Why are we told to fear God if love casts out fear?

Andrew Fountain
Sun, 2021-04-11

Video cover image by maido155 CC BY-SA 2.0

  • Many people feel that the Old Testament God wanted to be feared but there’s a different God in the New who has banished fear.
  • The solution to this problem is very rarely understood, even by Christians, and extremely important.
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Sermon Outline - Why are we told to fear God if love casts out fear?


To be really clear what it means when we read verses telling us to “fear God”.

Why are we told to fear God if love casts out fear?

  1. Is fearing God an Old Testament idea? My solution
  2. Fearing God in the Old Testament
  3. Fearing God in the New Testament

1. Is fearing God an Old Testament idea? My solution

  • In the Old Testament they were told to fear God but in the New, that love casts out fear

Love has cast out fear

  • (1 John 4:18) There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
  • (Romans 8:15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
  • (Luke 1:74) that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear,

Are we still to “fear God” or is that an “outmoded” Old Covenant idea?

  • (Eph 5:21) submitting to one another out of fear of Christ.
  • (2 Cor 7:1 ) Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.
  • (Rev 19:5) And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.”
  • (1 Pet 2:17) Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
  • One solution is to say that good fear means to “be in awe of”, but that does not really work in many places
  • I am going to give you my answer right now, and then spend some time proving it.

Three possible meanings for “fear” depending on the context

  1. Be terrified of…
  2. Allegiance and commitment to… (in love)
  3. Be in awe of… (less common)

E.g. “Sharp” depends on the context

  • Dangerous because it can pierce you
    “Be very careful with that sharp knife”
  • Be stylish
    Wow, you are looking sharp today

2. Fearing God in the Old Testament

  • I did a very detailed word study on all twenty of the Hebrew words used for “fear”.

Whom do you fear?

  • In this context, not an emotion but a rational decision about allegiance
  • And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” (Judges 6:10)
  • Fear = being committed to obeying

—Obey God because we are committed to him

  • And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you,
    but to fear the LORD your God,
    to walk in all his ways,
    to love him, to serve the LORD your God
    with all your heart and with all your soul, (Deut. 10:12)

Not emotions, but behaviour

  • …how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me,
    ‘Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words,
    so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth,
    and that they may teach their children so.’ (Deut. 4:10)
  • Hebrew parallelism

Allegiance with no hint of terror

  • Oh, how abundant is your goodness,
    • which you have stored up for those who fear you
    • and worked for those who take refuge in you,
    in the sight of the children of mankind! (Psalm 31:19) (=covenant trust)
  • Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him,
    on those who hope in his steadfast love, (Psalm 33:18) (fear = loving trust)
  • (Psalm 147:11) but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
    in those who hope in his steadfast love.

Allegiance and trusting commitment

  • But there is forgiveness with you,
    that you may be feared. (Ps 130:4)
  • We can remain in covenant with him even when we sin

Did Jesus fear the Father?

  • The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
    the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and might,
    the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. (Isa 11:2)
  • His delight is in the fear of the LORD,
    and he shall not judge by the sight of his eyes,
    nor decide by the hearing of his ears; (Isa 11:3)

3. Fearing God in the New Testament

“Fear” in the N.T.?

  • The word follows basically the same usage as the O.T.
  • There are places where it cannot possibly mean anything negative
  • Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself,
    and let the wife see that she fears [literally] her husband. (Eph 5:33)
  • “Awe” would not be a good alternative
  • “allegiance & commitment” would fit perfectly
  • “Love” can mean this as well, so the responsibilities are very similar
  • I think that the best approach is to ask the question:

Did Jesus ever want his disciples to be afraid of him?

  • (Matt 17:6–7 —transfigured) When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”
  • (Matt 28:10 —resurrected) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
  • (Rev 1:17 —or in heaven) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last,

Sometimes his miracles could make people afraid:

  • (Matt 14:27) But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
  • (Mark 6:50) for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
  • (Luke 5:10) and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”

A secondary idea behind fear

  • Awe, amazement, WOW!
  • God is still GOD


  • “Fear” = allegiance and commitment
    (unless context indicates otherwise)
  • He is our Lord and we are committed to him e.g. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov 9:10)
  • Terror-fear is only appropriate for those not committed to following him
  • But even our sin does not make us fear unless we no longer desire to follow him
  • Forgiveness allows us to live without fear
  • (Romans 8:15) For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Updated on 2021-04-04 by Andrew Fountain