“Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:20)
There is a fear that is slavish and drives us away from God, and there is a fear that is sweet and draws us to God. Moses warned against the one and called for the other in the very same verse, Exodus 20:20: “Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.’”
The clearest illustration I have ever seen of this kind of good fear was the time one of my sons looked a German shepherd in the eye. We were visiting a family from our church. My son Karsten was about seven years old. They had a huge dog that stood eye to eye with a seven-year-old.
He was friendly and Karsten had no problem making friends. But when we sent Karsten back to the car to get something we had forgotten, he started to run, and the dog galloped up behind him with a low growl. And of course, this frightened Karsten. But the owner said, “Karsten, why don’t you just walk? The dog doesn’t like it when people run away from him.”
If Karsten hugged the dog, he was friendly and would even lick his face. But if he ran from the dog, the dog would growl and fill Karsten with fear.
That’s a picture of what it means to fear the Lord. God means for his power and holiness to kindle fear in us, not to drive us from him, but to drive us to him. Fearing God means, first, fearing to abandon him as our great security and satisfaction.
Or another way to say it is that we should fear unbelief. Fear not trusting God’s goodness. Isn’t that the point of Romans 11:20? “You stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.” That is, what we should fear is not believing, not having faith. Fear running away from God. But if we walk with him and hug his neck, he will be our friend and protector forever.