“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)
The fear of the Lord—that is a startling basis for wisdom. More than that, this fear, when rightly understood, is a delight for believers.
Answering the following two questions will help keep the fear of the Lord integral to your Christian walk—and keep you on the path of wise living.
- What is the fear of the Lord?
- Why should it be our delight?
What Is the Fear of the Lord?
In order to understand what the fear of the Lord is, we must distinguish between God’s immanence and His transcendence.
God’s immanence refers to His intimacy with us and nearness to us. It is how we abide in Him, and He in us (John 15:4). This is an important category in Scripture, but it is only half of the picture.
God’s transcendence refers to His immensity and unfathomable sovereignty. It is His power, holiness, and majesty (1 Chronicles 29:11). We often overlook this side of God’s nature because it highlights our smallness and sinfulness compared to God’s greatness.
When we hold God’s immanence and transcendence in balance, we come to know that the fear of the Lord is a reverential awe for God because of His overwhelming otherness but a delight because of His intimate relationship with us.
The Fear of the Lord for Unbelievers
Part of the difficulty in understanding the fear of the Lord comes from conflating the fear of unbelievers with that of believers.
Unbelievers ought to fear the wrath of the Lord, for “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18a). Because their faith is in something other than the saving work of Christ, they remain under the condemnation of God. Therefore, they should fear the punishment of God in a way that leads them to repentance.
The Fear of the Lord for Believers
Believers, on the other hand, experience the truth that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Jesus Christ has taken the wrath of God on Himself, and His redemption saves us from punishment.
Because of salvation, our fear of the Lord is not a terror of punishment but a reverential awe before the majestic, holy, and awesome God who has drawn us to Himself. In His presence, it is all we can do to fall to our knees before Him in a posture of humility and worship Him.
All too often we try to minimize God’s majesty to a more manageable size, because we cannot grasp His grandeur. But God has no rival, no equal (Isaiah 40:25). Even when His presence is mediated through creation, mountains tremble and the earth splits open.
So, it is right for us to fear God, not as those under His wrath, but as those in awe of His overwhelming greatness.
Delight in the Fear of the Lord
As believers, our fear of the Lord comes from beholding the greatness of God’s power and righteousness. Because of His grace, this is not a terror of His wrath. Instead, it is a delight:
O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name . . . (Nehemiah 1:11 ESV, emphasis added)
When we behold God’s power and righteousness in light of the forgiveness of the cross, we can marvel at His greatness with gratitude and awe because of our shelter in Jesus. We come with a contrite heart, trembling at His Word (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 66:2) while delighting in our position as His children (Romans 8:14–17).
The fear of the Lord, then, is fundamental fuel for worship. It is a dependence on the sovereign God and a holy aspiration to please Him like a child longs to please a father. Fearing the Lord is delighting in His will and wisdom, living out of a desire to hear the words,
“Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:23 ESV).
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB.
Copyright © 2020 Ken Boa, used with permission. See Ken Boa’s teaching series on Wisdom.