If you are worried about what others might think or are fearful of what others might do, life can be miserable. That kind of fear can be debilitating. In fact, the Bible tells us, again and again, to not fear but rather to trust God. “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (2 Timothy 1:7).
A good kind of fear does exist, though. Furthermore, this kind of fear is commanded for all of us in the Word of God. This good kind of fear, of course, is the fear of God. “The Lord commanded us to follow all these statutes and to fear the Lord our God for our prosperity always and for our preservation, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). Fearing God is for His glory and for our good.
When I was a sophomore in college, I remember fearing God for the first time in my life. Sure, I grew up always believing in God, but there was no genuine fear of Him in my life. I had no sincere awe of His glory, no reverence for His power and no submission to His authority. Oh, I feared a lot of things, but God was really not even close to the top of my list. Rather, I feared what others thought about me, what I would become, how I might fail, etc. Life was about me.
During that pivotal year in my life, though, something happened. For the first time, I questioned my eternal destiny. “But, I am a ‘good’ person. Surely God would never condemn me to hell.” Up to that point, I believed eternal salvation was mine because I believed in God and because I was not nearly as sinful as those in prison and those who blatantly hated God. I was wrong.
Thankfully, I was attending a gospel-centered church at the time, and the pastor was consistently preaching the Word of God, challenging people to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. I also had some great friends who were faithfully following Jesus, and I could see a genuine difference in their lives. God used that church, and God used those friends to help me see I was missing something.
When a friend challenged me one day to make sure my heart was right with the Lord, I began to fear I was not right with the Lord. As a result of the combination of that fear, the continued preaching of the gospel in that church, and the continued example of discipleship by those friends, I was compelled to dig into God’s Word for answers. I was terrified of eternal judgment in hell, and so I was trying to find ways to justify myself and gain assurance that I was safe.
That hope and assurance would not come, though. I talked with my Christian friends, and I communicated continuously with my pastor. While I am not sure exactly what they were thinking about my heart, I could see an unexplainable sense of peace in their hearts (at least showing outwardly). Why did I not have that peace? Was it because I was on my way to hell? Simply put – yes.
The Good Kind of Fear
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). Well, it was that “fear of the Lord” that drove me to His Word, which gave me the “knowledge” of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.
After raising my hand during a gospel invitation time in a Sunday morning worship service, I talked with my pastor about baptism. Again, though, this was all about me and selfishly wanting assurance and peace. Deep down, I was still thinking that my “good works” were my eternal salvation. Later, though, I talked further with my pastor about how to adequately communicate to my family about the reason for my desire to be baptized, even though I was sprinkled as a child in the Lutheran church. Something he said to me that night was used of God to change me forever…
“Nick, it’s not about what you do, including baptism, that is going to get you to heaven. It’s about trusting what Jesus did on the cross and knowing that only He can save you from your sins.“
Was that truth something I had never heard? Surely not, but it was at that time that it finally dawned on me – I was always trying to work my way to God, rather than trusting in what He did for me in and through His Son. I was on my way to hell because I thought I myself was good enough for heaven.
When I Was Changed
Shortly after that conversation with my pastor, I found myself alone in my dorm room with a longing to be right with God. I wanted Him to take over my life. I wanted to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I wanted Him to take away my sins, change my life and make me new. So, I knelt down beside Big Brown Bertha (my ugly couch) and asked Jesus to save me.
Finally, I had the good kind of fear – the fear of God that was the beginning of knowledge. Praise the Lord for opening my eyes and opening my heart to the truth of the gospel!
“Fearful of God” Sunday Morning and What It Means
Sunday morning, Lord willing, I will be continuing my sermon series – The Gospel According to David – and sharing from 2 Samuel 6 about three reasons we should be fearful of God, not people.
Sure, there are still many times I fear people or things when I should not fear them, but the more I walk by faith in the Lord and the more His Spirit changes my heart, the more I find myself sincerely fearing the Lord above all.
What does it mean to fear the Lord? Job modeled that well: “He was a man of perfect integrity, who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1b). Want to know if you sincerely fear God? Consider, do you turn away from evil? Turn to the Lord and ask for His help – His help to fear Him above all and His help to turn away from evil.