All of us know what fear is, no definition is necessary. We know that it is a very powerful thing. We are very easily controlled and swayed by fear. People, churches, religions, governments and the media very effectively use the power of fear to control, intimidate, manipulate and motivate people.
Religion uses fear to control people and make them do what they “should”. Religious Christians in particular are some of the most fearful (and consequently the most gullible) people and seem to be very susceptible to being manipulated by fear. Instead of encouraging each other to trust God, they encourage people to fear all sorts of things, including the enemy himself, the “last days”, the mark of the beast etc! They are afraid of many things, and make others afraid too. They appear to give more credit to the ability of the enemy to attack and harm them, than to God’s ability to protect them. It seems that they have more trust in the enemy and what he may do, than trust in God Himself and what He already HAS done! Their lives are a glaring contradiction to their own testimony.
Ironically, and in spite of this, fear is often used by these same ones as a fail-safe method for proving what is of God and what is not: they think that anything that causes them to fear cannot be from God and so they use fear as a means of “discernment”. Of course, if this were actually applied to the fear inducing messages and theories that these people listen to and pass on to others, then they would never have accepted these messages in the first place!
Many people also use love to determine what is of God and what is not, and that is just as faulty and open to error as using fear. Idolatry is a form of love and our enemy will use love just as readily as he will use fear. I have met many religious people who appear to be very “loving”; in fact they can be sickeningly so because it is a fleshly religious love and not the love of God at all. Looking for love becomes their focus, rather than looking for Christ and His Life.
We can’t use fear, love, or any characteristics to “discern” what is God and what is not; He often offends our “rules” and our ways of determining things, like with Peter and the forbidden food in Acts chapter 10. The only way of knowing what is of God, is to know Him. And I don’t mean a head knowledge based on what the Bible tells us about Him, but an intimate heart knowledge based on our experience of living in Christ and knowing Him living in us daily as our Life.
Who Do You Fear?
The Bible does mention one fear in a positive light; it speaks of fearing God as something positive and “for our good always, that He might preserve us alive”. However, the fear of God is often viewed as something negative, perhaps because some people have been taught to be really afraid of God Himself without being taught that He is full of Love for them, so the reaction is to teach people not to fear God, and instead to emphasise only love.
We need to understand that God doesn’t use fear to scare us into doing things, He uses fear to protect us! Fearing God is a God-given form of protection, “for our good always, that He might preserve us alive”. This is a principle of God, like a law of nature, that protects and preserves Life! If there was ever a person who was genuinely not afraid of anything, they would probably not survive for very long and it is the same spiritually. But from our earthly human perspective we do not spiritually know what to fear and what not to and we usually fear the wrong things. And so the Bible clearly tells us to fear one thing: God. That fact is so rarely even mentioned today, that some may be offended at even the thought of it! Please bear with me as we examine this a little more, for I believe that it is crucial and “for our good always”.
Both love and fear are very powerful things in our lives. Whatever or whoever we fear, we empower. We give access to our hearts and lives through both fear and love. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to fear the devil; to be wary of him, yes, but not ever to fear him! Yet the way some Christians talk and live, you’d think that the Bible said “fear the devil” rather than “fear God”! Fear is linked with worship, because one of the outcomes of fear is reverence, awe and respect. This is why many tribal people worship what they fear. Who is it that wants our worship and wants us to fear him instead of God? The devil! Is he all-powerful and all-knowing? No! But he wants to deceive us into believing that he is… for then he robs God of what God alone is worthy of: our fear and our worship.
In the Bible God tells His people to not only love Him, but also to fear Him; yet the devil deceives people into thinking they should instead fear him, and love themselves. Our enemy is not only a liar, he is also a thief; he tries to take what God desires: both our love and our fear. When you become one with Christ you are part of Him and His Body and He is part of you, so WHY would you be afraid of this enemy whom He has already defeated? Instead you will increasingly discover and experience the reality of victory and freedom from fear through knowing Christ in you as your Life and Conqueror.
When we no longer fear our adversary, he no longer has any power over us. GOD is in control and not him, no matter how things may seem and no matter what people may say. There are many conspiracies and theories all based on fear, and you are responsible for what you listen to, believe and pass on. “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ in regard to all that this people call a conspiracy, and you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. It is the Lord of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, and He shall be your dread.” (Isa. 8:12-13).
What is the Fear of God?
Many think that the fear of God is simply respect and reverence. But there are words that meant respect or reverence in the original languages of the Scriptures and yet they were not used; instead the word used in the Greek is phobos and is where we get our English word phobia from; it means fear. I would like to be able to prove that the word means reverence and not fear, but it doesn’t; and I know that is very difficult for us to understand and accept.
Yet we know from our own experience, and from what is in the Scriptures, that one of the results of seeing and knowing God AS HE REALLY IS, is holy fear, because we simultaneously see and know who we are in comparison with God, and it is good for us to do so. But so many do not see Him… instead they see what the enemy does and fear him, or see what people do and say and fear man. Of course we are naturally fearful of those who can kill us and hurt us, but Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him Who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him.” (Luke 12:4,5). HE is the only One worthy of our fear and through Christ and what He accomplished on the Cross, He has brought us into intimacy and union with God and this gives us boldness because we have received His Spirit and Life (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 10:19). He has not given us a spirit of cowardice or timidity (the KJV Bible has mistranslated this word into ‘fear’) but has given us His Spirit of Power, and of Love, and of calm self-control! (2 Tim. 1:7).
The more we see God as He really is, the more we acknowledge how magnificent and great He really is; and this results in an ever deepening awe and appreciation of Him and His Grace. We cannot have a full appreciation of Grace, without knowing this fear of God. A holy fear of God comes from knowing and seeing Him as He really is, and knowing and seeing ourselves for who we really are. When we fear something, we are acknowledging that what we fear is much greater than us and outside of our control and understanding. God IS great, magnificent, awesome and totally worthy of our fear! And yet He desires union, relationship and intimacy with each of us. But how can One so great and so fearful to us encourage us into intimacy with Himself? By coming to us in a Way in which we can accept Him: the Man Christ Jesus Who gave His life so that we, with Him, can be with God in intimate relationship as our Father – not just as God whom we fear, but also as the One Who gave birth to us and loves us so dearly!
There is a balance where we both love and fear God, for there IS fear in Love… Of course the verse which says “Perfect love casts out fear” will spring to mind and we need to note the context in which it was written. The context is speaking of a fear of judgment and punishment, and is not referring to the fear of God. The fear of God is not about what He may do to me, because that has already been settled in the work of the Cross:
“In this union and communion with Him love is brought to completion and attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, dread does not exist, but full-grown (complete, perfect) love turns fear out of doors and expels every trace of terror! For fear brings with it the thought of punishment, and he who is afraid [of punishment] has not reached the full maturity of love.” (1 John 4:17,18 Amp).
There are so many verses in the Bible that speak of fearing God in a good, positive and healthy way. Before Jesus came to this earth the Israelites already feared God, but they did not necessarily LOVE Him; and so the New Testament stresses love to balance their fear. However, many people today regard the Old Testament with disdain, despite the fact that the Old Testament is what Jesus Himself and His disciples quoted from and was the only “Bible” they knew. So below I have just a few of the New Testament verses about fearing God:
Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. (2 Cor. 7:1).
Submitting to one another in the fear of God (Eph. 5:21).
Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. (1 Pet. 2:17).
So the believers… enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they continued to increase. (Acts 9:31).
Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping Him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire. (Heb. 12:28-29).
This fear of God prevents us from hurting Him by presuming upon His Love and His Grace, and from leaving His Way. This fear protects us from being separated from Him because there is fear in love: not only the fear of being separated from the loved one, but also the fear of letting them down and disappointing them. It is not a fear based on self-preservation as most human fear is, but a fear for this One you love… a fear that He may not receive all that He is so worthy of…
Why Fear God?
Why would God, Who loves us, want us to fear Him? It is hard for us to understand, but perhaps one of the reasons is because He knows that it is in loving and fearing ONLY God, that we are then set free from all other loves AND from all other fears! Just as through knowing Love Himself all other loves pale by comparison, so in fearing Him Who is worthy of our fear, all other fears become inconsequential and nonexistent by comparison. It is truly in fearing only God that we have nothing else to fear! This fear of God brings true Life and frees us from all other fears.
Having lived with the Dayak people in Borneo for eight years of my life, I have witnessed first-hand how constraining and debilitating fear can be. Our fears make us captive to fear itself and imprison us in an awful bondage. But the fear of God is a place of safety and security which releases us and brings us freedom because we are now free to NOT be afraid of anything that either man or devil can do to us!
Many of us fear trusting God and anyone else. We are afraid to trust God because of a lie we are born believing. Until Truth is revealed to us as Christ, each of us grow up believing this lie: that we know what is best for ourselves and that we are in control of ourselves and our destiny. And so we fear anything that may threaten this illusion. We basically believe that we are God; which is a result of what occurred in the garden of Eden, “you will be like God, knowing the difference between good and evil…” (Gen. 3:5). Perhaps if Adam had feared God more, he would never have touched the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
In the garden of Eden, even before they disobeyed God, Adam and Eve were afraid of something. God warned them about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:16). They must have known what death was and this fear of death, the fear of separation from Life, was Adam and Eve’s first fear: a God-given fear which was designed to protect them and preserve Life in relationship and intimacy. They must have been fully aware of what death was and feared it, because the serpent convinced them that what God had said was not true. He assured them that they would not die… and as a result of easing this God-given fear, they went ahead and ate and suffered the consequences. Death came and separation occurred; exactly as God had said. He was referring to a spiritual death rather than a physical one because spiritual death and spiritual Life are just as real as the physical.
The fear of death/separation from Life was designed to protect and preserve Adam and Eve and their relationship with God, but instead they believed that God was holding out on them and that they were missing out on something. They were deceived into thinking that Self could be like God. And oh, how that message is still alive and well and still appeals to our flesh today! We still fear dying: dying to Self. And so we convince ourselves that we must avoid that death and instead protect, preserve and flatter Self, even if it means deceiving ourselves and ignoring much of what the Bible says, thus creating a false gospel and embracing the spirit of antichrist (something in place of Christ).
We don’t always like or accept the truth, especially when we don’t understand it or it doesn’t fit in with our concept of Who God is or what He is like. But we need to love and desire Truth just as much as we love and desire Grace and not reject one at the expense of the other. Jesus Christ is full of Truth (which we often fear) AND Grace (which of course we love!) but both are essential because they balance each other (John 1:14). Often when someone feels convicted by Truth, it is “discerned” to be condemning and fear inducing and so the hands are clapped over the ears and no more will be heard; in spite of the fact that Jesus clearly said that He convicts those He loves! To reject conviction and training is to reject our Father, “For the Lord corrects everyone whom He loves, and He punishes every son whom He accepts and cherishes… Now, if you are exempt from correction and left without discipline in which all God’s children share, then you are illegitimate offspring and not true sons at all.” (Heb. 12:6,8). That is the way of a Father with a child; He is a good Father and protects us, and in telling us to fear Him, He is telling us something which is for our own good; always!
He knows us better than we know ourselves and knows our natural fears. Over and over again the first words that Jesus spoke to people were: “Don’t be afraid”! Even John’s reaction, he who had been the closest friend of Jesus on this earth, was fear. And Jesus said to him: “Don’t be afraid…” (Rev 1:17). God has to undo the results of death and instead restore us to a relationship with Him where we know and trust Him as our Love and Life. And because He is our Life, we fear separation from Him (ie spiritual death). We cannot imagine separation from this One that we desperately love, and we fear only Him. To fear God is to fear hurting Him, to fear disappointing Him, to be in awe of Him… because the fear of God brings a right understanding of Who He is and who we are; it brings humility, love, trust and adoration.
When Moses and the Israelites were in front of Mount Sinai, the people were afraid of God’s presence. But Moses loved and desired God enough to risk approaching Him, even though He was God! Moses loved God more than he loved himself and he was prepared to risk his life. When you both love and fear God, you are not afraid to approach Him because you love Him so much that you will accept whatever He says or does; “God may kill me, but still I will trust Him…” (Job 13:15). This is where dying to Self comes in, because it is only as we die to Self that we are not afraid to approach Him as He is; we have nothing left to lose or keep alive; our one desire is simply: Him! We cannot truly fear God in the way He desires us to unless we die to Self.
And it is only as we learn to fear God in the way He desires that we begin to be set free from all other fears. I am not saying that we will never experience fear again on this earth, but certainly we need never be imprisoned, bound or controlled by fear ever again! Some may read this and think it sounds all very good in theory, but what about in practical day to day life? To those I would say that if it does not seem possible to you then that is good: because it is not possible for you to make yourself free of fear and the sooner you give up on yourself, the sooner Christ can step in and be All you need! Knowing and understanding something of the freedom which this fear of God brings is something which only He can do in us, and I pray that He will continue to open our eyes and our hearts to His Truth, Life and Way in all aspects of our lives.
Jesus used death itself to triumph over death and just as death has lost its power through His death on the Cross, so all fears lose their terror through fearing only God. “Since, therefore, His children share in flesh and blood, He in a similar manner partook of the same nature, that by going through death He might bring to nought and make of no effect him who had the power of death – that is, the devil – and also that He might deliver and completely set free all those who through the haunting fear of death were held in bondage throughout the whole course of their lives.” (Heb. 2:14,15). Through Adam all of us have experienced death and separation from God, but through the death AND resurrection of Christ we experience not only death but also resurrection in Christ. Through Adam all of us know fear, but through Christ we know the fear of God which abolishes all other fears. God redeems and uses what His enemy had intended for our demise, and He amazingly turns it into the very thing through which He brings us into Victory in Christ!
Great and marvelous are Your works, Lord God Almighty! Just and true are Your ways, O King of the saints! Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. (Rev. 15:3,4 J B Phillips).