To Fear or Not To Fear

Some have historically preached “hell fire and brimstone” to instill the fear of God in their listeners and motivate them to repent and obey. Others have preached that God is all love and that there is no need to fear Him.  Should we have fear for God or not?

No one should doubt the power and terror of God.  He destroyed the ancient world with a flood because the earth was corrupt and filled with violence; all died except Noah and his family.  God rained fire and brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and destroyed them because of their wickedness. Throughout the Bible we see examples of God’s judgement and destruction of those who rejected Him and rebelled against Him.  In the future, He will take vengeance “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:7b-9).

There are multiple scriptures that teach us to fear God. Hebrews 12:28-29 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.”  1 Peter 1:17 “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear.”  Philippians 2:12 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Jesus taught in Luke 12:4-5 “And I say to you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.   But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”  The early church feared God.  Acts 9:31 “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified.  And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.” It should be obvious that we all need to have a fear of God.

But what kind of fear should we have for Him?  Is it a fear with terror and agony that paralyzes us or that motivates us to obey Him only because of our fear for what He will do to us if we disobey Him?  I believe it should be a fear of reverence.  We respect God for who He is.  He created the universe; He is almighty; He is all knowing; He is all powerful; He is righteous; He is holy.  We must have reverence for God.  We can’t ignore who He is by disrespecting Him. 

God has two complementary sides of His nature.  He described Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” He does not clear the guilty and gives punishment for iniquity.  But the Lord also described Himself as merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and forgiving.

God is described as love.  1 John 4:16 “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” 1 John 3:1 “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”  God treats us like a loving Father.   

We tend to view what God is like based upon what our earthly father was like.  If our father was kind and loving, we tend to view God as kind and loving.  But if our father was critical, harsh and severe in his punishment and we feared him, we tend to have a similar fear toward God.  Maybe we even see God as always looking to see our mistakes and sins so that He can condemn us to hell. But God is our Father in heaven and He has adopted us as His children.  He treats us like a loving father.

Jesus gave the story of the prodigal son in which he illustrated the loving and forgiving nature of God the Father.  Luke 15:11-14 “Then He said: ‘A certain man had two sons.  And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.  And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.  But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want.”  The son repented and came back home.  Verse 22-24 “’But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.’”  The father welcomed and forgave the son for his sin.

The Bible teaches that fear for God can be replaced with love.  Romans 8:15 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’” The expression “Abba, Father” seems to imply a relationship between a loving Father and His adoring child.  1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.”  As you grow and mature in Christ, any tormenting fear of God that you might have had should be replaced with true love and obedience.  What should remain is your reverence and great respect for Him.  He is Almighty God.

I encourage you to have the proper respect and reverence for our awesome God and realize that He loves you and cares for you.

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