When we talk about fear we often talk about how to stop being afraid. But, you know, we really should also talk about how to become more afraid.
You need to be afraid. In fact, you probably need to be more afraid than you already are.
We fear too much and we fear too little.
Because we fear too little, we fear too much.
It’s fearing more that helps us fear less.
We know that because the same God who commands us not to fear, commands us to fear.
Peter says, “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 Peter 1:17)
And, obviously, if God commands us to fear, that means there is a kind of fear that is not sinful but that is holy and good.
What is it?
How can you know if you have it?
Are you in awe of God?
The most obvious kind of holy fear is the fear of God.
And we could talk for a long time about what it means to fear God. People write books on it! But at the very least fearing God means being amazed by God. If you can go days and days without ever stopping and praising God for who He is, you don’t fear Him. If there aren’t times when you are reading your Bible, and you are struck by the greatness of God, you don’t fear Him. And if you don’t fear Him, you are in big trouble, because the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.
Are you afraid of sinning?
That’s what Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:17. The fact that God is an impartial judge should cause us to take sin seriously, to live reverently, to refuse to play around with the things He hates. Paul wrote, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Why does he say “with fear and trembling”? Because it is serious business. You can’t play with sin, it’s that dangerous.
Jude put it like this: Have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv. 22–23) Why should you have mercy with fear? God is such a holy judge that you don’t want to be drawn into doing anything that might keep you away from Him. So you should have mercy, but with fear.
Do you tremble at God’s Word?
The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:161, “My heart stands in awe of Your words.” When God spoke to His people at Mount Sinai, they were afraid, because they saw that the One who was speaking was an awesome, mighty King. When we read His Word, we should have a proper kind of fear, not the fear of a slave of a terrifying master, nor a paralyzing fear, but an awe and a reverence for the Word, because of the greatness of the One who spoke it.
Now, the consequences of fearing the wrong things are obvious.
But so are the blessings of fearing what you should!
Without this kind of fear, we can’t live godly lives. This kind of fear is good for us, a source of great spiritual benefit.
While sinful fear destroys; holy fear enlivens. Sinful fear is a terrible affliction; holy fear is a great benefit. Sinful fear shortens our days; holy fear lengthens them. Sinful fear is a source of misery; holy fear is a spring of joy. Sinful fear leads men astray; holy fear puts men on the right path.
This fear leads to knowledge and wisdom.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). “The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom” (Prov. 15:33). The knowledge and wisdom about which these proverbs speak is the ability to use information and learning for living. If a person does not fear God, he will not even have the beginning of knowledge. He won’t know how to honor God. He may know facts, but he doesn’t understand how those facts fit into the great scheme of things, and as a result he doesn’t have the beginning of wisdom.
This fear keeps us from sin.
“By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil” (Prov. 16:6). Sin is destructive. The wages of sin is death. But the fear of God keeps us from sinning. You sin because you don’t fear God.
Joseph is a great example of how a regard for God produces holiness. He could have given every excuse in the book for sinning with Potiphar’s wife. He was a slave. He was far away from home. He was being harassed. He would be thrown in jail if he didn’t. But he still refused to give in, even under intense pressure. Why? Genesis 39:9 gives us the answer. Joseph said to her, “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he [Potiphar] has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” Joseph feared God, and as a result he stayed far away from evil. The Hebrew midwives are another example of this principle. In the book of Exodus we see that Pharaoh told the midwives to kill all the sons of Israel. But they refused to do so, even though it could have meant their own deaths. Why? “The midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt had commanded them” (Ex. 1:17).
This fear produces joy and contentment.
Read Proverbs 15:16: “Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it.” The fear of the Lord helps you really enjoy life no matter what your circumstances. That’s a great blessing. If you can enjoy life no matter what your circumstances, then you are a happy person!
This fear makes you a person worthy of praise.
Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (niv). The world is confused about true worth. The Bible isn’t. It begins with the fear of the Lord.