How do I grow in the fear of God and decrease in the fear of man?

Steven Lawson & Derek Thomas
2 Min Read

LAWSON: I believe that as you grow in the fear of God, you automatically decrease in the fear of man. The greater fear displaces the lesser fear. To grow in the fear of God is to know who He is more deeply and personally. Who He is is made known to us in a general way in creation, but in a special, sanctifying way in His Word.

As we grow to know the attributes of God, the names of God, the triunity of God, the eternal decree of God, and the acts of God, there is a healthy, holy, reverential awe that swells and grows within our hearts. It is cultivated through prayer and worship. It is cultivated by being with other believers who take God seriously. It is cultivated by time in the Word and under the Word, and even by hearing a sermon like Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. All of that together cultivates a reverential awe and a holy fear of God.

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” and Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “The end of all matters is this: to fear God and to obey His commandments.” So, the first step to entering into the kingdom of God is to fear God. All true saving faith has in it the fear of God. No one giggles through the narrow gate, and no one skips into the kingdom. We all come with a reverential submission to God, but we grow in the fear of God throughout the entirety of our Christian life. We never outgrow fearing God. We grow to worship, adore, and love Him more and more in our sanctification, and then the end is, above all, to fear God. So, our whole Christian life is a progression in the fear of God. If you took the book of Proverbs alone and isolated all the different passages that talk about the fear of God, you would see that it is part and parcel of our spiritual journey with the Lord. Therefore, the more we fear God, the less we will fear man.

THOMAS: I want to note a couple of things. If we were to be honest, the fear of God is not uppermost in the modern church, and I do not think it is uppermost in the modern Reformed church. If we were to think of characteristics of the local church, I am not sure that the fear of God is one of them, sadly. I think it is a missing element.

Secondly, I was thinking of my dear friend Stephen Nichols’ biography of R.C. Sproul, which I have read, and I hope that everybody reads this biography because it is very moving. It recounts that R.C. read Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, which is difficult to read because it is meant for scholars rather than laypeople. Dr. Nichols talks about the mysterium tremendum, “the holy tremors,” and how that deeply affected R.C. The holiness of God was a mark of his ministry for the rest of his life—a great, big God before whom we walk in fear, a fear of reverence.

I was thinking of that line in John Murray’s book, Principles of Conduct, where he asked the question, “Is it right to be afraid of God?” His answer was, “It is the height of folly not to be afraid of God if there is a reason to be afraid of God.” Here, we are not talking about the fear of being afraid, but the “holy tremor” fear and that sense in a worship service where God has come down, and you are no longer aware of one another—you are not thinking about a shopping list, or what you are going to have for dinner, and so on. You are consumed by the presence of this majestic God. That is what I look for in both corporate worship and my personal life.

This is a transcript of Steven Lawson’s and Derek Thomas’ answers given during our 2021 National Conference, and has been lightly edited for readability. To ask Ligonier a biblical or theological question, email or message us on Facebook or Twitter.