Even uttering the words “the fear of the Lord” brings a negative reaction rather than being appealing. The fear of God, though, is actually a protection, something to be cultivated and practiced which leads to spiritual health and maturity.
When we talk about “the fear of God” I think it’s necessary to define what we mean by that. The Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther distinguished between what he called a servile fear and a filial fear.
The servile fear is a kind of fear that a prisoner in a torture chamber has for his tormentor, the jailer, or the executioner. It’s that kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person.
(Like how you feel when you see the blue lights in your car’s rear view mirror!)
The kind of fear that sends your heart racing in terror is not the kind of fear I’m talking about. If God were a cruel deity, we’d need to have that kind of fear, but He is a kind and good Father, He is a self-sacrificing Savior, He is a tender Comforter.
- C. Sproul explains Luther’s distinction between servile fear and what he called filial fear (filial being a reference to the relationship between child and parent):
[box]In this regard, Luther is thinking of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.[/box]
Learning to live in the fear of God is a protection and blessing. The list below just scratches the surface of the depths of this mysterious paradox.
The fear of God:
- Adjusts our perspective of God, placing Him in His rightful position of authority
- Protects us from sin
- Steers us into the path He has for us
- Leads us into pure worship and
- Provides motive for the work of sanctification
We are created to walk freely and uninhibited in the presence of God, but shameful and paralyzing fear became an integral part of our relationship with God when man first disobeyed God in the garden. Adam and Eve’s first reaction, after sinning, was to run and hide in fear.
But God does not want us to stay ashamed, fearful, and hiding in the bushes—He calls us out, He pursues us (Gen 3:1–10).
Why did Adam and Eve disobey?
Eve fell for the lie that she could be “god” of her own life. She fell for the temptation to operate independently from God, and even thought she could attain the same level of knowledge and power as God. As soon as she disobeyed God, everything changed. Rather than functioning in power, she was in bondage to sin with no hope of freedom.
The first couple no longer ran to meet God, but hid in shame and fear.
We have the same tendency. We choose to function independently from God’s authority every time we choose to go our own way rather than to obey God. Every time we choose sin, we snub our nose at God and treat Him as though He’s on our same level (or lower!).
Our fear of God isn’t to be rooted in shame, but in love and an awareness of WHO GOD IS! Adoration of God will have an element of healthy fear, because, as C. S. Lewis alluded to in the Chronicles of Narnia, “He is no tame lion.”
Look at how this passage links the sin of slander to a lack of acknowledging God’s authority and the fact that we are unaware that we’re not on His level at all:
[box]You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (Psalm 50:19–21)[/box]
We need never forget that God is beyond us . . . He is awesome, fearful, the highest of all authorities and the greatest of all powers.
I used to see a t-shirt a lot that really bothered me: “God’s my homeboy!” To me, that t-shirt epitomizes the attitude that God is on my level, He’s my buddy, He’s somebody I can kick around, because He’s no different than me. Although God invites us into relationship with Himself, make no mistake . . .
He is not like us, He is God—we are not.
God loves us, cares for us, through Jesus Christ, bled and died for us . . . but He is God and we are not. He deserves all worship and glory. He is God, we are NOT. Jesus invites us into a sacred “friendship” with Himself, God called Abraham His friend (Isa. 41:8; James 2:23), but it is a friendship based on a holy and tender fear/love relationship.
It’s important to understand what it means to “fear the Lord” because if we’re not functioning under an active practice of fearing God—we will be making decisions driven by other fears. And that’s what we’ll look at tomorrow!
This is the fourth week in our summer study using Nancy Wolgemuth’s book: Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together. This week’s posts includes my teaching notes for the session from our church’s women’s study, but instead of unloading it all on you in one SUPER LONG post (like last week), I’m dividing it up in five days with the homework portion below:
Homework Assignment: Return again to the “excellent woman” described in Proverbs 31. What is the key to her godly choices (see what v. 30 tells us about her heart condition)? What do you think is meant by having a “fear of the Lord”? (Continue reading Adorned pages 91–128.)
What do you think of when you hear the phrase “fear of the Lord”?
What does it look like to walk in the “fear of the Lord”?