Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Ecclesiastes 12:13

Throughout Scripture we read that we are to fear God. King Solomon, after writing an entire book of the Bible regarding the vanity of living only with an “under the sun” attitude, ends the book by saying, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” But what does it mean to fear God? Is it the same as being afraid of Him?

Dr. Sinclair Ferguson differentiates between servile fear and filial fear. Servile fear is the fear a slave might feel toward a very harsh master. Whereas filial fear is a loving fear which a child feels towards his father. All unbelievers should fear God with a servile fear, but true believers have not received the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!

Dr. Ferguson goes on to say:

The fear of God in some ways defies our attempts at definition, because it is really another way of saying “knowing God”. It is a heart-felt love for Him because of who He is and what He has done; a sense of being in His majestic presence. It is a thrilling awareness that we have this greatest of all privileges, mingled with a realization that now the only thing that really matters in His opinion. To have the assurance of His smile is everything; to feel that He frowns on what we do is desolation. To fear God is to be sensitive to both His greatness and His graciousness. It is to know Him and to love Him wholeheartedly and unreservedly. To fear God, to trust God, to love God, and to know God – these are really one and the same thing. In fact the fear of God about which Scripture speaks arises from the discovery of God’s love for us in our sin and weakness. It is the sense of awe that results from the discovery that he knows me through and through, means to destroy all that is sinful in me, and yet does so because he loves me with an intensely faithful love. That stretches my mind and emotions to their limit.

– Taken from “The Pundit’s Folly” by Sinclair Ferguson (p.74)