Fearing God means recognizing His power and holiness and being in awe of it. When you rightly recognize that power and holiness, fear is a natural response. That fear changes how you relate to God.
Misunderstanding the fear of God can push you away from God. Understanding the fear of God correctly will draw you closer to Him and help you see Him more accurately.
You do not have to look hard to find the fear of God mentioned in the Bible. In fact, some form of that phrase can be found over 300 times throughout the book. Fearing God is an important part of knowing God.
Trying to read through all 300 mentions is an intimidating goal. To help simplify that process, here are three verses that can help you understand just what the Bible has to say about fearing God.
These passages are full of contrasts, serving but with fear, rejoicing but with trembling, God’s wrath and His blessed refuge. These contrasts give meaning to the fear of God. If you have put your trust in God, then you do not need to be afraid that He will destroy you. But this passage encourages you to remember that though He won’t, you should still hold the fear of His ability to destroy.
When you realize that He could destroy you but instead offers refuge and love to you, then rejoicing with trembling and fear becomes a natural response.
This verse links the concept of fear with awe. When you are fearful of the Lord, you are standing in awe of Him and His great power. Imagine meeting a famous celebrity or a powerful politician, and then multiply the awe you might feel in their presence by infinity. In the presence of the owner of all fame and power, the only right response is awe.
According to this verse in Matthew, nothing on earth is worthy of your fear in the same way that God is. Though things on earth can kill your body, they cannot kill your soul. God is capable of both. This should lead to fear, but it should also lead to comfort to know that God is the ultimate authority and power. He has the final say over eternal souls. There is nothing you need to be afraid of ever overtaking God’s place as the ruler of the universe.
The Bible uses language like “beloved” and “children” to refer to those who have put their trust in Jesus. Some people argue that Christians do not need to fear God because of that language.
But there is a proper way to fear God. Look at the way those who encountered God responded to His presence. In Isaiah 6:5, the prophet Isaiah is brought into the presence of God and responds to the situation this way:
“‘Woe to me!’ I cried ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty’” (NIV).
Isaiah was a prophet, a man who knew God’s heart, a man God had chosen to speak to His people on His behalf. Yet even for Isaiah, when he found himself in the presence of God, he cried out with fear and awe.
In Revelation 1:17, the author described a vision where he saw Jesus. The author of Revelation, John, was one of Jesus' disciples during His time on earth. In Revelation, John saw a glorified form of Jesus, no longer the humble carpenter but the God of the universe. He wrote, “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last’” (NIV).
He saw the power and might of Jesus and fell to His feet as though dead. That is a response of reverence and awe for God, a recognition of His ultimate power. Jesus comforted John in his fear and told him not to be afraid. He did not want John paralyzed by a fear that kept him from experiencing Christ, but that didn't make John's reverence and awe any less appropriate.
God is not to be feared like a child fears the dark. Terror and horror are words often associated with fear, but they aren’t synonymous with the kind of fear God desires. A person terrified of God would be unable or unwilling to approach Him. Think about what it would do to a relationship to be terrified of the other person.
The Bible gives an example of this unhealthy fear and how it affects the relationship between a servant and a master. In Matthew 25:24-25, Jesus told the story of a man who left bags of gold behind with three of his servants. One of the servants is given a single bag of gold, and these verses record what he said to his master upon his return:
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you’” (NIV).
The man was so afraid of his master that he did nothing with the things he was given, afraid to lose them. But the master called him wicked and lazy for his inaction. He allowed his fear to lead to inaction. In part, this story displays what an unhealthy fear of God can lead to.
A good, healthy fear of God has a noticeable impact on your life. It affects your view of God and of yourself. There are a few key ways that your view of God changes when you have a healthy fear of Him:
Recognizing God’s power and might leads to increased trust in Him. God makes a lot of promises in the Bible, and you can trust Him to fulfill them because He has the power to ensure they happen.
A healthy fear of God leads to a deeper level of worship. Recognizing His power and holiness naturally leads to praise. In the same way you can’t help but be amazed at massive mountains or expansive ocean views, the awe and power of God motivates wonder and worship.
Your view of yourself changes in some powerful ways as well.
As understanding of God’s power and magnitude grows, so does recognition of your own lack of power and magnitude. It is humbling to realize how much smarter, wiser, bigger and more powerful God is than you could ever hope to be.
Anxiety often comes from feeling out of control in life. A healthy fear of God allows you to recognize that God has always been the one in control. It allows you to turn over your fears of losing control to Him and trust He can handle things.
The Bible is clear when it comes to the fear of God. It’s the natural and right response to the power of God. But it is also clear that the wrong kind of fear is unhealthy. When fear is properly applied, it leads to some powerful changes.
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