Two Fears

The account in Holy Scripture concerning the crossing of the Red Sea provides an outlook on two types of fear. As the Israelites shook in their sandals as Pharaoh and the Egyptian army chased them to the water, Moses addresses God’s people: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today” (Ex. 14:13a, ESV). God’s people were not to fear this enemy.

And then the rest of Scripture provides similar admonitions–“Fear not…” (Isaiah 41:10), “I will fear no evil…” (Psalm 23:4), “whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1), “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7), and “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18a).

But there is room for another fear, the fear of God. In the crossing of the Red Sea account, we hear this: “And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant” (Ex. 14:31, ESV). And then the rest of the record: “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (Deut. 6:13), “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God…” (Deut. 10:12), “Now therefore fear the Lord…” (Joshua 24:14), “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” (Psalm 111:10), and “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Thus, we are not to fear anything in this world, but we are to fear God. Of course, human beings, according to their sinful nature, will fear their enemies in this world–sin, death, and the devil. That is when God’s good news is given to them. And, according to their sinful nature, they will not fear God. Our hope then is that God will kill them and make them alive.

Throughout all of this, we uphold these two truths: We are not to fear our enemies of sin, death, and the devil in this world but we are to fear God.

3 thoughts on “Two Fears

  1. “Of course, human beings, according to their sinful nature, will fear their enemies in this world–sin, death, and the devil.”

    Hmmm. I can’t think of any Bible support for this statement. As I understand it, the sinful nature fears death, but not the devil, and definitely not sin.

    We do not perceive the hostile intent of the Big Three until we get a new nature. We’re clueless, or co-opted, but we are powerless to choose anything else.

    As you fine-tune this essay, you might also want to distinguish between fear of God under Law, and fear of God under the Gospel. I don’t know who said it, but here goes: “Slave-fear is fear that God will come. Son-fear is fear that God could leave.”

    Just my two shekels…


  2. Pastor Joe Fremer,

    Thanks for prompting me to provide clarification.

    First, I think we can agree that any fear, besides the fear of God, is sin. In comparison, doubt, in relation to one’s salvation and God, is sin. But back to fear.

    You mentioned the Big Three–our enemies in this world, sin, death, and the devil. When I said human beings, according to their sinful nature, fear SIN, I was thinking more of the effects of sin. All of your weaknesses, all of your faults, all of your handicaps exist because of sin. Therefore, for example, as one goes about in life and fears some daily activity due to some effect of sin, that fear exists because of the presence of sin in the world. (Maybe a scriptural example of this is Moses’ hesitation in leading God’s people. His fear came from his faults which existed because of sin.)

    Then, the devil can cause all sorts of fear. Through his lies, he can make people doubt everything God has said. Yet, Christians have no reason to fear the devil. He has been defeated. Yet, according to our sinful nature, some people may become really afraid of the powers of the devil.

    For more scriptural support see my refrences in the original post. As with doubt, all fear of worldly things is sin. This happens according to our sinful nature. John says perfect love casts out fear. Paul writes that we do not have a spirit of fear but of love, power, and self-control. There is no room for worldly fear. But, like I said in the original post, human beings, according to their sinful nature, will still get afraid. That is when God’s Word is applied.

    Finally, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ. We can approach Him with boldness. But as we saw in the above refrences, Scripture still has God’s people fearing God. As God saved the Israelites at the crossing of the Red Sea, the result was that they feared God. Gerhard Forde also talks about the fear of God and its role in the Christian life. It is still the work of the Spirit to bring the fear of God.

    Anyway, I am rambling now. Hope this helps.

  3. I believe it was David who said, “With you there is forgiveness. THEREFORE you are feared.”

    It is a great lie to believe that any fear of God *before* conversion is “fear” while fear of God *after* conversion is “awe,” or something less than terror. According to our confessions, (if the Confessions are important in this discussion,) we cannot rightly *fear* God without conversion. It is precisely the new man who most knows just how much he ought to fear God–so much so that he fears that he does not fear enough, for he keeps sinning and does not stop, (true fear of God would stop sin before it happens – see Reve. 22:8-9)

    This in no way negates a Christians love for God, or trust that he is loved by God in Christ. Fear and love, seeming paradox, are two sides of the same reality.

    Personally, I look forward to heaven because it is there that I will finally, truly fear God with all my heart and all my strength and all my mind. Thus, I will love Him just the the same.

    However, Mike, I thought your answer regarding fearing the devil more implied that we fear the devil’s work, and not the devil himself. I suppose if I sit and ponder who the devil actually is, I can work myself into a fear of him. But I would agree that in the post-modern context, we really don’t fear the devil at all. Even many Christians don’t believe he exists.

    So here’s a question! Is that a good or a bad thing? Is that what Jesus was getting at when he said, “do not fear…” Or should preachers preach fear of the devil in order to destroy cocky consciences in order to preach Christ and the true fear of God in order to redeem in order to help people to not fear the devil in the right way? Ha.

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