7. The Fear of the Lord
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” (Proverbs 1:7)
Having addressed how sin works in our lives, we now turn to how we grow in holiness. Growth takes knowledge. When we talk about sanctification, we must emphasize knowledge. Sanctification is not a list of steps or self-help principles that we can check off. It calls for great knowledge to know how to walk with God through the diverse circumstances of life.
And to grow in knowledge, we need to fear the Lord; that is, to be whole, to be single-minded, and to live according to the biblical standard requires a continual process of learning who God is and realizing how desperate our situation is apart from Him.
In this session, keep in mind how a reverence for God helps you guard against failing in the areas of struggle you discussed in previous sessions and motivates you to pursue positive growth in holiness.
- Individual Aim: To expand your understanding of and growth in the fear of the Lord.
- Group Aim: To explore ways to incorporate an understanding of the fear of the Lord into the daily lives of group members.
Read Session 7: The Fear of the Lord.
Complete Biblical Exercise: Genesis 20 and 22 beginning on page 46.
Read Genesis 20; 22:1-19. Also, review “A Method for the Biblical Exercises” beginning on page 15.
Observation—“What Do I See?”
1. Who are the persons (including God) in the passage? What is the condition of those persons?
2. What are they saying or doing? (Look especially for statements or actions that are emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unalike, or true to life.)
3. When did this take place?
4. Where did this take place?
5. Why did it happen?
- What changed between the beginning and the end of chapter 20?
- What changed between the beginning and the end of chapter 22?
Interpretation Phase 1 — “What Did It Mean Then?”
1. Coming to Terms—Are there any words in the passage that you don’t understand? Write down anything you found confusing about the passage.
2. Finding Where It Fits—What clues does the Bible give about the meaning of this passage?
- Immediate Context (the passage being studied)
- Remote Context (passages that come before and after the one being studied)
3. Getting into Their Sandals—An Exercise in Imagination
- How did it look?
- How did it sound?
- How did it smell?
- How did it feel?
- How did it taste?
Interpretation Phase 2 — “What Does It Mean Now?”
1. What is the timeless truth in the passage? In one or two sentences, write down what you learned about God from Genesis 20 and 22.
2. How does that truth work today?
Application — “What Can I Do to Make This Truth Real?”
1. What can I do to make this truth real for myself?
2. For my family?
3. For my friends?
4. For the people who live near me?
5. For the rest of the world?
When Abraham moved his family to the Negev region, he told residents there that his wife, Sarah, was his sister.The king of that region,Abimelech, took Sarah to become one of his wives. Before having Sarah as his wife, Abimelech had a dream in which God warned against it because she was Abraham’s wife. Abraham admitted that the reason he lied about Sarah was because he thought, “There is surely no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Genesis 20:11).
Abraham knew that the people of the Negev had no knowledge of his God and did not live according to His standards. He assumed God could not or would not take care of him in such a place, so he took matters into his own hands by lying about Sarah’s identity. The irony of the story is that Abraham was the one who showed that he didn’t fear God.
The situation was different in Genesis 22. In this situation, many years later, Abraham showed his obedience to God in his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. In Genesis 22:12, the angel of the Lord said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy… . Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” God reaffirmed His everlasting covenant with Abraham because He knew that Abraham feared Him.
What changed in Abraham? He gained faith. Earlier he didn’t trust God to protect his life. Later he was willing to sacrifice his hope of descendants, trusting that God would honor His promise to raise up a nation through Abraham’s offspring.
There are two broad categories of Old Testament people who had “fear of the Lord.” The difference lies in how and why they feared Him. The first group feared the Lord in terror (see 1 Samuel 11:7; 2 Chronicles 14:14). They expected imminent destruction. They often hid in caves and holes to escape the day of the Lord and His terrible judgment (see Isaiah 2:10,1721). In some translations the term dread captures this sense effectively.
The second group’s fear was consistently associated with long life, knowledge, and wisdom (see Job 28:28; Psalm 19:9; Proverbs 1:7,29; 2:5). To fear God in this way is to rightly ascribe to Him all authority and power. Generally, those who reject God will eventually dread Him, while those who are His prudently fear Him.
So what about us? What tension should we feel between intimacy with our Father and awe before Him as the Creator of the universe? Exodus 20 provides an interesting insight. Immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites were terrified by the thunder, lightning, and smoke that signaled God’s presence. In response, Moses told them, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning” (verse 20).
God didn’t come simply to terrify them. He wasn’t trying to get an emotional response just to prove His power. But He did want the people to fear Him for their own sake. He wanted to give them a glimmer of the One with whom they had made promises of loyalty. God intended for this revelation of who He was to affect them so deeply that they would take His instructions seriously, even when disobedience felt better. Author and theologian Craig Blaising described the balance for all of God’s children: “God has not come maliciously, but neither has He come permissively; and in between the two is grace.”
the fear of the Lord: an inward attitude of humble reverence toward God, in light of His self-revelation, that results in outward expression of Christlikeness
According to this definition, the fear of the Lord involves two parts.The first is the inward attitude. This attitude is humble because as the Lord reveals His character, His majesty, His power and holiness, we are humbled before Him. We realize that God alone is worthy of our devotion and reverence (see Job 38–41; Psalm 33:8; Hebrews 12:28-29). The second part is the outward obedience, which flows from this inward humility. God reveals Himself to us so we will obey Him (see Deuteronomy 6:2-13). The two parts are linked.
As Christians, we express obedience by modeling our lives on Christ’s. Christ Himself, the greatest revelation of God, is the best example of how we can live properly fearing Him (see Philippians 2:5-16).
How can we grow in our fear of the Lord? Here are three suggestions:
1. We can immerse ourselves in God’s Word (see Psalm 119). The fear of the Lord grows with revelation of how magnificent He is. As we see His character and authority through the events and teaching of Scripture, our hearts will be drawn to have a proper reverence toward God.
2. We can ask the Lord regularly to unite our hearts to fear His name (see Psalm 86:11). God desires to reveal Himself to us and to align our heads and hearts to His character. This is a prayer He longs to answer.
3. We can live moment by moment in the reality of God’s presence (see Psalm 139:7-12). When we forget about God in our daily schedule, we are not living in reality. We must cultivate a mindset that is ever aware of God’s presence.
The fear of the Lord is the product of God’s revelation. This knowledge leads to an attitude of humility and exhibits itself in obedience. When we truly fear the Lord, we have union between mind (what we think), heart (what we value and treasure), and body (what we do).
Read Session 8: Spirit.
Complete Biblical Exercise: John 15 and 16 beginning on page 55.
Related Topics: Sanctification