The phrase “Fear God” is an interesting phrase. In modern American culture to fear something is viewed as a negative. We fear it because it is mysterious, dangerous, or a combination of both. I think this makes it hard to understand what it means to “fear God.” If God is loving and gracious, then how could we fear Him?
To avoid seriously wrestling with the issue, many people simply say to “fear God” is to respect Him and to hold Him in reverence. While this is true, I think it misses the point of what it means to fear God.
Scripture actually treats fearing God as a positive rather than a negative. In Genesis 42:12, Joseph, as he tried to win his brothers’ trust, told them that he was a God-fearing man. Exodus 1:17 tells the story of the two Hebrew midwives who defied Pharaoh, and spared the lives of the Hebrew babies. Why did they do this? Because they feared God. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus taught his followers not to fear earthly authorities, but to fear God alone.
I think this tells us that we need to move past seeing fear a negative. When we fear God we form our character, we seek to do what is right (even in the face of opposition), and we surrender our lives to Him. Fearing God is a transforming aspect in our lives.
Fearing God transforms our lives because it prevents us from blindly following our flesh. Our fear of God causes us to stop to consider the consequences of our actions. We realize that what matters the most is not what happens in this body right now, but what happens after the resurrection, when God determines our eternal destiny. This helps put our lives into perspective.
To fear God is not be afraid of God. Experience tells us that when we are afraid of something or someone, we seek to avoid that person or experience.God wants to connect with us, even when we sin. 1 John 1:9 reminds us of this very important truth; “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (NLT). God has promised that He will forgive us of our sin and rebellion. Therefore we do not need to be afraid of God.
To fear God is to understand exactly who God is. It is to understand that He is the Creator and Sustainer of life, and without Him we would have no existence. It is to understand that He is completely holy and without sin. After catching a glimpse of God in a vision the prophet Isaiah called out:“Then I said, ‘It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.'” (Isaiah 6:5; NLT). God did not threaten Isaiah, but the mere glimpse of God’s holiness was enough to convict Isaiah of his sin, and he realized his only hope of survival was the mercy of God.
To fear God does mean to stand in awe of Him, to respect Him, and to have reverence for Him, but it is so much more. To fear God is to understand that the purity and holiness of God cannot tolerant the sin that is present in our lives. We can’t truly stand in the presence of God and not understand that we exist only because God wills it. He holds our lives in the palms of His hands, and that is why we fear Him.
That fear is tempered by the reality of God’s love. This is why we are not afraid of Him, even when we know that lives are dependent on Him. He wants us to be here, to exist, and to live. That is why we trust Him with our lives.