“Wisdom and knowledge will be the constant source of your stability,
And the strength of salvation;
The fear of the Lord is His treasure.”
Perhaps more misunderstood than the love of God in our generation is the fear of the Lord. Fearing God is all too often presented as being incompatible with loving Him, and instead of cherishing the fear of the Lord as His treasure, we are told that we must cast it aside. This in spite of the fact that it is said of Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, that His delight was in the fear of the Lord (Isa 11:2-3).
We see throughout Scripture that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Job 28:28; Pro 1:7); that rather than crippling one emotionally, it leads to strong confidence (Pro 14:26); that it is a fountain of life, leading to honor and prosperity (Pro 14:27; 19:23; 22:4). It enables us to escape the snares of death and prolong our lives (Pro 14:27; 10:27). The Lord promises that, if we fear Him, He will direct our path and reveal His secrets, just as He did with His friend Abraham (Ps 25:12,14). Walking in the fear of the Lord is even seen to create an environment where the Holy Spirit can operate, producing true repentance and positive church growth (Acts 9:31; 5:11-16).
Therefore, rather than seeking to cast off the fear of the Lord, we should ask the Lord to give us the grace to walk in the knowledge of the fear of the Lord, just as our Savior did (Isa 11:2-3). Rightly understood, the fear of the Lord actually delivers us from all fear. He who fears the Lord fears nothing. As David the psalmist said:
“I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears… 7 The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him, and delivers them (thereby delivering them from all fear)” (Ps 34:4,7 parenthesis mine)
Rather than the fear of the Lord being the cause of anxiety, it actually brings stability, delivering us from all anxiety as we walk in it. It is what gave David the boldness to face Goliath without displaying even an ounce of fear. David continues saying in Psalm 34: “Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Ps 34:11). Do you long to be as fearless as David the giant slayer? Ask the Lord to teach you to walk in His fear, just as David did.
To walk in the fear of the Lord does not mean to live in constant fear of Him
Many of us, before receiving a revelation of the Father-heart of God, believing, as Tradition had taught us, that God’s punishments for most of mankind were unending and purely vindictive, without any redemptive purpose, lived in a constant state of debilitating fear, keeping us at a distance from Him, just as the children of Israel who fled from God when He manifested Himself to them at Sinai. However, at Sinai God made it clear that He didn’t want them to be afraid of Him, but rather to have His fear before them as a restraint from sinning against Him.
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.’ 21 So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” (Ex 20:20-21)
What does it mean to have the fear of the Lord “before you”? The people were afraid and reacted by drawing back in fear because their sins and idolatries against God were exposed in the light of His presence. Moses, on the other hand, was not afraid because He walked in the fear of the Lord and His fear was ever before him, keeping him from following the dictates of his sinful flesh. In contrast to the children of Israel, Moses drew near to God boldly without fear. The only time Moses showed fear in the presence of God was when he was afraid for the lives of the Children of Israel after they had sinned against God, worshipping the golden calf (Heb 12:21; Deut 9:16-19).
Although the comparison falls short, the same distinction between positive fear and negative fear can be seen in other relationships between subjects to their superiors. In my youth I was a drug addict and a delinquent. I can’t remember how many times I was arrested, but by the time I turned 18 I had already spent more than three years of accumulated time in state and county correctional institutions throughout California.
Needless to say, just the sight of a law enforcement officer struck terror in me. We called them pigs back then. However, in November of 1969, I had a radical life-changing encounter with the Lord, changing me from a delinquent and drug addict to a law-abiding citizen. From that time forward, I have even felt reassured by their presence, except when I drive past one while exceeding the speed limit. While the comparison falls short, Paul presents both the fear of God and the fear of authorities as being related, saying that the earthly authorities are God’s ministers, appointed to execute justice against wrongdoers. He said:
“Do you want to be unafraid (μή φοβέω) of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. 4 For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid (φοβέω); for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.” (Rom 13:3-4)
As long as we respect the authorities and the laws of the land, we have no reason to fear, but if we are willfully breaking the law, we have good reason to fear. The same principal applies in our relationship with God, our Father and Judge, who is altogether righteous and just and sees all.
Sadly, many of us have more fear of being detected in the police radar than we are of sinning before God. Some are more afraid that their wife will see them looking lustfully at another woman than they are concerned with the fact that God Himself knows what they are entertaining in their heart.
In an effort to appease their conscience without the need of repentance, some even go so far as to say that it is not possible to sin against God, but only against oneself, thereby seeking to remove the fear of God from their lives altogether. In contrast, when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he demonstrated that he feared God, saying to her: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). David committed some grave sins, but when confronted with them, he didn’t justify himself, saying they were only against himself. On the contrary, he cried out to God saying: “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Ps 51:4).
Perfect Love casts out Fear
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment (κόλασις kolasis, “corrective punishment”). But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1John 4:18)
Without due consideration of the context, some have misconstrued John’s declaration, “perfect love casts out all fear,” as meaning, “If you fear sinning in God’s presence, you have not been perfected in love, because perfect love casts out all fear of God.” Quite the contrary, we are told to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God Himself who is working in us to will and do His good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13). We are told to perfect holiness in the fear of God (2Cor 7:1; 1Peter 2:17). Please note that these are New Covenant injunctions. We also see that the Early Church greatly multiplied, walking in the fear of the Lord (Acts 9:31; 5:11-16).
The key to understanding what it means to be perfected, or made perfect in love, is found within the greater context of the epistle of 1John. It is not simply referring to a knowledge of God’s perfect love for us, although that is essential to being perfected in His love, since we can only truly love, knowing that He first loved us (1Jn 4:19).
In the context, John takes us beyond simply knowing how much God loves us, to us being perfected or brought to maturity in that same love. In 2:5, John says: “whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is (perfect tense, “has been”) perfected in him.” In other words, a mature son of God is one who keeps His word because obedience has become a part of his character. It is hypocrisy for one to say that they love their earthly father when they continually disobey him. How much moreso with our heavenly Father.
The mature sons of God are also characterized by love for others because God’s perfect love has been perfected in them. In 4:12, John literally says: “if we are loving one another…His love has been perfected in us.” A believer who continually walks in love is a mature adult son of God – he has been perfected in love.
In contrast, the carnal believer is still as a babe in Christ. In his immaturity he often only loves those who love him in return, and he continually disobeys God, requiring His corrective intervention. Since he walks disorderly, the Father’s love often must take the form of corrective discipline (κόλασις) (cf. Heb 12:6).
Knowing that your heavenly Father is going to discipline us naturally produces fear in our paternal relationship with God. If we have not yet matured or been perfected in love, we rightly experience the fear of discipline, precisely because we know our Father loves us too much to leave us without the necessary correction. That is why John told the newer, less mature believers that they needed to continually abide in communion with Him, saying:
“And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28)
Peter Hiett once said something that rang true with me, and I repeat it often. He said: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but perfect love casts out all fear.” When we were children, we knew our parents loved us, but what we often experienced was the fear of their love in the form of correction. As the author of Hebrews says, our loving Father’s discipline is often painful (and therefore to be feared), but those who learn from it mature to the point where they have the peaceable fruit of righteousness – they become mature sons of God (Heb 12:10-11). Having become matured adult sons, our relationship with our Father no longer involves the fear of correction, but rather the reverential fear – the fear of bringing dishonor to Him or displeasing Him in any way because we love and worship Him. That is the fear of the Lord that was Jesus´ delight.
We do a great disservice to those who are living in willful sin by telling them that they should not fear God in their unrepentant state, telling them that, since perfect love casts out fear, they have no need to fear God’s judgments. When necessary, God even judges His own people. As the author of Hebrews said:
“For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance (ἐκδίκησις, “the carrying out of justice”) is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ 31 It is a fearful thing (φοβερός) to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:30-31 cf. 1Cor 11:31-32)
Here we see that, even if we, being God’s very own elect people, persistently continue in willful disobedience, God will intervene in judgment. Just as it was a fearful thing to have to face our earthly father after having disobeyed him, it is a fearful thing when the Lord takes a hand to us in correction.
Imagine if, when you were a child, you and your buddy started throwing rocks in the front yard and he said to you: “Let’s try throwing rocks through your parent’s living-room window.” Although you felt the same childhood urge to do it, you said to him: “I’m afraid of what my father will do to me when he gets home,” to which your buddy replies, “There is no reason to be afraid. Don’t you know that your father loves you?”
Even a little child can see through such faulty logic. However, today in our Postmodern society, all too many equate love with permissiveness. The love of God our Father is not permissive, but rather corrects us so that we will grow up to become holy and righteous adult sons, righteous in character like Him. Contrary to contemporary beliefs, parental permissiveness is not love – it is negligence. I will conclude with Peter’s admonition to us as God’s children to walk in the fear of the Lord:
“As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.” (1 Peter 1:14-19)
Obviously, believing as I do that the Scriptures clearly teach the final restoration of all, I don’t believe we should fear the unthinkable horror of unending torments. When Jesus said that we are to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna (Matt 10:28), He was not saying that we should fear being exterminated, much less tormented throughout eternity. But clearly, Jesus taught that Gehenna was to be avoided at all costs (Matt 5:29-20). I consider in detail what Jesus meant in this, as well as other passages which have been misconstrued by many as teaching eternal vindictive torment in my book, The Triumph of Mercy.
In the next blog I will consider what Jesus meant when He said that we are to fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. As I hope to demonstrate, Jesus was clearly not saying that we are to fear that God would ever even consider tormenting us or any of our loved ones forever without mercy.