Do you fear God? I don’t! Or at least that’s the answer I’m given when the question comes up in Christian circles. They tell me we should not fear God: He is love, our Father, the one who died for you and me. Besides, the word fear really means reverence, awe and respect, right? And I have those! The question is, is this true? Does God expect us to fear Him or reverence Him? What’s the difference?
As for its importance, verses abound telling us to fear God:
It’s the beginning of wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Prov. 1:7, 2:1-9 are just a few; His power is awesome, we’re a speck, a vapor, the created not the Creator; it’s a requirement for rulers and judges. Ex 18:21, not that they follow it; God controls our life, prosperity and protects us from evil, allows us to suffer. Job 1:9-12, Eccl 8:12 or causes our suffering for our good, like Joseph: Gen 50:20 "(20) But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." It’s our responsibility and duty to God. Eccl. 12:13; God judges His children and brings wrath on the wicked. 1Pet 4:17, Rev 14:7-11. What's not to fear!
It's a healthy fear, like that of a parent. We both reverence and fear our parents. Why? Their position is one due respect, they care for us; they also discipline us when we do wrong. What child is not afraid of their parent's correction, only a foolish one! Yes as we get older as children, we tend to both respect and fear them less, yet we know punishment is coming for doing wrong and fear it! Of course, some grow hard either because their parent is not a good parent or from their own willfulness, but God is always a good parent to His children, those He has saved. This is when the illustration breaks down, yet it still works.
Regarding the difference between fear and reverence: it is noteworthy, fear includes reverence, reverence doesn’t include fear. The American Heritage Dictionary meanings are below:
This distinct difference holds true in the Scripture as well. Some are dread and terror while others are to make afraid or be afraid with reverence, but not reverence alone. The word reverence is only in the KJV 13 times! has two Hebrew and three Greek counter parts. Three times in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament the word used as reverence are actually the ones used otherwise for fear. To fear the Lord is to have both reverence and be afraid!
Thus, we are to both respect God with awe – reverence – and be afraid of Him – fear. He has the power to give life and take it. God wants us to have a healthy fear of Him. Similarly, like children fear parents, not that parents will destroy them, rather correct and discipline them, which can be painful and should be feared. If one does not fear, be afraid of God’s corrections, most likely one will not be motivated to change and without such motivation, change is unlikely.
Many Christians today cling to the false premise, God is to be revered without being feared, yet throughout God’s Word He tells us He is to be feared: revered and feared, for He is the Lord our God. Col. 2:8 “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Open the Scriptures, get a concordance and look for the word fear and its corresponding verses. Then look up the word fear in the Greek and Hebrew