Mental Health

What Does ‘Fear of the Lord’ Mean?

Doug Bender

October 19, 2023 | 3 minute read

The leaves are turning, the weather is cooling, and haunted houses are open for business. Fall has officially arrived. Many people look forward to the various fear-themed events of the season. Fear can be good entertainment. But the Bible adds another layer to the conversation about fear. God says that you should fear him. What does this mean? And why is fear such an important aspect of your relationship with a loving God? 

Fear as a Warning System

Biologically speaking, fear has a protective function. Fear readies you for danger. When you encounter a potential threat, your body reacts by releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Your blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing all increase. Blood rushes to your limbs and major muscle groups. These reactions prepare your body to either fight the danger ahead of you or run away from it. 

Of course, like all other emotional states, fear has healthy and unhealthy expressions. But knowing that God gifted you with an emergency response system reinforces the idea that fear is intended as a good thing. 

Fear Beyond the Physical

Beyond the physical, fear provides a level of protection for all of the different dangers you face. Think about a social situation you have likely encountered many times: You need to have a difficult conversation with a friend. Just thinking about such a conversation can trigger a fear response. Your heart rate can go up and your mind starts to race. You can begin to obsess over exactly what you should say when this conversation finally happens. While this set of responses can be uncomfortable and distracting, ultimately, they can help motivate you to be careful with what you say to your friend so as not to ruin the relationship. 

Healthy fears, like this, can be a helpful safeguard to your relationships. Your relationships can’t thrive if they are entirely-based on fear, but healthy fear can provide some good guardrails for you. Healthy fear can keep you from doing or saying unkind things or rushing into conversations unprepared. This same effect can occur whenever you take a test, face a review at work, or experience something that reminds you of a past trauma. Your fear response is designed to keep you as safe as possible in all areas of your life.

Fearing an All-Powerful and Loving God

Fear can also keep you spiritually safe. The Bible frequently calls on believers to “fear the Lord.” If you think of fear as a negative or bad emotion, this can be confusing. But remember, fear is not bad. It is good and useful. It can be twisted, overused, and abused, but the emotion itself is good. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, when the Bible talks about the proper use or context for this emotion.

God is all-powerful. He holds the universe in his hands. You are a part of that universe. That means that God is completely capable of dramatically altering any and every aspect of your existence. That is a sound basis for fearing him. It is the same rationale for fearing a cliff, a violent storm, or an out-of-control car. These things can dramatically affect your well-being and it is proper and wise to fear them.

But God has also revealed himself to be kind, loving, and forgiving. Your fear for God should have this layer to it, as well. Not only should you fear God because he is the mighty creator who holds your fate in his hands. But you should also fear God in the sense that you don’t want to mess up your relationship with him. The Bible says that you can grieve God with your bad decisions. Like you would fear hurting the people in your life who care about you, you should fear doing something that sours your connection with this loving God. 

Fear or Respect?

Some would say that fearing God is really just another way of saying you should respect God. But when your car hits an icy patch on the road, you don’t just respect the ice in that moment, you have a visceral moment of fear. You sense real danger and take immediate and emergency action to address that danger. 

Perhaps the Bible chose the word “fear” because you should have that same gut-level response to spiritual dangers. God is big and powerful. And he loves you an immense amount. Messing up your relationship with him can have even larger and longer-lasting consequences than a car crash. Your relationship with God should go deeper than fear. You should also grow to trust his mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, but God is still God. And that means fear still deserves its proper place in your relationship with him. 

Fear can protect you, all of you. Your spiritual health is an important aspect of you. You can’t be healthy if fear is all that you feel towards God. But fearing God can keep you safe when serious temptations or distractions come your way.

Doug Bender

Doug Bender

Doug Bender is an I Am Second writer and small groups coach. He developed many of the small group tools found at and has coached churches, organizations, and individuals to use I Am Second groups to share the message of Jesus with their friends and family. He also works with I Am Second's parent organization, e3 Partners, as a church planter and pastor in countries such as Ethiopia, Colombia, and the US. Doug and his wife, Catherine, have four children: Bethany, Samuel, Isabella, and Jesse.

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