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The Fear of God, why is it as necessary today under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant centuries ago?
The Revd Dr Peter Toon


If you desire to love God both now and tomorrow, then it is impossible to do so unless you first fear him, and then continue to fear him, even as you love him!

Let us begin our reflection at the beginning – conversion to Jesus Christ. In response to the Gospel (the Good News from the Father concerning his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ) we are commanded to repent of sin, to believe the promises of God the Father, to be baptized, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ wherever he leads. In so doing, we are by grace through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ, born from above and adopted by the Father as his children, in order to live in spiritual union with him, and in fellowship with fellow disciples in the household of God. As his children, we are to love him with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Where then does “the fear of God” fit into this account of regeneration and conversion?

First of all, we need to recall that we who hear the Gospel of God hear it as Good News from not any kind of Deity, but from our Creator and our Judge. He is the One, true and living God, who chooses also by the promises of the Gospel through Jesus Christ to become our Redeemer and Savior. Then, secondly, we need to bear in mind most seriously the identity and character of this LORD God. In his existence and being the LORD is more than eternal and infinite, more than majestically transcendent and glorious, more than supremely holy and pure, and more than exceedingly righteous and just. He is completely and totally above and beyond us in his pure glory. There is no comparison between his existence and being and ours. In fact, there is no comparison between his existence and being and that of the most glorious of the angel hierarchy of heaven. Before him, we are as nothing, for we are so weak and small and he is so almighty and great. (See Isaiah’s vision in chapter 6.)

Thus merely to think of his amazing greatness and majesty is to be humbled of mind; merely to contemplate him is to tremble with much amazement; merely to be aware of falling short of his perfection is to collapse prostrate and in great sorrow and pain before his Majesty; and merely to meditate upon the multitude of his attributes and perfections is to be filled with overwhelming awe. Then, also, to recognize that he is the Judge of all and that in his judgment he takes into account all human thoughts, attitudes and deeds is surely to be before him in great, awful dread.

So the Gospel itself, and the background teaching and doctrine concerning the nature and character of God that it is built upon and presupposes, creates “fear of the Lord;” and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning not only of wisdom [to hear the Gospel fully and see in it the wisdom of God]” but also of “knowledge” [of God and of ourselves before him so that we can repent and believe].

How can a soul truly be repentant for sin and for offending his Creator unless there is the fear of the Lord in his heart and mind? How can a soul truly believe the promises of the Gospel unto salvation, unless he is filled with awe and reverence before the very LORD God who makes the promises? How can a soul truly love the LORD our God with all his being, unless he is at least dimly aware of who God really is, and unless, before his majestic holiness and glorious righteousness, he is filled with awesome dread?

In the soul that is born from above of the Holy Ghost, and that looks to the Father through the Son for salvation and life, there must be both fear of the LORD and love of the LORD. For the love which God expects and deserves as LORD is holy, pure, love and adoration, and such is only possible when the soul trembles in awe, reverence, amazement, dread and fear before the LORD. Certainly the angelic host in heaven is continuously filled with both the fear and the love of the Lord God, the Holy Trinity. And, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, in his sacred manhood, as our Representative and as the New Adam, offers worship to the Father with holy fear and pure love.

Perhaps – and I do say perhaps – many of the claimed conversions and experiences of new birth and conversion today are not really the same as those which the Acts of the Apostles describes and which the Epistles provide doctrinal descriptions of. That is, the claimed “personal relationship” with God made by so many today is a different kind of experience and commitment. The reason for making this tentative and alarming observation is simple. It is that the “fear of the Lord” seems to be absent from, or minimal within, much modern evangelism and worship, which often not only are “dumbed-down” but also lacking in holy awe and reverence! Without the presence of fear in the soul, the quality of the believing, trusting and obeying as well as worshipping and celebrating will be minimized.

One way to begin to restore “the fear of the Lord” is surely to spend more time describing the very LORD God, whose Gospel is proclaimed, and doing so in such a way as to create the possibility for awe, reverence, dread and fear of him in all present. Another is to conduct “worship services” as unto not only the God who is LOVE but also the God, who in his majestic transcendence commands and deserves our FEAR.