A servant of Hashem does daily soul-searching and confesses his or her misdeeds to Hashem. One who doesn’t bother with soul-searching and confession cannot be called a servant of Hashem. This person thinks they don’t have to answer to anybody — they are the boss. We must each realize that we can’t be a boss and a servant of Hashem at the same time.
So there are three groups of people in the world. The boss, having nobody to answer to, has no fear of punishment at all. A lower level servant performs out of fear of punishment. Love and devotion motivate the higher level servant.
Those of us on the lower level of avodat Hashem, service to Hashem, with even minimal fear of punishment, fear the consequences of our misdeeds and make a daily accounting, confessing to Hashem and asking for forgiveness from Him (t’shuva). On this level, we will also ask for Hashem to help us in avoiding wrongdoing in the future. We have basic emuna (faith) in Hashem, that whatever happens in life — good or not good, success or failure, pleasure or pain — all comes only from Hashem.
One who attributes life’s difficulties to anything or anyone other than to the person’s own transgressions, has no real emuna in Hashem. This person never makes an accounting of their actions, never does t’shuva, falls deeper into their spiritual slumber, and is very far from Hashem, G-d forbid.
As we grow in our emuna, we advance from serving Hashem out of fear of punishment to having a lofty fear of disappointing our beloved Father in heaven by doing something against His will, G-d forbid. At this stage, we serve Hashem out of love and awe, wanting only to do His will.
Rebbe Nachman explains (Likutei Moharan 1:15) that a person’s fears are due to transgressions materializing in various stimuli that come to frighten the person, triggering serious soul-searching and repentance. The great news is that one who fears Hashem does not need to fear anything else, since there is no longer the need to stimulate the person to do soul-searching and t’shuva!
Based on The Garden of Emuna, by Rabbi Shalom Arush