Why does the Bible tell us we must fear the Lord? What does this “fear” mean?
The Word “Fear”
Since God loves us, why would He tell us we need to fear Him? I thought only those who have not repented and believed should fear, in particular, they should fear the fires of hell (Rev 21:8)? Doesn’t the Apostle John write “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” (1st John 4:18)? Since we have been forgiven and we’re sparred from the wrath of God, why does God tell us in His word that we must fear the Lord? The word fear in Hebrew is “yir’ah” and means “fear, terror,” or “an awesome or terrifying thing” and in the New Testament, the Greek word used for fear is “phobos” from which we get our word “phobia.” Phobos means “dread, terror,” but also means “reverence,” and that last word will have great significance later on in this article.
A Godly Fear
Fear is a good thing because it helps us from hurting, injuring or killing ourselves. Jesus told His disciples that death is not really the thing to fear, but God is, because He said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). The author of Hebrews warns unbelievers that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10:31). Jesus also spoke some very serious warnings to the unbelievers, telling them (and those who don’t yet believe), “I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:5)! So “knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience” (2nd Cor 5:11). The Apostle Paul is saying that it’s good and healthy to have a fear of the Lord, but knowing this dreadful fear of falling into the hands of God, we should persuade others to be saved because of this terror that the Lord will bring upon all who refuse to believe. Jesus said if they refuse to believe in Him, they have the wrath of God abiding on them (John 3:36b), and that’s a fearful place to be, especially when you die.
What is Godly Fear?
What is godly fear? Is it a fear of being struck down dead on the spot or is it a fear of being punished by God due to our sins? It is both for those who have rejected God and refused to believe in Jesus Christ. This is a very real and valid fear to have because if you die outside of the faith, you will have to stand before God on Judgement Day all by yourself, and without Christ as your Mediator, you are not going to heaven but rather the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). The Bible says in very vivid and frightening language, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:12-15). Since we can’t be saved by human works (Eph 2:8-9), our human works will judge us. Far too many say that they’re a good person and believe their “good works” will get them to heaven, but be warned; none of us are good and there are none that even seek God (Rom 3:10-12), and besides, our human works are nothing more than filthy rags to God (Isaiah 64:6) and He will not accept them!
Why Fearing God is Important
Job said that “the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28) and that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10), so “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7). Fear is not only the beginning of wisdom but it is the full measure of wisdom because we must fear Him Who has control over our souls after death. For the Christian, the fear of the Lord is not a fear that God will strike them dead but rather, a holy, deep, reverential fear or respect for God. You respect that which you fear and God is most worthy of our great respect and so we should fear God, not from being punished, but being before a Holy, Perfect God Who desires His children to live lives that are holy and pleasing to Him. There is great wisdom in fear because those who have no fear can fall for almost anything (and often do).
For everyone who has trusted in Christ and whom God has brought to repentance, they have no more need to fear the wrath of God because God’s wrath was placed on Jesus on our behalf so we wouldn’t have to face it. For those who refuse to receive Christ, they have every reason to fear where both body and soul can be cast into hell. God loves us enough to warn us and this may be the only warning some people will ever get, so fear God, worship God, obey Him, and you’ll have no need to fear ever again.