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Does Fearing the Lord have Anything to do with Being Afraid?

When the word fear—as in “the fear of the LORD”—is translated into respect, we dishonor the glory of God. Proverbs 1:7 states that the “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (ESV). The word fear that is used here is the Hebrew word יִרְאָה (yir.ah), which translates fear, terror, or fearing. The word respect is to tame of a translation of what happens when God reveals Himself to a person. Respect is a sentiment that can be given without being felt. It comes too short of the full meaning of fear. Fear implies an emotion that one cannot escape. Everything that could have ever given us a sense of pride is deconstructed in the light of God’s holiness. A new desire in light of this fear is born. This new desire seeks to obey Him.


I define the Fear of the Lord as: the understanding that comes from the humbling experience of one’s sinfulness in the presence of God’s awe-inspiring holiness. This experience is the beginning of wisdom. It berths an all-consuming passion to bring glorify God through worship and obedience to His will. This short essay will look at three aspects of the Fear of the Lord: 1) the beginning of wisdom; 2) salvation through fear and trembling; and 3) the end of wisdom.


The Beginning of Wisdom


Those who have experienced a moment of the Lord’s presence know the experience of trembling as a sinner in presence of a holy God. Isaiah fell before the Lord as a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6). Moses took his shoes off (Exodus 3). Peter fell to his knees and asked the Lord to go away because he was “such a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). Paul fell off his horse and was blinded (Acts 9). John fainted (Revelation 1:17). John Newton stated “tis grace that taught my heart to fear.” Douglas O’Donnell contends that “It is not merely trust, but a trust that trembles before God. Those who want to neuter the word fear in the sense of removing terror before God miss just how terr-ific our God is!”[1] Scripture gives us a picture of fear—not respect—when God makes His presence known.

Jesus says that one must be “born again” to enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3:3). The experience a baby has when he or she is brought out of the darkness and is first exposed to the light is how Jesus illustrated the new life. It is a fitting picture of what happens when one first experiences the “fear of the LORD.” Fear is appropriate. The one who is born again is now spiritually alive. They will experience new things they had never seen or felt or heard or smelled previously. They give up great comforts because of the surpassing worth of this new world. The knowledge of this world—and God’s glory—begins with the “fear of the LORD.”


Salvation through “Fear and Trembling”


Believers are saved in three tenses: 1) they have been saved through regeneration; 2) they are being saved; 3) and they ultimately will be saved. Those “born again” through the “fear of the LORD” will continue to continue to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). Like a baby taking milk from their mother, they first yearn for the warmth and the nutrients of the One who gave them new life. The initial fear that was experienced begins to grow into greater trust. Obedience is always a part of this process. Trust is strengthened as the appetite for the things of God grows.


Those who know this fear will embrace whatever it takes to have more of God. Though one might not enjoy the process, the trust that has been formed will allow them to embrace the discipline of God as they know that it is for their good. The author of Hebrews warns that those “left without discipline” are “illegitimate children and not sons” (Hebrews 12:8). Therefore, we embrace God’s discipline. John Piper contends that “The fear of God is what is left of the storm when you have a safe place to watch right in the middle of it….Oh, the thrill of being here in the center of the awful power of God, yet protected by God himself!”[2] This hints at what it means to be in Christ. Proverbs 14:27 says that “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life that one may turn away from the snares of death.” As the early church walked “in the fear of the LORD and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (Acts 9:31). Those in Christ drink from the ever flowing fountain of God’s mercy and grace that stills their fears.


The End of Fear


We can be discouraged if we don’t recognize that our trials—specifically our fears—have a purpose. Those in Christ walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). Fear is a part of our lives until our faith becomes sight one day in Heaven. Our fears have a purpose. They point us to trust Christ. The fear of the LORD teaches us that we are not in control. He saved us, is saving us, and will save us from the ultimate storm.


Fear continues to be a part of our journey. It is the catalyst for more faith. The work He began He will finish as we work out with “fear and trembling” what He has worked in. What we now know in part we will one day know in full (1 Cor 13:12). If the “fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” perhaps the end is beholding the glory of the One we place our faith in now.


[1] Douglas Sean O’Donnell, Ecclesiastes, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, New Jersery: P&R Publishing, 2014), 79. [2] John Piper, The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God, Rev. and expanded (Sisters, Or: Multnomah Publishers, 2000), 186–87.

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