Blog #25 Is There a Place for the Fear of the Lord Under Grace? (Part 1)
Updated: Jul 4
1 Peter 2:17 (NKJV): Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
2 Corinthians 7:1 (NKJV): Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Isaiah 11:1-3 (AMPC): And there shall come forth a Shoot out of the stock of Jesse [David’s father], and a Branch out of his roots shall grow and bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the reverential and obedient fear of the Lord— And shall make Him of quick understanding, and His delight shall be in the reverential and obedient fear of the Lord. And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, neither decide by the hearing of His ears.
Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
We see from the Scriptures above that grace doesn’t exclude the fear of the Lord because the first two Scriptures were written to new covenant born again believers: Fear God. What’s more? The Lord is the same yesterday, today and forever (see Hebrews 13:8). So how does the fear of the Lord and the grace of God reconcile and how are they not mutually exclusive? Below I believe will help answer those questions.
Psalm 103:13 (NKJV) says this: As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. Firstly, and most obvious, you can’t fear the Lord if you don’t believe that He exists. Thus, the one who fears God believes that He exists. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (NKJV) Secondly, the one who fears the Lord acknowledges Him as Lord. He acknowledges who the Lord is and of His right and authority to rule over the earth and over the affairs of men. He acknowledges God’s authority over His own life too, and as a natural response, he fears the Lord. Thirdly, we read within the context of Psalm 103:13 that the fear of the Lord is an indication of sonship.
One will not fear the Lord if he doesn’t believe that He exists, for how can he fear someone who isn’t even real? We also see that someone won’t fear God if he doesn’t acknowledge God’s right and authority to rule over his life or if he doesn’t trust in the character of God that God means what He says and says what He means. The one who fears God, on the other hand, acknowledges God’s impartiality and the integrity and faithfulness of His nature and character, which honors God. Accordingly, the fear of the Lord implies at least a level of faith, respect, honor, reverence, obedience, and trust in the character of God, which motivate the corresponding obedience and restraint, as well as wisdom and a peaceable conscience for the one who fears Him.
Recently, I have come to picture Psalm 103:13 this way for the born again believer: A child won’t fear a stranger’s command and may even say, who are you to tell me what to do, you are not my father. The child doesn’t fear the stranger’s command. And so he says: You are not my father, you don’t have the right to tell me what to do. You have no authority over my life and therefore, I do not fear your warning of enforcing on me anything due to my poor behavior. Thus the child doesn’t fear the stranger. Fear in this context is the acknowledgment and the indication of a relationship and of the authority of the one who is respectfully feared in the life of the one who thus fears. Such reverential fear is the proof of a relationship including one in authority and one in submission. While the child doesn’t fear the warning of the stranger’s command and consequence for lack of obedience, he fears the warning of his own father; he acknowledges the right of His father to enforce such discipline as necessary. The child naturally restraints himself from behaving in a bad way in front of his father lest his father enforces discipline, and let me add, for the child’s own good. While he doesn’t fear the stranger, he fears his father which shows the child’s acknowledgment of the father’s authority over his life. It also demonstrates the father’s care, involvement and presence in the child’s life. A child who doesn’t have a father to train him doesn’t have a father to fear, to respect and to obey. Thus, the reverential and respectful fear of the Lord is a proof that we have made God our Father; that we acknowledge His authority and right to rule in our lives: He is our Father. This is how the fear of the Lord is not excluded the moment we become a child of God, on the contrary. Hebrews 12:5-11 (NKJV) says this:
“And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Now let’s see how grace brings such obedience to its fullest quality. What I mean is, if you obey your father only when he is looking, yes, sure, you have a certain relationship with him and you do acknowledge who he is in your life and his authority in your life, but your motivation for obeying him is merely to avoid undesirable consequences. If you only obey him when he is looking, your heart isn’t with him, at least not on the matter where obedience is called for. On the other hand, if you obey him whether he is around or not, this demonstrates that you are with him with your heart and not in appearance only. Your heart submission is a fruit of your love, loyalty, reverence, respect, honor, and commitment to him. It also indicates that you agree with your father’s discernment and you trust his wisdom. You trust him, his judgment and his character. You are submitted to him from your heart. You are not merely doing it to avoid consequences or discipline, at this point, you are doing it out of love, respect, commitment and loyalty to your father. Also you trust him enough to know that he knows what’s best, what’s right and that he loves you and has your best interest at heart. Not to mention that you opt for wisdom and for a clear conscience. You demonstrate faithfulness and integrity. At this point, it’s not only something you do on the outward, but it’s about who you are on the inside. That’s what grace does, it causes you to obey God whether people are looking or whether you are alone. Grace regenerates you inside; it gives you a new heart, a new nature, a new spirit. The Bible says that your spirit and God’s Spirit become one when you are born again (see 1 Cor. 6:17). Thus, the delight of the fear of the Lord in someone who is born again. Such reverential fear is a fruit of his heart submission to God; of his acknowledgment of who God is, and of who God is to him. He is not simply a professing Christian, he is a Christian; the fruit of his life shows it. It’s a fruit that arises from having made God his Lord and his Father. He is no illegitimate child, he belongs to God. God is his Father and he responds to God accordingly from the inside out. Thus, as a father pities his child, so God pities and has compassion on the one who fears Him. Such child is not a Christian in name only. As a result God is not his Father in name only either. Someone who goes to church on Sunday isn’t necessarily God’s child. If such a one doesn’t reverentially fear the Lord, then one has to wonder whether he is a child of God, for a child will reverentially and respectfully fear the father who genuinely cares for him; one cannot go without the other.
Let me conclude part 1 of our discussion about the reverential fear of the Lord with this: Typically in a healthy environment, the motivation of the parents to have a child is 100% inspired by love. The child is entirely conceived in and out of love. The mother is delighted when she finds out she is pregnant. She announces the good news to the father who in turn bursts with joy and delight. Their heart swell with overflowing love and excitement. They love the child already. They are expecting! Never once are they motivated to have a child so that they can finally have someone to control and boss around. They don’t overflow with joy so that finally, they can have boundless opportunities to bring punishment when their child does something wrong. Of course, they understand that they are bound to chasten the child when he does wrong and they know for a fact that the need will arise on numerous occasions. They understand also the tremendous responsibility of bringing someone into the world—not only to the life to be born but also to society in bringing such life into the world. They don’t fret it, however, for the child is conceived in love, hope, dream and joyous expectation. Certainly, they know they will have to train up their child in the way that he should go so that when he is old he will not depart from it (see Prov. 22:6). Inherent to this new relationship is their authority in the child’s life. They have biblical and rightful authority over the child’s life by virtue of giving the child life, whole-hearted devotion, love, shelter, care, help, training, teaching, etc. They rejoice that they will get to take care of the child, watch over the child, care for the child; love the child! They anticipate this love relationship where the child loves them in return. A fruit of such love is the child’s trust and obedience to his parents, of course. A peaceful, loving and loyal relationship stemming from both sides. That’s the dream of both parents as they are expecting their child. And with this mindset, the child is born into the world.
Grace makes this Father/son, Father/daughter relationship with God possible. Religion, on the other hand, creates this law-giver/subject relationship. But child of God, as for you, “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.”” (Romans 8:15 NKJV). So go ahead and enjoy your heavenly Father for He enjoys you, His child. And yes, reverentially and respectfully fear Him, for He is your God and your Father. He is holy; He loves righteousness and He hates sin. And He loves you too much and He is too committed to you not to let you know if you get out of line, desiring and seeking to protect you from danger ahead. He cares too much about you not to bring needed chastisement to His promising child when necessary so that you can become a partaker of the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
In part 2, we will discuss the fear of the Lord in the light of Philippians 2:12-13, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
Be encouraged, there is hope! There is a way out.
—Kathleen Kaczmarek, Compelling Hope Ministries