Fear is a complex emotion that we all experience. In the Bible, there are essentially two types of fear that are discussed – reverential fear and sinful fear. Understanding the differences between these two fears is important for every Christian.
Fear can be a debilitating force in our lives if not properly understood. Many of us struggle with various fears like the fear of man, fear of the future, fear of rejection, and so on. However, the Bible makes it clear that as believers we are not meant to live in fear.
2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) reminds us:
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Yet there are also verses that instruct us to fear God and live in reverence of Him. Clearly, there must be two different types of fear being referred to.
Here are some key takeaways on the differences between reverential fear and sinful fear:
- Reverential fear is a holy fear of the Lord that humbles us and leads us into righteousness. Sinful fear lacks faith and focuses on the negative.
- The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom and life. Sinful fear leads to bondage and death.
- The fear of God is clean and enduring. Sinful fear is unclean and temporary.
- Reverential fear draws us closer to God. Sinful fear separates us from God.
Understanding these differences is vital for every believer. As we dive deeper into God’s Word, we will gain more insight into these two types of fear.
Reverential Fear of the Lord
Reverential fear of the Lord is a clean and holy fear. It is a humility and awe before the majesty, holiness, and power of God. Reverential fear recognizes God’s supreme glory and might.
Proverbs 9:10 (NKJV) explains the importance of this fear:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
When we have a reverential fear of the Lord, it puts many things into perspective. We recognize the majesty and authority of the Almighty God. We understand our rightful place as His servants and children. Reverential fear motivates us to honor God and obey His Word.
Some characteristics of reverential fear include:
- Deep awe, respect, and wonder of God’s greatness
- Recognition of God’s supreme power and sovereignty
- Strict obedience to God’s commands and will
- Desire to live in a way that pleases God
- Willingness to repent of sin
The ultimate example of reverential fear is Jesus Himself. Hebrews 5:7 (NKJV) describes Jesus’s attitude of reverence:
Who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear.
Even Jesus, the Son of God, demonstrated godly fear and reverence as He sought the Father’s will.
Reverential fear is liberating because it removes pretense and pride. It inspires sincere life change and repentance. This fear keeps us in step with the Holy Spirit and empowers righteous living.
Proverbs 16:6 (NKJV) highlights this truth:
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.
As we grow in reverential awe of the Lord, we increasingly hate evil and shun sinful temptations. We do this not out of terror of punishment, but out of love and honor for our great God.
The sons of Korah describe the blessings of reverential fear in Psalm 34:8-11 (NKJV):
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Oh, fear the Lord, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him. The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.
Living with a reverential fear of God leads to walking in His goodness and provision. It brings great spiritual blessings.
Sinful Fear and Anxiety
In contrast to reverential fear, the Bible also talks about sinful fear and anxiety. This type of fear is unclean and dishonoring to God. Sinful fear leads to bondage, distress, and separation from God.
Some examples of sinful fear discussed in Scripture include:
- Fear of other people and their opinions
- Fear of lacks in provision or poverty
- Fear of violence or harm
- Fear of rejection and loneliness
- Fear of death and the future
Many Psalms describe David’s struggle with anxiety and fear. In Psalm 56:3 (NKJV), David admits:
Whenever I am afraid, I will trust in You.
Rather than give in to sinful fear, David chose to trust in the Lord.
Sinful fear often manifests as anxiety, dread, and despair over our circumstances. It locks us into negative thought patterns and steals our joy and hope. This fear flows from a prideful heart that does not fully trust God’s goodness and provision.
1 John 4:18 (NKJV) delivers an important truth about sinful fear:
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
Sinful fear cannot exist where God’s perfect love abides. The solution to driving out sinful fear is abiding in Christ’s love.
Why does sinful fear involve torment? Because it opens the door to the enemy’s oppression. Fear gives the devil a foothold and dishonors the Lord.
The sons of Korah describe how temporary sinful fear is compared to reverential awe:
The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe. (Proverbs 29:25 NKJV)
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy. (Psalm 33:18 NKJV)
Reverential fear fixes our eyes on the Almighty God. Sinful fear focuses us inward on our own weaknesses.
So how do we conquer sinful fear and anxiety? The Word of God offers much encouragement and advice.
Philippians 4:6-7 (NKJV) instructs us:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Casting our cares upon the Lord with thanksgiving is the antidote to fear and worry! This allows God’s supernatural peace to flood our souls.
Another powerful remedy is found in 2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV):
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
We can boldly rebuke sinful fear and anxiety in the name of Jesus, trusting in God’s power and love. He has equipped us with His Holy Spirit who brings self-control.
Meditating on God’s Word also renews our minds and washes away ungodly fears. Joshua 1:9 (NKJV) says:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
When we daily submit to God’s assignments and calling, He promises to be with us at all times. What do we have to fear?
Psalm 27:1 (NKJV) continues this theme:
The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?
With the Lord as our light and strength, we have nothing to dread or worry about it. He is greater than any fear.
Key Differences Between Reverential and Sinful Fear
There are stark contrasts between reverential fear of the Lord and sinful, anxious fear:
- Focuses on God’s holiness and sovereignty
- Inspires deeper obedience and righteousness
- Is holy, clean, and enduring
- Leads to great spiritual blessings
- Casts out pride and pretense
- Motivates sincere repentance
- Focuses on troubles and weaknesses
- Produces anxiety, dread, and despair
- Is unclean and temporary
- Leads to bondage and separation from God
- Stem from prideful self-reliance
- Locks us into negative thought patterns
The fear of the Lord leads to wisdom, peace, and everlasting life. Sinful fear leads only to spiritual torment, distress, and death.
Proverbs 19:23 explains it simply:
The fear of the Lord leads to life, And he who has it will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil.
But Proverbs 15:16 offers a sobering warning:
Better is a little with the fear of the Lord, Than great treasure with trouble.
Seeking earthly riches over the fear of the Lord only leads to worry and anguish. Reverential awe of God is far more valuable than material wealth.
So pursue reverential fear first and foremost in your walk with Christ. Do not let sinful anxieties weigh you down or distance you from the Lord. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the Almighty God who delivers us from all fears.
He makes this promise in Isaiah 41:10 (NKJV):
Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
Fear can either draw us towards God or push us away from Him. As believers, we must cultivate a holy, reverential awe of the Lord while rejecting sinful fears and anxieties.
Examine your heart and consider where you may be struggling with sinful fears. Confess these to the Lord, asking for His deliverance. Then renew your mind daily with Scriptures that reinforce God’s power, love, and presence.
As you grow in reverential fear, you will experience greater blessing, wisdom, and intimacy with your Heavenly Father. You will find freedom from oppressive anxiety and walk boldly in your calling.
So seek the Lord with all your heart! Taste and see that He is good. There is no lack or sorrow to those who fear Him rightly. Trust in God’s righteous right hand which is ready and able to uphold you. Be strong and courageous – do not fear anything. The righteous fear of the Lord will empower you to live fully in His love and victory.