“FEAR NOT” IS THE most repeated command in the Bible, appearing at least 365 times. The topic of fear is addressed over 500 times. Yet, it is important to note that God never wants us to be afraid of His manifest presence. Angels who appear throughout Scripture always call out, “Fear not.” Moses said to the Israelites, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin” (Exo 20:20). Boyd Bailey writes, “The fear of God is not the only a remedy for sin, but it is a potent vaccine. Sin and the fear of God cannot coexist for long. The fear of God extinguishes sin’s combustible character. The fear of God repels sin and keeps it at bay.”1
A writer for the website GotQuestions.org writes, “Proverbs 1:7 says, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.’ Until we understand who God is and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom.”2 True wisdom comes only from understanding that God is holy, just, and righteous. Moses wrote, “So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, 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 your God and his decrees…” (Deut. 10:12-13a). Fear of God for the believer means acknowledging that God hates sin and fearing His righteous judgment. Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children—’My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastised every child whom he accepts.'”
Moses said, “Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—how you once stood before the LORD your God at Horeb when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people for me, and I will let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me as long as they live on the earth…'” (Deut. 4:9-10) [italics mine].
Moses taught that fearing God should drive the Israelites to keep His commandments. Job, in the midst of his troubles, faithfully stated, “Truly, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). A footnote in The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV regarding verse 28 says, “Surprisingly, it turns out, although wisdom is desirable and precious, and cannot be found in any place or bought for any price, there is no secret about its essence, It consists of the feart of the Lord, i.e., the emotion of fear in the presence of God, and of shunning evil—that is, a proper attitude both to religion and to ethics.” 3
Wayne Grudem writes, “God’s exercise of power over his creation is also called God’s sovereignty.”4 Grudem expounds on this attribute of God as “providence,” referring to the biblical reality of His pervasive control revealed throughout Scripture and made real by His own decree. Grudem says the word providence, although it does not appear in Scripture, is “…traditionally used to summarize God’s ongoing relationship to his creation.”5 Grudem further says providence “…teaches that though God is actively related to and involved in the creation at each moment, creation is distinct from him.”6
Martin Luther’s misunderstanding of Romans 1:17 caused him a crippling amount of fear and worry about putting on the righteousness of Christ. Justo L. Gonzalez tells us Luther had “an overpowering sense of his own sinfulness, and the more he sought to overcome it, the more he became aware of sin’s sway over him.”7 He spent hours examining his thoughts, afraid he might die with unconfessed sin, and would often repeatedly punish his body by self-flagellation and walking at night in the cold without a cassock, coat, or shoes. He wrote, “Only the Gospel reveals the righteousness before God, that is, who is righteous, or how a person becomes righteous before God, namely alone by faith… it is called the righteousness of God in contradistinction to man’s righteousness.”8 Isaiah wrote strong words about man’e attempt to be righteous: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth” (Isa. 64:6).
To fear God is to have undying respect and reverence for Him knowing that He is totally righteous. God is full of mercy and truth, and he compensates and regards our faith and obedience. The fear of the Lord is like a disinfectant: it keeps us clean, pure, and righteous in His eyes (see Psa. 19:9). Also, the fear of the Lord is a refuge that delivers us from fear. Those who truly fear the Lord hate evil (see Prov. 19:23). Jesus told His disciples not to fear the scribes and Pharisees or those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both the soul and body (see Matt. 10:26, 28). As I began to walk more in line with these words, I stopped worrying about how or when I might die. This does not mean I live recklessly (as I did while still in bondage to booze and drugs). Simply, I do not fear what might become of me as a result of preaching the gospel.
Do I fear God? I do. Do I love Him? Yes! I long for His manifest presence in my life. It is my desire to live in holiness, bringing glory to Him in all my affairs. As we grow in spiritual maturity, our attitude changes; our worldview shifts. Paul said, “For me, living is Christ, and dying is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Having become a servant of Christ, Paul believed his life was no longer his own but was given over to Christ, making him indifferent to life or death. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, protected by the love of the Father, we need not fear physical death. D.L. Moody, the world-famous theologian, breathed his last breath on this earth on December 22, 1899. Before he died, he said to his son, “If this is death, this is sweet.” To die is not death for a believer. Rather, it is a great and glorious transition from earthly life to an eternal existence with God in heaven.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture references herein are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The NRSV, completed in 1989, follows a formal-equivalence principle that its translators identify with the words “as literal as possible, as free as necessary.” It is considered the best now available in English, especially for in-depth study (exegesis).
1 “What Does It Mean to Have the Fear of God?” GotQuestions.org, n.d., accessed Feb. 1, 2023, https://www.gotquestions.org/fear-God.html
2 Boyd Bailey, “What Keeps Us From Sinning?” wisdomhunters.com, Aug. 12, 2017, accessed Feb. 6, 2023, https://www.wisdomhunters.com/what-keeps-us-from-sinning/
3 The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018)763.
4 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 217.
5 Ibid., 315.
7 Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity, Vol. II: The Reformation to the Present Day (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2010), 23.
8 Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans [1516 AD] (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1976), 41