Question: "What does it mean to have reverence for God?"

Answer: Reverence is honor and respect that is deeply felt and outwardly demonstrated. Because of the Lord God’s awesome power and majesty, He is deserving of the highest level of reverence (Leviticus 19:30). The Bible records reverence as the automatic response of everyone who encounters the awesome grandeur of the Lord God Almighty (Numbers 20:6; Judges 13:20; 1 Chronicles 21:16).

The idea of reverence for God started with God. In the Old Testament, God taught the Israelites how to show proper reverence by giving them hundreds of laws related to purity, holiness, and worship (Deuteronomy 5). Sinful humanity does not know how to worship a holy God with reverence and awe, so He spelled it out for us. His presence dwelt with Israel in the Ark of the Covenant, and they were not to touch it as a matter of reverence. The Holy of Holies inside the tabernacle also required the highest level of reverence (Leviticus 16:2). Whoever disobeyed God’s command about entering the Holy of Holies died instantly (Leviticus 22:9; Numbers 4:20; 1 Chronicles 13:9–10). The purpose of such strict rules was to define holiness and impress upon mankind the necessity for reverence in the presence the Lord. God is not to be trifled with.

In New Testament Christianity, reverence for God is demonstrated by our willingness to voluntarily die to self and obey His commands (Galatians 2:20; 5:13; James 2:12). Jesus reminded us that we must properly reverence God. He taught the disciples to begin their prayers with “Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9–13). Hallowed means “set apart as holy.” We are to treat the name of God with reverence. It is common to hear people, even professing Christians, use God’s name as an exclamation. OMG is tossed about as though it was of no more significance than the word wow. We may not intend to be irreverent, but when we invoke His name in casual chatter, we are being just that.

Another way we demonstrate reverence for God is by the way we live. Those with a right understanding of God’s nature also understand His wrath. We show reverence by taking seriously His hatred of sin and the coming judgment on those who refuse to repent (Colossians 3:6; Romans 1:18). We pursue holiness because He is holy (1 Peter 1:15–16). Reverent people desire “to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Titus 2:12).

We show reverence for God by learning how to truly worship Him. Jesus said that the Father is seeking people who will learn to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). True worship is not about our favorite song. It is not confined to an emotional experience and is not synonymous with tingly feelings. True worship is a lifestyle. We worship in spirit when our hearts are abandoned before Lord, willing to obey everything He has said. We worship in truth when our minds are engaged and filled with the biblical understanding of God’s nature. To worship God is to know Him and to serve Him. To worship Him the way He deserves to be worshiped, we must align our hearts with His and seek to obey Him (see Luke 6:46).

Reverence for God is a quality missing in much of what masquerades as Christianity today. Instead of the kind of reverence we see demonstrated throughout the Bible, modern Christianity has adopted a “Jesus-is-my-buddy” attitude that grossly downplays the holiness, power, and righteous wrath of the Sovereign Creator. Reverence does not refer to God as “The Big Guy in the Sky” or “The Man Upstairs.” Once we truly know who God is, we reverence Him in our hearts. Even the thief on the cross, after he realized who Jesus was, rebuked the other thief for his irreverence: “Don’t you fear God?” he said to the other thief; then he turned to Jesus and honored Him as the King (Luke 23:40–42).

Human beings were created to worship God, so reverence is the natural response of a heart that has been transformed by the Holy Spirit. The more we grow in knowledge and understanding, the more reverence we feel toward Him. Proper reverence is not the same as stiff, religious formality. The gift of Jesus to us was God’s invitation to draw near (James 4:8; John 14:9). However, familiarity with God should not breed contempt, but greater reverence.