How to Have a Healthy Fear of God

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash
How to Have a Healthy Fear of God

A discussion with Erik Thoennes and Jeremy Treat

Erik Thoennes: Fear of the Lord is something the Bible talks about from beginning to end as absolutely central to having a right relationship with God and having a life that represents that. We’re told the beginning of wisdom is found in the fear of the Lord, that the Lord encamps around those who fear him. Even the way we treat each other in the body of Christ, we’re told, is out of fear of Christ, submission to him as a result of fearing Jesus in the appropriate way.

So when we start with the right view of the holiness of God and recognize him for who he is, we’ll say with Isaiah, “Woe is me. I am undone. I’m a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isa. 6:5), or Peter when he sees the glory of Christ and his power says, “Depart from me. I’m a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

I don’t think you can have a true biblical understanding of our own sin until you see God in his holiness, otherwise it’s “Oh, I’m just a terrible person,” or “I didn’t do that well.” But when you see God for who he is, you would never think of trying to solve your sin problem yourself. And so the fear of the Lord is one of the great needs in the church today, I believe, and something that we have a tough time with because we think of fearing an abusive father and an unhealthy fear that even thinks of running away from him.

But a true fear of the Lord realizes you can’t run from God, and the only option is to run to him. When you do, you find the embracing arms of a loving Father.

Jeremy Treat: Yeah, and what I love about this idea of the fear of the Lord is, it’s actually incredibly practical.

In the Book of Proverbs, it talks about wisdom, and wisdom isn’t just knowledge, it’s knowledge applied. It’s not just smarts, it’s street smarts. It’s the know-how. And the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so I like to define the fear of the Lord as a radical God-centeredness that shapes everything else in life, that you’re building your life around God. You take God more seriously than anything else, whether that’s other priorities or the opinions of people in your life.

And it’s important, I think, to recognize that this isn’t a fear like being afraid of a cruel tyrant or even like standing before the ocean where you feel a sense of reverent awe because that’s so impersonal. I like to remind people that with the fear of the Lord, it’s the fear of Yahweh. It’s that all-caps LORD which is the personal name of God, the covenant God.

So even the fear of God, this reverent awe, this respect comes within a context where he said, “I’ve bound myself to you in love,” and so that’s where it’s that reverence for a father who we know is for us and with us that really shapes the way we live our lives practically in so many ways.

Thoennes: And, boy, this has implications for the way we combat sin, for instance, in our lives. We can have accountability groups, we can have great filters on our computers, but if we’re not growing in our fear of the Lord, we know you can get around those things. You can lie to your accountability partners. And, the fear of the Lord, when we do get together with our friends in our groups or in our churches, if we’re not cultivating a deeper fear of the Lord, we’re missing an absolute fundamental way we are to relate to God and even grow in our holiness in our lives.

Otherwise, we’ll manipulate and manage, and it’ll be behavior management instead of true growth and holiness that comes from seeing God for who he really is.

Treat: Yeah. I think, sometimes, as we rightfully emphasize the gospel of grace, and that that drives everything, one of the dangers of that is people think that they’ll confuse legalism with obedience.

And legalism should be rejected—I mean, trying to work our way to God. But obedience is a good thing that comes from the commands of a gracious Father who knows what’s best for us. So as we’re driven by grace to take God seriously, recognizing he’s God, I’m not . . . when I come up against something in my life that I don’t want to do what he says, I’m going to trust him. I’m going to submit.

I mean, these are things that we have a hard time in our culture where autonomy is the highest value. So I think we’re covering a sense of the fear of the Lord, of recognizing God is who he says he is. He’s merciful and gracious. Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, but he will not just clear the guilty. He’s holy. He deserves our reverence, and our respect, and our obedience.

Thoennes: The amazing counterintuitive thing in the Bible is that the more you fear the Lord and see him as high and lifted up, the more you actually get to experience him in intimacy because who does he draw near to? It’s the one who fears him, the one who sees him as high and lifted up, recognizing him for who he is, and that’s the one he draws near to. We fear that if we fear God, he’ll be so distant we won’t be able to relate to him. But it’s just the opposite biblically.

He moves toward those who see him for who he is, and in their humility, he lifts them up.

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast or watch a video.

LOAD MORE
Loading