Fear of God (1)

'I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.' (Luk 12:4–5)

In 1985, David Pawson, a respected Bible teacher, asked God if there was anything missing from the Church in the UK; and God said, 'Yes, the fear of me.' I believe those words came from the Lord, so I think it would be good for us to do a study on the fear of God.

Hellfire preaching

The Church seems to have moved away, in recent years, from the hellfire preaching of previous centuries, as if it's improper to talk about such things.

This has happened despite the fact that Jesus said that when he returns to judge the world, those who are considered unworthy of eternal life will be thrown into the lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Mat 25:31–46).

Pro 16:11 says that honest scales and balances are from the Lord: that is true spiritually as well as physically. Christians can emphasize the love of God so much, and neglect God's wrath, God's anger and the fear of God, that our teaching of the Bible becomes unbalanced.

I have in front of me a copy of one of the most popular evangelical tracts used in this country, and what is its theme? God loves you (Joh 3:16).

Nothing is said about God's wrath, his anger against sinners, hell, or eternal punishment—all of which are biblical doctrines; it only speaks about his love. In fairness, it does say that if a person continues to go their own way it will lead to spiritual death, but that's as far as it goes.

Reality of hell

In our opening text Jesus told his disciples not to be afraid of humans, who could only kill their bodies but could do no more. He said there was one they should be afraid of, and that was God, who had the power not only to bring their physical lives to an end, but also to throw them into hell. 'Yes, I tell you,' said Jesus, 'fear him.'

The Greek word translated afraid and fear in that passage is phobeomai. It comes from the Greek word phobos from which we get the English word phobia. It means to be fearful, afraid or terrified. But why should we be terrified of God? Because God has the power to throw us into hell, that is why.

People often joke about hell, but hell is real. Hell is the place of eternal torment Jesus spoke about and warned about (Mar 9:43–8). Hell is a terrible place; it's so bad God had to send his Son to die an horrific death to save us from it.

Pro 16:6 says:

Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.

Through the love and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, sin has been atoned for. Because we fear God (who has the power to throw us into hell), we avoid doing evil.

Punishment on earth

That we should avoid doing evil because of fear is also taught in the New Testament. Rom 13:1 tells us that the governing authorities on earth have been established by God, and we should submit ourselves to them.

We know that there are good governments and bad governments, but the principle of government has been established by God to keep law and order. Governments are God's servants, agents of wrath, to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Rom 13:4).

Without government anarchy ensues and many innocent people suffer. That is not God's will. Consequently, if we want to be free from fear of governing authorities, we should obey the laws of the land in which we live (Rom 13:3).

So if a police car pulls you over and gives you a speeding ticket, God is punishing you, on earth, through his servant the governing authority, for acting in a way that could endanger the lives of others.

Perfect love drives out fear

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1Jo 4:16b–8)

This passage of Scripture puzzled me for many years. Jesus told his disciples to fear God who had the power to throw them into hell, and yet 1Jo 4:18 tells us that those who fear God have not been made perfect in love. The answer to this apparent contradiction hinges on the definition of love the Bible gives a few verses further on.

This is love for God: to obey his commands. (1Jo 5:3a)

If we are perfect in our love for God, we will obey his commands and have no fear of him on the day of judgement, because he only punishes those who do wrong. Therefore 1Jo 4:18 could be paraphrased as follows:

There is no fear in obeying God's commands. Obeying God's commands drives out fear, because the fear of God comes from the fear of punishment. The one who fears God is not obeying his commands.

Rom 13:3 says that if we want to be free from the fear of governing authorities we must do what is right. Similarly, if we want to be free from the fear of God we must do what is right.

If we obey God's commands we won't fear him in the sense that Jesus spoke about, because obeying his commands removes the fear of punishment. That is why we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because we are living in love, living in God, and obeying his commands.

Redressing the balance

In 1985, God told David Pawson that what was lacking in the Church (in this country at least) was the fear of God. Perhaps we've emphasized the love of God too much in recent years, and now need to teach the fear of God to redress the balance.

Both the love of God and the fear of God are biblical doctrines. The Church needs to teach the whole of the Word of God (Act 20:26–7) and not just its favourite truths, or the doctrines it finds most palatable.

Michael Graham
January 2005
Revised July 2014

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®. NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.

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