What Does It Mean to "Fear God"?

Prior to knowing him, I considered my elementary school principal a big, deep-voiced, scary man. Especially to a small student like me. I had heard stories about his wooden paddle, and you can imagine the fables that were invented. I got in trouble often, and one incident landed me in the principal’s office. I don’t know about you, but the principal’s office was worse than hell, at least in my mind.
I was doomed. I wasn’t even worried what my parents would think. I was just wondering whether or not I would die that day—or at least if I’d still be able to feel my bottom. I even heard his paddle had holes in it. Maybe even spikes.
He seemed like Zeus on the other side of his desk. I think lightning struck when I entered. To my surprise, his voice was gentle. He talked to me about what I’d done wrong and what I needed to do to make it right. At this point, I just thought he was buttering me up for the paddle. I don’t remember all he said that day, but I do remember this one thing: he reached into his drawer, grabbed a lollipop, and leaned over his big desk to hand it to me.
I deserved some serious punishment. I expected a wearing out, some screaming, and maybe death. But what I got was grace. I got what I didn’t deserve. Instead of punishment, I got a lollipop.
We have a twisted view of fearing God. Fear, according to the Bible, is about being in awe of Him, not about being scared of Him (Proverbs 14:26; 1 John 4:18). We think we’re in the hands of an angry God. But we’re not, no matter what that old preacher tells us. God is our heavenly Father. And He’s different from religion because He never gives us what we deserve. He gives us what we don’t deserve.
Unlike with religion, we don’t have to fear what God will do when we fail. We don’t fall away or lose His favor. Nor do we have to fear His punishment. Because of the cross and resurrection, He is always for us. He’s not mad at us. The last thing He wants us to do is be scared of Him. He’s not a parole officer we have to check in with each month. He’s our Father who set us free. And He is leading us to believe that the cross worked. We’re forgiven, we’re free, and we can fully enjoy Him.
Fear will never lead us to love God or others more. Only grace can do that. Just like the woman in Luke 7 who washed Jesus’s feet, those who are forgiven much actually love much. Simply put, when you realize all that has been done for you, the result is more love, not less. Grace, not fear, leads us to be in awe of Jesus. Grace, not fear, leads us to love Jesus.
Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could live your life afraid of Him. Nor did He take your sins away so you would have to face punishment or shame for them. That would be double jeopardy. In America, this means you can’t be tried for the same offense twice. God is the same way. He took what you deserved so that you could forever get what He deserved. He died and became your sin, so that you could embrace His love and be confident that you will never face punishment again.
No matter how many times we think we deserve punishment or deserve something bad because of our sin, God’s answer will always be the same: “It is finished.” God’s not handing out condemnation or shame. He will always reach across the desk and hand us what we never deserve— grace.

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