Thoughts on Holy Fear

The words, “Be not afraid” are spoken a lot in the Bible. One would think these words would be spoken mostly to wicked people who are being confronted with their evil. But such is not the case.

The words “Be not afraid” are most often directed to believers. This is counter intuitive. Aren’t believers, with their faith not supposed to be afraid of anything? Aren’t the unbelievers the ones who should be afraid?

But the fact is, unbelievers don’t have any fear.  Why not? Unbelievers don’t care.

When the Lord appears to Cain and warns him not to harm his brother Abel, he is not afraid and ignores the Lord’s warning.  When he appears to Cain again to confront him with the murder of his brother he still is not afraid: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”. It is not until he is held accountable and given his punishment that he shows any fear.

David was different. He was afraid to kill Saul, not because there was anything special about Saul, but because he was the Lord’s anointed. (I Samuel 24:5-6) And later he showed no mercy to  the one who was not afraid to kill Saul (2 Samuel 1:14-15).

In every angel appearance  in the first two chapters of Luke the people are afraid.  Zechariah (1:13), Mary (1:30) and the shepherds (2:10). The angels says to them all,  “Do not be afraid”.

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We are to fear, fear the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

It is  completely normal that when God appears to a sinful human they would be afraid. This was the reaction of Adam and Eve to God when he appeared to them in the Garden of Eden after they had sinned. Unbelievers who don’t have a real sense of their sin and don’t feel accountable to anyone other than themselves, have no reason to fear.

So here’s how things stand. Unbelievers have no sense of sin and its enormity and thus no holy fear. Believers with a real sense of sin and unworthiness have fear but it is a godly fear, a fear that leads them to look outside of themselves for help: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:8.)  And thanks be to God for all the times the Bible tells us, “Be not afraid.”



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