When I was a child, there was a song titled “One of These Things is Not Like the Other.” It was sung as a kind of game to teach children to identify what makes things the same and what makes them different. Often there was a photo of three or four items and the child had to choose which one did not belong with the others.
This is true with the word “fear” in the Bible. God’s word talks about three kinds of fear, but one of them is unlike the others.
Fear in the Bible
For those familiar with the Bible, it is common knowledge that “do not fear” is a frequent command found throughout Scripture. This command is often found in the context of divine revelation, such as when God’s people were called to fight a battle or when a prophet warned of pending punishment for sin. This command was intended to comfort God’s people and to encourage them to trust in him. One such example is when Moses led God’s people through the Red Sea:
“And Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever” (Exodus 14:13).
When the Bible says, “do not fear,” the word fear refers to terror or panic. There are two types of this fear in Scripture. The first kind is often called “natural fear.” It’s the kind of fear that comes naturally to humans in a post-fall world. We live in a world where there are natural disasters, pandemics, losses, violence, political upheavals, and more. We all know what it’s like to approach a dangerous situation and our heart starts pounding and our adrenaline spikes. We quickly move ourselves to a place of safety. Natural fear gets us to run out of a burning building or find safe shelter in a thunderstorm. Natural fear is something even our Savior felt as he faced the cross that was to come (see Luke 22:39-46).
The Bible also mentions another kind of fear and this is the kind of fear that rules over us. It governs our choices and directs our path. It’s the kind of fear that becomes a pattern and ready response to the circumstances of our life. This kind of fear is sinful fear because it keeps us from trusting in and depending on God. We instead turn our gaze to the troubles around us, rather than to the One who rules over all things. We often seek out false saviors to rescue us from our fears, including our own strength and wisdom, rather than God.
We see an example of such fear in Exodus 32, when the Israelites feared that Moses would not come down from the mountain where God was giving him the Law. Instead of waiting for his return, they built a golden calf to worship. We also see the Israelites fearing other nations that were seemingly bigger and stronger than they. When the spies were sent into the land of Canaan to assess what was there, all but two of the spies returned with a fearful report about giants in the land (Numbers 13). The Bible also talks about the fear of man, as when Peter refused to eat with the Gentiles because he feared what the Judaizers thought of him (Galatians 2:11-13).
A Greater Fear
There is a third kind of fear in the Bible and this fear also comes with a command: fear the Lord. “Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints! There is no want to those who fear Him.” (Psalm 34:9) Yet the word “fear” in this context does not refer to terror or panic, but to awe or reverence. When we explore the fear of the Lord throughout Scripture, we find that it also includes love, honor, worship, adoration, trust, and obedience. The fear of the Lord is not a run-away-from kind of fear, but a run-to-something kind of fear; rather, a run-to-Someone kind of fear. In fact, the Bible teaches that when we face fears—whether natural or sinful— we are to trade those fears for a fear of the Lord. The Bible calls us to turn to God and see him as greater.
In Isaiah 8, God sent Isaiah out to prophecy against the nation of Israel for their sin and to announce their pending punishment. God told Isaiah not to join Israel in their fears, but to instead fear the Lord. “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread” (vv. 12-13). Jesus Christ, before he sent his disciples out on their own for the first time to preach about the Kingdom of God, gave them a similar command, “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” (Matthew 10:28).
We fear the Lord because he is greater than all our fears. He is holy, righteous, mighty, good, and gracious. He is the Creator and sustainer of all things. He is the sovereign King who reigns over all he has made. There is no one more mighty and powerful than God. He knows the end from the beginning. He determines all that takes place, and no one can interfere with his purpose and will.
This great and mighty God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be adopted as his children. He made us his own through the blood of his Son shed for our sins. He is our Father and we are his children. Like children, we can come into the presence of our Father and seek his help and find grace in our time of need. Tim Keller says, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.” We can bring all our concerns, cares, and fears to our Father in Heaven and know that cares for us. For as Christ told his disciples before he sent them off on their own: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
The fear of the Lord is unlike any other fear. It is different than our other fears for it is a holy fear. It is the fear we turn to and live out in the face of our lesser fears. We fear the Lord for he is greater.
 Twitter post by Tim Keller, 2/23/15.
About the Author:
Christina received her undergraduate degree from Covenant College and her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including TGC, Revive Our Hearts, and Ligonier Ministries. She is the content editor for enCourage and the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey to Hope Through the Psalms of Lament , Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ Helps Friendships to Flourish, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms and A Holy Fear: Trading Lesser Fears for the Fear of the Lord. Christina serves on the advisory board at Covenant College and is on the national women’s ministry team as Regional Adviser of the Southeast. She prefers her coffee black and from a French press, enjoys antiquing, hiking, traveling, and reading. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and two boys. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and on Facebook.