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What Does It Mean to Fear the Lord?

We live at a time when seemingly fewer and fewer people in the U.S. fear God. Solomon, possibly the wisest man to ever live, said in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Yet if it’s so wise to fear the Lord, why do so many people, including Christians, seem to live their lives as if they don’t fear God?

Or perhaps the most important question is: What does it mean to fear God?

One way we can fear God is found in the first chapter of Jonah. If you’re not familiar with the story, Jonah was a prophet sent by God to warn the people of Nineveh to turn away from their sin. However, Jonah, who considered the people of Nineveh to be his as well as God’s enemy, got on a ship heading in the opposite direction. God sent a storm that threatened to destroy the ship, and when Jonah shared with the pagan sailors that the storm was a result of his disobedience, they cried out to God for help:

“Therefore they called out to the Lord, ‘O Lord, let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O Lord, have done as it pleased you.’ So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” (Jonah 1:14-16, ESV)

The main theme of this section of Jonah is the fear of the Lord. When the pagan sailors saw the power of God displayed in the storm and immediately recognized that God controls the wind and rain, they made a commitment to follow God. They got it. It’s clear from this passage that fearing God is good because it keeps us from giving in to our sinful nature the way that Jonah did. So one way we can fear God as shown in this passage is to have reverence for him.

Another way we fear God is by fearing his judgment. The Bible says that there will one day be a judgment for believers as well as a judgment for nonbelievers. Those who have faith in Christ will have salvation because they have trusted Jesus’s payment for their sins, so they won’t experience eternal judgment. There is a different judgment for God’s children called the bema seat of Christ or the judgment seat. I’m not going to go into a lot of details into what this judgment is about, but here are some resources if you want to look into it further:

What is the Judgment Seat of Christ / Bema Seat of Christ?

What Happens at the Final Judgment?

What Does It Mean to Fear God? (Christianity Today article)

How are you doing? Are you getting it? Do you live your life with a healthy fear of the Lord like the sailors, or do you just do what you want to do like Jonah? I’ve got to admit sometimes I’m like Jonah. Instead of living my life for the Lord each and every day, sometimes I just do what I want to do and live my life for myself. That’s why I need to remember the gospel – the good news that Christ died for me – each and every day. The more I grow to understand the gospel, the more my fear of God moves from an unhealthy fear (the fear of God’s punishment) to a healthy fear of God (a reference for how great and powerful God is and a fear that my life won’t reflect his glory).

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photo credit: ShinyPhotoScotland Ardvreck Castle via photopin (license)


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About Chad Young

Chad Young works in full-time college ministry, serving as Cru Global’s national director over the southeast region, leading the ministries in FL, GA, AL, and MS. He has served on the staff of Cru for fifteen years. He is the author of Authenticity: Real Faith in a Phony, Superficial World (InterVarsity Press), a discipleship-training manual, and magazine articles for Worldwide Challenge and The Collegiate. He frequently speaks at retreats and conferences and regularly writes devotionals for his website, findingauthenticchristianity.com. Chad, with his wife Elizabeth, travels the country to speak at churches and train church leaders how to make Biblical disciples. Chad currently resides in Atlanta, GA, with his wife Elizabeth and their four young children, Wyatt, Clark, Evelyn, and Josilynn. His hobbies include cheering on his kids in sports, following college football, and laughing with family around the backyard fire pit.
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