What Does It Mean to Fear God?

Robin Stearns LeeBy Robin Stearns Lee5 Minutes

Have you ever wondered why the Bible instructs us to fear God? Does that mean we should be afraid of him? Webster defines fear as “strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” But it also means “reverence and awe, especially toward God.”

Which is it? Should we be in awe of God or afraid? Should we be wary of His retribution, or revere and respect Him? Both actions describe the word “fear,” yet they don’t seem to go together, do they? It’s a very difficult concept to wrap our minds around.

Wrathful or Loving?

Determining what it means to fear God depends on how we view Him. Do you see the Lord as the harsh God who called Jeremiah to tell Judah to repent or be destroyed? Or is God the benevolent Father who said, “Let the children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). Is He the God who said He was sorry that He had made man because of his wickedness (Genesis 6:6)? Or do you see God as being so filled with love, that He gave His only Son to redeem us (John 3:16)?

The closest analogy I have found for understanding the fear of God is my relationship with my parents and other authority figures. I know my mom and dad loved me, yet that love motivated me to also respect them. I never wanted to disappoint them. There was a fear of punishment, especially as a young child, but ultimately, I wanted to please them because of their love. The motivation to be obedient to the adults in my life often resulted in being called “teacher’s pet” or “goody-two-shoes,” especially during my school years. I tried to be “good,” but it was out of love and respect, and not necessarily fear.

Is Fear Good?

There are many different references to fear in the Bible. 2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us that God did not give us a spirit of fear; instead, we have been given power, love, and self-control via the Holy Spirit. There are certainly times when fear is healthy; we should fear a poisonous snake and be cautious. But our God did not intend for us to live in fear; instead, we are to trust Him and His protection. We can cry out to Him in our fear and be assured He will save us. Throughout the Bible we are told not to be afraid; God is with us. Psalm 118:6 says, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Proverbs 31:30 reminds me that a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. God’s guidelines are good and living within the parameters of His commandments is beneficial. “We love him because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). We are motivated to obedience because of His great love for us. God does not use fear tactics or demand our love.

Is Wrath Justified?

Yes, there are examples in the Bible where God pours out His wrath. But His wrath is against sin, and not directed at His children. God has satisfied His wrath through the sacrificial gift of Jesus. For those who believe in Christ, God only sees the righteousness of His Son and not our sin. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:8-9) Praise God for His unmatchable Grace!

What does it mean to fear God? I believe the simple answer is this — obey! Do our best to obey His commandments and live a holy life, accepting the righteousness of Christ to cover our failures. The marvelous Grace of God motivates us to obey Him, and not to fear Him. The New Living Translation of Psalm 119:7 reminds us, “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should.” Thank you, Lord!