So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”Romans 8:15
“The fear of God.” That may be one of the most misunderstood phrases in all of Scripture, yet it is an important one, as the fact that it appears repeatedly throughout Scripture testifies (predominantly in the Old Testament). When most believers see the phrase “the fear of the Lord,” it instantly validates what they’ve likely been taught all their lives.
Specifically, that God is angry, vengeful, touchy, difficult to please, and more than eager to dole out punishments to those who cross Him. It doesn’t help that many men had a flawed and broken father who was too quick to slide his belt off when faced with any perceived insubordination or infraction of the rules.
But what if we’ve gotten this concept wrong? I believe we have. Often the best way to understand a concept is to contrast it with its opposite. And the opposite of the “fear of God” is the “fear of Man.” Your Bible has quite a bit to say about that, too.
For example, in Proverbs, the Bible’s “wisdom” book, we find: “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever puts his trust in the Lord will be safe.” (Proverbs 29:25 MEV) And Paul wrote: “For am I now seeking the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? For if I were still trying to please men, I would not be the servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 MEV)
When you’re in the grip of the fear of man, the quest for image and status becomes a driving motivator of your life. Your decisions are driven by what others will think or how they will react. You seek approval, validation, admiration, and applause from the crowd rather than the Throne.
In other words, the fear of Man involves caring obsessively about what other people think of you. In contrast, the fear of the Lord simply means caring that much or more about what God thinks about you. It means having an intense desire to please Him, not because you’re afraid of punishment if you don’t, but simply because you love Him and the thought of making Him smile brings you joy. You want to “live up” to who He has already declared you to be. Paul called this “walking in a manner worthy of your calling.” (Ephesians 4:1)
Think of the “fear of the Lord” as caring more about what God wants to do with you than caring about what other people want from you.” By that, I mean living a life utterly unafraid of anything except the thought of living below your potential in God’s grace. It means rejecting the values of this fallen culture and cultivating a passion for the things God values.
As with every other aspect of the Jesus life, you’re not on your own in this. Abundant grace is available to empower you to avoid the snare of the fear of Man and to live a life that makes your heavenly Father smile.
Even so, many believers are afraid to stop being afraid of their Heavenly Father.
And there are plenty of bible teachers and itinerant speakers with books to sell who sincerely believe you should be afraid to stop being afraid of God.
In response to a blog post like this one, many will respond: “Of course, you don’t need to be afraid of God punishing you for being insufficiently good. But you should be afraid of being disqualified for God’s favor, blessing, and protection.”
The implication here is that good behavior, or not ticking God off, is what qualifies you for “favor, blessing, and protection.” Pardon the blunt language but this is a lie. It’s lifeless religion.
People who advocate that view simply don’t have a revelation of where we stand with God by grace.
The New Covenant version of “the fear of the Lord” means not wanting to disappoint our Father simply because we love Him . . . because He’s so wonderful and kind . . . and are grateful to Him. NOT because pleasing him qualifies us for favor, blessing, and protection; and disappointing him disqualifies us for it.
We always and only come to God in Jesus’s righteousness and His qualifications. And that means we always qualify for favor, blessing, and protection!
The religious mind reasons that since we disobeyed our way out of the Garden, we’re going to obey our way back into it. That’s not the message of the Gospel. That’s not “good news.”
Look at Romans 8:15-17 in The Passion Translation:
And you did not receive the “spirit of religious duty,” leading you back into the fear of never being good enough. But you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God. And you will never feel orphaned, for as he rises up within us, our spirits join him in saying the words of tender affection, “Beloved Father!” For the Holy Spirit makes God’s fatherhood real to us as he whispers into our innermost being, “You are God’s beloved child!” And since we are his true children, we qualify to share all his treasures, for indeed, we are heirs of God himself. And since we are joined to Christ, we also inherit all that he is and all that he has.
The moment we start thinking that our good works (and abstaining from bad works) is what qualifies us for favor, blessing, and protection . . . we are being led “back into the fear of never being good enough . . .” rather than listening to the voice of the Spirit saying. “you have received the “Spirit of full acceptance,” enfolding you into the family of God.
Love is more powerful than fear. And there is no fear in love. (See 1 John 4:18)
If the desire is to not “mess up” and disappoint your Heavenly Father, or hurt others, or hurt yourself . . . then love will do a much better job than “fear” ever will. Which is exactly why Jesus said all of the Law and the Prophets can be replaced with “Love God with all your heart and love others.” And it’s why Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you . . . Love one another.”
Love will do what fear cannot.