David Lindell - James River Church West Campus Pastor
By: David Lindell06/23/17

How Should We Fear God?


On March 4, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his inaugural speech. With the nation in the grip of the Great Depression, Roosevelt’s speech was awaited with great anticipation. Tens of millions of Americans tuned in to listen to how he would respond to the crisis.

The speech is less notable for its specific proposals, but rather the iconic maxim coined by Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Roosevelt was speaking to the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

But there is a difference between being in a constant state of unjustified terror and having a healthy fear of danger.

Fear is not the enemy; it’s essential.

If you see an animal running towards you what do you do? Stand there. Smile. Wait… without fear, you would! But thanks to fear, you run! You flee the danger.

Fear keeps us from pursuing harmful things. It gives us a healthy respect for the things that are bigger, stronger, and mightier than we are.

Fear keeps us from pursuing harmful things. It gives us a healthy respect for the things that are bigger, stronger, and mightier than we are.

That is why King Solomon, the wisest man to ever live, wrote, “Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment.” (Proverbs 9:10 NLT)

Solomon writes that if you want to be wise, you have to fear the LORD, and if you want to fear the LORD in the way He intends, you have to know Him.

Moving from Knowing about God to Really Knowing God.

“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better [personally]. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1:17-18 NIV)

The word “know” is the word “genosko.” It means to know deeply and personally. What Paul is praying for here is that you wouldn’t just know about God, but that you would know God intimately.

There’s a lot of people that think they know God when in reality they only know about Him. Take the Israelites for example, if anyone should have known God it was them.

If you want to fear the LORD in the way He intends, you have to know Him.

God had chosen them to be His people. The Israelites had seen Him do amazing things! They were there when He brought the ten plagues upon Egypt. They were there when He parted the waters so they could walk across dry land, they were there when the waters engulfed the Egyptian army, and they were there as God fed them manna and quail from heaven and gave them water from a rock!

Even though the Israelites had numerous experiences of God’s power and provision, they still did not know God personally and did not fear Him in the way they should.

The Right Kind of Fear

The great reformer Martin Luther struggled with the concept of fearing God. As Luther studied the Scriptures, he distinguished between two types of fear. One is called servile fear and the other, filial fear.

Servile fear is a fear of punishment for wrongdoing. It’s a fear of getting caught; a selfish fear – one motivated by self-preservation.

Filial fear, on the other hand, draws from the Latin concept where we get our idea of family and refers to the fear that a child has for his father.

Luther, regarding filial fear, thinks of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father and who desperately wants to please him. He doesn’t want to offend the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is his source of security and love.

When You Fear God, You Don’t Have to Fear God

The first fear is one that we have outside of Christ. It is the fear that every person who will be judged by God should have. When you see the mightiness, greatness, and holiness of God, how could you not be afraid?

“Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me, since you know so much! Who decided on its size? Certainly you’ll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?” (Job 38:4-7 MSG)

God in all of His mightiness, power, creativity, and holiness cannot be matched, and unless you can, you have no hope. You will forever be distant from God. That is servile fear.

Servile fear is not bad. At times, it is this fear that draws people to Jesus – when they realize that their sinfulness makes them unacceptable to God and unless Jesus covers their sin and shame with His righteousness, they will face an eternity away from Him. They realize that they need a savior.

When we see that this fear is a fear, not of being punished, but of not being with the Father, it changes how we think about God.

However, as Christians, servile fear is not what sustains us. It’s in Christ that we have filial fear. Your fear is not about the judgment of God, but rather a fear of being distant from Him. You want to be with your Father who is your security and love.

To fear God is to take refuge in Him – to draw close to Him (Psalm 31:19). Those two things may seem like opposing forces as typically you run from the person you fear to your place of refuge.

But when we see that this fear is a fear, not of being punished, but of not being with the Father, it changes how we think about God.

Our fear of the LORD is then based on our knowledge of His love, mercy, and goodness. It is rests on the fact that God is our Heavenly Father and it is our desire to please Him.

Our fear is healthy, good, respectful, and driven by our love for Him.

Therefore, fear God. Because when you fear God (filial), you don’t have to fear God (servile).