Two Ways to Fear God

By Mary E. Stephens

There are two kinds of fear of God.  One is that of the unsaved and/or rebellious who will not submit to God willingly. Their fear is only in evidence when they are confronted with the power of God in such a manner that they cannot resist. The other is the respectful fear of the submitted Christian that causes us to look to God as our Father, in love and with obedience.  Obviously, you can't have both kinds.  They are exclusive, so to speak.

These two fears were demonstrated at the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Matthew 28:2-4 And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. 

This is the first kind of fear. This is the sort of fear that attributes all good things in life to "luck" but, when faced with something such as an earthquake, tornado or hurricane immediately hollers, "Act of god, act of God!" To them God is a boogie-man that is out to get them if they are not "good enough." When they are confronted with His real power, majesty and holiness, they are struck with an inability to function and may even pass out.

One of the two places in the Bible where we find someone falling backward, is when the mob came with Judas to arrest Jesus Christ. Their response was an example of this kind of fear when confronted with the power of God.

John 18:4-6 Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.

Falling backward is not the natural way a Christian meets the Lord. We fear the Lord in trust, knowing that He loves us, which causes us to obey or reverence Him. Falling backward signifies fear, distrust and/or guilt. This is very likely the reason that the people in many false churches fall backward in their alleged worship when their so-called "Hooooly Ghost" manifests. They cannot trust the devil who is the real power behind the "manifestations" they receive.

When a person claims to be a Christian and responds with the wrong kind of fear to the power and the holiness of God, it is possibly because they are either not saved or are walking afar off. I remember one particular lady that attended a church my dad pastored at one time. When the singing would get really powerful and people were really rejoicing in worshipping God, she would get an almost frightened look on her face as if it spooked her to be in the midst of us. Her fear of God was not the kind that should be exhibited by a trusting Christian, but rather tended to actually being scared, as if she might come to bodily harm. Later, we had reason to believe that she was not even saved.  [I should clarify that our type of worship did not involve a loud rock band or anything of that type, so it wasn't the noise or that she didn't like the style of music.]

When the women came to the tomb of Jesus we read that they were met by an angel. Matthew 28:5-8 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

Their fear was one of reverence which caused them to hurry to obey with great joy. It is as if Jesus rewarded them with His own appearance for this because the next verse tells us, And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him. Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me. Matthew 28:9-10

Our fear of God should bear this kind of fruit in our lives. It should inspire quick obedience accompanied with great joy and a desire to pass it on to others. When we do this, it will result in the blessing of close fellowship with Him. Proverbs 14:26 In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. This confidence comes from having the right kind of fear of the LORD, and brings us to our place of refuge, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

There is another example in scripture that shows these two kinds of fear.

In Daniel chapter 4 we have the account of what I believe is Nebuchanezer's conversion. He also learned to fear God with a right kind of fear, but only by being brought to the end of himself. He starts out, Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation. Daniel 4:1 -3 He then relates that familiar story, his dream which Daniel interpreted and the judgment on his pride that followed. He was driven out from men and lived like an animal for the appointed time. Daniel 4:34 and 37 And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:... 37 Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

This is the fear of God that bears good fruit. Not only did Nebuchadnezzar submit to God in respectful fear, but he passed this knowledge on to his people, and to all of us through the scriptures. (We saw that the women at the sepulcher of Jesus also were quick to obey the order to pass on what they had learned.) After having been a blood-thirsty terror to the people that he conquered, I have heard that from this point on the only historically recorded event that we have of Nebuchadnezzar was that he went and made peace between to warring kings!

The contrasting example that immediately follows is that of Belshazzar and his infamous feast. His lack of fear of God is evident when he orders the vessels from the house of God to be brought for him and his wicked friends to drink oblations to their gods. Daniel 5:3-4 Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king, and his princes, his wives, and his concubines, drank in them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone.    

Romans 3:18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Belshazzar was also treated to a display of the power of God for his lack of fear, but the results were quite different. Daniel 5:5-7 In the same hour came forth fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king's countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another. The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. And the king spake, and said to the wise men of Babylon, Whosoever shall read this writing, and shew me the interpretation thereof, shall be clothed with scarlet, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.

He was certainly afraid, but his response was not from a godly fear.  His first instinct was to get the devil's crowd to help him out. He only brought in Daniel when he was reminded about him by his mother (or she may have been his grandmother). Daniel reminded him of his father's experience, and pointed out his own wickedness in not regarding this and for desecrating the vessels from the Lord's house. He then interpreted the writing for Belshazzar. Daniel 5:26-30 This is the interpretation of the thing: MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians. Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain. So, we see the end results of Belshazzar's fear were that he lost his kingdom, his life, and most sadly his soul.

What kind of fear of God do you have? When the power and holiness of God is revealed, are you frightened, or do you worship the Lord in love and respect? Does your fear of God cause you to obey His word with great joy? Do you wish to share your fear of God with others because it for their benefit?

If your fear of God is not this kind, then you need to search your heart and see why. Are you born again? If not, then you need to be saved. You need to ask God for the right kind of fear that will give you confidence in Him and bring you into fellowship with Jesus Christ as your place of refuge from the wrath of God. 

If you really are saved, are you walking so far from God that you have become twisted in your fear of Him? If so, you need to take care of the thing that is standing in the way of your fearing God in love and joyful obedience.  He does not wish to frighten His own children, so if you are frightened of Him something is wrong inside of you.

If you have this kind of fear of God, but know some professing Christian that does not show this kind of fear, but rather the opposite, you need to go to them in Christian love and ask them why they have their fear of God is the untrusting, guilty kind.

Proverbs 1:23 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. 24 Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; 25 But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: 26 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; 27 When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. 28 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: 29 For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: 30 They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. 31 Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. 32 For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. 33 But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil.

Psalm 33:18-21 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.

There are two ways to fear God. Which do you chose?

Revelation 15:4 Who shall not fear thee,
O Lord, and glorify thy name? for
thou only art holy:
for all nations shall come and worship before thee;
for thy judgments are made manifest.


background & graphics by Mary E. Stephens
CA; edited 2022