The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part I. Types of Fear

This entire series is my 30-paged bachelor thesis I submitted to the theology department at Concordia University-Ann Arbor—a higher Lutheran education university—as part of the requirement to graduate from the Pre-Seminary programme. It has been reformatted to fit this blog. This is the first section of my paper. Go here to read the introduction.


The problem is not the object we fear, but the condition of one’s heart. Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing. For example, General George Patton once said, “All men are afraid in battle. The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty.” What is the soldier’s sense of duty? To protect and serve his country and fight alongside his fellow man in the midst of battle. A soldier does not ignore his fear; he embraces it. Even in the midst of fear, he continues to serve his country and fight alongside his brother in arms to protect and serve even him from the enemy. According to General Patton, it is not fear that is the enemy but cowardice, for it is cowardice, not fear, that causes a soldier to abandon his duty. If the condition of the soldier’s heart is cowardice—allowing fear to rule over him—he will run and thereby abandon his duty to his brother in arms and country. In the same way, fearing God is not the issue. The issue is the condition of the human being’s heart before God. This will be understood in three types of fear: Adamic fear, Mosaic fear, and filial fear.

The human being experiences a fear of God’s wrath because the inherited original sin in which we find ourselves is our alienated condition from God, which makes God a threat to us. Castelo calls this type of fear “Adamic fear,” which is an appropriate type of fear in the sense that we are alienated from God in our sin of unbelief. In the Lutheran tradition, the Confessions agree similarly when they confess that human beings are “alienated from the life of God through their ignorance and hardness of heart” (Kolb, 545, SD FC II 10). In Adamic fear, the human being is in a condition of alienation from God, thus fear in the sense of terror is fully appropriate, being enemies of God. An unbeliever or unrepentant sinner appropriately fears God’s wrath perpetually because in their sin, they are alienated from God, separated from His love, and at odds with Him. In this Adamic fear, they properly fear His wrath because it is what they deserve (Romans 6:23).

The second type of fear is what Castelo calls “Mosaic fear,” which appears in the context of Deuteronomy 10:12 when Moses exhorted the Israelites to fear God, love Him, serve Him, and keep His commandments. (Any discussion on fear should include a discussion on the “fear not” motif in the Old Testament [e.g. Genesis 15:1; Deuteronomy 1:21]. This “fear not” formula also appears in the New Testament on several occasions [e.g. John 14:27; Matthew 6:34]. In these examples, are the people involved afraid because God has come in judgement, or because God—a holy and divine being—has appeared to sinful human beings?) This fear was the beginning of God’s chosen people viewing God in terms of entering a right relationship with Him, which began out of Egypt. Castelo contends this Mosaic fear “operates from the condition of reconciliation” (Castelo, 154).

According to Castelo, Adamic fear and Mosaic fear are distinct from each other because they both operate in different conditions; Adamic fear operates in alienation whereas Mosaic fear operates in a state of reconciliation. Yet in his view, the one who exercises Adamic fear is completely alienated from God while the one who exercises Mosaic fear “continually poses the possibility of falling away by breaching the covenant bond through disobedience and serving other gods” (Castelo, 154). Thus, in Castelo’s understanding, Mosaic fear can only be viewed positively in the sense that it is “to fear properly in a continued and sustained way” (Castelo, 154). Because it needs to be continually sustained through our own efforts, “‘Mosaic fear’ can always revert wrongfully to ‘Adamic fear’ in that the perpetual state of human vulnerability… only reaches fulfillment, actualization, and security in the sustaining, awful presence of God” (Castelo, 154). In other words, because Mosaic fear is the fear of disobedience to God’s law since it relies on our works, it always falls into the danger of reverting to Adamic fear—fearing God’s wrath. We would need to constantly stand in God’s presence in order to fear Him properly—constantly feeling terrified. Castlo recognises the problem of Mosaic fear, but he doesn’t offer any solutions to the problem.

At this point, Castelo’s argumentation becomes insufficient. He correctly affirms human vulnerability to sin and disobedience are “rightfully maintained and transformed when envisioned in the presence of God within a reconciled state” (Castelo, 154). However, he ends the discussion of our maintaining Mosaic fear through works and reconciliation without ever getting to Christ. At an earlier point, he does say Christ is “the ultimate revelation of who and how God is,” referencing John 14:9 (Castelo, 149). By this he acknowledges Christ is God incarnate, but he never connects God’s incarnation in Christ to his understanding of fearing God. It is true that the Jews of the Old Testament were in a reconciled state when they exercised their Mosaic fear, yet Castelo attributes this exercise of fear to Moses’ exhortation in Deuteronomy 10:12 to fear God and therefore fear the Law. However, the Jews were in a reconciled state not because of their fearing the Law, but because of their faith in God’s promise. This is because they exercised the same faith as Abraham:

No unbelief made [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in Him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:20-25)

Abraham was justified by faith because “he believed the promise regarding the Heir (Christ) who was to come” through his descendant Isaac, who was not yet born; “he believed that through this Heir his (spiritual) seed would be in number like the stars of heaven. Abraham believed in Christ (John 8:56), in the gospel” (Lenski, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 289). Yet is this promise “only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised” (Romans 4:9)? Paul says it is for the uncircumcised since Abraham believed the promise and was justified by faith before he was circumcised—before the righteous requirement of the Law (Romans 4:9-12). In other words, Paul says justification by faith predates the Law. Later, in Romans 4, Paul connects the promise of Abraham to Christ: “The promise given to Abraham’s faith has now been fulfilled” in Christ (Lenski, 327). Luther explains circumcision served “as a sign or seal, because it is not the thing itself, but it signified the righteousness of faith by which the heart is purified and circumcised… that is, for an external testimony of the righteousness, which itself is an inner thing, which he had by faith, from the faith which had been given to him… before his circumcision” (Luther, Lectures on Romans, 37). As Luther proclaims, the Israelites were reconciled to God in their justification by faith in God’s promise of the Messiah, not in fearing and keeping the Law, since the circumcision of the heart (i.e. faith) predates the Law, and the circumcision of the flesh merely served as a sign of that faith.

Castelo contends the Israelites were in a state of reconciliation under the Law because of Moses’ exhortation in Deuteronomy 10:12—a repetition of the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:5—to love God and to keep His commandments. Castelo thinks Mosaic fear is in the state of reconciliation in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament. He argues this on the basis of Jesus accentuating the Shema in Matthew 22:37 and commanding His disciples to love Him by keeping His commandments in John 14:15Castleo, however, misunderstands obedience to God as bringing about reconciliation. Christ is the one who brings about our reconciliation by faith. Our obedience to God’s commands is the result of the reconciliation done for us; obedience does not engender reconciliation. This love in John 14:15 is ἀγάπη (agape)—a love of “purposeful devotion,” whose commands (ἐντολαί—entolai) we obey (τηρέω—tēreo), which means “watchful care, to cherish and to hold as a treasure, to take all pains not to lose; or to let others violate” (Lenski, St. John’s Gospel, 995). Christians—and the Old Testament Jews—are careful to keep God’s commands not because it reconciles, but because it is done out of response to our faith and love for God. Because Mosaic fear is focused on works, it is always in danger of reverting to Adamic fear. Thus, something is missing from Castelo’s argument, and that missing link is Jesus Christ.

Abraham’s faith is the same faith we exercise as Christians today, which has been fulfilled in Christ. Christians are not to exercise Mosaic fear of disobeying the commandments since Christ has come and fulfilled the Law. (While we are not to fear disobeying God’s commandments, the Law still works in the Christian’s life to remind us that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. This will be discussed further in the threefold use of the law.) Just as the Old Testament Jews were reconciled (justified) by faith in God’s promise, so we, too, are justified by faith in God’s promise (Romans 4:24-25). This reconciliation has been fulfilled in Christ. Paul says it superbly in 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 (emphasis added):

The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation… For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

Filial fear, on the other hand, is Christ reshaping our fear into love and trust in God. Because it needs to be maintained through human efforts, Mosaic fear always falls into the danger of reverting to Adamic fear. This is why “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but the Spirit” (Romans 8:3-4, emphasis added). Fearing the righteous requirements of the Law eventually reverts to fearing God’s wrath. While the Christian is declared a saint (holy) before God for the sake of Christ, through the Law he still recognises that as a sinner, he is incapable of keeping the Law and therefore deserves God’s just wrath. Therefore, Mosaic fear—fearing disobedience to God’s Law—will always revert to Adamic fear because the Christian conscience always recognises its inability to keep God’s Law. Without Christ, the Christian can never move beyond this fear. Christ fulfilled these requirements through His life, death, and resurrection. Both Adamic fear and Mosaic fear are reshaped in the Christian into filial fear, which we exercise in our condition of justification by faith, for it is the love of God that brings this justification about. Therefore, fear and love go together because to properly fear God is to move from fear to love and trust in God through Christ.

To be continued on: Fear and Love.
Bibliography given at conclusion.

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3 thoughts on “The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part I. Types of Fear

  1. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Introduction | The Writeous Christian

  2. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part II. Fear and Love | The Writeous Christian

  3. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part V. Centrality of Wisdom (Conclusion) | The Writeous Christian

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