The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part II. Fear and Love

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 second section of my paper. In part one, I discussed the three types of fear.


In unbelief, the human being exercises Adamic fear—the fear of God’s wrath—because their unbelief alienates them from God and is thus without hope. As the individual moves into relationship with God, they begin to exercise Mosaic fear—fear of disobeying God’s Law. Because Mosaic fear is a reliance on works, it always reverts to fearing God’s wrath since the human being is incapable of fulfilling God’s Law. Christ has done what we cannot do—He fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, through justification by faith, we enter the same filial relationship Christ has with the Father and exercise filial fear. Because God sent His Son to fulfil the Law for us and justify us in His life, death, and resurrection, fear of God is to be understood in the context of God’s love for us. “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The complementary nature of fear and love found in Scripture is best seen in Luther’s understanding of it, who did not view it as a negative disposition. Fear and love are connected in that the Christian exercises filial fear in her love for God as a result of trusting in God’s promise. If a Christian does not fear God, they can easily go astray by the common practise of relying on one’s works rather than God’s work (Largen, 28). Therefore, fear of God is good because it enables us to show our love for our Father by acknowledging our sins before Him, which leads to repentance as a result of trusting in God’s promise (more on repentance in a later section).

Some argue that fear and love are incompatible on the basis of 1 John 4:18. The Scripture states, “perfect love casts out fear,” which is commonly understood as a complete contrast between fear and love. Thus, fear and love cannot be complementary because they are inherently contradictory. Approaching the seeming contradiction inherent in this passage, Castelo focuses our attention on the Fall of Man. He draws our attention to Adam and Eve’s reaction immediately after their sin. They hid from God because they “were afraid” (Genesis 3:10). Before their rebellion, Adam and Eve were sinless because they were in perfect relationship with God. When they rebelled against God, the sin damaged the once perfect relationship with God that now requires the necessary revelation of God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit in order for us to come into a right relationship with Him again (Kolb, 18-19). The fear of terror is a result of sin; therefore, it is an “‘inappropriate position’ to have before God” (Castelo, 151). I agree it is inappropriate for a Christian to be in a state of terror before God, but only in the sense that this is the Christian’s perpetual condition. The fear of terror is appropriate in the sense that it leads the sinner to repentance, but I would add it is only inappropriate in the sense that the Christian lives in perpetual fear of God’s wrath when His grace has been given in Christ. The Lutheran Confessions speak on the third use of the law as showing us the way to God’s grace:

For even if they are reborn and “renewed in the spirit of their minds” [Eph. 4:23], this rebirth and renewal is not perfect in this world. Instead, it has only begun. Believers are engaged with the spirit of their minds in continual battle against the flesh, that is, against the perverted nature and character which clings to us until death and which because of the old creature is still lodged in the human understanding, will, and all human powers. In order that people do not resolve to perform service to God on the basis of their pious imagination in an arbitrary way of their own choosing, it is necessary for the law of God constantly to light their way. Likewise, it is necessary so that the old creature not act according to its own will but instead be compelled against its own will, not only through the admonition and threats of the law but also with punishments and plagues, to follow the Spirit and let itself be made captive (1 Cor. 9[:27]; Rom. 6[:12]; Gal. 6[:14]; Ps. 119[:1]; Heb. 13[:21]). (Kolb, 502-503, FC Ep VI, 4)

In ourselves, we can never move beyond fear since we can never move beyond being a sinner. Whereas Castelo argues fear must be continually sustained by being mindful of disobedience, Luther emphasises fear as being central to our faith as we love and trust God.

For Luther, every commandment that follows the first commandment is to be understood in light of the first commandment. In my introduction, I noted how Luther explains the first commandment to “fear, love, and trust God” while in the others that follow, we are to “fear and love God” with the result of specific actions, trust being omitted in his explanation of the commandments that follow the first. Luther writes his explanations of the commandments this way because as the commandments follow the first commandment, so fear and love of God follow trust in God. In other words, we fear and love God because of our trust in Him. Wengert affirms Luther’s position, “Faith… is the heart of the matter for all the commandments” (Wengert, “Ten Commandments,” 105). Charles Arand confirms this assessment, “Luther does not see the core of the commandment as requiring faith so much as it already presupposes everyone already has faith” (Arand, 154). The Ten Commandments were given to a people who already had faith in God; they were not given to a faithless people as tablets demanding faith. In other words, The Law was not given to a people who did not believe, saying, “Believe or else.” Rather, it was given to a people whom God brought into relationship with Himself, saying, “I have revealed Myself to you. Now, this is how you love Me.” The Commandments—indeed, the whole Law—were given to a people already in relationship with God. Furthermore, He says, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16; Leviticus 11:4; Matthew 5:48). Yet, “The little word ‘as’ (ὡς) [Matthew 5:48] shows that we are to make God our model in all his perfections and follow him in spirit and in truth; not, however, that complete equality is demanded” (Lenski, St. Matthew’s Gospel, 252). That is, out of His love for us, God calls us to be like Him, not to be Him, having given us His commandments as our guide. God ultimately reveals Himself in Christ, who, as God incarnate, shows us who God is and how we ought to be like Him as children of God.

Luther begins to hint at this filial relationship in his explanation of the Creed, which “teaches us to see that no aspect of our existence remains untouched by God’s giving of himself through his gifts” (Arand, 160). As an earthly father gives himself to his son and daughter through his unconditional gifts of love and service, so God the Father has given Himself to us through Word and Sacrament and, ultimately, Christ who is the Word. Furthermore, Wengert argues fear and love are to be understood in the theological interpretation of Law and Gospel (Wengert, “Fear and Love,” 15), which are also God’s means of giving Himself to us. This is because Law and Gospel are connected to both God’s command (Law) and His promise (Gospel). We see this in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, for example. The church baptises because God commands it, and it comes with the promise of receiving the Holy Spirit, forgiveness of sins, and renewal (Acts 2:38; Titus 3:3-7). Likewise, Christ commands the Lord’s Supper and with it promises the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:28). For Luther, because every theological topic is “penetrated by Law and Gospel” (Wengert, “Fear and Love,” 15), the fear of the Lord must be understood in the complementary relationship between Law and Gospel. The Law shows our separation from God, but the Gospel gives us reconciliation. In order to end this separation, “Through his life, suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ overcomes everything that would keep us from coming to the Father” (Arand, 162). As a man gives himself to a woman by marrying her and being one with her in this union, showering her with his love, so God has given Himself to us in Christ our Lord, who showers us with His grace by uniting (reconciling) us to God in justification. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the final act of God’s love. Perfect love casts out fear not because they are incompatible, but because the love of God in Christ our Lord reorients our fear.

To be continued on: Filial Fear in Relationship to Christ the Lord.
Bibliography given at conclusion.

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One thought on “The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part II. Fear and Love

  1. Pingback: The Fear of the Lord as Filial Fear: Part I. Types of Fear | The Writeous Christian

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