What is the fear of God?
When we think of fear, the idea of being afraid is usually our first thought. However, "the fear of the Lord" includes a different meaning, one important to our spiritual health.
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Proverbs 1:7 teaches, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." The verse ends with a parallel thought: "fools despise wisdom and instruction." The contrast made in the two lines concerns wisdom. A proper view of God is the beginning of knowledge. "Fools" who have an improper view of God do not appreciate wisdom or instruction.
The Old Testament Law given to Israel echoed this view of the fear of the Lord. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says, "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good?" Again, to "fear" God is to have a proper view of Him that leads to love, service, and obedience.
The only ones who are to "fear" God in the sense of "being afraid" are those who have not placed their faith in Jesus Christ. For those individuals, the future holds judgment (Hebrews 10:31). Jesus taught, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:5). The only way to avoid this future judgment is to believe in the Son of God (John 3:16). Faith in Jesus will take away the fear of the future and give a proper view of God.
John wrote, "By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:17-18). Those who know Christ do not live in fear of the future; that is, they are not afraid of God's condemnation. Instead, they have a proper view of God based on His love for them.
Ultimately, "And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation" (Luke 1:50). A proper view of God includes a deep reverence and respect for our Creator and Savior. In Christ, we need not be afraid of God, but we are to fear Him, knowing it is only by His grace we are saved and can experience a relationship with Him (Ephesians 2:8-9).
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