This is perfectly embodied in Jesus, of course. Jesus is the perfect, Proverbs-keeping Son who not only shuns evil but walks in the fear of God. Everything the Proverbs command a young man to do, Jesus perfectly did (including cultivating a proper fear of God). Everything the Proverbs commands a young man not to do, Jesus resisted with all His heart. Jesus is the perfect Son, and as such, He is the only one capable of delivering us from our sins and imperfections and ultimately the fear of hell. The Bible is strikingly clear that Christ has undergone judgment on our behalf in such a way that the believer has been declared righteous in the sight of God not through anything that we can do but through the righteousness of Christ (Gal. 2:21). The Christian, being united to Christ, cannot lose his salvation (Col. 3:3). He presently has eternal life, for he has passed from death to life and shall not come into judgment (John 5:24). In Christ, our hope of eternal life in heaven is secure and cannot be taken away. This is one of the sweetest and most important comforts of the Christian life: that we belong to Christ and thus heaven belongs to us. Apart from Christ, we have no hope whatsoever, but in Christ, our hope is blissfully secure.
This is the point made by 1 John 4:18, a verse that is often used to suggest that there is no longer any place for the fear of God in the Christian life. The verse says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” Taken out of context, the verse might seem to suggest that the Christian ought not to have any fear of God as a result of God’s love. Seeing the verse in context, however, clarifies the issue:
By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:17–18)
It seems clear that the “fear” John is describing here has to do with the “punishment” on the “day of judgment” awaiting those who are liars and do not actually have the love of God within them. John’s goal through this book is not only to challenge his readers pastorally but also to comfort them in their assurance of salvation based on their adoption into the family of God through their union with Christ. For those who belong to Christ, in whom the love of God abides, there is no fear of the day of judgment because Jesus, the Son of God, was sent to be the “propitiation for our sins” (v. 10). Since we have this confidence in Christ, our fear of the day of judgment is gone, but that does not mean there is no remaining sense in which a Christian ought to fear God. It is to this proper sense of fearing God that we now turn.
Building on the redemptive promises of God, Paul urges the church in Corinth to continue pursuing holiness in the context of fearing God. He does this beautifully in 2 Corinthians 7:1, which says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” Paul is expounding upon the language of Leviticus and its call to God’s people to be separated from the world and to live holy lives, viewing their own bodies as the temple of the living God. Both our bodies and souls belong to God, and they are to be separated from the world for the purposes of holy living. That is what it means to “cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit.” Paul and the New Testament do not view holiness as something that has been completed in the life of the believer, but rather as something that is ongoing—a work in progress. In fact, Paul urges us to “bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.” This language likely echoes the ministry of the old covenant priests, who were to pursue the holiness of God with humility and devotion. In like manner, believers live their lives coram Deo (before the face of God), and as priests ministering in the presence of God, we ought to conduct our business before Him with a measure of fear that reminds us of the One in whose presence we live and serve. Christians, in a certain sense, are priests in service to the living God, and both our bodies and souls should be regarded as holy unto the Lord and set apart for the service of God. Rather than living out of a callous indifference or shallow sense of service, we are called to humble ourselves in the sight of God, lift up His name, and do everything we can to glorify and enjoy Him in our endeavors.