Understanding the FEAR of God


The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. —Ecclesiastes 12:13

Ray Stedman:

Everything hangs upon that word, “Fear God.” I know that this is a difficult word for us to comprehend. Most of us think of it in terms of abject terror, of running from God, of seeing him as a threat, but that is never the biblical meaning of the word. I have tried to put it in the form of an acrostic to make it easier for us to remember what the elements of fearing God include.

First, “F” stands for faith in his existence. You cannot come to God unless you know he is there. Hebrews 11:6 says, “He that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of those that diligently seek him.” There is where fear begins: faith that God exists. The whole of the created universe is shouting that at us. All the inner responses of our heart are confirming it. The Word of God declares it. History confirms it. There is a world of evidence that God is there. Francis Schaeffer says that this is the great and first truth of the gospel — The God Who Is There.

Then “E”: experience of his grace. You never can properly fear God until you have learned what kind of a God he is. He is a God of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness. Until you have stood before him and felt your guilt, acknowledged it, known you were wrong and corrupt, and heard him say in your inner heart, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” {John 8:11 KJV}, you will never be able to properly fear God. One element of fear is the experience of the wonder of forgiveness, that God forgives and sends you out again with a whole new purpose and a new resource available.

That leads to the third element. “A”: awe at the majesty, the wisdom and the wonder of God. What a Being he is! What a marvelous mind that can comprehend all the billions of pieces of information in this universe and hold them continually before him, that can hear every voice and relate to every person who has ever lived! What a marvelous God! Awe at the sense of his majesty, his comprehensiveness, his unfailing wisdom and power, is part of fearing God.

The last letter, “R,” stands for resolve. Resolve to do what he says, to obey his word, to “keep his commandments,” as the Searcher puts it here. There are only two commandments; Jesus himself said that. All the law and the writings can be reduced to two simple things: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” {Matt 22:37 RSV}. That is in response to his love already shown to you; love him because he first loved you. And two, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

That’s it. As Micah put it, “What does God require of man, but to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly before his God,” {cf, Mic 6:8}. There it is: to obey him, to follow him, to keep the commandments. So this is what it means to fear God:

Faith

Experience

Awe

Resolve

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