What Does It Mean To Fear God? (and 5 surprising benefits)

What does it mean to fear God? 

We tend to have a negative view of fear. And when we see passages in the Bible that tell us “the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom” that seems counter-intuitive to us. God is loving and caring, why should we fear him? 

The problem is we don’t have a proper understanding of what fear is. We think of fear as unhealthy and something that should be avoided. And in some cases that’s certainly true. But not all kinds of fear are bad. 

We’ll look at what the Bible says about fearing God in a minute. But first, I want to look at a few different kinds of fear. Because to understand the fear of the Lord meaning we first have to define what fear is. 

What It Means To Fear God

When we think of the word fear we tend to think of things that are bad that we are afraid of. We fear being attacked, disease, war, death, being hurt, and other things that threaten us and our way of life. In most of the things we fear there is a negative that threatens to harm us. 

When we think about fearing God we bring this understanding of fear to the table. If God is to be feared that must mean he’s a threat to us. And that doesn’t jive with our picture of God as a loving father who desires a relationship with us. 

The problem is in western culture we tend to only view fear as one thing, but in reality, there are multiple kinds of fear. And the Biblical meaning of fearing God is different from how many of us think of fear.

Martin Luther made a distinction between the different kinds of fear that I think is helpful. He made a distinction between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear.

Servile fear is the fear that we often think of. It’s the fearing of looming danger or impending torture/pain. Think of how a slave would fear their master that beats them for each indiscretion. Servile fear leads one to the servitude of a master, not out of free but will rather out of unhealthy fear. 

Filial fear is much different. Think of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father. He doesn’t want to offend or displease his father. Not because he’s afraid of a beating he will receive, but because he loves him. In fact, when he does disobey he finds grace and restoration, not condemnation. Which further drives the respect he has for his father. 

It’s filial fear that we are called to have for God. To fear God is to take the posture of that child. It means that we have awe and respect toward the majesty God. Not because we fear He’s going to torture us if we don’t. Rather, because we recognize who He is.

It’s important that we start with this understanding of the type of fear we are talking about. That way we can see what a healthy kind of fear looks like. 

With that in mind, let’s look at what it means to fear God according to the Bible. 

What The Bible Says About Fear Of The Lord 

The word of God talks a lot about fearing God. 

Several places in Proverbs and Psalms we are told the fear of the Lord leads to wisdom and knowledge. (Proverbs 1:7, 9:10, and Psalm 111:10)

In contrast the Bible teaches that the wicked do not fear God. (Psalm 36:1-4)

In the New Testament Jesus Christ told his disciples to not fear those who could harm their physical bodies, but rather to fear God who could eternally destroy them. (Matthew 10:28) 

We see the early church walking in fear of the Lord. (Acts 9:31) 

We could continue on, there’s plenty more verses about fearing God. But what’s clear in the Bible is that we should fear God. 

What does it mean to fear God? We’ll get there in a minute. 

What we should notice right now is that the Bible is saying that fearing God is a good thing. There are benefits to fearing God for us. 

Remember what fear we are called to have. We are called to have a filial fear, like a respect a child has for his father, towards God. That kind of fear is a good thing and leads to a blessed life. 

To learn more about what the Bible says about fear check out these Bible verses: What The Bible Says About Fear

Why We Should Fear God

We’ve seen that God’s word talks a lot about the fear of the Lord. And that it leads to a blessed life. Let’s look at some of the promises attached to God’s people when we fear God. 

What does it mean to fear God? Psalms 111:10

1. The Beginning Of Knowledge And Wisdom

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 

Many of the passage about fearing God are found in the book of Proverbs. This book centers around wise things that we should do and unwise things to avoid. This book starts off in the first few verses that we should fear God (Proverbs 1:7). The result if we do? A sound mind and knowledge. 

Proverbs tells us that the beginning of knowledge and the beginning of wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord. 

2. It Shows Our Awe Of Him 

Too often it becomes commonplace that the creator of the universe cares for us. He’s walked in our shoes, experienced our life, and died on the cross for us. We often take that for granted. 

To fear God is to show respect. It’s to take a step back and understand how big and powerful he is. Like a young child that looks at his father in awe of how powerful he is. We look at our heavenly father in awe because of how big he is and yet how much he cares. 

3. Leads To Life 

The Bible calls the fear of the Lord the fountain of life and claims that it leads us to an abundant life (Proverbs 14:27 and Proverbs19:23). 

We often think the good life is found when we can do whatever we want. When we gain more for ourselves. But that kind of life has robbed many. The Bible teaches us a different way to live, a way that leads to the life we are actually after. And it starts with fearing God. 

For more check out: The Beatitudes Explained (how to live a blessed life)

4. It’s Worship 

To worship is to give and show worth to something. A proper fear of the Lord is worship. It means that we are showing God that he is worthy. 

Worship expresses our gratitude for God. It places him in the proper place in our life. 

5. Provides Refuge

Psalm 31:19 says those who fear God take refuge in him. God is pictured as a father taking care of his children. He’s protecting them from what can harm them. 

Again, we cannot forget that Godly fear is filial fear. As a child looks on in respect towards their father, the father protects his children. It is the same with our father in heaven. 

What Does It Mean To Fear God In Our Lives Today? 

So, how can we actually fear God? I want to end by looking at some practical ways a Christian can live this out. 

What does it mean to fear God:

  • To fear God is to approach Him in awe and with reverence. (Hebrews 12:28-29)
  • To fear God is to represent Him well to those around us. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
  • To fear God is to do what he says is best not what we think is best. (1 Peter 1:24-25)
  • To fear God is to submit to his kingship. 
  • To fear God is to understand the seriousness of our sin and damage it causes. (Romans 7:13) 
  • To fear God is to look to him for our identity and nothing or no one else. 

What does it mean to fear God? If I could sum up what it means to fear God I would say it is to love Him with all our heart, to keep His commandments, and to approach Him with respect. 

Or as Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?”

Having A Healthy Fear Of God

We should be God fearing. We should stand in awe of Him, find our strength in Him, listen to what the Holy Spirit says, and place our hope in His love. Doing so brings pleasure to God and tells those around us about who we serve. 

Fearing God is also good for us. It’s when we live within the boundaries that God has established that we can find true freedom and joy. We don’t live this way because of fear of a beating that ensues if we disobey. Rather respect and trust lead us to desire to follow God. 

As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but the perfect love from the Lord is its completion. Fearing God by William D. Eisenhower

What does it mean to fear God? Fearing God is to love God and submit to him even in things we do not understand. It’s giving him authority over our lives. It’s placing God above everyone and everything else. It’s the fear of the Lord where wisdom is found. Fearing God is not a negative thing, rather it is a positive force in our life.

Jeffery Curtis Poor
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