Are You Afraid Of Fear? (Part 2. What Is The Fear Of God?)
Although this article is part of a series, it is a Complete study on its own. (Part 2 of 2 in series)
* all [bracketed] words in Scripture verses are mine *
"Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? the big bad wolf? the big bad wolf? Who's afraid of the big bad wolf? La, la, la, la, la..."
Most every person my grandma's age and older was at one time or another afraid of the big bad wolf. Why? because it was likely they saw one if they didn't live in or near a big city. Wolf attacks weren't uncommon that long ago and in fact are on the rise again since hunting grounds for wolves are shrinking. Young children wandering off would be "easy pickin's" for wolves, so parents would warn them not to wander around alone and then add that "the big bad wolf will get you" if they disobeyed. In more recent generations, parents do not warn of big bad wolves, things much scarier come to mind. Nowadays, the big bad wolf has become a symbol for anything that a person can fear. Depicted with cartoon characters and story caricatures, the big bad wolf looms in everyone's background. One might ask if you aren't afraid of the big bad wolf, what stands in its stead? Are you afraid of heights or death or of something else? Perhaps you are even afraid of God?
At first glance, that may seem an odd question, are you afraid of God? Yet many people are, and many others think that being afraid of God like He's the Big Bad Wolf is a good thing.
Let us consider the concepts, fear of God versus being afraid of God. There is a difference, and we begin with a classic example which depicts both kinds of fear. That example is our first parents, Adam and Eve, back at the birth of fear, in the first few pages of our history as God's creation.
"Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them....Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good... And the LORD God commanded the man saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day you eat of it, you shall surely die."... And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.'... So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings. And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree which I commanded you that you should not eat?" (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; 2:16-17; 3:2-3, 6-11)
Most every person has heard the story of Adam and Eve and how they fell from grace by eating fruit from the one tree that the Lord had forbidden to them. I want to look at just one aspect of this story, that of fear. There are two types of fear illustrated in this Genesis account. The first fear depicted is the of fear of the Lord, the good kind of fear. Notice, if you will that when God finished creating man He pronounced them "very good." No sin was in them, no flaw marred their perfection and peace existed between man and God. Mankind had no shame and in this perfection no need to cover any shame. God would walk in the cool of the day and speak to the man. God told him that should one eat of the fruit, that person would die. But an interesting thing happened between the man receiving the message from God about the fruit, and his relaying of it to his wife. The phrase "nor shall you touch it" was added to what God had said. Now most of you reading this and that are familiar with the story, have noted that was not what God had said. Have you ever wondered why it was added? I believe Adam added it as an extra precaution out of fear of the Lord. I don't know I wasn't there, but he probably said something like this: "Now Eve, God said that we can eat of every tree except that tree, that one right there. See it? Don't even touch it, lest you die! Okay? this is very important. Don't even touch it." Why would that phrase be added? I maintain that it was fear of the Lord that caused him to add it. At that time, was he afraid of the Lord? No, Adam visited with Him in the cool of the day. He remained naked, showing that he had nothing to be ashamed of before God. But his concern was for his wife and he truly believed that God was to be taken seriously. He knew God meant what He said. He believed Him. He loved his Lord and in the conveying of this life-sustaining message showed how much he believed God was not a liar and trusted that God would do what He said. In the seriousness of the matter, obedience meant life. Disobedience and its resulting consequences meant death. In this alone, being afraid is a good thing. It is a fearful thing to be in the hand of the Living God. He is awesome in power, mighty in works. He is holy. He is all the things we aren't. Disobedience of God should cause a person to fear and to tremble because they are defying God. "A fool sayeth in his heart "There is no God."
"The mountains quake before Him, the hills melt, and the earth heaves in His presence, yes the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him." (Nahum 1:5-7)
"But the LORD is in His holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before Him." (Habakkuk 2:20)
"He stood and measured the earth: He beheld and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: His ways are everlasting." (Habakkuk 3:6)
In contrast, see what happened after they thought on it, and then decided to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. All of a sudden their eyes "were opened." Opened to what? Their eyes were opened to the magnitude of the disobedience. They felt the weight of their decision pressing down upon them and trapping them inside of their own sin, causing them to feel dirty and ashamed. Their mind sought to get clean of the guilt, but couldn't. It was just a matter of time before God would confront them with their deed. If only they could look at each other and see some redeeming point to all of it, but they couldn't. Their innocence and purity gone from their own minds. They saw themselves as open and vulnerable, so sought to hide. Their immediate response was to cover themselves but that was not enough to cover their sin. And why did they run for cover? because they were now afraid of God. They no longer were practicing the fear of the Lord, they were afraid of their Lord. They wished to separate themselves from Him. Running with no reasoning, they thought with the thoughts of their now sin-fouled minds. They crafted the spiritual barrier of sin, by their disobedience. Then they crafted an immediate personal barrier to cover their shame, clothes. Clothes didn't help at all! It just made their difference all that more apparent. No other creation of God wore clothes to hide themselves and their shame. Since clothes were not enough to stay the guilt, they sought a place to hide where they could feel apart from the God that sees everything and is everywhere. Totally irrational right? Yet this is the reasoning that happens when we sin. We only use that which is fear-based, fleshly-oriented, self-centered, and any reasoning that avoids the God who loves us.
"But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2)
In part one of this study, we considered the Bible's definition of fear. It is the fleshly response when one does not fear the Lord. Now we must define the fear of the Lord and how we are to cultivate and practice this fear always. Hopefully, the examples above have given some understanding of proper godly fear as it stands in contrast to fearing without God.
"And now Israel [and the rest of believing mankind], what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." (Deuteronomy 10:12)
"Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king." (1 Peter 2:17)
The Hebrew word yare (yaw-ray') and it's New Testament Greek equivalent (fob'-os) both are defined: "to fear, to revere, to literally pull into reverence."
I will tell you, to fear is a decision you make and if you don't make the decision to fear properly, (that is to fear the Lord), the decision will be made for you to fear without reason or rationale. Let me explain...
If you look at the words in the original languages to define fear (both good and bad), you notice something interesting. It is the same word used for both positive godly fear and negative phobic fears. Think of it this way: fear was meant for good but we in our sinful bodies have changed it and its use into something evil. When we walk with God, we must practice fear as God designed it to be used, to stop letting it use us in fleshly ways. Fear will elevate something to a status of importance so large that all of our attention will be upon that thing we fear. For example, if you hate heights and are up high, your fear will magnify the fact that you are up there and that will be your main concern. It will outrank and overshadow all other things and make them less important (including God). It will be the highest priority (no pun intended) in your thoughts, what you consider most important, all the while you are afraid. Now suppose you are upon some high place and are gripped with the fear of it and decide you will flee in your mind to Jesus and lay that fear at His feet. When you do that, one fear replaces the other fear. A good fear (fear of the Lord) replaces a bad fear (phobic and irrational). Now suppose that you do not wish to be leaning on God (or you do not know Jesus as Savior) and don't know how to lean on God. When you find yourself on that mountain or high place, you can face your fear and do things despite your fear but you will not have a peace about nor will you ever defeat that fear. It will always be there. It may change shape or it may fade a little but will always be ready to loom large again in another situation. Without God, there will always be fear, the bad kind, whether people want to admit it or not. They may say I'm not scared of anything, but I find that people who say that usually are putting their faith in something that will not save them, like a gun or money. It's easy to say the words "I'm not afraid" when you hold a gun on something that scares you or can pay it to go away. I believe that somewhere inside, that person worries about the gun jamming someday, or if someday the money will run out. I'm sure if faith in anything but God is in play, fear is a constant companion as well. God knows the hearts and every one of those folks that are not practicing the fear of the Lord has something that down deep inside scares them to pieces.
"Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved." (Psalm 55:22)
Search your heart, do you find yourself being fearful and afraid? Scripture commands Christians to not be fearful and afraid. "Do not fear" is a phrase found throughout the word of God. One must decide not to be afraid, then accompany that decision by action. We must adopt an attitude of the mind to remain firm despite doubt, a stance immovable in God. I will not be afraid. How is that accomplished? Well, I think you will find it impossible to simply rip fear out of your stream of thoughts, for you see ripping anything out of your thought stream without replacing it, will cause disruption, a "hole" if you will. The enemy and our own flesh will simply fill the hole with another fear or revisit the same fear from another place and we will continue to be fearful and afraid.
Let me give an illustration: If you look at your computer screen and imagine it to be everything that comes into your focus, everything to which you give your attention. If you put a "Post-it" note marked GOD smack dab in the center of the screen, it will block out some of that scary input coming into your mind. Now, if you focus all of your attention on that post-it, the rest of the screen fades into non-importance. That is how you replace being fearful and afraid with fear of the Lord. You superimpose God over the fear, and concentrate on Him; pleasing Him, loving Him, serving Him, praising Him. The more you concentrate on Him, the larger the "Post-it" grows until you see everything through the eyes of the Lord God of the universe. The world begins to grow dim while you begin to realize that there really is nothing to fear.
Learning The Fear Of The Lord
Fear is a natural response in humans to prepare them to protect themselves from danger (fight) or prepare them to flee from the danger (flight). It was created originally for our protection. It was not meant to be used for evil, not meant to be a tool of the flesh, to be sin. Fear has become something that is used by the devil and by which we baby our flesh. We all succumb to fear, from time to time, but the more we fear the Lord our God, the less we fear anything else. We need to look at how one learns the fear of the Lord and begin to make it a very real part of our life.
1. Confirm your own salvation. The first thing a person must realize is that salvation is necessary to be able to fear the Lord. Unsaved people can not fear the Lord because they don't know Him. They have no spiritual side with which to fear Him. Spiritual things are foolishness to them. In Jonah, the people had an experience in which they had seen God working and their fear (the terror kind) had convicted their heart for the salvation experience.
The first thing a person must realize is that salvation is necessary to be able to fear the Lord. Unsaved people can not fear the Lord because they don't know Him. They have no spiritual side with which to fear Him. Spiritual things are foolishness to them. In Jonah, the people had an experience in which they had seen God working and their fear (the terror kind) had convicted their heart for the salvation experience. After that experience "then they feared the LORD exceedingly" and "made vows" and sacrificed. Terror contributed to salvation in that instance. Salvation made fear of the LORD possible. Salvation is a standing, a relationship between God and man. Jesus paid for that position of acceptance by dying for us. When we receive Christ, we are adopted from the family of Satan into the family of God and we receive the Holy Spirit of God that dwells in our hearts. We become a "new creature in Christ." Once we are "in Christ" there are things that are now possible that once were impossible, without the Holy Spirit indwelling us. One of those things is the ability to be free of fear. Before salvation, we are pretty much at the enemy's mercy. Some folks are simply paralyzed with fear. Others have phobias and doubts and things that get in the way of a peaceful full life.
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Corinthians 2:14)
"So they took up Jonah, and cast him forth into the sea: and the sea ceased from her raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows." (Jonah 1:15-16)
"And the peace of God which passes understanding shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:7)
"For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry "Abba Father!" [a phrase that means Daddy] The Spirit Himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." (Romans 8:14-16)
So the first step is to confirm your own salvation. Did you ever have a time whereby you turned from your sin and prayed to Jesus to be your Savior because you could not save yourself? If you have not, you could do so before the end of this article. Once you know you are saved and are God's child then you may begin to learn the fear of the Lord.
2. Learn about the Lord so that you may begin to trust Him. After salvation, we need to begin to grow in faith, in love, in closeness to God. The closer we come to Him, the more we understand who and what God is. We begin to grasp the magnitude of the payment for our sin given on our behalf at Calvary. As saved individuals we see how wonderfully we are made, how beautiful is the creation of God and we know His faithfulness. We gain insight into the awesome majesty of God, who keeps the sun shining and the earth turning. We learn that we can trust Him and to give more and more of our lives to Him. As you learn that you can trust Him and that He is faithful, you realize that He will never leave us, especially at the times where we would be facing fear. He is right there with us and is our strong tower in which to run. All one has to do is pray. To talk to Him and lay your fears at His feet. We trust that He knows what to do with them and we don't have to worry. If something looms in our future, God will lead us through it. If it is powerful, don't worry, God is more powerful.
After salvation, we need to begin to grow in faith, in love, in closeness to God. The closer we come to Him, the more we understand who and what God is. We begin to grasp the magnitude of the payment for our sin given on our behalf at Calvary. As saved individuals, we see how wonderfully we are made, how beautiful is the creation of God and we know His faithfulness. We gain insight into the awesome majesty of God, who keeps the sun shining and the earth turning. We learn that we can trust Him and to give more and more of our lives to Him. As you learn that you can trust Him and that He is faithful, you realize that He will never leave us, especially at the times where we would be facing fear. He is right there with us and is our strong tower in which to run. All one has to do is pray. To talk to Him and lay your fears at His feet. We trust that He knows what to do with them and we don't have to worry. If something looms in our future, God will lead us through it. If the fear involves something dangerous or powerful, don't worry, God is more powerful.
3. Learn to put God first and to obey Him.
The other aspect of learning to fear the Lord God is to be able to put God first before things you want to do. To learn obedience is key to escaping any bondage to fear. As we trust God more and more, it makes sense that His commands would move us to action, more and more. He is the omniscient God, isn't He? That means He knows more than we do, doesn't it? So why question or hesitate to obey when His word speaks to you? The greater the obedience, the more confidence you have in God's ability to deliver. Fear begins to fade and will continue to fade as long as you focus on Christ and follow Him.
Dear Reader: As you honestly look at yourself and what you are afraid of, do you see meaningless fear running through your life? or perhaps even running your life? Do you wish that there was a place of safety to which you could go and stand, in spite of the fear that grips you? There is a place and that place is God. He stands with His arms outstretched to you, saying, "Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
The first step in learning to fear the Lord is to come to Him and confess your sin to Him and receive Him as Savior. It is real easy to do. Do you believe that Jesus died for your sin? Do you believe that He was buried and rose again on the third day? If you do, then admit you need Him to pay for your sin and cry out to Him right from where you are. Pray this:
Lord God, I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe that you died for me on Calvary's cross. I believe that You were buried but the grave could not hold You and you rose again. Please forgive me for my sin and save me. I turn from my sin and turn to you as my Savior. I do not want to be afraid anymore. Thank you for hearing me and saving me for I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen.
Other independent studies in this series: