04 March 2011

Question of the Week:
Worldly Fear or Godly Fear?

by Anne Lang Bundy

Image source: science.howstuffworks

What is the difference between worldly fear and godly fear?
~ Russell Holloway, Blog Host
from the post Love is greater than fear

The short answer might be that worldly fear is motivated by self-protective pride and lust (a wide variety of self-indulgences), while godly fear is motivated by godly love. The Bible says that even Jesus experienced godly fear:

... in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.
~ Hebrews 5:7-8 (NKJV)

If my love for another is self-centered, I recognize their potential to hurt me and am likely to limit myself to "safe" expressions of love which cater to the other person and still protect myself.

When my love is other-centered, I see the potential of my weaknesses to do injury to the one I love and have genuine fear of doing so. I am willing, if necessary, to both experience and cause pain if I am assured that doing so gives my loved one what is truly needed. The other-centered love—agape love—which accompanies godly fear values the relationship built up by reciprocal love and seeks to receive it. But agape love is stronger than my desire to experience temporal comfort or pleasure.

Godly fear only begins with the self-protective recognition that my heavenly Father's necessary discipline involves the training and correction which can be painful, and therefore attempts behavior to avoid discipline. (What athlete expects to excel without disciplined training that involves pain and correction?)

Godly fear holds a love for God that understands the injury to Him my sin has caused. Godly fear calls to mind the sufferings of Jesus on my behalf and has a heart which desires to cause Him no more pain.

For all that is in the world—
the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life
—is not of the Father but is of the world.
~ 1 John 2:16 (NKJV)

The worldly fear which does not come from God also involves love—disproportionate love for self above love for God and others. Pride wishes self to be built up rather than use the power of God to edify others and exalt God. Lust for personal and temporal gratification does not possess the sound mind which sees the broader perspective of what provides lasting and unified peace among self, God, and others.

You may recall the verse about God offering not worldly fear, but rather power, love and a sound mind. The next verse explains what's also included:

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.
~ 2 Timothy 1:7-8 (NKJV)

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What questions do you have about Christianity or the Bible? You're invited to leave them in the comments below (anonymous questions welcome), or email buildingHisbody [plus] @ gmail.com.

© 2011 Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.


  1. Thanks Anne - I'm interested in the teachings that worldly fear is a sin. As I've stated other places, in this age of literacy, God's wisdom is accessible to most people through scripture. It is not wisdom we generally lack, but courage. And by courage we really mean faith.

  2. Thank you for clarifying the difference. I've always found it fascinating to come across a verse about godly fear, not fully understanding the meaning.

    This helps.
    ~ Wendy

  3. Rusty ~

    You just gave me several new thoughts to mull on, as you often do. :D

    I'll get back to you ...

  4. Wendy ~

    This certainly isn't an exhaustive answer. Those verses from Hebrews about Jesus totally blow me away. A whole book could be written on the topic.

  5. Thanks for the positive feedback, Snady! As always. : )