A Fear That Leads to Holiness

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Prov. 1:7

The fear of the Lord is a silent wonder, a radical amazement, and an affectionate awe of a God who became incarnate in human flesh, died in my place, and rose again. This fear is not a fear of punishment, but the dread of hurting or breaking God’s heart by disappointing his plans for me.

We exhibit the fear of God by submitting to his lordship, yielding to his Word, and honoring delegated authorities. We fear the Lord by maintaining a constant conscious awareness of His presence–we are always aware that God is watching our actions, attitudes, and actions. This fear is not a fear of retribution or punishment, but a deep heart-felt desire to walk in holiness and obedience to God’s Word (Prov. 1:7, Psa. 33:18).

The fear of God which is the soul of godliness does not consist, however, in the dread which is produced by the apprehension of God’s wrath. When the reason for such dread exists, then to be destitute of it is the sign of hardened ungodliness. But the fear of God which is the basis of godliness, and in which godliness may be said to consist, is much more inclusive and determinative than the fear of God’s judgment. And we must remember that the dread of judgment will never of itself generate within us the love of God or hatred of the sin that makes us liable to his wrath. Even the infliction of wrath will not create the hatred of sin; it will incite to greater love of sin and enmity against God. Punishment has of itself no regenerating or converting power.

The fear of God in which godliness consists is the fear which constrains adoration and love. It is the fear which consists in awe, reverence, honour, and worship, and all of these on the highest level of exercise. It is the reflex in our consciousness of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God. It belongs to all created rational beings and does not take its origins from sin.

John Murray, Principles of Conduct: Aspects of Biblical Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,1957), 236-37.

HT: The Reformed Reader