Haunting Verses of the Bible IX: Fearing God

moses-and-burning-bush (10-28-13)

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.

Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Jesus in Matthew 10:28 NIV).

Now that’s a haunting verse.

Are we really supposed to be afraid of God?

Let’s walk through this command together…with the Bible as our map/guide.

“Fear” and “God” appear together in the NIV translation of the Bible 92 times (73 OT 19 NT)–please click HERE)…so it is a command in the Bible that we cannot overlook/push aside.

What Does It Mean To “Fear God”?

Here’s a brief definition to start with–we will look more at this question more specifically at the end of the post:

To center each day–thinking thoughts, speaking words, doing actions, making plans–in light of Who God is (His characteristics and His role) and what God wants (His commands).

Here’s what different Bible passages teach us regarding fearing God:
(please click on the Bible chapter/verses below to read the actual Scripture references)

1. A Healthy Fear of God Is Learned Over Time

Deuteronomy 31:13: We don’t learn this at once, and we certainly aren’t born with a healthy fear of God. So don’t feel bad if you don’t have this trait right now. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you learn it over time!

2. A Healthy Fear of God Helps Us To Do The Right Thing/Not Sin

Exodus 20:20: a healthy fear of God keeps us from sinning, and yes even born-again Christians are supposed to avoid sin. We are to resist sin, even to the point of shedding our own blood (Hebrews 12:4)! And since having a healthy fear of God helps us to resist sin, that is another reason it is an important trait to develop.

Luke 23:39-43: a healthy fear of God caused one of criminals crucified next to Jesus to not rashly challenge Jesus, to take responsibility for the criminal’s own sinful actions, and to place his faith in Jesus. Wow.

3. A Healthy Fear of God Overrides Our Fear of Humans

-So we don’t seek the approval of others–we seek the approval of God;

-So we don’t give in to negative peer pressure–we would rather disappoint people than disappoint God.

Exodus 1:17: Hebrew mid-wives disobeyed the sinful command of Pharaoh because they feared God; they would rather face the wrath of Pharaoh than the wrath of God!

A. This is one of the biggest dangers for a pastor
–we often want so desperately to be liked by the congregation, we want to please the congregation, we want to do what we can to make the congregation happy, that we sometimes turn pastoring/shepherding into a customer service position: making changes the moment one person in a congregation is displeased by some decision (or lack of decision!). God calls pastors to love, serve, pray for, listen to, counsel, guide, and even sometimes discipline a congregation, but He definitely does not call pastors to please a congregation.

B. This is also a danger for newly married husbands and wives–do we “leave and cleave” to our spouse as Genesis says or do we continue to make choices to try and please our parents, decisions like whose house to go to on holidays, decisions regarding career, children, etc.

C. This is also a danger for teenagers/20-somethings, especially those who don’t have many friends who are mature Christians–do we participate in certain activities that we know are wrong or do we humbly/lovingly decline?

D. This is a danger presently for all Christians–Do we cave in on some of the Truth taught in the Bible because we don’t want non-Christians to think we are intolerant, unkind, unloving? Many Christians–and many CHURCHES!–are taking this “Thomas Jefferson” approach to the Bible–we are literally or figuratively cutting out the parts that we don’t like, that others don’t agree with, that we don’t understand, all for the purpose of “unity” and “inclusiveness.” We would do well to remember Jesus’ words in Revelation 22:18-19. If we start removing slivers in the Cross that give us splinters/rub us raw, maybe it won’t be able to hold up the Savior so He can still offer us forgiveness for our sins. If we start removing ingredients from medicine, can it still effectively cure us?

4. A Healthy Fear Of God Should Be Taught To Children

Deuteronomy 6:2: Teach your children to have a healthy fear of the LORD so that they can enjoy long life.

5. A Healthy Fear Of God Overrides Our Desire To Limit Our Pain

Genesis 22:12: Abraham, though asked to do a terrible act that would have caused himself much pain, was about to obey God because he had a healthy fear of the LORD. For Abraham, the pain from disobedience would have been worse than the pain from obedience. What an example for us today.

6. A Healthy Fear of God Is An Important Qualification For Leadership

Exodus 18:21: Moses’ father-in-law Jethro gave Moses advice for lightening the load of listening to all of the arguments/disputes of God’s people. Jethro told Moses to pick trustworthy men to hear some of the smaller disputes so Moses could focus on the big ones. What was the first of the two criteria for choosing such godly men? You guessed it–men who fear the LORD.

7. A Healthy Fear of God Has Been Lost By Many U.S. Christians

Many have lost the sense of God’s holiness/fearsome power. Like an empty juicebox, we often toss Him aside when our salvation-thirst is quenched, when we have gotten out of the LORD what we want from Him. Thru Jesus we ARE blessed to approach His Throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16)…but let’s still remember to remove our sandals for it is Holy Ground (Exodus 3:5). Let’s not get so casual with the LORD and in His presence that we forget that He is an “all-consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Luke 18:10-14: Let’s not forget the important contrast Jesus drew between a person who over-confidently (based on deeds/self-righteousness) enters into God’s presence and a person who humbly comes into His presence. One of the biggest dangers for non-Christians is that they DON’T approach Jesus because they are over-terrified of Him; one of the biggest dangers for maturing Christians is that we become like the Pharisee in this passage (or the older brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son)–over-confident, flippant, careless, disrespectful, forgetting where we came from…the point is, there are still dangers for BOTH groups of people.

Acts 5:1-11 (especially verses 5 and 11): Let’s also not forget the response of the Holy Spirit to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Keep in mind that this was AFTER Pentecost, after the promised Holy Spirit arrived to begin taking up residence in the hearts of those who receive Jesus as Savior, after the birth of Jesus’ Church. For Christians, sin is STILL serious, even though it no longer sends us to hell. Sin is just as reprehensible in the sight of the LORD–when we sin we defame the name/reputation of Jesus, we drag His Name through the mud, and we weaken our ability to share Him with others [like caking mud on a flashlight at night]–thus His warning to the early Church through the disciplining of Ananias and Sapphira. A healthy fear of God will help the Church in the United States to return to a lifestyle of obedience and faithfulness to the LORD, a daily following of Christ that is characterized by all-out/sacrificial/radical living that was a chief characteristic of the Acts Church.

8. A Healthy Fear of God Is The BEGINNING of Wisdom.

Psalm 110:11, Proverbs 9:10: A healthy fear of God is what the Holy Spirit teaches in Christianity’s kindergarten! It is the foundation upon which is built our sanctified character, it is one of the deep roots out which the Holy Spirit grows His fruit in our lives. Let’s not wait until we are older/have been following Jesus for a long time to begin asking Him to develop this trait in us…let’s ask Him NOW!

9. What A Healthy Fear of the LORD IS NOT:

-being terrified of God in such a manner that we stay away from Him (please see Exodus 34:29-30; Exodus 20:18-20), that we flee from His presence/do not pursue Him.

10. What a Healthy Fear of the LORD IS:

-remembering that God is King, even though we are His sons and daughters and He is our Father (if we have received Jesus as our Savior through faith).

-remembering that Jesus is our Judge, even though He is also our Savior–Christians will face a Judgment from Christ that does not lead to hell, but it is a Judgment nonetheless that Christ warns us to be ready for (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13 and 13:17; 1 Peter 4:5, 16-19). As C.S. Lewis said of Aslan: “Of course he isn’t SAFE [e.g. tame/weak], but he is GOOD [able to be trusted/humbly approached].” I am so thankful to be spared from the Judgment that leads to hell; but I don’t want to face Jesus in the Judgment that determines heavenly rewards and explain to Him why I was a lazy Christian (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).

-learning to wake up each morning and to live each day with God’s plans/desires/dreams/commands at the front of our minds and our plans/desires/dreams at the back of our minds.

In Closing

If learning to have a healthy fear of God still sounds unreasonable/unnecessary, please remember that we taste and see that the LORD is good (Psalm 34:8) through ALL items on His menu:


As we taste all of God’s heavenly menu (the easy and the difficult), we are then able to more effectively/actively/intentionally invite others to His heavenly Banquet. It’s hard to tell others about a restaurant if we only hang out in the lobby; it’s hard to suggest food to others if we only smell/nibble at the crumbs.