The fear of God has been one of my favorite subjects. Unfortunately, it’s very misunderstood. This may be partly because it isn’t mentioned much anymore, and many tend to understand the word fear as fright, and only fright. The fear of God is a very multi-faceted doctrine (teaching). It doesn’t just mean awe. There are some translations like the NET which have replaced the word fear with awe, and I think that really flattens out the meaning.
Although I haven’t read a book devoted to this subject, it’s mentioned very often in books, in addition to, of course, the Bible (Genesis 22:12, Deuteronomy 6:1-2, Psalms 2:11, Proverbs 9:10, Isaiah 50:10, Acts 9:31, Revelation 14:6-7, for a good representation). I’ve been learning that the fear of God starts out with the realization of our sin, and realizing what we’ve been saved from. Because believers have been saved from sin, and from God’s wrath, we want to obey God not because we’re afraid of him (1 John 4:18), but because we’ve come to appreciate how good his commands are, and to do what our Father tells us, because he’s spelled out the best way to live our lives (Psalm 119, Romans 12:2).
The dread of you makes my flesh creep;
I stand in awe of your decrees.
Psalm 119:120 REB
I will let my two favorite quotes speak about what it means, and there is a very short video below them if you’d like to watch and listen to it.
Biblical fear is not simply “alarm” or “fright,” nor is it simply “dread”; and even “awe” does not fully capture the fear that is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Biblical fear—in its right and mature expression—is a humble and loving response to the character of God. Such fear rightly perceives the awesome and even terrifying power of God, but this perception is tempered with marveling that one so majestic is so concerned for his people.
God is inﬁnite in power but intimate in love. He creates and sustains the universe and yet is present with us. As the earliest of biblical writers said, such knowledge is “too wonderful for me,” and its glorious revelation always takes the blood from our faces and the strength from our knees (Job 42:3). These responses may mirror the human behaviors before a tyrannosaurus, but we would be quite mistaken to say that biblical fear is anything like that fear.
Biblical fear is not merely concern for possible harm. Rather, biblical fear is proper regard for all God discloses about himself in his glory: lordship with love, inﬁnitude with intimacy, an all-powerful hand with a redeeming heart.2 We do not have a single word that adequately translates the term for biblical fear, but we do have a clear example to remove all questions as to its basic meaning. Isaiah prophesies of the coming Messiah, saying that “the fear of the LORD” will “rest on him” and “he will delight in the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:2, 3 NIV).
Jesus fears God, and he delights to do so. This means that the relationship of God the Father and God the Son ultimately exempliﬁes biblical fear. Since we know eternal and inﬁnite love exists between the Father and the Son, we must understand that Christ’s fear cannot simply be terror. Perfect love must drive out that kind of fear (1 John 4:18). Jesus’ intimacy and humility with his heavenly Father reveals that his fear is proper regard for the full spectrum of divine attributes—including his wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth, and love.
Bryan Chapell, The Glory of God, page 191–chapter on A Pastoral Theology of the Glory of God
Christian said, “Without a doubt the right fear can be a good thing, for as the Word says, ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’”1
“How would you describe right fear?” Hopeful inquired.
Christian explained, “True or right fear can be known by three things. First, by what causes it: the right kind of fear is caused by saving conviction of sin. Secondly, a good fear drives the soul to quickly lay hold of Christ for salvation. And thirdly, this fear begins and sustains in the soul a great reverence for God, His Word, and His ways. It keeps the soul tender, making it afraid to turn right or left from His Word and ways. It makes the soul sensitive to anything that might dishonor God, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak against God.”
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, Crossway Edition
1 Proverbs 1:7, 9:10; Psalm 111:10; Job 28:28
The Fear of God and A Sense of Sin from NCFIC on Vimeo.
Saturday à Machen: Joy in the Fear of God | Bouncing into Graceland