What does it mean to “fear” God? The verb, in the Hebrew language, which is the original language of the vast majority of the Old Testament, is an interesting one.
The basic meaning of the Hebrew word is actually “to be afraid of, to be aware of a threat, to be in terror.” Certainly, God does provoke fear in this sense. As we see throughout the entire Bible, those who are about to incur God’s wrath because of unbelief and unrepented sin have every reason to be afraid.
The book of Hebrews reminds us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31, NIV).
But this is not the best definition of the word for the believer who has learned of God’s grace and forgiveness, who knows Jesus as their Savior and who is in a loving relationship with God through faith in Jesus.
Within this relationship, to “fear” God is to be respectful and reverent toward him. It is to esteem him who is our Creator, our Redeemer and our Counselor — to treat him with the honor he deserves. It is to submit to his will, recognizing in trust and obedience that his ways are true and correct.
It is to be confident that his ways are “what’s really best for me.”
This fear starts with hearing the gospel and having our hearts and minds transformed by this beautiful message of forgiveness of sins. It continues with listening to the laws of God and loving those laws because we now love the Law-giver.
The fear of God is more than an emotion or an attitude. Fear of God leads us to walk in his ways and be obedient to him. It’s putting God’s law into practice (even the ones that seem impossible for us, or unreasonable to us).
It’s living with the purpose — the very purpose that God has given us. To fear God is to actually live in the wisdom that goes far beyond the wisdom of this world. Never perfectly, of course. We are still way too sinful for that, and always will be in this life.
The “fear” of God, put simply, is to really believe that what we believe is really real.
Such fear of God has its rewards. And those rewards are pretty sweet. Solomon writes about a few of those rewards in the book of Proverbs:
“Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:26-27, NIV).
Lord, I repent of all the times in life when I fail to fear you. I know that you love me. I know that I am forgiven through the blood and the merits of Jesus Christ. Send me your Holy Spirit and give me the love and wisdom to fear you every day of my life.
Our Bible reading for Saturday, June 13, is 2 Samuel 20:1 – 21:22, Acts 8:4-40 and Proverbs 14:25-35.
Header image based on "Commandments" by Charles Clegg, CC By-SA 2.0