To fear the Lord, or not to fear the Lord? (Exodus 20:20)

One of the difficult concepts to understand in our walk with Christ is the concept of the fear of God. There are times in the Bible where the believer is instructed or commanded to fear the Lord, and then perhaps in the same passage he will be commanded not to be afraid. There are many commands to “Fear not,” but then there are those that say, “you shall fear.” How do we sort these things out? Are we to fear or are we not to fear?

This post will take a brief look at this idea of “the fear of the Lord” to give us a right perspective on it.

First, the believer is commanded to fear the Lord. Consider Deuteronomy 6:13.

You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

The verse seems clear, but what does the word “fear” mean in this context? Am I to be fearful of God? Am I to cower before Him or hide from Him because He is holy, a consuming fire? Is our relationship based on His threats and my frightened obedience? Of course, the answer is no. Because of Jesus, the believer has received grace and full forgiveness from the Lord, so there is no cause to be afraid of His judgment and condemnation anymore. The fear that is commanded is a reverential love and a steadfast hope. This is the fear that David is talking about in Psalm 34 when he writes, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him and rescues them (34:7).” The “fear” that manifests itself in loving reverence and trust receives protection and rescue from the angel of the LORD. David goes on to say that this fear of the LORD will result in “keeping your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit; Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (34:13-14).” So, this fear is not a cowering terror, but is a reverential love and trust that produces obedience and worship.

Second, there are times when the Scripture commands people not to fear the Lord. This is the case in Exodus 20:20 – Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” In this terrifying encounter with the LORD at Mount Sinai, the people trembled and stood at a distance (20:18). They were understandably afraid because the LORD was giving the Law and was revealing to them their sin. Moses is saying to those who will repent of their sins and will have a reverential love for the LORD and will trust the LORD have no need to be afraid of the LORD. Those who turn from their sins and obey the LORD relate to Him as a son or daughter relates to a father. So, the believer is instructed to not be afraid of the Lord, because perfect love has cast out fear (1 John 4:18), while at the same time they fear the Lord with reverential love and trust and awe.

Third, the Scripture commands the believer to not fear “ordinary threats and dangers,” because they are protected and defended and loved by the Lord. Consider these verses:

  • God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. – Psalm 46:1-2
  • “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10. (See also 41:13, 14.)
  • But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:1, 3.
  • But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” – Matthew 14:27.

Regardless of the peril of the circumstances, the believer is not to fear, because the believer has joined himself or herself to the Lord, and the Lord is greater than all. So then, for the believer to fear anything or anyone except the Lord is a sin, because they are distrusting the Lord and are declaring, by their fear, that something is greater than the Lord. Instead, for the one who fears the LORD, “He will not fear evil tidings; His heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD (Psalm 112:7.” The one who truly fears the Lord should fear nothing else.

Finally, those who do not know the Lord and who are not covered by the atoning blood of Jesus are completely right to fear the Lord. They remain under His holy wrath (Ephesians 2:3) and under His judgment and condemnation. Whether they know it or not, they are fully “open and laid bare before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do (Hebrews 4:13),” and they are exactly one heartbeat away from meeting God, the consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

So, yes, believers fear the Lord with a holy reverence. We are in awe of Him because of His holiness and because of His wrath against any and all sin. He is still the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, the Holy One of Israel.

But because of Jesus and because of His finished work on the cross; because of “Tetelestai (John 19:30)” and because of His resurrection, we are now those in whom the Lord delights. Amazingly, the Lord delights in us as those who fear His name (Psalm 147:10-11; 149:4).

So, we are not afraid of the LORD God like Adam was (Genesis 3:8-10), who hid from the Lord’s presence because of his sin, but we are those who come boldly into His presence (Hebrews 4:16; Ephesians 3:12) in reverential fear, cleansed from our sin by the blood of Jesus and adopted into God’s family as His beloved children (John 1:12; Romans 8:14-17; Eph. 1:5).  

SDG                 rmb                 1/19/2021

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