When someone is described as God-fearing, it rarely means "fear" in the common sense. Rather, it describes a sense of respect or awe for God (or at least, for one's perception of God).

When someone "puts the fear of God" into someone else, though, the common definition of "fear" usually is intended. More accurately, it's a fear of impending divine retribution. This obviously works better on believers than atheists.

To elaborate on the first write-up, here is another Christian perspective on the fear of God with a couple biblical references. A holy fear of God comes from experiencing his greatness.
Exodus 19:16: "On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled."
Exodus 20:18-19: "When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.'"
In each of these examples, the people were filled with holy fear of God by his presence. God wants us to have a holy trembling fear before him.

Deuteronomy 5:28: "The Lord heard you when you spoke to me and the Lord said to me, 'I have heard what these people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!'"
Exodus 20:20: "Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.'"

This idea of fearing God not the same as the idea of being "scared." We are scared because scary things are unpredictable. A fear of snakes, for example, most likely comes from the fear that a snake could bite at any moment, without warning. God does not want us to be scared of him, because we think he is unpredictable. An improper fear of God would be terror at the idea that He could strike anyone down with lightning at any given moment. There is a fear that you should have of God. Namely, to be filled with awe, wonder, and trembling.

Why is this so important? The kind of fear that we should have, this view of God, leads to genuine worship where we are able to worship with all of our hearts.

Passages taken are from the New International Version of the Holy Bible

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