I was brought to church when I was very young by my mom and my grandmother, and they have followed me through my life as my most Christian role models. They both continuously point me back to Jesus, and call me to pray when I am suffering through my earthly struggles. They are both wonderful women of Christ’s own being, and it is no coincidence that God placed me in the family that He did (after every hardship it took to get to them).
I remember the first time that I was told that I was God-fearing. My grandmother was the one who said it, and she proclaimed the statement to me in her soft-spoken, gentle voice around a string of compliments. But, I was so offended. It’s like she was trying to pack in an insult around a casing of positive reinforcement so I could take it a little lighter and hopefully not so sharply. But I took offense, and stubborn 16-year-old Danielle left the room with a confused soul and anger for her downplay of my religious heart and soul.
There are a lot of things that I fear. I am afraid of the dark…like…petrified of the dark. I still sleep with a nightlight and I am 21 years old. I am afraid of germs, I am a germaphobe, and I wash my hands excessively. I am afraid of bugs, I hate them and I don’t like to think about their creepy-crawly legs. I am afraid of rollercoasters. I am afraid of heights. I am afraid of going to the dentist. I am afraid of losing one of my siblings. I am afraid of missing out on my life. I am afraid of terrorism. But our loving Heavenly Father? Why would God tell us to fear Him?
So, I took where I knew His word would help smooth out the edges of this confusing phrase for me: the Bible.
Fearing God is actually one of the best characteristics of a good Christian, because it saves us from caving into our own sinful nature! That’s why hearing that someone is God-fearing actually makes us trust that person more. If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness. In fact, Romans 3, a classic chapter on sin, says that our chief sin is that we “have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:18).
Scripture is full of examples of how fearing God is a positive rather than a negative thing, and the Bible uses the word fear at least 300 times in reference to God. For example in Genesis 42:18, Joseph wins his brothers’ trust when he declares he is a God-fearing man. It was because the midwives feared God that they obeyed him instead of the authorities by sparing the Hebrew babies (Exodus 1:17). Pharaoh brought disaster on his nation because he did not fear God (Exodus 9:29-31). Moses chose leaders to help him on the basis that they feared God and wouldn’t take bribes (Exodus 18:21) and told the Hebrews that God met with them in a terrifying display of his power so that they wouldn’t sin (Exodus 20:20). The Mosaic Law cites fear of God as a reason to treat the disabled and elderly well (Leviticus 19:14, 32). And lest you think this is only an Old Testament idea, note that Jesus states this stronger than anyone when he says, “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). And Paul says to work toward complete holiness because we fear God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
Being God-fearing means that we acknowledges God’s good intentions that is produced by His good word and makes a person receptive to wisdom and knowledge. This Christian trait is a reverential type of fear, making us obedient and abiding to His great mission for us as His children and disciples at His hands and feet on earth. Being God-fearing is not a mere “fear” of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him. As followers of Christ, we want to do everything we can every single day, from what we say to the way we live our lives, to make sure that all we do is right and pleasing to Him. The fear of God is an attitude of respect, a response of reverence and wonder. It is the only appropriate response to our Creator and Redeemer.
There will definitely be times of temptation or trial in our lives when we may forget some of the better reasons for obeying God. Reverence of God helps us to take Him and His beneficial laws seriously. Being in harmony with the spiritual laws that govern the universe has astounding benefits. Many of these come in this life, but the greatest benefits will be experienced in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8; Psalm 16:11). As we consider that our life on earth is merely smaller than the size of a pixel in proportion of our eternal life in heaven, we start to live in a way that pleases Him more than it pleases the world, and we are able to become more reverent and obedient in our faith.
God-fearing people are those who become grown through love and peace in His arms. The reverential fear of the Lord is designed to help us grow to become more like God— which in turn grows us in love. This growth removes any need to be terrified of God’s judgment. According to the Bible: “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love” (1 John 4:17-18). God’s laws define His love for us. God wants His laws written on our hearts. For example, even if we had no fear of being caught, we should choose to never steal from others—because we love them and we love God, and we should aspire to live the most sinless life possible to become more like Jesus was and is.
Being God-fearing makes us more humble in our ways, full in our hearts, obedient in our actions, and points us to things above rather than things around. To be God-fearing is a key element of adoration for the life giving sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross by giving His sinless life over so we may life without abandon. It also is a cornerstone for change; It helps us have a proper, humble perspective of ourselves in relation to our awesome God and motivates us to become more like our creator.
I believe my grandmother had my best intention at heart when she told me I was God-fearing. Now, I have the mission to put this into action in every part of my life.