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We need to make some important distinctions about the biblical meaning of “fearing” God. These distinctions can be helpful, but they can also be a little dangerous.

Fearing God draws from the Latin concept from which we get the idea of family. It refers to the fear that a child has for his father. In this regard, we think of a child who has tremendous respect and love for his father or mother and who dearly wants to please them. He has a fear or an anxiety of offending the one he loves, not because he’s afraid of torture or even of punishment, but rather because he’s afraid of displeasing the one who is, in that child’s world, the source of security and love.

The basic meaning of fearing the Lord that we read about in Deuteronomy tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The focus here is on a sense of awe and respect for the majesty of God. We get very flippant with God, as if we had a casual relationship with the Father. We are invited to call Him Abba, Father, and to have the personal intimacy promised to us, but still we’re not to be flippant with God. We’re always to maintain a healthy respect and adoration for Him.

One last point: If we really have a healthy adoration for God, we still should have an element of the knowledge that God can be frightening. “It is a frightening thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. As sinful people, we have every reason to fear God’s judgment; it is part of our motivation to be reconciled with God.

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