Is it New Testament?
Almost without exception, when this message is preached, there is exception.
I am nearly always confronted by those who tell me that we are to love God, not fear Him. Both Christian and pagan are certain of this.
They put forth several arguments, but most often I hear a partial quote from 1 John 4:18, " . . . perfect love casteth out fear."
My usual retort is to ask the person if they have perfect love.
However, the question must be more fully answered: "Should we (especially in these New Testament times) love God, or fear Him?"
The answer is, "Yes."
While everyone seems to agree on the "love," there is much false teaching involved in the "fear." Some people contend that "fear God" is simply not the Gospel - the "good news." I propose that you cannot have a true Gospel without it.
What is the Gospel?
The New Testament talks about several "gospels" - the "gospel of the kingdom" (Mark 1: 14 and others) as well as the "gospel of grace" (Acts 20: 24). Many Christians would define the Gospel message as John 3: 16, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."(KJV)
While this message may be great for "closing the deal," so to speak, it is hardly the whole Gospel message. Think for a minute: How would this message make sense to or compel action from anyone who did not believe they were a sinner in danger of "perishing"? It wouldn't, of course!
This message is what may be called the "gospel of grace" - but is useless to someone who does not think they need grace.
However, there is an "everlasting gospel" of which the Scripture speaks.
The reason it is called "everlasting" is that it is both complete and applicable to all times and dispensations. In fact, it very clearly mirrors "gospels" in the Old Testament, including:
Both of these gospels have three elements in common: 1) Fear God, 2) Worship and obey God, and 3) Judgment is coming.
These elements comprise the entire Gospel - including the gospels of grace and of the kingdom. The fear of God and His judgment are the impetus to bring people to worship and obedience. Worship and obedience bring a person to the cross of Christ and, thus, into the kingdom of God. Both John the baptizer and Jesus preached the "gospel of the kingdom" - "Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand!" (Matthew 3: 7 and 4: 17) One can only repent of that which they realize offends God to the point of bringing His wrath and judgment. One can only enter the kingdom of God after repenting. One must fear God first to believe the gospel of the kingdom.
"Fear" in the New Testament
So what about the quote from 1 John 4:18, " . . . perfect love casteth out fear"? Doesn't this show us that Christians are to love rather than fear God?
I don't think it does. Quite to the contrary, Jesus Himself commanded His disciples to fear God.
I realize that there is a teaching out there that the one "which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" is Satan, but this is patently false.
An illustration will help illumine the point. The situation is much like a trial in an earthly courtroom. Hell is the punishment inflicted by a supreme Judge after a trial. God is the Judge. People either go pro se and try to represent themselves before the Court, or they have an Advocate. (1 John 2: 1) Finally, there is the Prosecutor, the Accuser. (Revelation 12: 10)
Only One, the Judge, is permitted to pass and execute a sentence! The Prosecutor does not sentence people to jail (or Hell).
But to further verify the New Testament teaching that we are to fear God, listen to Peter:
1 Pet 2:17
The New Testament church in Acts models the fear of the Lord:
Were these people simply deluded? I think not.
The writer of Hebrews also commends fear of God - with the addendum of a reminder of why one should fear God, namely, judgment. This is reminiscent of the "everlasting gospel" in both Ecclesiastes and Revelation.
No, I think that the New Testament church (and their leaders) clearly understood the everlasting principle that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Job 28: 28; Psalm 111: 10; Proverbs 9: 10)
What is "Fear"?
The fall-back position of those who want to argue that we are not to fear God is to redefine fear as "reverence." This is merely a shell game.
Even the Scripture distinguishes the two. For instance, in the verse from Hebrews cited above, we are commended to serve God with both "reverence and godly fear."
Is the writer being redundantly repetitious? Hardly.
Here the writer uses aidos for "reverence" which denotes "downcast eyes" and "awe." However, when the writer says "fear," he uses eulabeia. This word implies "dread," not mere reverence or respect. The word used in 1 Peter 2: 17 (quoted above) is stronger yet. He uses phobeo (from which we derive "phobia") which was a description of flight occasioned by fear. It meant exceedingly fearful, frightened, and alarmed. The same is true of the Old Testament uses of "fear" in which yare' is used. When Jesus uses "reverence" in a parable (Matthew 21: 37), He uses entrepo, meaning "respect." It is not like there were no alternative terms for reverence. If that was what the writers wanted to say, there were ample words to use for the purpose. (It is unfortunate and confusing that sometimes the KJV translators rendered both eulabeia and yare' as "reverence.")
So, what we are left with is that "fear God" means fear God. It is, after all, "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10: 31)
The conclusion is the same one found in Ecclesiastes - Fear God and keep His commandments because God will judge you. New Testament or Old, it is the final fence on our behavior - if we have it.
James 2: 19 tells us that the demons all believe in God - and tremble. It seems that many people don't have that much sense.
I suppose if you have "perfect love" for God, you might be an exception. I know that I am not.