In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, and His children will have a place of refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death.…Better is a little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure with trouble. (Proverbs 14:26–27, 15:16—NKJV)

I find it interesting that a word which deals with something as traumatic as fear can also be communicating something that is also quite healthy. Fear is a very natural part of this fallen world. Fearfulness in life must be put in its place by knowledge bred in the school of fearful submission to God. A quick reference to the dictionary shows this startling connection.

Fear is an Anglo Saxon word with a literal meaning of “sudden attack.” Fearfulness in life is defined as a distressed emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, or pain; the feeling or condition of being afraid for real or imagined reasons; apprehensive, anxious, uneasy, and doubtful. What may be gleaned from this is that there are real forces which are more powerful, resilient, and consequential beyond our ability to control. No wonder that the word is also used in the context of reverential awe and dread.

To be genuinely fearless is a unique gift, as well as a curse. While I have known many who have displayed fearlessness in their life, I have only known two individuals who never displayed fear in all of my experiences with them. One of them was my father. I remember being a boy of nine or ten when our whole family was out on one of our lengthy hikes. We were following an unfamiliar road that was sparsely traveled. We came upon a house with a very big, unleashed dog which seemed to stand at such a height that his eyes were able to look into mine. He was a fearsome creature with great big teeth, hair standing up on the ridge behind his head, a throaty growl, and a menacing look. Mom and all us kids cowered on the far side of the street; Dad stood face to face with the dog and shielded us until we were passed beyond danger. I was thankful for his brave action. Whatever fear he may have felt in facing the walking bag of sharp teeth paled in comparison to the fear he must have felt in our behalf. One fear drove out the other because it lent perspective in order to formulate the right action.

In a similar fashion, a believer must evaluate all his fears in life. Our Lord tells us, in Matthew 10:28ff, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell…. Do not fear, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” On the eternal scale of things (which is the scale every saint is supposed to consult for daily reference anyway) there is only One Being to truly fear with all reverential awe and respect. Proverbs 23:17 states, “Do not let your heart envy sinners, but be zealous for the fear of the LORD all the day; for surely there is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off.” Remember that Proverbs 1:7 teaches, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” The baptistic doctrine of individual soul liberty declares that “every man will stand before God one day, uncoerced, and give account for the things he has done.” That day is something to fear for everyone, whether in abject fear for the unsaved or reverential awe for the believer.

Of course, for believers the one truth that removes the abject fear in such an event is the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Through faith in His shed blood you are shielded by His propitiatory sacrifice so that your judgment occurred at the cross and all that remains is the eternal reward for the things He has done through you, as 1 John 4:18f states, “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. We love Him because He first loved us.” By the way, the Holy Spirit will see to it that the truth of God’s unstoppable forgiveness will not grant unbridled license to sin in any genuine believer’s life, as Psalm 130:3–4 states, “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.” In order to understand the place of fears and fearfulness, you must first have a healthy sense of reverential awe of God.

Once a believer honors God in the appropriate place in his life, he then is able to face any other fears in their proper context. He must reckon that God is bigger than any other fear in life or in death. Second, he must identify his fear. One of the simplest, and yet profound, questions to ask is “Of what am I afraid?” Third, ask, “Have any other saints, past or present, faced this fear and prevailed, and if so, how?” Fourth, ask, “Is there something I can do to obey God in this today, or is action for another day?” Finally, ask this question, “How can I face this fear in partnership with God rather than all alone?” Subjugate your fears to their proper place by living in healthy awe of God! Trust and obey.