Fear of the Lord: What it means to a Christian
The phrase “fear of the Lord” is quickly, and easily misunderstood. Because of our modern understanding of the word “fear” and the ways this Biblical phrase has been used over the centuries, our cultural reaction to these words is often negative. Why? Because we have been raised to associate fear with “bad” feelings, as well as to have a grim and inaccurate view of God and His commandments. Thus, “fear of the Lord” has taken on a cultural understanding that is far from the heart of Biblical Christianity. But is this phrase trying to communicate something different? Perhaps, something wonderful?
What is “fear of the Lord”?
A modern day English speaker understands fear to be the feeling of threat, danger, anxiety, helplessness. Fear includes the sensation of being out of control, in harm’s way, or in it’s mildest form, feeling worrisome. “Fear of the Lord” is a theme carried through the whole of Scripture…but is this really the emotion that Biblical authors and prophets wished to convey to their audience? Does God really wish us to be afraid of Him?
Of course not. At least, not in the modern understanding of that word.
The Hebrew word “yir’â” (translated to fear) is meant to communicate something that causes deep and stunning reverence, moral excellence, and overwhelming awesomeness.
Most simply explained, a Christian is to understand this phrase as an invitation into setting our sights on the One who is Almighty, all together good, ultimate, and alone the source of life. It is meant to call us back into a correct relationship with our Maker, with a reverence and a sense of awe for the ways of God, acknowledging that He is entirely above and beyond us, in every way. Only when we see Him rightly, as Lord of all, are we able to live rightly before Him.
Fear of the Lord is the Christian’s joyful acceptance, respect, gratitude, and practical recognition of the Holiness of God alone. Fear of the Lord says, “God is God, and I am not.” Fear of the Lord is seeing who God really is, and then living accordingly to that knowledge out of deep reverence.
Why is fear of the Lord important in the Christian life?
One of my favorite portions of Scriptures in Proverbs 2:1-11. In these verses, the author pleads with his reader to turn his ear to the wisdom that is found in God. This author understands God’s wisdom is a fountain of life, protection, guidance, and riches. The heart that chooses to drink from the cup of God’s knowledge and wisdom will see pleasures beyond anything the world has to offer.
Just prior to this, we read in Proverbs 1 verse 7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge”.
In order to receive insight, revelation, and ultimately guidance from God, we must first bend our knee in reverence to who He is. Fear of the Lord, or awe and respect for God, is the first step in attaining His wisdom. Asking for forgiveness and the gift of salvation requires that we first acknowledge that He is the giver of those things.
Fear of the Lord is vital in the life of a Christian because it is the very foundation of worship, obedience, and the sweetness of the Gospel, the good news. If He is God, we are not. And from this reality springs the Christian life.
What is the cost of ignoring the fear of the Lord?
When we consider the great importance fear of the Lord has in the life of a believer, it is almost automatic that we can conclude the consequences of neglecting it. If forgiveness, wisdom, guidance, protection, and so on find their origins in right standing with God, it is safe to say that the cost of ignoring that relationship is the lack of those things. The author of Proverbs 2 goes on to warn his reader that rejecting the wisdom of God leads to vulnerability to the ways of the wicked and crooked paths that lead to death.
Fear of the Lord is not only reverence for the Goodness of God. It is also reverence for the Justice of God. When we behold the Creator, we must see the paradox of His perfect mercy and His perfect justice. The ultimate cost of ignoring the fear of the Lord is felt the moment one is face to face with the God they rejected. But, of course, one doesn’t need to wait until that moment to reap the consequences. Personally, ignoring the fear of God in my own life has led to broken relationships, wasted time and resources, and avoidable heartache. If I had just listened to the voice of God, followed His lead, there would have been so many miserable memories that could have been sweet ones…or at least not as awful. Ever lay awake at night and replay every stupid thing you’ve ever said or did? Fear of the Lord is meant to help you not add more things to that list.
Fear of the Lord at YWAM Asheville
I have learned so much about this topic from serving on staff at YWAM Asheville. It is a cultural staple that we have in our community to return to God’s feet and ask for Him to restore our standing with Him…to refresh our sight, and tune our ears to His voice. Fear of the Lord is taught in many different ways in our discipleship and leadership training programs. It was in my YWAM DTS that I first recall learning about the Fear of God, and was first discipled in the ways of reverence to God’s word. Here at YWAM Asheville, we believe that young people play an indispensable role
in fulfilling the great commission, and it is our passion to train them as disciple making disciples. This of course includes teaching them about fear of the Lord. If you wish you had a better understanding of who God is, what He is like, and what His purposes for your life are, please apply for our next Discipleship Training School! It would be our honor to walk with you in the ways of Jesus, and send you into the nations as a messenger of hope.
Let today be the last day you let “fear of the Lord” remain a mysterious phrase. Let it become a verse you sing over yourself, a brook you drink from, a shelter you hide in. Within it a Christian can find solace, comfort, healing, guidance, and peace.