What Does it Mean to Fear God?

Trillia Newbell
header for What Does it Mean to Fear God?

I remember that as I learned about God’s sovereignty, I began to be fearful, rather than to fear, the Lord. I wondered if God was a tyrannical dictator and felt scared—even terrified— as if God would rain down misery on my life, and I had no control over it. I realize I am not alone with this struggle and misunderstanding of what it means to fear the Lord. But, thankfully, this isn’t what the fear of the Lord means.

John tells us in 1 John 4:18–19, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.” The fear that John is referring to here is the wrath of God or final judgment. My fear of the Lord was not rooted in thoughts of His love for me as His beloved daughter. Rather, I approached Him as if the wrath that He poured out on His Son on my behalf was still reserved for me. In other words, I had a difficult time reconciling the struggles and difficult circumstances I encountered with the love of God and instead feared that those struggles were indicators of His wrath. Did I do something wrong? I might think. This is not the way the Lord operates with those who love and fear Him. His wrath has been completely satisfied in Christ.

“To fear the Lord is not to be scared of Him. It’s to adore Him. Worship Him. Honor Him.”

That’s why it’s also important to understand that He is loving and kind, slow to anger and abounding in love. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases” (Lamentations 3:22).

The fear of the Lord, instead, can be manifested in many ways, but for our purposes, “fear” is to be understood as an awe and reverence of God because we know that “the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods” (Psalm 95:3). The fear of the Lord starts in the heart. The outward expression of the fear of the Lord is obedience and fellowship and worship. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. The response to His awesomeness is to bow down in worship: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6). Practically speaking, the fear of the Lord is manifested in obedience. During times when I am tempted to sin but don’t, it isn’t because of a natural inclination to do good. Actually, Paul had it right when he said that when we desire to do good, sin is right there knocking on the door (see Romans 7:21). I obey the Lord because I have His Spirit, and I desire to honor Him. I fear Him.

To fear the Lord is not to be scared of Him. It’s to adore Him. Worship Him. Honor Him. It’s to put Him in the right place in our thinking. The fear of the Lord is in many ways to honor the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3; Deuteronomy 5:7); and to honor the Great

Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Our response to our Creator is rejoicing, gratitude, and reverential fear. “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28–29).

For Further Reading:

Fear and Faith

by Trillia Newbell

We will never be short on fears. Failure, rejection, sickness, losing a loved one, being alone—the fears we carry are many and heavy. Fear can...

book cover for Fear and Faith