What Does it Mean to Be a God-Fearing Christian?

Fearing God means respecting, obeying, submitting to God’s discipline, and worshiping Him in awe. Every Christian is to fear the Lord, which doesn’t mean to be afraid of the Lord, but to be in awe of God’s glory and power.

Dave Jenkins
Man on top of a mountain with stars and clouds

Proverbs 1:7 helps us understand who God is and the need to develop a reverential fear of Him, for, without Him, we cannot have biblical wisdom.

Biblical wisdom comes only from understanding who God is and that He is just, holy, and righteous (Deuteronomy 10:12,20-21).

The fear of the Lord is the basis for the people of God walking in His ways and serving Him in all of life.

The Purpose of the Fear of God

The idea of fearing the Lord goes beyond merely respecting God and includes the Christian understanding of how much the Lord hates sin and fearing His judgment for sin. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes the discipline of God in the life of the child of God.

While this is one of love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents prevented many consequential actions.

The same approach should be true of our relationship with the Lord; we should fear the discipline of God and seek to live our lives before His face in a way that honors Him.

With that said, Christians should not be scared of the Lord. The Lord has promised that nothing can separate the Christian from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Christians have the precious promise of God that the Lord will never leave nor forsake His people (Hebrews 13:5). Fearing God means respecting, obeying, submitting to God’s discipline, and worshiping Him in awe.

Two Types of Biblical Fear

The Bible speaks of two types of fear. The first type of fear is beneficial, while the second is detrimental and is to be overcome. Every Christian is to fear the Lord, which doesn’t mean to be afraid of the Lord, but as we’ve seen already to be in awe of God’s glory and power.

Such fear also has a proper respect for the anger and wrath of God. The fear of the Lord is an acknowledgment of the revealed character of God, which comes through knowing the Lord and His attributes.

Fearing the Lord brings with it many benefits and blessings. The foundation for these benefits and blessings begins with wisdom and leads to a good understanding of God (Psalm 111:10). Only fools despise discipline and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7).

Fear of the Lord also leads to contentment, life, peace, and rest (Proverbs 19:23). The fear of the Lord is the fountain and life (Proverbs 14:27) and provides security and safety for the people of God.

The second type of fear is the spirit of fear spoken of in 2 Timothy 1:7. A spirit of fearfulness and timidity does not come from God. Sometimes we are fearful, and this fear overcomes people. The way to resolve such fear is to love the Lord and trust Him.

1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” No one is perfect, and the Lord sees and knows our hearts, which is why we need to preach the truth of Scripture to our hearts until we believe it. Isaiah 41:10 says,

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

We might fear the future and what will become of us, but Jesus reminds His disciples in Matthew 10:31, “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” The Lord tells people not to be afraid of being alone, being weak, not being heard, and lacking necessities.

These encouragements continue throughout Scripture, addressing many different aspects of the spirit of fear.

In Psalm 56:11, it says, “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Psalm 56:11 is an amazing testimony to the power of trusting the Lord, for the writer helps readers to trust the Lord because he knows and understands the power of God.

The key to overcoming fear is to trust the Lord because trusting in the Lord is a refusal to give in to fear. Trusting the Lord is turning to the Lord even in the darkest times and trusting that He will make it all right.

Such trust comes from knowing the Lord and knowing He is good. Job experienced many trials, and yet in Job 13:15, he says, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.”

As we learn to trust the Lord, our fear will diminish when things come against us, knowing He is with us in every facet of our lives.

Fearing the Lord and Growing in Grace

Proverbs 9:10 helps us understand such a fear, according to Solomon, is not a barrier to growth but the path to growth in the Lord and eternal fulfillment. Solomon is not speaking of the type of fear that cowers from the Lord and turns away from Him.

Such fear is pagan, not Christian, for it has nothing to do with enjoying and glorifying God. The gospel does not show us how to be resentful and suspicious towards the Lord and does not create this type of fear in our hearts.

Instead, the gospel shows sinners the glory of the grace of God and lifts us up to face life boldly as men and women of God in Christ.

One important thing that needs to be said here is that if you are not in Christ, you fear the Lord in all the wrong ways. Hebrews 10:27 says you are facing, “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”

If you are not in Christ, you are an enemy of God and under judgment and deserve eternal damnation. Even so, the Lord Jesus is freely offering you not only shelter from divine judgment but salvation in Him.

The other side of fear is that it is the beginning of wisdom, as Proverbs 9:10 says. The attitude conveyed here, by Solomon, is one of openness created by the love of God. If you are in the Lord Jesus, His perfect love has cast out your fear of judgment (1 John 4:18-19).

The punishment for our sin fell upon our substitute, Jesus, at the Cross. Now in Christ, we are under the love of God, for the gospel frees us from the fear that God will condemn us at the end anyway. Yet, Paul says in Romans 8:31-39 that nothing will ever separate Christians from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Christians and the Fear of God

Christians fear the Lord in a new and dynamic way. We fear we might grieve the Lord Jesus who loves us so, but this fear is wholesome because it teaches us humility (Proverbs 15:33).

Such fear is total openness to the will of God (Genesis 22:12) and turning away from sin to the Lord in repentance (Job 28:28). Such repentance translates into practical obedience to the revealed will of God in the Word of God.

The fear of the Lord brings with it a new sense of reality with the living God (Acts 2:43; 5:11; 19:17), rescuing Christians from merely an intellectual faith to a sweet, close, and abiding communion with the Lord.

If we think we can live a single day of our lives without staying humble before the Lord, without yielding to His superior wisdom in the Word, and trusting His endless provision moment-by-moment, then we are deceiving ourselves.

As soon as we accept that we are not enough, nor that we need to have it all together, nor that we are givers, but the recipients of such wisdom in Jesus, there is good news. The universe belongs to Jesus, for all things are His and belong to Him.

This frees the people of God to embark on a wonderful new journey of change and growth. The Lord is the beginning of this wisdom and the very definition therein of what a God-fearing Christian looks like and how they are to live, all before the face of God and for His glory.

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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOGInstagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.

Originally published November 10, 2020.