Image by Will Humes via Flickr
Someone on a forum recently posted the question, “Isn’t the fear of the Lord only for unbelievers? Why would a believer fear the Lord?”
That’s an excellent question, and it prompted me to write a fairly in-depth response. I figured I might as well share it here, too.
Oh yes, the Fear of the Lord is for believers especially! There are such curses pronounced on those who have no fear of God, and conversely, such blessings given to those who DO fear Him, that there can be no question it's for those who believe. One of the main condemnations of the wicked is, "There is no fear of God before his eyes." (Ps. 36:1)
But there's a difference between the biblical "Fear of the Lord," and what most people think of as "fear." As I have taught my children, most things that we fear, we fear because they are bad or evil. But that's not the case with the fear of the Lord. We fear the Lord because He is good, and we are evil.
Also, with ungodly fear, the response is to run away. But with the godly fear of the Lord, the response is a humble repentance and the desire to draw closer to this mighty God. That’s because His perfect goodness is part of the perfection which so amazes and dismays our evil selves. "They shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days" (Hos. 3:5). His perfection makes us see our imperfection clearly. The unbeliever will cover his eyes in hatred of that which interferes with his self-worship, and he will turn his back and walk away. But the believer will ask to be cleansed of that sin so he can enjoy God's wonderful perfections for himself.
How do we know this? Because of one of the oddest-sounding verses in the Bible. "If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared" (Psa 130:3-4).
How does His forgiveness make us able to fear Him? By making us able to stand before His magnificent perfection without covering our eyes, turning our backs, running away, and either hating Him or pretending He doesn't exist!
I had a very personal encounter with God in which my spirit was opened to perceive something of His holiness. I felt the fear of the Lord, and knew that I deserved to be destroyed by Him. And yet, I felt calmed and quieted in the midst of that. It was as if I could see my filthy soul in His holy hands, and my thought was, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." I could perceive more than just His holiness. I perceived His omnipotence, and His mercy, and His love. And so, while I felt the fear of the Lord, I was drawn to Him. I did not wish to run away. My feeling was, "It's entirely up to You. I cannot save myself. If You destroyed me, I could not curse You for it, because You would be just in doing so. I await Your mercy, if You choose to give it."
And He gave it. He saved me, and it was an amazing thing. A humbling thing. That was the point at which everything in my life started to change.
First and foremost is the honor that I feel toward God. I am so grateful to know the fear of the Lord, even though I know it so imperfectly. It makes His mercy and grace so much richer and more meaningful...never something to be taken for granted (as so much of modern flippant Christianity does.)
It has been my experience that the fear of the Lord makes my love for Him richer and deeper.
Here is a quick study of some of the benefits and blessings promised to those who know the fear of the Lord, or that show how things like "rejoicing" and "intimacy with God" and the fear of the Lord go hand-in-hand (Just hover your mouse over the references to see the verses pop up):
Ps. 25:12, Ps. 25:14
Ps. 31:19 (notice how fear and trust are combined in here!) Same with Ps. 115:11
Ps. 33:18 (fear and hope in mercy! Exactly what happened to me when I was converted!)
Ps. 86:11 (fear of the Lord is something to desire and pray for!)
Ps. 103:11, Ps. 103:13, Ps. 103:17
Pr. 14:2, Pr. 14:26-27
Pr. 15:16, Pr. 15:33
Isa. 11:3 (delighting in the fear of the Lord! Wouldn't have made sense to me until I experienced it.)
Acts 9:31 (fear of the Lord goes along with peace, edification, and comfort!)
And here's some proof that the Fear of the Lord is still commanded in New Testament times:
1 Pet. 1:17
1 Pet. 2:17
1 Pet. 3:15
I have a long way to grow in the fear of the Lord, but I'm grateful for what I do know of it, and I want more. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there really is joy and peace and comfort and strength in it. And just as a diamond shines best in front of a jeweller's black cloth, so God's mercy and grace shine more beautifully to those who fear Him.
For more insights into the wonderful complementary nature of the goodness and severity of God (Rom. 11:22), see “I Feel So Much Closer to God…”