Throughout the Bible we are told to fear God, but have you ever considered what that means?
At the start, we need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. While these distinctions can be helpful, they can also be a little dangerous because God’s Word is so much higher than my human words.
When Martin Luther struggled with the “fear of God,” he made a distinction 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 the kind of dreadful anxiety in which someone is frightened by the clear and present danger that is represented by another person. Or it’s the kind of fear that a slave would have at the hands of a brutal master who would come with the whip and beat the slave. Servile refers to a posture of servitude toward a malevolent owner.
The filial fear draws from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. 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.
This distinction can be helpful because in Deuteronomy and in Wisdom Literature, we are told that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Job 28:28, Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, 3:7, 9:10, 15:33, Isaiah 11:2, 33:6). The focus here is on a sense of awe and respect for the majesty of God, which is often lacking in contemporary evangelical Christianity. We get very flippant and casual with the God of the universe. We are invited to call him Abba, Father (Romans 8:15) and to have the personal intimacy he promised to us, but still we’re not to be flippant with God. We’re always to maintain a healthy respect and adoration for him.
If we really have a healthy adoration for God, we still should have an element of the knowledge that God can be frightening. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God.
Jesus even warns his disciples not to fear men who may kill them, but to fear God, who could not only kill them but throw their souls into hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5).
But the good news is, for those who are in Christ, there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1)
[print_link] [email_link] Adapted from R.C Sproul