Should believers fear God? This question makes many believers uncomfortable and stirs up a bit of strife in some circles. I have listened—dumbfounded—to believers insist that fear has absolutely no place in Christian theology. And I have listened—painfully—to believers insist that present, heart-shaking fear of damnation is the only motive strong enough to keep believers in the path of life. Both of these positions are extremes that fail to apprehend essential aspects of faith.
Let’s start with leaving fear out of the picture entirely. This is a serious mistake which dismantles half of the character of God. God is both love and light. So we read things like, “Behold the goodness and the severity of God.” When men leave fear out of the picture, they uphold the goodness of God and marginalize his holiness. Make no mistake, fear is recognizing God’s holiness and being impacted by it. Lack of fear, the Bible plainly states, is a characteristic of the unbeliever, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18). And it just as clearly presents fear of God as a characteristic of the believer. We read in Luke 1:15, “His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation.” And in 2 Corinthians 7:1 we read, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And again in Hebrews 12:28 we read, “Let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and fear.” If we truly believe the word of God and take it at face value, fear is an essential aspect of Christian faith. Where there is no fear, there is no faith.
But how about the error on the other side? The error where believers operate in such a spirit of fear that their faith is weakened, their spirit is sapped, and they fail to find the joy and peace in believing that is the privilege of the believer. Every day they walk timidly on the tightrope of faith, desperately trying to keep their balance lest they fall into the flames of hell below. This error fails to apprehend the sonship of the believer. We read in Rom. 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba Father.” And in 2 Tim. 1:7 we read, “For God had not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” And again we read in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” The believer does not walk in craven fear, forever terrified by God and judgment.
So how do we balance these two? How do we balance the passages which teach that believers fear and the passages which seem to teach that believers don’t fear? It isn’t that difficult actually. The believer walks with a backdrop of the greatness and awesomeness and holiness of God. He is fully aware that the wicked and unbelieving will spend eternity in hell, that judgment is coming on this world, and that God is as amazing in his anger and judgment as he is in his kindness and salvation. But the believer also walks on the path of the sonship of the believer. He has passed from death to life. He has passed from judgment to salvation. He has passed from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear son. He is predestined to be conformed to image of Christ in his character and eternal glorification. His walk with God bears no resemblance to a balance beam, much less a tight rope. He does not have a sword hanging over his head by a thread. His eternal destiny is not hanging in the balance. He can be disciplined as a son, but he cannot be judged as a criminal.
Eyes wide open, brain engaged, heart on fire.
Lee W. Brainard