Question: "What does it mean to have the fear of God?"
Answer: For the unbeliever, the fear of God is to fear the judgment of God and eternal death, which is eternal separation from God (Luke 12:5; Hebrews 10:31). For the believer, the fear of God is something much different. The believer's fear is reverence of God. Hebrews 12:28-29 is a good description of this, "Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." This reverence and awe is exactly what the fear of God means for Christians. This is the motivating factor for us to surrender to the Creator of the Universe.
Proverbs 1:7 declares, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge…” Until we understand who God is, and develop a reverential fear of Him, we cannot have true wisdom. True wisdom comes only from understanding who God is – that He is holy, just, and righteous. Deuteronomy 10:12,20-21 records, "Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. He is your praise and He is your God, who has done these great and awesome things for you which your eyes have seen." The fear of God is the basis for our walking in His ways, serving Him, and yes, loving Him.
Many have the tendency of minimizing the fear of God for believers to “respecting” Him. While respect is definitely included in the concept of fearing God, there is more to it than that. A Biblical fear of God, for the believer, includes understanding how much God hates sin, and fearing His judgment on sin – even in the life of a believer. Hebrews 12:5-11 describes God’s discipline of the believer. While it is done in love (Hebrews 12:6), it is still a fearful thing. As children, the fear of discipline from our parents prevented, hopefully, some evil actions. The same should be true in our relationship with God. We should fear His discipline, and therefore, seek to live our lives in such a way that pleases Him.
Believers are not to be “scared” of God. We have no reason to be scared of Him. We have His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). We have His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Fearing God means having such a reverence for Him, that it has a great impact on the way we live our lives. The fear of God is respecting Him, submitting to His discipline, and worshipping Him in awe.