What Is “The Fear of the Lord”?
I continue to find that that the “fear of the Lord” is an oft misunderstood biblical concept. That’s not good because we must understand the fear of the Lord if we are to know and love God and live according to His design.
Ray Ortlund Jr. describes the fear of the Lord in Proverbs 1:7 as the threshold by which Christians are able to embrace true wisdom for living in God’s world. Ortlund writes, “The whole of the book of Proverbs can be distilled into a Proverbs 1:7 drop.” To say it another way, no one can access the wisdom of God and the good it brings without the fear of the Lord. We need a new beginning – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – and we can’t have it without the fear of the Lord.
But what is this fear of the Lord?
Ortlund writes: “It is not a cringing dread before the Lord. It is not a guilty “Oh no, here comes God. I’m in for it now.” The fear of the Lord is openness to Him, eagerness to please Him, humility to be instructed by Him (Proverbs 15:33). The fear of the Lord is willingness to turn from evil and change (Job 28:28). The fear of the Lord is surrender to His will (Genesis 22:12). The fear of the Lord is one way we love Him (Deuteronomy 6:2, 5). The fear of Christ is meekly fitting in with one another (Ephesians 5:21). The fear of the Lord is when we realize, “I am not the measure of all things. I am measured.” p. 31 – Proverbs; Wisdom That Works
CS Lewis describes the antithesis of the fear of the Lord:
In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that-and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison-you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud, you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you. Mere Christianity
John Piper provides a helpful picture from The Pleasures of God:
Suppose you were exploring an unknown glacier in the north of Greenland in the dead of winter. Just as you reach a sheer cliff with a spectacular view of miles and miles of jagged ice and mountains of snow, a terrible storm breaks in. The wind is so strong that the fear rises in your heart that it might blow you over the cliff. But in the midst of the storm you discover a cleft in the ice where you can hide. Here you feel secure. But, even though secure, the awesome might of the storm rages on, and you watch it with a kind of trembling pleasure as it surges out across the distant glaciers.
At first there was fear that this terrible storm and awesome terrain might claim your life. But then you found a refuge and gained the hope the that you would be safe. But not everything in the feeling called fear vanished from your heart. Only the life-threatening part. There remained the trembling, the awe, the wonder, the feeling that you would never want to tangle with such a storm or be the adversary of such a power.
After all, “it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31), and not be hidden the cleft of the Rock that is Christ, who has bore our wrath on the cross.
So the fear of the Lord is not just the dread of God, as though there was a constant worry that God might smite us. However, if we are not in Christ by repentance toward God and faith in the finished work of Christ, then we have real reason to fear the eternal wrath that awaits us. But if we are safe and secure in Christ, then the fear of the Lord is simply an attitude or disposition that comes from knowing our place in the world as created beings of the Creator. In Christ, we live in awe and reverence toward God, because He is so powerful, wonderful and magnificent to us. Without this fear, we will believe the lie that we are god and the captain of our own ship, doing what we think will bring us the most pleasure a part from God, (Genesis 3:1-6) and we will not see our need to trust and follow Christ, who is wisdom from God for us (1 Corinthians 1:30).
To fear the Lord is to humbly know your place in the universe God created, and by faith to think and act appropriately toward our only hope, Jesus Christ.