What Is Holy Fear?

John BevereBy John Bevere12 Minutes

Excerpt taken from The Awe of God: The Astonishing Way a Health Fear of God Transforms Your Life by John Bevere


Chapter 3
What Is Holy Fear?


It’s impossible to define holy fear in a single sentence, paragraph, or chapter. It’s no different from attempting to explain the full breadth of God’s love in the same space. It will take chapters, and even then, we’ll be far from proficient in our understanding. In fact, I believe we’ll continue to discover the depths of both holy love and fear throughout eternity.

With that said, let me offer a general outline of holy fear’s definition. Think back to your childhood when you were given a coloring book and crayons. You opened the book, picked out a page, and found an outline waiting to be filled in with color. In a similar way, this chapter will give us the borders, but it will take the rest of the book to fill in the colors. If you were to read only this chapter, you’d get a broad idea of holy fear but would miss out on its transformational truths.

In the previous chapter we established that the fear of the Lord doesn’t drive us from God’s presence—rather just the opposite. A good and wonderful fear draws us close to Him, and laying this firm foundation is vital before we continue.

Some say that the fear of the Lord only means to reverently worship God. I’ve heard these very words spoken by well-known ministers from the pulpit, in conversations, and over a meal with leaders. While this definition is a start, it’s far from the complete picture. It could be compared to merely defining the love of God as being “patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). But if we leave it there, we fall short and miss the mark completely.

When Lisa and I were in our early forties, the son-in-law of a well-respected leader visited our house to share an opportunity to invest in his company. We met for a couple of hours, and I distinctly remember the kindness and patience he showed us. If you observed his behavior, you too would affirm he’s a loving man. However, after several days of prayer, Lisa and I didn’t feel led to invest. Now, years later, I’m glad we didn’t, because he spent many years in the penitentiary for running a massive Ponzi scheme.

Was the man patient and kind? Most definitely. Did he walk in love? Absolutely not. Why? Because Scripture tells us, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3 NKJV). Stealing is selfish and breaks God’s commandment of love (Ephesians 4:28). A child molester can be kind, and even patient, while at the same time destroying a young person’s life. Does he love that child? Of course not!

In the same way, limiting holy fear to only reverent worship can cause us to miss the mark and be misled. So let’s draw up the outline, and later we will add the color with the teachings, examples from Scripture, and stories in the chapters ahead. Before we begin, I want to warn you that in defining holy fear you will hear words that could be frightening, but I assure you the opposite is true. Stay with the message through its entirety and you will discover that holy fear is a gift of love and protection from our Creator, who deeply cares and longs for us.

There are many New Testament scriptures we can start with, but I believe this one sets the tone:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29 NKJV)

If you look closely, you’ll observe there are two terms that are referenced: reverence and godly fear. This immediately shows that godly fear cannot be limited to only reverence, otherwise the writer is just repeating himself with the second term. These are not only different words in English but also two different Greek words: aidṓs and eulábeia.

Reverence is an excellent translation of the first Greek word. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines reverence as “profound adoring awed respect.”¹ I love these four words joined together; stopping to ponder each one takes our understanding to another level!

The second term, godly fear, carries the meaning of awe. For awe’s definition I look at the original 1828 edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary. Here’s what I found: “fear, dread inspired by something great and terrific; to strike with fear and reverence. To influence by fear, terror or respect.”² Don’t be alarmed by the words dread and terror. Though the Greek dictionary also uses these words, remember, holy fear has a drawing, not a repulsive, effect. So we must ask: Is there a positive and healthy aspect of these words? I believe Scripture shows there is, and we’ll see this as we add the color later.

Let’s begin by listing our definitions. To fear God is to reverence and be in complete awe of Him.

To fear God is to hallow Him. Hallow is defined as, “to respect greatly.”

To fear God is to esteem, respect, honor, venerate, and adore Him above anyone or anything else.

When we fear God, we take on His heart. We love what He loves and we hate what He hates. (Notice it is not to “dislike” what He hates, rather it is to “hate” what He hates.) What is important to Him becomes important to us. What is not so important to Him becomes not so important to us.

To fear God is to hate sin.
To fear God is to hate injustice.
To fear God is to depart from evil in every sense—thought, word, and action. It is to refrain from speaking deceitfully. It will not say or put on an appearance that is untrue to one’s heart and thoughts. It keeps our outward behavior congruent with our inward thoughts, motives, and beliefs.
To fear God is authentic humility before God and mankind.
To fear God is to give Him the praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and worship He deserves.
To fear God is to give Him all that belongs to Him.
To fear God is to tremble before Him in wonder and awe. To give His word and presence our full attention.
To fear God is to obey Him. It’s not just a desire, but an inward force determined to carry out His will, no matter the cost. We eagerly, willingly, and immediately obey—even if we don’t see a benefit or it doesn’t make sense—and we carry it out to completion.
To fear God is to shun any form of complaining, murmuring, or grumbling.
To fear God is to respect, honor, and submit to His direct and delegated authority. It also obeys the delegated authority with the only exception being if the authority tells us to sin.
The fear of the Lord shapes our intentions, thoughts, words, and actions.

Now let’s partially list the benefits of holy fear. Here are some of the many biblical promises made to those who walk in it.

The fear of the Lord is the starting place for an intimate relationship with God. We become His friends, and His secrets are made known to us.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. It gives foresight and clear divine direction.
The fear of the Lord is how we mature our salvation and are conformed to the image of Jesus.
The fear of the Lord is clean; it produces true holiness in our lives.
To abide in the fear of the Lord is to secure an eternal legacy.
The fear of the Lord produces confidence, fearlessness, and security. It swallows up all other fears, including the fear of man.
The fear of the Lord gives us identity, makes us productive, and empowers us to multiply.
The fear of the Lord provides angelic assistance, fulfilled desires, enduring success, nobility, influence, longevity, productive days, enjoyment in life, happiness, pleasure in labor, healing for our body, and so much more.
The fear of the Lord endures forever—it will never fade out. The fear of the Lord is a treasured gift from our heavenly Father.

Taken from “The Awe of God: The Astonishing Way a Health Fear of God Transforms Your Life” by John Bevere. Copyright © 2023 by John P. Bevere. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson Publishingwww.harpercollinschristian.com

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