The Fear of God

September 11, 2012

by Peter Amsterdam

I recently came across a topic that piqued my interest—the fear of God. The Bible speaks a fair bit about fearing God, and one can come away with the impression that we’re supposed to be afraid of God in the sense of being terrified of incurring His wrath. For Christians, this can be difficult to reconcile with the fact that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to manifest His love, and we are to love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.

There are verses throughout the Bible which speak of being afraid of God and His wrath, but there are many other verses which speak of fearing Him as something positive. When the Bible speaks of fearing God, there are two different concepts being referred to—being afraid of God and His wrath is one, and the other is honoring Him and having reverence for Him. Understanding this difference, we can see the relationship between fearing God and receiving His blessings.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments![1]

Oh, how abundant is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You.[2]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.[3]

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.[4]

The fear of the Lord prolongs life.[5]

The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.[6]

The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied.[7]

I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before Him.[8]

Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.[9]

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear Him.[10]

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.[11]

Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack![12]

He will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.[13]

The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life.[14]

One of the concepts of fearing God portrayed in the Bible, as mentioned briefly above, is terror, dread, or fear; it’s in reference to being afraid of God, and is used mainly when speaking of people who have sinned and are going to face God’s judgment. Some examples of this concept are:

People shall enter the caves of the rocks and the holes of the ground, from before the terror of the Lord, and from the splendor of His majesty, when He rises to terrify the earth.[15]

How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.[16]

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[17]

This concept of the fear of God is different from the one that is spoken of in the positive sense of reverencing God.—That is, having awe, reverence, honor, and respect for Him. Synonyms for these words are wonder, admiration, amazement, astonishment, esteem, veneration, worship, devotion, high opinion, deference, regard. Fearing God in this way brings blessing and goodness to our lives.

In the King James translation, there are times when the word fear is used to mean reverence. Newer translations often render it reverence or revere or respect. For example, Leviticus 19:3, which is translated in the King James Version (KJV) as “Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father,” is rendered in the English Standard Version (ESV) as “Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father.” It reads as “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father” in the New American Standard Bible (NASB), and “Each of you must respect his mother and father” in the New International Version (NIV).

Another example of fearing God meaning something other than “being afraid of Him” is from the book of Isaiah, which spoke of the Messiah fearing God.

The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.[18]

Clearly, the Messiah wasn’t going to be in dread and terror of God. Rather it can be seen as the Messiah loving, reverencing, and giving glory to the Father.

I honor My Father.[19]

[Jesus] lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son that the Son may glorify You.”[20]

Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him.”[21]

There are examples of people in the Old and New Testaments who honored and revered God, and thus were said to fear Him.

[The Lord] said [to Abraham], “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”[22]

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.[23]

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.[24]

By contrast, there are those who are unbelievers or are wicked, who are said to have no fear of God, meaning no reverence, respect, or honor for God.

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.[25]

Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.[26]

It will not be well with the wicked, neither will he prolong his days like a shadow, because he does not fear before God.[27]

Your evil will chastise you, and your apostasy will reprove you. Know and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the Lord your God; the fear of Me is not in you, declares the Lord God of hosts.[28]

As saved Christians, we need not have the dread of punishment for our sins, for Jesus has already taken that punishment on Himself through His death on the cross. We have been forgiven for our sins and delivered from the “wages of sin” through the gift of God of salvation and eternal life with God.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be any consequences for our sins in this life; nor does it mean that God will countenance willful sin and disobedience of His moral laws. The Bible does speak of chastisement or being disciplined. Chastisement in Scripture is generally spoken of as training or causing one to learn, the molding of the character by reproof or admonition, which is quite different from punishment for our sins. The Lord may chastise us in some way for our sins for the purpose of teaching us or molding us, which is an act of His love.

For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.[29]

As believers, the right reaction to all God is and has done is having the fear of the Lord—in the sense of veneration and devotion, of reverence and deference, of worship and devotion, as well as awe and wonder. When we think of His creating the universe, from all of the stars to subatomic particles, we can only marvel at His power and glory. When we realize that as human beings we sin and therefore deserve His punishment, but that because of His love He made our salvation and reconciliation possible, then the correct response is praise and worship, honor, love, obedience, and reverence. It’s all part of acknowledging that He is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

There are blessings in store for those who honor Him in this way.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments![30]

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways![31]

Oh, how abundant is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You and worked for those who take refuge in You, in the sight of the children of mankind! [32]

The time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding Your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear Your name, both small and great.[33]

Those of us who love the Lord don’t need to have the type of fear that causes us to be afraid of God and His wrath. We are part of His family, having been given this right through our faith in Jesus. Our sins are forgiven, so we won’t face the punishment of God. We are redeemed. Our relationship with the Lord is one of love, of gratitude, of praise and worship. As such, we are rightly to fear the Lord by giving Him our love, obeying His Word, and living in a manner that glorifies Him, for He is infinitely worthy.

Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.[34]


Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptures are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[1] Psalm 112:1.

[2] Psalm 31:19.

[3] Psalm 111:10.

[4] Proverbs 1:7.

[5] Proverbs 10:27.

[6] Proverbs 14:27.

[7] Proverbs 19:23.

[8] Ecclesiastes 8:12.

[9] Proverbs 15:16.

[10] Psalm 25:14.

[11] Psalm 34:7.

[12] Psalm 34:9.

[13] Psalm 115:13.

[14] Proverbs 22:4.

[15] Isaiah 2:19.

[16] Hebrews 10:29–31.

[17] Matthew 10:28.

[18] Isaiah 11:2–3.

[19] John 8:49.

[20] John 17:1.

[21] John 13:31.

[22] Genesis 22:12.

[23] Job 1:1.

[24] Acts 10:1–2.

[25] Psalm 36:1.

[26] Romans 3:14–18.

[27] Ecclesiastes 8:13.

[28] Jeremiah 2:19.

[29] Hebrews 12:6.

[30] Psalm 112:1.

[31] Psalm 128:1.

[32] Psalm 31:19.

[33] Revelation 11:18.

[34] Revelation 4:11.