John F MacArthurMany unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.

They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.

Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.

To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.

John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.

The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):

Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”

An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.

Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.