What Does it Mean to Fear God?

There is one thing sorely missing in today’s age: the fear of God. And we know that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).

Surrounding the truth of this statement, we will ask ourselves What does it even mean to fear God? There have been unbiblical definitions and scare tactics that have pushed people further away. Understanding the fear of God is crucial to how we view God.

In order to understand this topic well, I want to borrow a tidbit from the famous Reformer Martin Luther. In referencing the fear of God, he made a helpful distinction.

RC Sproul explains:

When Luther struggled with that [what the fear of God was], he made this distinction, which has since become somewhat famous: He distinguished between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear (brackets mine). (Source)

Understanding the fear of God is the difference between servile and filial fear. What are these different types of fear?

Servile Fear of God

A servile fear refers to a type of fear a prisoner may have for the prison guard. This is fear founded on danger. This, to me, is quite evidently not the fear we should have toward God. Though you can certainly make the case that unbelievers should have this type of fear of God since, of course, His holy and righteous wrath does abide on them.

But for Christians, we need not fear the Lord this way. We should not be scared of God. We are His beloved children whom He loves. He may discipline us (Hebrews 12:6) but His wrath directed at us was absorbed by Christ. We shouldn’t be fearful of Him in this way.

Filial Fear of God

This is the type of fear that Christians–everybody, really–must have. It is a holy reverence; a complete and utter awe of God and who He is. Practically, it’s akin to the fear a son has for his dad. The boy has fear of his dad not because he’s scared or in danger; no, he has fear because he does not want to displease him.

Christians should fear God in this way. He is our Heavenly Father of whom we desire to please. We have a deep reverence for God not only because of what He has done for us but simply for who He is. He deserves our deepest awe.

This, in my estimation, is the biblical fear of God. And it’s exactly the fear that is lacking not only in the world but, even more concerning, in the church.

Isaiah’s Vision and the Lack of Fear

There is a well-known passage of Scripture that gives a somewhat detailed description of what happens when a sinner is before God’s throne. Let’s take a quick look at it.

We see this marvelous yet terrifying scene unfold in the sixth chapter of Isaiah, in verse 5. In his vision, he sees “the Lord sitting upon his throne, high and lifted up.” (It is evident that the Lord here is the pre-incarnate Christ.) Isaiah’s response to seeing the holiness and glory of the Lord is striking: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Note the next part, what the seraphim does to Isaiah. The seraphim purified his lips with burning coal to signify his sins have been forgiven; his guilt is no longer. His sin was atoned for.

From this passage, we see a biblical fear of God. And yet, this fear is noticeably missing in today’s world and, like I said, even the church.

From unbiblical trips to Heaven to irreverent worship services, there is a severe lack of fear of God today. I don’t understand why, but people–even professing Christians–recoil at the notion that we should fear God. Why is that? I don’t know, because it’s plainly taught in Scripture. I think it reveals more idolatry than most people would like to admit. People create a god in their own image and their god certainly doesn’t align with the God of Scripture.

Isaiah’s reaction is how we as Christians should fear God. In response to seeing God’s holiness, he basically fell apart. Yet he was comforted immediately after with the assurance that his sins have been atoned for. That should be our response.

Don’t be Afraid to Preach This!

Many pastors today are scaredy-cats. They want to please their congregation more than they want to please God. (Those two should go hand in hand.) They are afraid to preach on fearing God because they either have a wrong view of it or don’t want to be labeled a fear-mongering preacher.

However, there is no time place for preachers in the pulpit who are afraid of God’s truth, of His character. Preach His Word! And also, to the lay Christian, don’t be afraid to talk about the fear of God. In light of what we talked about above, it shouldn’t be hard to talk about.

Honor God. Glorify Him. Fear Him.

Soli Deo Gloria

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