT is done out of love. It is all for His people to come back to Him. Our God is a jealous God and He wants our adoration, even though He does not need it by any means. Our fear of God should strengthen our love for Him as we see Him move and protect us in this life. KNOWING that we have this all-powerful God at our side, and knowing that he will protect us in all things.
I am not saying there will be no suffering, for part of punishment and pruning is suffering. With God, though, we are able to rejoice in our suffering because His grace is sufficient. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
God’s love, as well as His sovereignty, were shown and proven to us on the cross of Christ:
John 3:16- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
1 John 4:8- Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.
You see, GOD is LOVE and love do not exist outside of God.
Time to Answer the Question: What does it mean to fear the Lord?
Life Hope and Truth says this:
If you study the Bible, there is no mistaking the repeated commands to fear God. Wise King Solomon put it this way in explaining his reasoning for writing the book of Proverbs: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). A healthy fear of God includes a fear of the consequences of disobedience. There may be times of temptation or trials when we may forget some of the better reasons for obeying God, and that is when we had better think of the consequences (Exodus 20:20).
Hebrews 10:26-31 tells us: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
“Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The LORD will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Reverence of God helps us to take Him and His beneficial laws seriously. Being in harmony with the spiritual laws that govern the universe has astounding benefits. Many of these come in this life, but the greatest benefits will be experienced in the life to come
So, rather than a paralyzing terror, the positive fear of the Lord taught in the Bible is a key element to change. It allows us to have a proper, humble perspective of ourselves in relation to our awesome God; it helps us in times of temptation when we need to remember the serious consequences of disobeying God, and it motivates us to become more like our loving Creator.
By doing these things, the fear of the Lord brings eternal benefits:
- “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:17-18).
- “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27).
- “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil” (Proverbs 19:23).
God’s offer of forgiveness to those who repent gives us a reason to fear—a reason to change. It also gives us a reason to be eternally grateful and to grow in love to be more like our loving God!
Dear God allow us to have a clear mind as we begin to further develop a healthy fear of you and your all powerful majesty. Lord, you demand glory and you will get it! We are so blessed to be able to even experience part of your glory, but you bless us with the ability to give you glory. Although it is not nearly enough, Lord we pray that we will praise you with all of our might. Although we will never achieve a perfect fear of you, we pray that you would move us closer and closer towards that.