Recently, when reading Psalm 130, I found verse 4 fascinating.
Lord, if you were to record iniquities,
Lord, who could remain standing?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
so that you may be feared.
Psalm 130:3-4 ISV
Some translations use revered, honored, or respected. That may be more perspicuous (plainly understood), but I think the word fear is a much broader term. I say this at the risk of betraying what the original Hebrew means. Fear would include respect, honor, and revere, and it also may include a filial (as a son or daughter) fear of offending God our Father.
This means that unbelievers cannot fear the Lord, but when we are forgiven and our eyes are opened to who God is, we are then able to rightly fear, honor, revere, and respect him without being either afraid of eternal punishment, indifferent, or at least not be able to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23).
Spurgeon says it much better than I ever could:
None fear the Lord like those who have experienced his forgiving love. Gratitude for pardon produces far more fear and reverence of God than all the dread which is inspired by punishment. If the Lord were to execute justice upon all, there would be none left to fear him; if all were under apprehension of his deserved wrath, despair would harden them against fearing him: it is grace which leads the way to a holy regard of God, and a fear of grieving him.
–Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, on v. 4
The point is that God forgives people in order that they might fear, meaning, that they might become his faithful, obedient worshippers.
–Allen Ross, A Commentary on The Psalms
Ross says that the verb form translated as fear only occurs here, which is why I don’t want to make a strong case for using the word fear, although that’s how it has traditionally been translated.
This portion of a Puritan prayer reminds me of this. I’ve emphasized a phrase that’s especially relevant. If you’re reading this on Sunday morning (I know that many of you are), let this be a Lord’s day prayer.
O how desirable, how profitable to the Christian life
is a spirit of holy watchfulness
and godly jealousy over myself,
when my soul is afraid of nothing
except grieving and offending thee,
the blessed God, my Father and friend,
whom I then love and long to please,
rather than be happy in myself!
Knowing, as I do, that this is the pious temper,
worthy of the highest ambition, and closest
pursuit of intelligent creatures
and holy Christians,
may my joy derive from glorifying and
–Devotion, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions (emphasis added)
Fear of the Lord posts on this blog