How to Fear God Without Being Afraid of Him


“Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” Revelation 14:7 NKJV

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 1 John 4:17-18 NKJV

The first angel John writes about tells us to fear God because of the judgment. Later, though, the same John writes that perfect love removes fear during the judgment. So, are we supposed to fear, or not to fear? I believe a healthy understanding of Exodus 20:18-21 helps us reconcile these two passages, and helps us learn how to fear God without being afraid of Him.

“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, ‘You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’”

“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” Exodus 20:18-21 NKJV 

In this passage Moses tells the people not to fear and then turns around and tells them to fear. What is up with that? Verse 18 tells us they are afraid or in terror of the presence of God. Moses did not want them to be afraid of God. He did not want us to be terrorized by God’s presence. God does not want us to be afraid of Him. He wants us to find love and security in His presence. 

And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:26-27 NKJV 

Here the disciples are afraid of the presence of Jesus because they didn’t know that to think or what to expect. They did not know what was going on and it frightened them. Quickly Jesus let them know that He was there to comfort and cheer them, not to terrorize them.

In Exodus 20:18 the people were terrorized by the presence of God because they did not know what to think or expect or how to react. Moses told them not to fear, meaning don’t be afraid. But then, in Exodus 20:20, he tells them to fear God. However this time Moses is talking about a different kind of fear which actually means respect. A police officer does not make me afraid, but I do have respect for his position and what he is capable of. His power and capabilities are actually what make me feel secure instead of afraid. If I am on the right side of the law, I respect what the officer is capable of, and that makes me feel secure. If I am on the wrong side of the law, I am now afraid because of what I know the police officer can do. If I know him well, and am on good terms with the officer, I have great respect for his power and resources, and my respect and appreciation is what makes me feel safe and secure instead of afraid. When Moses told the people, in Exodus 20:20, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin,” He was telling them that their being in awe of His power, and respecting that power, would keep them from sin. Perhaps the Easy-to-Read Version will help us understand better what Moses was saying.

Then Moses said to them, “Don’t be afraid! God has come to test you. He wants you to respect him so that you will not sin.” Exodus 20:20 ERV

When Moses told the people not to fear, he was telling them not to be afraid. When he was telling the people to fear, he was telling them to be respectful. Likewise, when Jesus was telling the disciples not to fear, He was telling them not to be afraid. When the angel in Revelation 14:7 tells us to fear, it means to be respectful. 

If we fear God by being in awe of Him, and respect His love and saving power, then we do not have to fear God by being afraid of Him. Perfect love, being in total awe of God’s love and power, keeps us from being afraid of the judgment. 

You may study this week’s Sabbath School lesson here.

4: Fear God and Give Glory to Him-Sabbath School Lesson Teaching Plan

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Prepared by William Earnhardt for Sabbath School class, April 22, 2023.

Main Theme: To fear God means to be in awe of His love and power. This fear causes us to reverence Him in our hearts and in the way we live our lives.

Read in Class: Revelation 14:7. Define the main idea of this passage.

Study: What specific instruction does he give us?

Apply: What has been your own experience of fearing God? How would you explain to someone, in a positive way, why “the fear of God” is something good?

Share: Your friend quotes Ecclesiastes 8:11, and says that people today have no reason to fear God, because sinners never get their just due anymore. They get away with everything! What do you tell your friend? See Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.

Read in Class: Deuteronomy 6:2, Psalm 119:73-74, Ecclesiastes 12:13-14. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: What is the result of fearing God?

Apply: How do Jesus’ words here “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28, NKJV) help us understand what it means to fear God?

Share: Your friend states, that Revelation 21:7-8 says the fearful will be thrown into the lake of fire. Why is God throwing the fearful into the lake of fire if we are supposed to fear God? How would you answer your friend, and how would what we read in Matthew 10:28 help?

Read in Class: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and Romans 12:1-2. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: How do these passages help us understand one way that we can glorify God?  What appeal does the apostle Paul make regarding the totality of our life choices?

Apply: Think about what you do with your body. What can you do to make sure that you are, indeed, glorifying God with it?

Share: Your friend asks, what is the difference between glorifying God with our bodies because we fear Him, and glorifying God because we are afraid of Him? For a hint: Read Exodus 20:20 in the NKJV and then Read Exodus 20:20 in the ERV.

Read in Class: Hebrews 4:14-16 and Hebrews 7:25. Define the common thread of these passages.

Study: What is the means of overcoming and living lives that “fear God” and “give Him glory?”

Apply: Are there things in your life you desire to overcome? How can we translate our desires into action? What practical steps can we take to be one of Revelation’s “overcomers”?

Share: How do we teach children to fear us without being afraid of us? How can we show others how to fear God without being afraid of Him?