“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, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?" - Deuteronomy 10:12–13 (ESV)
If the fear of God is the most important and fundamental of all our fears, and if the fear of God ought to regulate other fears, then how do we go about putting the fear of God above every other fear? How do we cultivate the fear of God?
Consider what Moses tells the Israelites at the end of his life in the passage quoted above. In this passage, we find good instructions for how to cultivate the fear of God, which is the first requirement that Moses lists. It may be that the fear is first because all the others flow out of it. But it also may be that fear, being, first, is cultivated and maintained by doing the others. And the same could be said of each of the others.
In other words, in order to do any one of the things Moses mentions here, they must all be done. Perhaps the easiest would be to keep commandments and statutes, at least some of them. But if the Lord measures the heart along with the action, surely obedience without love or fear is not accepted (cf. Zec. 7:5-6).
I am proposing that these commands do not constitute a list of todos such as we might have on a given day. Tasks such as buying groceries, cleaning a room, and tending a garden may each be completed without reference to the others. But can a person walk in God's ways without fearing him, keep his commandments without loving him, or love him without obeying him? That seems a stretch.
These commands, then, constitute not a list of duties so much as a web of interconnecting and interacting dispositions and decisions which hold together or not at all. The fear of God, then, may only be distinguished from these other aspects without being separated from them. They are not only interconnecting. They are also interdependent.
It seems logical then to consider that we might be able to build bridges from the parts in which we are stronger to the parts in which we are weaker. In seeking to cultivate the fear of God, we do not start from scratch. We may consider the areas in which we tend to obey, love God, walk in his ways, and serve him with a view to developing from those things a deeper fear of God which will in turn strengthen those other areas. How do we do this?
Consider an area of obedience, such as remaining faithful in marriage. Perhaps a Christian has never considered the importance of faithfulness beyond the practical and inconvenient consequences on daily life. But how might the fear of God inform and motivate marital fidelity? As we consider the might and majesty of God in our calculations regarding our fidelity, there is brought into the equation a sense of awe and majesty. The divine Creator and our heavenly Father expects me to be faithful to my spouse. That is a heavy thing, a wonderful thing.
And this heaviness, this sense of the imposing interest of God Almighty on mundane interactions with my spouse is precisely one of the reasons the fear of God is crucial to living for God through Christ. The fear of God makes daily obedience a transcendent experience. The fear of God elevates daily obedience from mere moral conformity to an act of worship. And in this God is glorified by me more than if I were to remain faithful to my spouse because the alternative breaks a moral code. It is not a code alone that is broken, but my relationship with the sovereign Creator is violated. The fear of God brings the sacredness of the divine into the mundanities of daily life.
The Fear of God in Daily Living
It seems to me, then, that the importance of the fear of God for daily living is in the way that our fears tend to loom over our hearts like brooding clouds as we go about our day. Of course, there are those who seem to have no clouds at all, who are relatively carefree, and whose hearts are unclouded by fear. But that is not the goal of the Christian. The Christian's goal, ironically enough, is not to be free of fear but full of it.
And yet this is where the distinction between the fear of God and other fears becomes so important. The fear of God does not repulse us but attracts us. The fear of God does not enslave us but liberates us. The fear of God does not drive us to desperation but guides us to peace.
In sum, there is no greater thing to fill our hearts than the fear of God. This is surprisingly counter-intuitive for an American such as myself, who has heard my whole life repeated over and over that the United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave. While there is something good in being free and brave in the sense our national anthem intends, there is also a danger of freedom and bravery overrunning their bounds to make us believe that we ought to be entirely unfettered and fearless. And yet, this is not the goal for the Christian. We are bound to the obedience of God Almighty and we are filled with the fear of him.
There is, then, in this sense, a distinctly unpatriotic thread involved in living for God. It is not that we do not love our country, but that the fear of God is paramount rather than the fear of losing our nation's freedom or standing.
In sum, the fear of God is clearly not optional for the Christian. God's people are commanded to fear him, yet not in a way that casts out love but works with it. The fear of God is not an optional add-on or supplement to living for God but is integral to it. There can be no living for God where there is no fear of God. And when we consider the alternative, that we might somehow not fear God, I think the reasons become clear. If we do not fear God, who do we think we are?