At the risk of being repetitive, I feel compelled to highlight a particularly important aspect of the transition from Old to New Testament. It is the element of fear to which I would like to dedicate some paragraphs.
All throughout the Old Testament there are references about the need to fear God. There are differing views on that meaning of fear and some see it as a healthy form of respect, rather than actual fear. Furthermore not all fear is bad and some of it plays a necessary role in our lives, like being afraid of fire, or water, if we don’t know how to swim. Equally, fear can also become debilitating and prevent us from many good things, like learning how to cook on fire or swim in water. The fear of God can likewise be either helpful or debilitating.
In the Old Testament the “fear of God” was a necessary virtue, a restraining one that kept from trouble because it was essentially a fear of consequences, burning or drowning. To better understand, consider these verses from the Proverbs of Solomon: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” – “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” – “The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death" .
In the New Testament, instead, there is a different approach and what prevails over fear is an invitation to respond to a God of love with love. Here's an example: “We have come to know and believe in the love that God has for us. God is love, and the person who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… There is no fear where love exists. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us… This is how we have come to know love: Christ gave his life for us".
Law and fear
So there is a distinct difference that is rooted in the very reason of that change from Old to New Testament. As we’ve seen, in the Old God led his people through symbols, rituals and illustrations of spiritual realities not yet manifested. At the same time he edged them about with a strict law that had dire consequences for breaking it, like the death penalty, which was a powerful deterrent. Since man only knew God indirectly, he couldn’t really love him yet in spirit and truth . The Holy Spirit, that token of God’s presence which humans can actually experience, had not been given yet (a sort of anointing of God’s Spirit was available in the OT, but only for a few selected people, such as kings and prophets). Without that direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, the fear of God, which was nothing more that fear of consequences, was the only instrument available to keep people from hurting themselves. It was a way of managing a people that only had a distant relationship with God.
Love and freedom
With the coming of Christ all that changed and the Holy Spirit was freely given to all who received him and were thus spiritually reborn. Their relationship with God took a whole new meaning and became equated to a marriage. Both collectively and individually, believers became “the bride of Christ” and entered a direct, intimate relationship with God. They were no longer strangers, but family: "I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" " ... the marriage of the lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready ". So, in The New Testament, Jesus invites us to have a new relationship with him, that of friends, brothers and spouses.
But that relationship was not always within reach because there was the historical infancy of the Old Testament. Individually, said infancy, is still a natural phase of life. A child thinks as a child and cannot relate to adult’s reasoning, therefore he needs rules and guidance until he will also grow to become an adult. Finally he will also be able to marry and have his independence. "I passed by you and looked on you, and, behold, your time was the time of love… And I swore to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became Mine” . So God waits for humanity, and individuals, to pass through their childhood and mature, until they can finally reciprocate in a full-grown relationship, where it will no longer be as before. Paul explained: “That is why a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a great secret, but I am talking about Christ and the church” . "As long as an heir is a child, he is no better off than a slave, even though he owns everything. Instead, he is placed under the control of guardians and trustees until the time set by the father. It was the same way with us. While we were children, we were slaves … but when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption” .
For those who haven’t yet come into that New Testament relationship, the Old hasn’t actually passed. Being still under the tutorship of guardians, they are not yet under the freedom that Jesus offers: "where the Lord's Spirit is, there is freedom" . But even for those who have come into it, it is not always easy to handle such freedom responsibly. There were, there are and there will continue to be abuses of the liberty which we have in Christ. It may even appear as if none really deserves to have it, that it is too lofty an ideal with little practical chance. However, as problematic as its application might be, it is God’s idea and what Christians have struggled to learn for a long time. The apostle Paul, faced with the same dilemma, instructed: "For you, brothers, were called to freedom. Only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity to gratify your flesh, but through love make it your habit to serve one another" . The question remains as to why would God free Christians from the old rules, and especially from the restraining fears they generated, if he knew that they would act immature and abuse their liberty. The answer is simple - God frees them because he’s seeking a deeper relationship with them, which only comes from love, and love can only be such in freedom, never in fear.
Religious because of fear?
Then why so much fear in religion? Because fear makes us religious. Fear makes us superstitious and leads us to think that through some deed we may buy God’s help, and ward off bad luck. Fear leads us to seek God, but mostly for selfish reasons, not love. Fear, in fact, makes us incapable of love and causes us to implode in ourselves, to become self-centered. Fear is not of God, and though it appears that in time past He did require some form of it, now He invites us to replace it with faith and love.
The power of fear
Unfortunately, apart from its natural phase, there is also a sinister side to fear motivated by religion. Fear can sometimes be a powerful tool to prevail upon others, and there are many throughout history who have used it as such. Then there is also that range of mental disorders caused by religious teachings that enhance fear, feelings of guilt, and anxiety. Sadly, many still preach the Old Testament instead of the New, fear of hell and God’s judgments, instead of his love and desire for us. Knowingly or not, some use the fear that such teachings generate, to keep their followers subservient to them, instead of freeing them into their own adult relationship with God. In extreme cases some even exploit fear related to physical illness, mental weakness or other critical condition to attract a following and create dependence. Similarly, some have played on fear and guilt to extort money. Fear, however, is employed even more extensively in large religious institutions, where it serves as a leverage to keep followers from “straying” into other churches. The fuel of that fear is the monopoly which some Christian institutions claim to have on God. Through an elaborate mix of tradition and theology, a fear of losing the only chance of salvation is induced on the devotees, who are made to believe they are privileged to be part of the only “true” Christianity. Though some would want us to believe that such tactics are the exclusive domain of modern cults and sects, it is in fact a very ancient method used by major religions and powers throughout history. Unfortunately it does work and grants great power to those who use it, therefore it is not easily nor willingly surrendered.
The love, respect and gentleness of Jesus’ invitation
These were just some examples of how fear is used in religion for selfish human interest and against the spirit of Christ. Jesus ran totally opposite to such methods and never used fear to obtain, much less retain followers. His was always and only a loving invitation “If anyone wants to follow me..."  "Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone listens to my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him” . There is no coercion with Jesus. He does not scare us into following him. He’s a real gentleman who taught: "Come to me, all of you who are weary and loaded down with burdens, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke on you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant, and my burden is light ".
Jesus’ yoke is not an oppressing one of fear, guilt and anxiety, but he gave us freedom from such through his loving sacrifice on the cross. Let us then enter into his joy and freedom and let us not allow anyone, not even our own selves, to ever deprive us of it again.
Faith and fear are opposites that cannot abide in one’s heart at the same time. But fear is also a form of faith, because it despairs and anticipates the worse, thus manifesting faith in darkness. Faith instead has hope because it trusts in the light of God, which is Love.
1. Proverbs 1: 7, 9: 10 and 14: 27
2. 1st John 4: 16 to 19 and 1st John 3: 16
3. John 4: 21 to 24
4. John 15: 15
5. Revelation 19: 7
6. Ezekiel 16: 8
7. Ephesians 5: 31, 32
8. Galatians 4: 1 to 5
9. 2nd Corinthians 3: 17
10. Galatians 5: 13
11. Mark 8: 34
12. Revelation 3: 20
13. Matthew 11: 28 to 30