“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” - Proverbs 9:10
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” - 1 John 4:18
“The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.” - Psalm 19:9
Many struggle to understand how the fear of the Lord should play a role in our lives as Christians. We rightly understand that faith in Christ should drive away any fear of hell, of condemnation by God. How can we believe that Christ has atoned for our sins, and at the same time think the same God is going to condemn us for those sins? The stronger our faith in Christ’s atonement, the less we should fear hell and wrath. But does that mean that the “fear of the Lord” should have no place in the Christian life? I think not!
First of all, the Scriptures everywhere present the fear of the Lord as a good thing, a grace which God bestows richly on His people. Jeremiah says that one of the gifts of the New Covenant is that God will teach His people to fear him always: I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good (Jer. 32:39). Also, Psalm 19:9 (cited above) says the fear of the Lord endures forever. It is not a temporary thing that we grow out of, but a permanent part of our relationship with God. In heaven the redeemed stand before the sea of glass that is mixed with fire and ask “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and glorify your name?” The holy angels have nothing to fear of judgment, yet they cover their faces before the enthroned Lord and cry “Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3). So clearly, the fear of the Lord is a part of the heavenly worship of holy people and holy angels who are freed from sin.
Yet, the Bible assures us that there is an aspect of fear that is temporary. 1 John 4:18 says there is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. That kind of fear has to do with punishment for sin, and anyone fearing like that has not been perfected in love. But here’s the whole issue: while we live here on earth, while our hearts are divided and we struggle with sin (Rom. 7), while we are still in danger from a gradual drifting away from Christ (Heb. 2:1) through the hardening deception of sin (Heb. 3:13), while great sin may still be in our future and cause us immeasurable pain and suffering, we have not been “perfected in love”. That will happen at glorification. In the meantime, I think we ought to have a very healthy fear of the Lord in His willingness to discipline us for sin. I think this is what it means to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). This fear of the Lord is temporary. When we are glorified and perfected in love, we will have nothing to fear from sin, and therefore nothing to fear from judgment, either.
"In the meantime, I think we ought to have a very healthy fear of the Lord in His willingness to discipline us for sin."
But we will not be done with that fear of infinite majesty, of consuming fire, of infinite immensity and holiness that dominates the minds of holy angels and redeemed saints. We will fall down before Him in a perfect fear and be engulfed in a perfect love. And that fear of the Lord will be pure and will endure forever.