Have you read through Proverbs lately? Throughout the book, Solomon writes about various benefits of fearing God. For instance, he writes:
26 In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
27 The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death. ~~Proverbs 14:26-27 (ESV)
Sadly, 21st Century evangelicals have difficulty accepting the idea of fearing God, preferring to emphasize His love and mercy. Well, okay — God is indeed loving and merciful. Because He showed His love by sending Jesus to die for our sin, there’s a sense in which we actually should approach Him confidently, assured that He took our condemnation. We can rejoice in His tenderness toward us.
But enjoying His love doesn’t nullify our responsibility to have fearful respect for Him. Even as we celebrate His love, we must remember that He is a holy God Who cannot tolerate sin. We absolutely must be careful not to offend Him.
As a matter of fact, in considering the fear of the Lord, we must clarify that genuinely saved Christians can fear Him without doubting His love for us. Hebrews 12:6 explains that, as our heavenly Father, He disciplines the ones He loves. I realize that postmodern parenting, influenced by psychological models, often consider it unhealthy for children to fear parents, but God graciously allowed me to grow up in a time when I both knew the security of my mom’s love and feared her discipline.
Maybe that concept of love and fear coexisting puzzles you. Our culture certainly regards love and fear as mutually exclusive, doesn’t it? Perhaps it will help if I explain more about fearing my mom.
I was a willful child (and, to my shame, I’m still very willful). In school, I had no problem defying a certain teacher. If he chose to punish my disobedience, I was perfectly fine with that. But I always begged him not to tell my mom. He always did, once even going to her workplace! And, although she really wasn’t as harsh with me as he was, I feared her discipline far more than I feared his.
Because I knew Mom loved me, I feared doing anything to hurt her. When I made her angry (and I made her angry all too often), her ire seemed unbearable. I didn’t care if my teacher was angry with me. Neither he nor I even liked each other. Love wasn’t even in the equation! But loving Mom and knowing she loved me made me fearful of offending her.
Can you see from that illustration how loving the Lord and trusting His love for us causes us to fear disobeying Him? As Proverbs 14:26-27 says, fearing Him allows us to find refuge in Him and to experience a fountain of life that turns us away from the snares of death. Fearing God protects us from the dastardly effects of our own sin.
Fearing God helps me obey Him more consistently. I know He won’t revoke my salvation because of my sin, but I also know that facing Him in judgment and accounting for ways I squandered opportunities to serve Him will be painful. I fear dishonoring Him, even as I rejoice in knowing that I will spend eternity with Him.