When Abraham sojourned in Gerar, he told King Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, which resulted in the king taking her for himself. God revealed to Abimelech that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and that he was a dead man. Abimelech protested that he was innocent and had acted only on the information Abraham had given him. God agreed and said that for that reason He had kept the king from touching her. He then commanded Abimelech to return her to Abraham, which he immediately did (Gen. 20.1-11).
How interesting that two entirely different perspectives existed concerning the land of Gerar! Abimelech asked: “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also?” (v. 4); yet Abraham, in explaining why he had deceived Abimelech, said: “Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place, and they will kill me on account of my wife” (v. 11). Abraham does not give reasons for his conclusion about Gerar; on the other hand, God did not refute Abimelech’s claim of righteousness. The reason for two opposite viewpoints remains a mystery.
However, the reader is given insight into what the fear of God means. The nation that fears God would, of necessity, practice righteousness. We might ask ourselves, “Does the United States of America fear God?” If we claim that our country does, then how do we explain the legality of abortion, loose laws governing divorce, and courts promoting homosexual marriage? To be sure, many individuals do not practice these things, but our nation allows them.
David quoted God as saying: “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God” (2 Sam. 23:3). How many in Washington, D.C. could be described by such a phrase? Some make decisions in the fear of the ACLU or the lobbyists. A few might vote in fear of their constituents, but how many give God any consideration at all? Yet it is to Him they must ultimately give an account for their decisions.
Those Who Fear Not God
This article does not seek to examine the responsibilities of the nation, however. Rather, the goal is for each one of us to ask ourselves, “Do I possess the fear of God?” Solomon said that the whole duty of man is to fear God and keep His commandments (Ecc. 12:13). It is obvious that many in the world have no fear of God; if they did, they would not lie to others and seek their harm. Nor would they neglect His commandments.
How is it that so many are wicked and choose to transgress God’s laws? The very first thing cited to describe this attitude is: “There is no fear of God before his eyes.” (Ps. 36:1-2). He “flatters himself” as he practices evil that God either approves of his actions or that He does not approve but will do nothing to stop him. The first option is expressed in Psalm 50:21:
These things you have done, and I kept silent;
You thought that I was altogether like you.
People mistakenly think that God’s silence and patience means that He approves of what they are doing. Is God corrupt? How could anyone think such a thing? The Old Testament makes clear that God is holy. No one could read Exodus or Leviticus and in any way come to the conclusion that God is like man. Isaiah knew immediately how sinful he was in comparison to God (Isa. 6:1-5). Yet because God does not send an immediate rebuke or punishment upon ungodly acts, people vainly imagine that He does not care—He understands how the game is played down here.
The second idea—that God does not approve but will do nothing to stop the wicked—is based on experience. When those who do wrong things first transgress, they may be fearful, but as time goes on, they become emboldened by a lack of punishment. They mistake the patience of God for indifference.
The one who has no fear of God may demonstrate that attitude in a number of ways. “The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit.” Some who do not fear God may be truthful most of the time due to their upbringing, but many have realized that if God neither cares nor punishes, they have no reason to be truthful with others. More and more in today’s society we are learning that people no longer tell the truth. In fact, it is alleged that the average person tells three lies during every ten minutes of conversation. A significant portion of people tell lies on their job applications to make themselves look better to prospective employers.
Those who do not fear God cease to be wise, since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr. 9: 10). They also cease to do good (Ps. 36:3), which makes sense. If they are not punished for doing evil, why should they think they will be rewarded for doing good? In fact, they devise wickedness on their beds—how they might take advantage of others in order to advance themselves. They do not abhor evil (Ps. 36: 4). Since they have lost the fear of God, they can rejoice in all the wickedness that goes on in the world, whether theirs or others. No doubt they have come to believe that only two classes of people who exist—suckers just demanding that someone take advantage of them and sharpies like them, who think that this life is all there is and therefore desire to get ahead in it.
In Romans 3, God describes the unrighteous as those who do not seek God, who do not practice good, whose tongues practice deceit, whose mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, whose feet are swift to shed innocent blood, whose ways involve destruction and misery, and for whom peace is not a priority. Quoting from Psalm 36:1, Paul then concludes this thought by saying: “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:10-18).
It is obvious that the Gentiles had no fear of God. First, they remained gathered in one location after the Flood instead of filling the earth, as God commanded. Then they built a tower to reach the heavens, and God confounded their language and scattered them into the various parts of the earth. Nevertheless, they rebelled further. They “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Rom. 1:25). The long list of sins that follows shows what man becomes when he no longer fears God (Rom 1:26-32). Does every person become each one of these things? They do not—or all people would be homosexuals (although all can do so, as they did in Sodom).
The point is that all people are free to practice all manner of wickedness—once they no longer have a fear of God. Some atheists are humanitarians, but many of them rejoice in their own or others’ immoralities because it reinforces their view that either God does not exist or He does not punish. Without the fear of God, the most depraved behavior is possible.
The Reason for Fear
Why ought men to fear God? There could scarcely be an easier question to answer, but it may be that some have lost sight of these truths.
1. God is to be feared because He is all-powerful. Revelation 19:6 declares: “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” The word omnipotent literally means “all-powerful.” This means that human beings will never, individually or collectively (as with the Tower of Babel), be able to outsmart, outthink, outmaneuver, or outmuscle God. His will is going to prevail whether anyone agrees with Him or not. No one can find a weakness on the part of God to tap into, nor can they find a character flaw in His holiness. There is no higher authority to whom one may appeal. His will shall be carried out.
2. God is to be feared because He is eternal. Anyone who thinks that some new regime will come to power and overturn what we read in the Scriptures will live and die in vain. Unlike Greek mythology, there is only one God, and He is self-existing, which was enunciated to Moses at the burning bush when God said: “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex. 3:14). God existed before He created the earth and will be around long after it is destroyed.
3. God is to be feared because He will hold man accountable for his sins. If anything causes post-modern man to wrinkle up his nose in disgust, it is the idea of being “judged.” They not only want to be allowed to do whatever they want by their fellow man, some will even despise God for deigning to criticize their ungodly actions. Since God has all power, however, everyone will give an account to Him (Rom. 14:11-12), and everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10).
4. God is to be feared because He has the power to destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt. 10:28). All of those who thought that He approved of their sins (or did not care) will learn that He most certainly did care. The Bible teaches that hell is a place of everlasting fire (Matt. 25:41), a place of darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 22:13), and a place of everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:9). Those who are sent there cannot return. Hell is eternal and therefore a place of no hope—ever. In this horrible environment many will undoubtedly ask themselves over and over again, “Why did I have no fear of God while I lived upon His earth?”
5. God is to be feared because He always keeps His promises. All prophecies and all promises that God has ever made have all come to pass—whether of the coming of Christ, salvation, or the church—they always occur just as God has foretold. All that He has said about the judgment and eternity will happen precisely the way He has described. His Word is always fulfilled (Matt. 24:35).
The Meaning for Us
Since these things are so, what manner of people ought we to be? First of all, as noticed earlier, we must fear God and keep His commandments. The natural tendency of man is to ask, “What laws must I keep?” “Which ones are the most important?” or “Hey, what’s the least amount that I can get by with?” Anyone who asks such questions still does not have a handle on what the fear of God really means.
When God gave Israel the Ten Commandments, did He also say, “Keep 80% of these, and you will be all right”? No. God does not grade on a curve, either. Considering Israel’s infatuation with idols, one would think that they were allowed to overlook the first two commandments. If given a choice of ignoring two of the ten, many today would select number seven and number 10, since they covet mates that belong to others and want to commit adultery with them.
But God never had in mind such foolishness; He gave all commandments for a reason—even those in the Old Testament were for the people’s good (Deut. 10:12-13). Jesus said that more than lip service had to be paid to Him. One cannot simply call Him Lord; he must do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21). How much of the Father’s will needs to be done? God expects all of it to be done. Jesus asked people how they could call Him Lord and not do what He said (Luke 6:46).
What should be cut out? “Say, that stuff about being evangelistic is kind of difficult; surely I don’t have to do that.” Well, then, perhaps Christians can get exemptions from loving one another, also. Many of the Jews would have liked a free pass from helping a Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). The problem in seeking loopholes is that there still is no fear of God, and such thinking is futile.
The second thing that we do if we fear God is to perfect holiness in our lives (2 Cor. 7:1). We cheerfully do so because we have such great promises from Him. He has pledged to be our God if we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit. We must be certain that we do not engage in the sins of the world that pollute our bodies and our minds. If we understand the holiness of God, we will want to abstain from the pollutions of the world which war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11; 2 Peter 2:20).
Perfecting holiness means not only abstaining from worldly lusts (Gal. 5:19-21), it also requires us to grow (1 Peter 2:2). We do not want to prostitute our bodies with unlawful sexual liaisons or pollute them with alcohol, drugs, or smoke. On the other hand, we need the spiritual exercise of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). These can be developed with prayer and practice. Some seem to think that, if they are baptized and attend worship, God will surely be pleased. He will not—if we neglect to develop ourselves spiritually.
The book of Proverbs contains several verses that deal with the fear of the Lord in both negative and positive ways. The fear of the Lord, for example, is defined as hating evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverse mouth (8:13). In other words, we ought to hate the things that God hates (Ps. 119:104). Most people do not think that God hates anything, but He does: He hates sin—those things that will keep people out of heaven and out of fellowship with Him.
On the positive side, the fear of the Lord prolongs a person’s days (Pr. 10:27). Also, in the fear of the Lord is “strong confidence” (14:26). The reason for that is that one’s faith in and fear of God cause him to walk in God’s ways. Knowing that one is pleasing to God provides confidence in dealing with life’s daily crises and is a comfort in time of turmoil because we know that, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s (Rom. 14:8). If God is for us, who can be against us (Rom. 8:31)?
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life…” (Pr. 14: 27). It not only refreshes along the way, it helps avoid “the snares of death.” It will bring one safely into eternal life, which ought to be the goal of every human being that God created. “The fear of the Lord leads to life, and he who has it will abide in satisfaction; he will not be visited with evil” (Pr. 19:23). How many people can say that they are satisfied in today’s world? Those who seek to please God will find that living His way is the best and happiest way.
“By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life” (Pr. 22:4). These things do not always occur immediately when a person decides to live in the fear of God, but they generally come along eventually. We ought not to be upset with evil people and the ways in which they seem to be blessed. “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but in the fear of the Lord continue all day long; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off” (Pr. 23:17-18). Final rewards are not received in this life, but patience and dedication will be recognized by the Lord. Sinners receive good things now from God (Matt. 5:43), but those material things are all that they will ever enjoy. On the other hand, the “fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever” (Ps. 19:9). Christians are blessed both now and in eternity.
Who is the one who walks in the fear of the Lord? Is it the one who ignores the Word or the one who studies it? Is it the one who worships God in the assembly of the saints or the one who thinks that the church is irrelevant? Is it the one who only knows God’s morality or the one who lives it? Is it the one who comes home from work, eats the evening meal, and watches three or more hours of television or the one who is visiting those with spiritual needs or reading religious materials? Is it the one who is seeking ways to take advantage of others or the one who is planning ways to show love to others? Is it the one who only speaks good religious sentiments or the one who lives the commands of God? All mankind needs to take seriously living in the fear of God.