In light of the last post's examination of the Fear of Man, it only seems logical that we consider the Fear of God and what effect the understanding of it has on our life. Interestingly enough, as I began studying what the Bible reveals about the Fear of God, I found it intertwined with the proper understanding of Grace. Just like my post on Grace, I found that a juxtaposition of the Fear of God in the Old Testament with its understanding in the New Testament was in order.
We begin this comparison by taking a look at what Scripture in the Old Testament tells us about this enigmatic phrase "Fear of God". There are three Hebrew words used the most when describing what "fear" means as it pertains to God. The first is yir'ah, which is translated as our English word fear [to be afraid], and that's what it means, for example, in Proverbs 1:7, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. We also see that meaning [to be afraid] applied in Psalm 2:11, Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling; and in Psalm 34:11, Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
The second word translated as our English "fear" in the Old Testament is pachad, and it means "dread". We see this exemplified in Job 23:15, Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider, I am in dread of Him.
The last word I want to look at in the Old Testament [regarding Fear of God] is the Hebrew word yare', meaning "terror". This understanding is implied in Jeremiah 5:22, Do you not fear me [experience terror]? declares the Lord. Do you not tremble before me? This is in the context of the entire Chapter 5 of Jeremiah in which the Lord proclaims judgment against Israel for forsaking Him and serving foreign gods (verse 18). And God asks just a few verses later, Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the Lord, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
I think it's pretty clear from the Hebrew meanings in these passages that Fear of God in the Old Testament had a direct correlation to the feelings of "fear", "terror" and "dread". Yet we find many of our teachings in the modern Church transposing a New Testament significance to those Old Testament translations of the word "fear" and implying that it means "respect", "reverence" or "honor", as in the Passion Translation of Jeremiah 5:22, which reads ‘Do you not tremble [in awe] in My presence'? and in the Amplified Translation of Psalm 2:11, Worship the Lord and serve Him with reverence [with awe-inspired fear and submissive wonder]; Rejoice [yet do so] with trembling. When completing an exhaustive study of the true word origins, we realize that the Bible is really telling us that in these Old Testament verses, "fear" means "terror" and "to be afraid", respectively. Yet, the translators have attached New Testament meanings to the word "fear".
Once we understand that the real meaning of the Fear of God in the Old Testament came from knowing the ways of God and how He felt about obedience to His commandments and experiencing His justice when He was defied. The good news is that that kind of fear of God "is only the beginning of understanding". We have to keep reading! In the New Testament we find that the Love of God reflected through Jesus Christ in the Scriptures has the power to cast out this kind of fear and set us free! When that happens we have a healthy fear that is reflected in our "awe" and "reverence".
We can see this concept best exemplified in 1 John 4:18, There is no fear in love
[dread does not exist]. But perfect (complete, full-grown) love drives
out fear, because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment,
so the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love
[has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. Here, we actually see both the Old and New Testament view of the Fear of God. In fact, there is such a big picture presented here, that I'm not sure we Christians take our time to fully comprehend it.
You see, we are right to be afraid of God in the sense that He sits in judgment of our sins. Jesus, Himself, said "Don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch
your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). But God loves us so much that He sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins -- Jesus accepted the punishment that our sins [rightfully] deserved. The punishment didn't go away; but it came wrapped up in God's love. As the All About God website explained it, "How can we comprehend the utterly Great News of Jesus Christ if we don’t
first appreciate the fear of God? Without total awe, wonder, terror,
dread, reverence, and respect for a perfectly holy, righteous, and just
Creator, can we truly appreciate what Jesus Christ, the Son of God, did
for us on Calvary’s cross?"
After all, there will come a day when we will be held accountable and subject to God's judgment, but as Romans 6:23 tells us, the wages of sin is
death, but the free gift of God [that is, His remarkable, overwhelming
gift of grace to believers] is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because He is a Righteous and Just God we deserve eternal death, but it is because of His love, and by His Grace, that we are spared that punishment. And remember, Grace is not only unmerited favor, but it is the power of God in us to do the things we cannot do on our own; namely, avoid sin. But His grace is His power in us to carry out His purpose in sanctifying us to Him and growing us into the image of the sinless Christ. After all, He who is in me is greater that he who is in the world [enticing men to sin].
Ultimately, it comes down to perspective and position. The Fear [terror, dread, fright] of God is justifiably real -- He is a Holy and Law-abiding God. In Revelation 14:7, an angel from Heaven declares, ""Fear God and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has
come". He set the rules and He hasn't changed. But He provided a way for you and me to avoid the just punishment we deserve. So when we come to faith in Jesus, our fear of God is eradicated when we enter into His love [through Jesus]. Once we look at the entire picture, we can appreciate both views of God as His Truth.... He is a Righteous God to be feared when we do not abide in Him; but we are the recipients of His amazing, life-giving love.
I believe, as Christians, it is healthy to fear God whose nature and characteristic as a Righteous Judge has never changed. But that terror and dread turns into awe and reverence when we step into His love, and our verdict of "guilty" is stamped "paid". The Word recognizes that the Fear of God is both His right to judge and the demonstration of His love. Not even poor translations can erase those truths.
Psalm 147:11 "The Lord shows favor to those who fear Him,
to His godly lovers who wait for His tender embrace."