The word, “fear”, can have many connotations. It can be used to describe the feeling of being afraid, a reverence for something or someone, the intent to obey, the heart behind that obedience. [Ecclesiastes 12:13] gives us instruction to “… Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.” Other translations of this verse describe the fear of God as the “whole duty of man”. There are many verses in the Bible describing what this fear of the Lord looks like, so what can we understand of it, and what can we understand of the God we are meant to fear?
God is fearsome.
“Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.”
The greatness, authority and holiness of God all warrant fear. It is a fear acknowledging His awesome deeds, and a fear that recognises the consequence of crossing His righteousness. The greatness of God cannot be compared to. He judges the nations, and repays what is just. His holiness cannot be compared to, and the rightful punishment of sin is death. We should fear God in the knowledge of His righteous authority to judge, and the power of His Name.
Yet, God is approachable.
“In the fear of the Lord there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.”
Despite the power of God, the Bible tells us that there is refuge and confidence in Him. True fear of God does not demobilise or demoralise us. Instead, it allows us to see the good way of the Lord. It allows us to put our trust in Him and follow Him. In doing so, we are led into His life, and away from things that lead to death. God’s ways always protect us. When we fear Him, and obey Him, we experience His life.
Obedience from a heart of legalism does not give freedom.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were teachers of the law, yet they failed to find the freedom in it. That is because obedience for the sake of obedience accomplishes nothing more than legalism. The whole purpose of the God’s law is to set us free in the knowledge of His life.
Proverbs 1:7 tells us that the fear of the Lord gives knowledge, and Proverbs 8:13 tells us that it causes us to hate evil. The law of the Lord is not for us to exalt ourselves, or for us to feel like we are earning salvation. It is there to show us what is good, and to show us the life we can have in God. When Jesus rebuked the Pharisees in Matthew 23, He showed them their heart behind their outward acts of obeying the law. Inside, they were “full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanliness.” [Matthew 23:27]
Obedience is more than an action, it is an act of faith.
Obedience from a heart of reverence is worship.
King David, in his psalms, often referred to the law of the Lord as his delight. The fear of the Lord, demonstrated in the life of David, showed a heart that honoured and worshipped God continuously. David’s obedience to God came out of his relationship with God.
“Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,
For I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
And not to covetousness.
Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things,
And revive me in Your way.
Establish Your word to Your servant,
Who is devoted to fearing You.
Turn away the reproach which I dread,
For Your judgements are good.”
We fear God and it is our salvation.
David recognised God who is fearsome in power and righteousness. Yet he also knew God who is gracious and made a way for salvation. Knowing these characteristics of God, he made the decision to live his life fearing God and obeying God’s commands. David trusted who he knew to be a loving God, and determined to follow His good statutes.
The God we fear deserves our awe because of His might and holiness.
He deserves our worship because He is Lord over all.
He deserves our trust because He is good.
He deserves our obedience because He created the way for our salvation, even giving up His own son on the cross so that every sin could be washed away in the blood of Jesus.
He deserves more than we can give Him, and even when we despise Him, He loves us and remains patient.
His kingdom will come, and His justice will be established, but those who fear Him will know His salvation and experience His life.
What choice will we make with our lives?
Will we choose to love, fear and obey the God who loves us?
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