Noah J. Greer Pastor Matt Round

Noah Greer & Pastor Matt Round

August 4th, 2023

Episode 31

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What does it mean for a believer to fear the Lord?


When we’re talking about the fear of the Lord, there are a few things that I want to make sure that we clarify here. First, for the Christian, the fear of the Lord is much different compared to an unbeliever’s fear of the Lord. When an unbeliever correctly thinks about the Lord, although they don’t know or sometimes even acknowledge Him, the idea of the God they fear relates to judgment, eternity, separation, and similar concepts and realities. There may be a different podcast question about why that’s an appropriate fear when you think of a holy God and the sin and the death that separation brings. But here, when we’re talking about a believer, the fear is different. So that’s one clarification point.

The Believer’s Fear

The other thing I want to clarify is that when we hear the Christian fear of the Lord, we commonly want to take the idea of fear away, immediately moving fear into the notion of respect. While I think there’s probably good intention behind that, and there’s certainly some overlap there, I also don’t want to remove fear from the word fear altogether because I don’t think that’s helpful. I don’t think we have to redefine what the Bible says clearly.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7; ESV

The author talks to people who would understand and acknowledge that God exists and that fear of Him is proper. So how do we identify? How do we comprehend a believer’s fear of the Lord? Why does it matter?

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Hebrews 12:28-29; ESV

Here we have the idea of reverence and honor, but attached to it is the reality that our God is a consuming fire. What motivates the believer’s fear of the Lord is not judgment. Judgment in the sense of eternal condemnation is separated from the believer. Romans 8 makes that clear.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1; NASB

That is a beautiful truth that Paul leads off Romans eight with. Our sin no longer bears the eternal weight of condemnation and separation. That’s a very freeing, very comforting doctrine for the believer. You move on through the end of the chapter and read:

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39; ESV

That includes our failures and our sins. Christ has redeemed us and has paid the just penalty for those sins. So when we talk about the fear for the believer, it’s not the fear that our sin will somehow lead to eternal condemnation and separation, but the fear of God Himself.

The Consuming Fire

According to Hebrews, that fact is driven by the reality that our God is still a consuming fire, that He is still holy and righteous, and that our approach to Him and how we live our lives before Him is incredibly relevant. You think through the Bible and face example after example of how a holy God does care how you approach Him. You don’t just get to come to God any way you want.

We can think of many examples. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were men who had seen God redeem his people out of Egypt and men who had eaten a meal in the presence of God in Exodus. They knew what the holiness of God was like, and yet you have two men that bring strange fire before the Lord, and rather than saying, “Guys, I appreciate the effort. Nice try,” God consumes them, and they’re struck down and wholly done away with for approaching God in a way he did not call for.

So for the believer, like many areas, we live in this tension that we don’t have to resolve. But this tension that we’re blessed to live in says we can come before God and boldly approach the throne. Why? Because Christ has opened the way through the veil of his flesh. Yet at the same time, we approach God with acceptable worship, reverence, and awe, because God is holy.

Those two things aren’t at war. They’re not contradictions. They’re merely a tension that we hold in our Christian life. So, when you ask what the fear of God looks like in the life of a believer, it means that the believer, uniquely through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit, through the clarity of God’s Word, through that process of progressive sanctification, where God makes us more and more like Him, and where we grow in our understanding of God, begins and continues to grow in the sense that they understand more and more of what a Holy God is like.

The more we grow in our knowledge and understanding of this holiness of God, the more our sin begins to show up. It drives this increasing fear that comes from living in the presence of someone that holy. At the same time, that fear is accompanied by a beautiful assurance of knowing that Christ has completely dealt with the sin that deserves condemnation and separates us from the Holy God.

The Importance

For a Christian to fear the Lord involves the knowledge of his power, the awesome terror of His Holiness, and the unimaginable depth of his mercy and grace. Why does it matter that we live like that? The Proverb says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. You will follow and serve what you fear.

What you fear dictates how you act, live, and respond. There are any number of people who claim to believe in God but, through a lack of fear, treat Him lightly. They take his name lightly. They take his worship lightly. They take the preaching of his word lightly. Why do we see so many churches involved in so many things that are, at best, surface level and, at worst heretical?

Well, it’s because there’s no fear of the Lord. There’s no right trembling before a Holy God when it comes to carefully considering how we approach Him. On the other side of that, that fear that drives us to know this Holy God also brings with it an understanding that the fearsome, awesome, powerful, perfectly just God, who will right every wrong and hold to account every sin, has in his mercy poured out his wrath on the Son for those who are found in Christ.

It moves us toward an understanding that we approach God carefully, reverently, respectfully, and confidently. For a Christian to fear God means that I understand His holiness and mercy, and then my behavior reflects that. My response to God reflects that. The way that I worship reflects my fear of God. But not only in those things but also in how we interact with the world around us.

Consequences of the Lack of Fear

For a believer to fear God means that the fear of man then diminishes. Why do so many of us struggle with sharing our faith and the gospel? It is often because of our fear of man and what their response will be. Will they mock or reject me or know more than I do? What if I don’t have the correct answers?

The fear of God, when rightly seen, outweighs the fear of man. That remarkable command to go and make disciples: the fear of God says, “How could I neglect the responsibility and command that the Holy God of creation gave me simply for the sake of a chance that I might be mocked by fallen, finite, temporary human beings.”

The fear of God begins to put obedience into perspective, but if I’m more afraid of man than I am of God, then I will please man rather than God. If I’m more fearful of my discomfort than I am of the God who made me, I will forever live in pursuit of my comfort, pleasure, and my own “whatever-it-might-be.”

The fear of God for the believer, when rightly understood, helps us to order our obedience. As I said at the beginning, it’s not a matter of neutering the word fear to make it mean something other than fear, but it’s also not living in abject terror of the judgment of God just waiting to squash us for our every sin.

It’s that incredible, beautiful tension that comes with living in light of the perfection and holiness of God and living in light of the correct understanding of his grace and mercy, that daily push to worship Him as one that is worthy of our fear, our admiration, our awestruck respect, and one who comes alongside us, helps us, encourages us, and calls us sons and daughters.

Our Response

The practical question is to ask yourself: “What am I afraid of right now?” or “What keeps me from saying what I know how to say,” “What keeps me from doing what I know I ought to do?” Or maybe on the other side, “What keeps me from confessing my sin to God? Is it that I’m afraid that he will reject me?” Well, that’s not the right understanding. That’s not an appropriate fear of God, either, because that’s fear without understanding the gospel that places our sin on Christ and removes our condemnation.

I think that this is a great question that we ought to think about and look back on continually, reflecting on how our fear of God is impacting the way that we live, the way that we speak, and the way that we relate to and love others.