Character Traits of the Spiritual Life: Fear

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:



Richard Hollerman

Do we take God casually, with little regard for His absolute authority and absolute transcendence?  This is a common view today.  We hear of people referring to “the man upstairs” without a thought of God’s sovereignty and exalted position.  As Paul says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18; Psalm 36:1).

The Greek noun phobos and the verb phobeomai indicate “fear, terror, fright, or reverence.”[i][i]  It can be used in a negative way and a positive way.  First, the negative.  When the storm came on Jesus and His disciples, they called out, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  Jesus replied, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith” (Matthew 8:25-26).  If we trust in God and Christ, we need not fear in the ultimate sense.  God knows our needs and will provide.  God loves and knows us, for “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” by a loving God, thus “do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:30-31). What about our persecutors?  Jesus tells us, “Do not fear them” (v. 26), then He declared, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (v. 28).  If we have a proper “fear” of God, this will banish the fear of those who can do us harm.

What is fear for the Christian?  Someone has said that the fear of God “is the continual awareness that we are in His presence and that He watches over all that we think, say, and do.”[ii][ii]  It is a holy response to His authority, His glory, His position, and His love.  The Scriptures often tell us that we should have this positive response of fear for God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  The early believers “enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31).  Paul wrote, “Having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).  We are to be “subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).  It is right to have a healthy fear of God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Fear of Yahweh God is a frequent theme of the Hebrew Scriptures.  Proverbs tells us that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7), and “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10).  The Law of Moses says, “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:13).  “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him” (13:4).

This fear of God will have moral effects.  “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate” (Proverbs 8:13; cf. 3:7).  We also read, “By the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil” (16:6).  Surely one reason that there is such unbridled sin, perversion, and wickedness in the world is because people do not fear God!  When sin was judged immediately in the early believing community, there was an expected result.  Do you remember the lie of Ananias and Sapphira and their immediate death as God’s judgment?  When this happened, notice the effect: “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11).

It is no wonder that Peter tells us, “Fear God” (1 Peter 2:17) and “if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1:17).  We are to have a fear of God, a respectful awe of His person and a dread of displeasing Him who loves us.  This is not to be a cringing terror, for “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).  Let us love God and have a godly fear of Him as well.


[i][i] Richards, Expository Dictionary.

[ii][ii] The Power of True Success, p. 95.

Character Traits of the Spiritual Life:

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