The word “fear” is found 367 times in Scripture and takes on a variety of meanings. Sometimes the word refers to dread or terror. We see this usage in passages like Genesis 3:10, Jonah 1:5, Matthew 1:20, and 1 Peter 3:14. But other times the word is used in reference to God and refers to reverence, awe, and healthy respect. Ecclesiastes 12:13, Proverbs 1:7, and 1 Peter 2:17 are just a few of the many passages where the word is used in this way.
Fear of God is commanded a number of times in God’s Word. Israel was commanded, “You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name” (Deut. 6:13). The Psalmist wrote, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by those around Him” (Ps. 89:7). No one is excluded from this requirement. Deuteronomy 31:12-13 says
Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.
That all must fear Him is beyond question, but how is it accomplished? Practically speaking, the answer is summarized in one word–obedience.
God’s Word often combines fear and obedience, particularly in the book of Deuteronomy. Note the connection in the following passages.
- Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever (Deut. 5:29)!
- That you may fear the Lord your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you and your son and your grandson, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged (Deut. 6:2).
- And the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day (Deut. 6:24).
- And now, Israel, 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 (Deut. 10:12).
God desires that people fear and obey Him. Each of these passages combines these two commands and shows them to be interchangeable. To fear God is to obey Him, to obey God is to fear Him. This principle hasn’t changed. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The first-century church walked in godly fear (Acts 9:31). We are to “perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1) and “serve God acceptably with reverence and Godly fear” (Heb. 12:28). Each of these passages enjoins exactly what their Old Testament counterparts do–fear and obedience.
Solomon summarized the essence of man’s responsibility when he said, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecc. 12:13). It is impossible to imagine a son who claims to fear and respect his father also ignore and disobey what his father instructs him to do. The same principle applies to our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We can never truly fear and respect Him if we ignore and disobey what He commands us to do. To fear is to obey, to obey is to fear.