The Fear of Man Versus the Fear of God

Most Christians have probably heard something about the fear of man and the fear of God. However, many Christians fail to see when they do not have the proper perspective on what they do. The fear of man is insidious, creepy, and sneaky. It can disguise itself in many ways, and people rationalize it in many ways. Carl Trueman has talked about one form of it in terms of conferences: only the best-known names get invited, and they get invited again, and again, and again. Why is this? Is it simple marketeering? Or is there a fear of man involved, in the sense that organizers think that only well-known names will be convincing. Where did the Holy Spirit go, I wonder?

Reasonably mature Christians will know that the fear of God, being the beginning of wisdom, constitutes a proper awe and reverence for the Lord God. However, what even mature Christians often forget is that the fear of man and the fear of God are on a teeter-totter. Austrian economics helps explain how wealth is created much better than Keynesian economics (in my opinion), but when it comes to the fear of man and the fear of God, it is a zero-sum game. As one goes up, the other goes down.

It seems to me that the more important a person becomes, the more famous, the more well-known, the wealthier, and the better placed, the temptations of the fear of man grow exponentially. Power is intoxicating, in whatever form one has it, and people who acquire this kind of power and respect become very loath to risk it in any way whatsoever.

In the Reformed world, this kind of respect comes from publishing a book, or becoming a professor at a seminary, or having a prominent position in the denomination, or having a large church. It is easy to forget how eminently expendable we are, and instead start to think (even if it is not as crassly put as this) how lucky God is to have us around.

The rubber really hits the road when these famous gurus are tempted to moderate their theological views for the sake of political expediency. If someone is just moderate enough, then he can win yet more influence. It can be rationalized by saying that we will still try to pull people over to the more conservative side by thus appearing more moderate. The only pulling that results, however, is toward the liberal side. Once we have begun to abandon our convictions, the game is up, and we have lost any ground that we thought to have gained.

What we really need is a return to the fear of God. Does God care more for how influential we are or how faithful we are? Do remember that Jeremiah, for instance, was told that no one would listen to him, but he should go anyway. How many of our gurus would be willing to go somewhere and preach if they were told that their message would pretty much automatically be rejected? Do we fear God at all? Or do we really fear man, and thus trust in our resources?

I say all of these things first and foremost to warn myself. I feel the pull of these things. I have never been a very good political operative. The joke about my family is that we aren’t precisely good material for the diplomatic corp. However, I do not relish conflict. Some of my readers will guffaw at this point, reading these words on a blog that has been known for debate since its inception. However, I have always been able to keep distinct in my mind debate from conflict. Debate is about issues, whereas conflict often has personalities getting involved, and tempers flaring, which I most certainly do not relish. Debate is often fun and as long as people stick to the issues and the logical arguments for and against, it can be helpful.

The thing about the fear of man is that it also tempts us to rather severe forms of narcissism. On that subject see this post I wrote about a year ago. The fear of man is what drives us to react in narcissistic ways both to praise and to criticism, things which ministers, in particular, get by the ream. A constant return to the fear of the Lord is a healthy antidote both to the fear of man, and to narcissism.


  1. February 9, 2016 at 12:43 am

    Hello. I’m not a Christian, and I realise that I’m not the target odience of this post, but I do have a few questions as I’m trying to understand the Christian position better. Can you explain what you mean by fear of man? I don’t understand how turning to the same sources equals fear. And what do you mean by fear of God? What does that fear look like and why is it a good thing? Thanks.

  2. Ackbach said,

    February 9, 2016 at 6:27 am

    “Austrian economics helps explain how wealth is created much better than Keynesian economics (in my opinion),…”

    The qualifier is unnecessary. ;-)]

  3. Steve Drake said,

    February 9, 2016 at 8:54 am

    Dear Hessian,
    As a Christian, I attempt to honor God in all my thinking and actions. Since He is the Creator of all that exists, including my mind, this fear is the ‘reverence, awe, honor, and respect’ I owe Him and His revelation in the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. Therefore, my thought processes, and my actions, should always be aimed to conform with what God has told me in His written revelation to me. I weigh God’s (the Creator) word against man’s (the created thing) word, and show reverence, awe, honor, and respect to what God has told me against what any man thinks and says.

    You know this God as your Creator, as well. Your mind tells you this God is real, and that He has a claim on you. Your moral constitution tells you He is there and that He is not silent.

    You claim to want to try and understand the Christian position better? If genuine, keep asking questions.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    February 9, 2016 at 11:57 am

    Hessian, welcome to my blog. The fear of man can be illustrated by what politicians tend to do. They put their finger in the wind, and see where folks are headed, and then run to get in front. It is the desire to please humans at all costs. The reason why this is a problem is that what humans want does not correspond with what God wants out of humans. So the fear of man leads to disobedience to God’s commands.

    The fear of God is a recognition that there is a huge gap between God the creator and humanity the creature. The fear of God is awe and reverence in the presence of our Maker. It is a recognition that our every breath is a gift from God. It recognizes that the God Who created us is the same God Who sustains our very lives. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom is impossible without the fear of God. The fear of God also recognizes that the God Who sustains us is also the God who will judge all human beings.

  5. February 9, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    When the time comes to invite someone to the Board of Directors of a Christian institution (such as a seminary), you can put money on the fact that the person asked will NOT be Pastor Joe Blow, pastor of a storefront church with 15 members – no matter how faithful he is. It will be someone who is Successful – leader of a large Christian organization or pastor of a large church.

    Also, organizations (including Christian ones), follow O’Sullivan’s Law: organizations not founded to be explicitly conservative will, over time, become liberal (Fuller Theological Seminary, call your office).

  6. Mark B said,

    February 17, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    “It seems to me that the more important a person becomes, the more famous, the more well-known, the wealthier, and the better placed, the temptations of the fear of man grow exponentially”.

    From a human perspective, Joplin was right; “freedom is nothing left to loose”

  7. June 27, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you for this, Lane. I frequently say the fear of God is dead in the Reformed church. Yet, in the godly, fear and love embrace. May God be feared again!

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