The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

by Mike Ratliff

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever. (Psalms 111:10 NASB)

Are New Testament believers to fear God or was that only for the Old Testament? The answer to that is yes to the former and no to the latter. However, it is possible to have irrational fear of God so we must fear God properly and in the right context. So, what is a good description of right fear?

This “right fear” that glorifies God and edifies the saint is discovered by three things. We discover it by its rise, which is caused by saving convictions for sin. When the Holy Spirit works through our conscience to convict us of our sins, if the conscience is not damaged and is, therefore, functional, then we respond in dread and fear because what we have done is offensive to the Holiness of God. Yes, the Christian is forgiven. Yes, his or her sins are covered by the blood of Christ and are, therefore, not held against him or her eternally. However, the Christian’s sin causes loss of fellowship with God. It causes the conscience to lose the ability to draw the believer into a close walk with the Saviour. We feel guilty so we avoid prayer and Bible Study and devotions. We do not worship. We feel guilty. We got this way because we sinned instead of fearing God and obeying Him. He has then allowed us to be miserable in our fleshliness. Now is the time to repent in “sackcloth and ashes.” Well, maybe not literally, but we need to come on our knees before God in fear and humility to confess and beg God to grant us repentance.

The second discovery of true or right fear of God is as it drives the soul to lay fast hold of Christ for salvation. Perhaps the emergents and those involved in the “New Evangelism” see this sort of thing as old fashioned and puritanical, but those who do respond to the genuine gospel as the Holy Spirit moves in their hearts the Father just regenerated see their sin and their complete inadequacy before our Holy, Righteous, and Just God. They fear God and this is what He is using to bring them to repentance and belief.

The third discovery of true or right fear of God is made when it begets and continues in the soul a great reverence of God, His Word, and ways, keeping it tender, and making it afraid to turn from them, to the right hand or to the left, to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the enemy to speak reproachfully. In other words, this is the fear that all those mature saints possess who walk in repentance throughout each day.

On the other hand, those who deny that the Christian must needs fear God say so blatantly, proudly and boldly, but what they are actually doing is stifling that fear that has become manifest in them. They must do this because they consider themselves to be basically good people who have been given God’s grace so they have nothing to fear. They stifle them as they think that these fears are wrought by the Devil (or one of his messengers like a proper evangelist), however, these fears are actually wrought by God. They believe this so they resist them as things that directly tend to their overthrow. They also think that these fears tend to the spoiling of their Faith, (when, alas for them, poor men that they are, they have none at all) and therefore they harden their hearts against them. They presume they ought not to fear, and therefore in despite of them grow presumptuously confident. They see that those fears tend to take away from them their pitiful old Self-holiness, and therefore they resist them with all their might.

Brethren, do you fear God or are you convinced that God is not to be feared? His Word tells us very clearly that those who have been touched by and witnessed the Holiness of God will fear Him and this is right. When we ignore this and focus entirely on grace and love then we are on the fast track to self-righteousness and that always leads to spiritual blindness and deeper ignorance of the truth. Those who do not fear God, but profess Christ as their Lord and Saviour are being presumptuous and their souls are in great danger.

This piece was partially adapted from a conversation between the characters ‘Christian’ and ‘Hopeful’ in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress as they discussed another character named ‘Ignorance’ who saw no reason for a good person to fear God. The Scripture used by Bunyan to show the proper fear of God was Job 28:28; Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10.

Soli Deo Gloria!

5 thoughts on “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

  1. #1- “It is a fearful thing to fall in the hands of the living God,” so we better fear (to sin).
    #2- “Perfect love casts away fear,” but how could one attain perfect love and how would one know that he/she has attained it?

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  2. Dear Mike,

    It is so refreshing to have a proper perspective on the fear of the Lord. A healthy, productive fear that spurs us on to glorifying God.

    I understand Agree’s question about Perfect love (which is God’s love towards us) because there have been many throughout church history (with good intentions) who believed they could lay hold of a state of perfection. And Scripture does say “As obedient children do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” 1Peter 14-15. However, after becoming completely frustrated with the inability to stop sinning and love perfectly (big smile) I realized that was what was continually pushing me towards my utter dependence on my Savior. “… for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5. “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14 This is a great encouragment.

    “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him.” Deuteronomy 13:4

    I cling to the Lord reflecting on Christ crucified for the remission of my sin every hour of every day. Praise God for His tender mercies!!

    Blessings to you and yours, charisse

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  3. I’ve sadly heard it said that we shouldn’t fear God! Yet the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, so His word says. Therefore, let God be true and every man a liar who goes against it.


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