The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.
How often we do everything we can as Christians to deny the truth of Proverbs 1:7. Now, of course, we conservative, Bible-believing Baptists would never out-and-out deny that this verse is true. The problem is, we deny that the word fear has any meaning akin to the word fear—as in to be afraid, frightened, terrified, etc. Instead, we tell one another that the word means a healthy respect for and reverence for something or someone.
Let me challenge this notion, however, with one simple thought: we would live better if fear meant fear. I’m not trying to deny the fact that perfect love drives out fear as John tells us (1 John 4:18). Nor am I trying to argue that Christians ought to live as though we fear God’s punishment, since our punishment has been fully carried out upon Christ. I’m also not saying that we should fear that God would somehow treat us differently than his word promises. IF one is in Christ, there is no longer any fear of facing God’s wrath.
But, is there not something in the middle ground between the two extremes of what fear must mean? Is there not something that is a little more akin to the right fear that God is due that is at the same time stronger than a simple respect for him? Perhaps I’m just splitting hairs here. Perhaps this is all semantics. But there has to be something more, something stronger than what we live with in common Christian circles that still does not deny that we are totally free and totally forgiven in Christ.
Let me say it this way: If we understand fear, we will live differently. Even if that fear is not the same as fear of punishment, fear of God will lead a person to live differently. No Christian who is living with a proper fear of God will live in bold and willful sin. No Christian will shrug off his or her ungodly behavior as though it is no big deal before the Lord. No Christian will live a life that lacks reverence, propriety, holiness, awe, respectfulness, wholesome speech, high standards, etc. who at the same time lives with a proper fear of God.
How should this come out in my life? I’m still working on it. But I know that it must come out differently than a simplistic shrugging away the concept of fear as something that must not apply to me. Even if I live in confidence that the Lord has truly and totally forgiven me in Christ, I must also live a life that looks as though I both love and fear my God. While love drives away the fear of punishment, it must not drive away the fear of offending my Lord.