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Jan 23, 2022

Fearless Fear

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Essentials for Spiritual Strength

Keywords: fear of the lord, godly fear, sinful fear


The "fear of the Lord" is a very nebulous concept for too many of God's children. But it is a biblical requirement for anyone who wants to experience God as He really is. This message looks at what it is and how to cultivate it in our lives.



ESSENTIAL Qualities Needed to Triumph in 2022…or Anytime

January 22, 2022


If you look at today’s message title, you may think I’m losing my marbles…which I may be.  But that’s a question for another time.  Hopefully by the end of our time in God’s word, you will see why I chose this title. 

            Our series:  “Essential Qualities Needed to Triumph in 2022…and Beyond.” Today’s, in 5 words, is “The Fear of the Lord.” 

            To start us off, I’d like you to think about what fear is, at least in the common understanding of the English term.  (It won’t exactly correspond with the Bible’s notion of fear, at least when it comes to the phrase “the fear of the Lord.”)

“Fear is… (get responses)

  • A feeling of…anxiety, panic, revulsion, withdrawal, avoidance, etc.
  • An emotion
  • A visceral response
  • Motivating
  • Energizing
  • Powerful
  • Irrational (at times), rational (at others)
  • Protective
  • Destructive
  • Intense
  • Active

Here’s Webster’s Dictionary definition

1.) an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger a feeling of being afraid.

2a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful (such as “fear of God”). 

So, I have to hand it to Webster.  They at least recognize that fear has a couple of very different definitions.

            For most of us, fear is not something we go looking for, right?  When I come across a bear on a trail, fear is a very appropriate response.  But it’s not a feeling I want to keep cultivating.  Most of us spend most of our life trying to shed fear…or at least not let it control us. 

            So, when the Bible holds up dozens of timesthe fear of the Lord” as a very good thing, something we should want to have as a hallmark of our lives, don’t you find yourself scratching your head a bit and trying to figure out some sort of more palatable re-definition of the term than fear? 

But let’s ask the question, “Is all “fear of God” good and healthy?”  Or is there a kind of “fear” towards God that is unhealthy, harmful and even sinful? 

  • 3:10—Adam tells God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” [sinful fear]
  • Is the fear demons have towards God in James 2:19 a fear that leads them to a good result/end? (“You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!”)
  • 2 Kings 17:29-32 tells us of all the false gods and high places nations from Samaria to Babylon made. Right in the middle of that idolatry, we’re told that “they also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves all sorts of people as priests of the high [pagan] places, who sacrificed for them in the shrines of the high places.”  This was not a healthy fear of God.  This misguided fear of God led them to fear and even worship things that could not liberate them from their fears. 
  • I John 4:16-18-- 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”  Here John is speaking about knowing God only as a holy Judge, fearing condemnation rather than relaxing and enjoying His eternal love.  Is this not how a person who rejects the love of God sees God? They condemn Him for being Judge of all the earth.  It is not a fear that draws them to love Him but pushes them away from His love.  That is a sinful fear!

Let’s not think that people without Jesus are the only people who can be caught in sinful, wrong fear of God.  WE can succumb to a sinful “fear of the Lord”…and often do.  The devil’s work is to promote a fear of God that makes even God’s true children afraid of God to such a degree that we want to run from God

The Holy Spirit’s work is the exact opposite:  to produce in us a wonderful fear that wins and draws us to God.  Whatever fears in life that lead any of us away from Christ at any time—fears that focus on something we may not understand or appreciate about God in the moment—are evil fears.  Holy and righteous “fear of God” will always draw us closer to God and lead us into the fruits of genuine fear of God…things such as joy, hope, delight, worship, praise and love.  

            So, let me lay out a few realities about the biblical words used in Hebrew and Greek for our English word “fear” when used of the right “fear of God”.


1.) yr’ (year)—most common word root (45 times).  It’s used for both a right/good fear of God and sinful fear of God.  Here are a couple of examples.

  • 20:18-20“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of Him may be before you, that you may not sin.” [both sinful fear (1st) and right fear (2nd)]
  • 3:10—Adam tells God, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” [sinful fear]
  • Psalm 2:11Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. [right fear commanded]

So, the same word can be used for two very different experiences with fear, one good and right, the other sinful and wrong.

2.) phd (pah-head)  Used some 25 times.

  • Hosea 3:5Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the LORDtheir God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days.  [Good fear that results from returning to seek the Lord and experiencing His goodness!]
  • Isaiah 33:14Sinners in Zion are terrified; Trembling has seized the godless.

First, both these words carry a sense of physical experience of being overwhelmed, even weak-kneed, trembling.  This is why most of the English words we are tempted to substitute for “fear of God” miss the mark, words like “respect” or “reverence.”  “Awe” might be closer though it fails to capture the physical intensity, the emotional thrill and the relational delight that leans towards God rather than running away or hiding from Him. 

Back to Is. 33:14.  Is it a good or sinful fear?  We might be tempted to say that this is a good and proper fear in the face of such a holy, all-consuming and righteous God…even by “sinners” and “godless” people.  BUT, the result of this fear is not the same as good/right fear.  It doesn’t lead these sinners and godless TO God.  Rather they want to run FROM Him. 

            Herein is one of the most important truths about “the fear of the Lord.”  Two people in two very different types of relationship with the same object (God) can experience either good/right “fear” in relationship to God or wrong/evil/sinful “fear” in relationship to God.  Same object (God), but different response by different people. The goodness or evil of the fear is really evidenced by the EFFECTS:

  • Sinful fear produces what? (People want to flee, run from, do away with God.)
  • Good fear produces what? (People want to move closer to God, lean into Him, love, worship, praise, rejoice in Him more.)

(A couple of years ago, when Covid was first starting, I gave a message about a lot of the things that God tells us NOT to fear.  If you want to see what the Bible says about not fearing people or things in this world, go back and catch that message.  [See April 26, 2020—"Covid Conundrums”—Mt. 6.]  Or you can do your own word study on “fear” in the Bible and read the dozens of times God tells us not to fear (things like death, people, pandemics, evil, etc. )

But today we’re focusing on a fear God wants us to have—fear of Him.  That sounds strange to our ears.  If someone tells me today that they want me to learn to fear them, that’s not someone I want to have a relationship with, right?  So, either God is a neighborhood bully (which I don’t believe the evidence supports) or He has something else in mind for reasons different from what we tend to think when we think of fear. 

To help build our bank of biblical framework for a proper, healthy and good fear of God, let’s look at a few more Scriptures that advocate FOR a fear of God.  As we do, ask yourself, “What are the GOOD things that come from a right fear of God?” 

  • 9:10“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”
  • Ecclesiastes 12:13“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”   
  • Psalm 86:10—“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”
  • Luke 1:50—“[The Lord’s] mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
  • Luke 18:2—Jesus describes the unrighteous judge as one “who neither feared God nor respected man.”
  • 2 Cor. 7:1“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
  • Revelation 19:5And a voice came from the throne, saying, “Give praise to our God, all you His bond-servants, you who fear Him, the small and the great.”

Interestingly, the Bible starts with Adam’s sinful fear of God and ends with the saints’ worshipful fear of God. 

One more passage which speaks prophetically about the Messiah’s/Christ’s relationship to fear of God:

  • Isaiah 11:1-3Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
    The Spirit of the Lordwill rest on Him,
    The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    The spirit of counsel and strength,
    The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
    And He will delight in the fear of the Lord….”

Obviously, if Jesus, the fulfillment of this verse, DELIGHTS in fear of the Lord/God/Father, this is an experience we must figure out how to embrace…and “delight in.” 

NOTE:  You might want to start making a list of all the different emotions associated with “fear of the Lord.”  It will surprise you how many of them don’t fit our normal associations with the idea or experience of “fear.”  [We’ve already seen “delight”, “wisdom”, “united heart”, “mercy”, “holiness”, “praise”.] 

Note that especially in the following passages:

  • Psalm 103:11—“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him.”
  • Psalm 103:13“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear Him.”
  • Psalm 147:11“The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His steadfast love.”
  • Proverbs 14:27Fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.”
  • Prov. 28:14—Blessed [happy] is the one who fears the Lord always….”

There is no tension in the Bible between the fear of God and things like joy, pleasure, delight and happiness.  In fact, they go hand-in-hand. 

Before we go any further, there is an interesting inverse relationship in human experience between forsaking the fear of the Lord and experiencing fear of everything else in life.  The more people move away from fearing God, the more we end up with fear of just about everything else in life. 

            That’s an odd and unexpected reality, isn’t it?  Haven’t we been told that religion and belief in God is what we need to be ‘liberated from’ in order to escape fear.  Isn’t it the arcane idea of God and judgment and hell that has produced a host of unnecessary fears and phobias in human experience?  Do away with God and we’ll be free of a lot of fears, right?  WRONG! 

  • Communism tried to do away with the belief in God. Did it produce a less-fearful society? If you think so, you haven’t lived or traveled in communist Russia or China or Pol Pots Cambodia or Kim’s N. Korea. 
  • Has our culture, clearly a culture that increasingly rejects the authority of God over human experience, become less or more anxious the farther we’ve gotten from God?
  • Is there less or more mental illness in our culture today than when there was a general respect for God?
  • We fear a host of things today that were not even major concerns, let alone significant fears, 50 years ago: climate change, terrorism, pandemics, inflation, civil unrest, corrupt government officials (BTW, #1 in America the past 4 years), diet and foods, cyber-bullies and cyber-terrorism, drugs, violent crime, family breakdown, pollution, mass shootings, etc.

Here's the paradoxwe live more safely than our ancestors could ever have imagined.  We have seatbelts, car seats and airbags in cars.  We’ve removed lead paint and asbestos from our homes and installed security systems that summon the police in an instant.  We have more antibiotics and life-saving medical procedures than ever yet more fear of disease and illness than ever.  Having lost God as the proper object of healthy fear, our culture is becoming ever more neurotic, ever mor anxious with ever more free-floating fears. 


So let’s now ask the question, “What can lead us to a good, righteous and beneficial ‘fear of the Lord’ in this life?”

            For the answer to that, let’s turn to an O.T. prophecy about a N.T. reality we are to be experiencing if we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Jeremiah 32:38-40.  In this chapter, Jeremiah is talking about what it is going to be like when God replaces the Old Mosaic Covenant of the Law of God with the New Covenant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Here’s how he describes what will happen.

38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

            What do you notice about this good “fear” God foretells here?

  • It comes through relationship (vs. 38), not religion or rules.
  • It comes through a new heart that God gives (vs. 39).
  • It will last “forever”…right through eternity (vs. 39 & 40). In essence, it is a taste of heaven.
  • It will bless them and generations to come (vs. 39).
  • It will bring us ‘good’ (vs. 40).
  • It will keep us from turning away from God (vs. 40). Note: this is the consistent effect of good fear—to turn us TO God.

Jeremiah continues in the next chapter, 33:8-9.  As we read this, ask yourself if this has not been the experience of the church in the world these past 20 centuries.

I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the nations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them. They shall fear and tremble because of all the good and all the prosperity I provide for it.

Does this sound to you like a people fearing the punishment of God? Quite the opposite!  This is a catalogue of blessing for people who must be the most privileged in the world!  This is a description of people who have experienced the saving grace and work of Jesus Christ, no?

  • Enemies of God who have become the people of God.
  • New hearts in love with God.
  • Permanent change of heart that draws them continually and repeatedly towards God.
  • Blessing that flows to their offspring.
  • A covenant with God that never ends.
  • A God who will never leave or forsake us.
  • Cleansing from ALL sin and guilt before God.
  • Forgiveness of ALL sin and rebellion against God.
  • A people of joy, praise and godly fear before all nations of the earth.
  • “Good” and “prosperity” that God provides.

Is this not the New Covenant, the Gospel of grace, salvation in Jesus?  So…

#1.)  First, a blessed ‘fear of the Lord’ comes through a saving encounter with Jesus Christ.  [Explain this is the starting point.]


#2.)  A blessed ‘fear of the Lord’ can grow through growing encounters with God.

  • Job: through suffering
  • Abraham: through obedient and costly faith
  • Moses: through wilderness encounters with God
  • Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the Apostle John: through visions of the majesty and splendor of God.
  • Why worship is so important: singing is an appropriate expression of a right fear.  Psalm 47:1-2—"Shout to God with loud songs of joy!  For the Lord, the Most High is to be feared.”  This is why Christianity is the most song-filled of religions. 
  • Psalm 96:1-4-- Oh sing to the Lorda new song;
        sing to the Lord, all the earth!
    Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
        tell of his salvation from day to day.
    Declare his glory among the nations,
        his marvelous works among all the peoples!
    For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
        he is to be feared above all gods.


#3.)  A blessed ‘fear of the Lord’ can grow through a growing appreciation for the love & forgiveness of Jesus Christ.

  • The sinful woman of Luke 7 at the house of Simon the Pharisee. Jesus speaks of her “much love” because she has been “forgiven much.”  The physical demonstrations of weeping, of humility at Jesus feet, of adoration and gratitude because of the forgiveness she had experienced fit Scripture’s picture of “fear”.  Her love was so intense due to the immensity of Jesus’ forgiveness that it was ‘fearful’ in nature. 

The great English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, speaks about this when he writes, “When a man really receives the pardon of all his sins, he is the man who fears the Lord.  This is clearly the case, for pardon breeds love in the soul; and the more a man is forgiven, the more he loves.  Where great sin has been blotted out, there comes to be great love.  Well, is not love the very core of the true fear of God?  [Quoted by Michael Reeves in Rejoice & Tremble,, p. 121, Crossway, 2021.]

  • May this be one of the reasons Christ calls us to “declare/show forth his death till he come” through communion? We must be a people reminded of how desperate sinners we are…as well as be reminded of how ample, abundant and overwhelming is the forgiveness of our Lord.  When we feel/experience/know our sin as the sinful woman did AND when we feel/experience/ know the forgiveness of Jesus over our sin, we will grow in loving, righteous fear of Christ.  But, as Jesus told Simon, “He who is forgiven little, loves little,” (Lk. 7:47).  The reality is that none of us has been ‘forgiven little.’  We merely see and feel our sin as little so we see/feel the forgiveness of Jesus as smaller and less compelling than it actually is.
  • The 17th century Puritan Pastor, John Owen, knew from strong personal experience how much the fear of God grows at the cross of Christ’s forgiveness. He wrote perhaps the longest-ever exposition of Psalm 130 because of how his life was changed and impacted by 4”But with you [Lord] there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”  Owen explained:

“I myself preached Christ…some years, when I had but very little if any experimental acquaintance with access to God through Christ; until the Lord was pleased to visit me with sore affliction, whereby I was brought to the mouth of the grave, and under which my soul was oppressed with horror and darkness; but God graciously relieved my spirit by a powerful application of Psalm 130:4…from whence I received special instruction, peace, and comfort, in drawing near to God through the Mediator, and preached thereupon immediately after my recovery.”  [Ibid, pp. 117-118.]

Owen doesn’t explain what his “sore affliction” was.  But we know from history that it could have been that 10 of his 11 children died in childhood, the 11th died in young adulthood and his wife, Mary, died thereafter.  Loss has a way of pushing us all into darkness and bringing out of us the darkness of our own sinfulness.  Without experiencing the brokenness of spirit that comes through that, many of us will not experience the love, joy, excitement and humble fear of God that comes from His forgiveness.