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3. The Cross And Our Redemption (1 Peter 1:17-21)

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Fear! That’s an emotion that all of us at certain times experience. Mysophobia is the fear of dirt. Hydrophobia is the fear of water. Nyctophobia is the fear of darkness. Acrophobia is fear of high places. Taphophobia is the fear of being buried alive. Xenophobia is the fear of strangers. Necrophobia is the fear of the dead. Claustrophobia is the fear of confined places. Incredibly, triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number 13.

So many people suffer from debilitating fears, some from psychological illnesses, others from frightening experiences. I experienced real, deep-seated fear many years ago when I went skiing for the first time in western Canada. When I got off the gondola and looked down the ski slope in front of me, it looked like a suicidal, vertical drop in front of me. My chest immediately went tight with fear.

We are talking about fear in this article, not fear of heights or down-hill skiing, but something far more important - the fear of God. In today’s passage, Peter is focusing our attention on the Christian lifestyle, the kind of lifestyle that ought to characterize those who are “elect… according to the foreknowledge of God” (1:1-2) and, who have been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1:3).

In 1:13-25, Peter summarizes the expected conduct of God’s holy and elect people in four imperatives: Be hopeful! (13); Be holy! (14-16); Be fearful! (17-21); and Be loving! (22-25). Our passage today deals with the third imperative, “Be fearful” in the context of having been ransomed from our previous lifestyle before we were saved. This is a continuation of Peter’s plea for holy conduct (1:15-16).

The subject of this passage is how to live as exiles in a foreign land. The dominant theme of the passage is that: Believers ought to fear God by pursuing a holy lifestyle that is consistent with their salvation. Because of the prospect of our ultimate salvation at the return of Christ, our lives should be radically changed. You cannot remain the same as you were before you were saved. Who you are and what you stand for - your values, hopes, ethics, goals, priorities – are radically changed by Christ’s redemption. In this regard, Peter has already given two imperatives - now, here is the third imperative: “If (since) you call on him (God) as Father…conduct yourselves with fear (1:17a).

Grammatically, this entire passage is actually a first class conditional sentence. Verse 17a is the “if” (protasis) part of the sentence and vv. 17b-21 form the “then” (apodosis) part of the sentence. It’s a first class conditional sentence because it really says: “If you call on him as Father (and you certainly do), then conduct yourselves with fear…” The following verses 18-21 then provide the basis (reasons) for the “then” conditions. Because of this grammatical structure, “if” should probably be thought of as “since.”

Just as the Father has “called” us in 1:15, so we “call on Him.” We call on Him in prayer because he is our Father and we are his children. We enjoy a relationship with God as children to a loving faithful Father. Membership in God’s family is a great privilege but every privilege comes with responsibilities. Because you call on God as your Father, do not presume on His grace. Just as the Father has called us to “be holy in all our conduct” (1:15), so we are called to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1:17b). God the Father is utterly holy and therefore will hold us to his holy standard and correct us when we need it. Do not expect God to be like an indulgent human father who lets you get away with all kinds of bad choices and ill behavior with impunity. Disobedience will not pass unnoticed or undisciplined.

So, why then should we fear Him? Notice two reasons why we should fear God…

I. Fear God Because He is Our Judge (1:17)

1. The Standard Of God’s Judgement. The Father judges each person “according to each one’s deeds.” This verb is best understood as continuous – i.e. God is continuously exercising ongoing discipline, judgement. As his children, God disciplines us now so that sin does not damage our relationship with him (Heb. 12:7-11). We need to be serious about sin and about holy living because God is the Judge.

Non-Christians will be judged at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15). This is a judgement of condemnation: “Depart from me…” (Matt. 7:23; 25:41). This is the condemnation of eternal separation from God. But Christians, too, are subject to God’s judgement. We experience God’s judgement at the present time in the sense of his disciplinary acts as the Father of disobedient children. Fear of God’s discipline is a good, proper, healthy attitude toward God.

So, Christians experience God’s judgement now and we will experience God’s judgement in the future at the judgement seat of Christ. This is a judgement not for condemnation but for commendation, to cast into the fire those deeds that have no eternal value and to commend those deeds that we have done for God. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). 13 Each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire (1 Cor. 3:13-15). Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). That’s when we will hear God say, “Well done…”

Now you can understand why the focus on the return of Christ is so important. Not only because of the rewards we will receive but also because of the judgement. Our pardon from sin is not a license to live anyway we want.

Here then is the standard of God’s judgement - he judges each person according to their deeds. Then there is…

2. The Basis Of God’s Judgement. He judges each person’s deeds “impartially.” As the judge, he shows no favoritism, even to His own children (Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9). When you call on the Father, remember that you are calling on an impartial Judge. That God judges impartially means that no one is excluded from his scrutiny, that he is not swayed by who you are or what you may have accomplished, and that he owes you no favors. God’s discipline is individual and personal and it applies to all people, even though in this context believers specifically are in view. That is a judge’s task – to impartially assess liability and the appropriate consequence.

I don’t know what is going on in your life. Perhaps you’ve cheated on your exams or engaged in business dealings that aren’t upright and honest. Perhaps you didn’t declare all your income on your tax return or you’re dabbling in an illicit relationship outside your marriage. Whatever the case may be, you need to repent, confess, and abandon your sin.

I was washing our cars in our driveway one day. Both of them were filthy dirty. I sprayed water on them and immediately they looked clean. But if I left them that way, dirt would show up again as soon as they dried. To get them clean, you have to use a sponge and some turtle wax soap and a chamois. Sin is like that. Sometimes you’re tempted to spray water on it by going to church, saying the right things, looking good from the outside, but you’re still dirty. The only remedy for sin is “repentance before God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21).

Since you call on God who is your Father and Judge, “conduct yourselves with fear (1:17c). Just as the Father who has called us is “holy” so we are called to be holy in all our conduct (1:15). The thought of God’s holiness and our call to be like him in holiness should cause us to “conduct ourselves with fear.” “Fear” means the fear of God. This fear is not to be diluted to an abstract “awe” or “reverence,” even though we must view God in awe and reverence. No, that’s too comfortable, too reductionistic.

This is the fear of who God is. He is the “Father who judges.” He is the absolutely holy One who cannot look upon sin. That should cause us to fear. This is the fear of not living a holy life to which God has called us, of dishonoring God, of falling short of God’s standard, of coming under God’s discipline.

He is the all-powerful One, the all-knowing one, the ever-present one. He made us and we are his creatures. He knows all about us, sees everything we do, and hears everything we say. That should cause us to fear lest we sin against him. We must remember that we live our lives in the presence and under the all-seeing gaze of a holy God.

Fear of God is not to be confused with loving God or of his loving us. It is exactly because He loves us that he disciplines and judges us, so that nothing comes between us and Him, so that we become the people He wants us to be. That’s love!

Fear of God is not to be confused with the dread of God’s wrath. The fear of eternal punishment is for those who do not know God. That’s entirely different from “godly fear” which is essential to holiness (Rev. 11:18; 15:4; 19:5). This is the fear of who God is. And…

This is the fear of displeasing our Father. We understand from our earthly family relationships what disruption and unpleasantness can be caused by displeasing our father. His displeasure may be caused by our breaking certain rules of the home or by our behavior which is inconsistent with the family’s values and reputation. In a similar way, we can displease our heavenly Father. God is utterly holy and hates sin. Thus if we sin, we displease him. We should have a holy fear of displeasing him, a fear based on deep gratitude for what God has done for us, and fear of offending him, fear of disobeying the one who is not to be trifled with or presumed upon.

To dismiss the concept of the fear of the Lord as an O.T. concept is to neglect many N. T. passages and to impoverish our spiritual lives. Fear of God is connected with growth in holiness (2 Cor. 7:1; Phil. 2:12). To fear God is to grow in maturity and in the blessings of God. Remember the Christians in the early church who “walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 9:31). Adam and Eve feared God because of their sin and they hid from God. We, too, should fear God because of our sin that will be exposed and judged at the judgement seat of Christ. Franklin Roosevelt said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” I don’t think that is true – the only thing to fear is God’s judgment. Abraham Lincoln said: “My great concern is not whether God is on our side; my great concern is to be on God’s side.” That’s proper fear of God. Someone said: “To be free from all fear, we must have but one fear – the fear of God.” Jesus said, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

So, this is the fear of who God is. This is the fear of displeasing our Father. And…

This is a fear that extends throughout our lifetime. We are spiritual exiles, strangers in a foreign land, pilgrims who are passing through this life. Throughout our time on earth we should live in fear of who God is (his absolute holiness, his demand that we be holy even as he is holy), in fear of sinning against God, in fear of displeasing God, in the fear of misrepresenting God to unbelievers around us. They are watching everything we say and do, so we must act as true children of God so that God is manifest in us to them such that our lives become more holy and more like him.

Remember, he is your Judge. So, every day, pray to God to make you sensitive to and aware of sin in your life, cry to God for a pure heart, live in fear of offending God and his holiness.

First, then we should fear the Lord because He is our Judge…

II. Fear God Because He Is Our Redeemer (1:18-21)

Live in accordance your redemption.17b Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18a knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers (1:17b-18a).

You were “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers” at such great cost. So, fear the Lord lest you fall back into those futile ways from which you have been redeemed. Fear that you might return to empty religious rituals and traditions. Fear that you might be dragged into the ways of the world around you in this foreign land and become more like it rather than an exile. You were “ransomed” from this at such great cost.

A “ransom” is the price paid for someone’s freedom. This term was used to describe the purchase of a slave’s freedom (Lev. 25:47-49). We were held in slavery by Satan himself, our archenemy. He held us in his power and Christ ransomed us from it. This is why we must fear the Lord - because we have been ransomed, bought back from our self-willed rebellion against God.

Prior to their conversion, Peter’s audience had been living a futile, aimless manner of life. Their ancient traditions had no meaning, no purpose – they were empty, worthless, with no lasting results. But now they had abandoned their ancient customs, even though they had been inherited from their ancestors after generations of tradition. Remember, Peter says, that you were ransomed from sin, the world and Satan.

Never forget the cost of your redemption, for you were ransomed “not with perishable things such as silver or gold” (1:18b). Silver and gold are probably the two precious metals that come to mind when we think of the least perishable commodities. But silver tarnishes and even gold will lose its value and luster. Furthermore, the most precious commodities on earth could not ransom us from our pagan, ritualistic, rebellious, self-willed ways which we “inherited” from our forefathers. Silver and gold don’t have the value or power to do that! No earthly possession could ransom us from our sinful pattern of life and radically convert us to a life of holiness and obedience to God. No! You were not ransomed with silver or gold “but with the precious blood of Christ…” (1:19a). That was the cost of your redemption - your ransom price! That was the price God paid to redeem you from the slavery of sin - not the price of a mere slave purchased in the marketplace, nor the value of silver or gold, but “the precious blood of Christ” (1:19a). It cost God the blood of his own precious Son to buy us back from the slave market of sin.

Someone has said, “The most precious commodity in the world could not have accomplished your redemption from sin - only God by His mighty sacrifice could do that… So, conduct yourselves in fear that you do nothing that would despise or make light of that awful price paid by your Redeemer.” That should cause us to live in fear, shouldn’t it? Fear of despising the great sacrifice that Christ paid for our sins; fear of undervaluing the cost of our redemption; fear of denying Christ by failing to be loyal to him in view of all that he has done for us; fear of watering down the value and scope and efficacy of the death of Christ; fear of actually abandoning the historic Christian doctrines you once held which are at the heart of the gospel. We see this happening all around us. New teachings and new practices are cropping up in so-called evangelical churches. Let us fear lest we fall into the trap of watering down the authority of God’s word. Let us fear lest we fall into the trap of removing Christ’s penal substitution from his atoning work on the cross. These false teachings go right to the heart of the gospel! We should fear the Lord that this could happen to us.

The work of Christ has set us free (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:14). The hereditary chain of sin has been broken. Our conversion is life changing. What the most valued commodity in the world could not do the blood of Christ has done. What the world considers to be precious is in fact in God’s sight merely “perishable” - it wears out and decays. But the blood of Christ is of more value than gold or silver. It is not “perishable” but it is truly “precious.” Why? Because of the value that God places on it.

Only the blood of Christ has true redemptive value in the sight of God. It is the only ransom that God could accept for our sins. Not only does the blood of Christ ransoms us from our sin, but it cleanses our consciences (Heb. 9:14), it gives us bold access to God in worship and prayer (Heb. 10:19), it continuously cleanses us from repeated sin (1 Jn. 1:7), it enables us to conquer the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:11), it rescues us from our sinful way of life (1 Pet. 1:19).

Christ’s blood is “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1:19b). He took our place - he was our substitutionary sacrifice. That’s why his blood is so precious, because in shedding his blood Christ died the death that we deserved on account of our sins. He was the perfect, spotless lamb to which all the O. T. sacrifices pointed. The Passover lamb (Ex. 12:5) and the many other O.T. sacrifices required a spotless lamb (Num. 6:14; 28:3, 9). The Passover was that special Jewish ritual by which each family had to kill a perfect lamb and sprinkle its blood on the two door posts and lintel in order to be sheltered from the destroying angel of death. And from that time forward, they have carried out this ritual every year at the time of Passover as a constant reminder of their redemption from Egypt. That imperfect ritual points forward to the perfect “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29), the one who “bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24), the one “who offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb. 9:14), the one who was “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isa. 53:7), the one who “entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12), the one who in heaven will be the subject and object of the eternal praise of the redeemed: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).

Such is the value of the blood of this Lamb that we should live in fear! Fear that we would ever harbor sin from which he redeemed us by his blood. Fear that we would ever derive enjoyment from sin which caused his agony and death.

We have been ransomed with the precious blood of Christ who “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1:20a). “Foreknown” here has the sense of predestined, chosen by God. In a past eternity, before the world even existed, God foreordained Jesus to be our substitutionary sacrifice. In eternity past the Godhead agreed that the Son would come to earth to be the Saviour of the world.

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world “but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you” (1:20b). Notice the contrast here between the foreordination of Christ concerning our redemption and his manifestation “in the last time.” God decreed in a past eternity to send his Son to be our substitute on the cross, but his decree remained unfulfilled until Christ was “manifest in these last times.” Through Jesus’ birth he entered the world in time, having been foreordained in eternity to be our Savior. Why was the plan of God delayed so long? – “for you,” Peter says. This long-awaited appearance of the Messiah was “for the sake of you.” He came to redeem “you” - the elect (1:1), the chosen of God (2:9).

He came in “the last times,” that period when the history of the world is coming to an end, the period that began with Christ’s incarnation and will end at his second coming. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have an enormously privileged position. You just may be living at the time when Christ will appear the second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him (Heb. 9:28).

He was made manifest in the last times for you “who through him are believers in God” (1:21a). That’s who Christ came to redeem – those who believe in God. Through his manifestation on earth and his completed work of redemption at the cross we believe God. We don’t believe in him because of any merit of our own but solely because of what he has done as our Redeemer. Through the manifestation of Jesus Christ and our trust in Him we now are “believers in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory (1:21b). The only way to God is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). The God who planned our redemption is now the object of our trust. Our belief in God is not due to blind faith, nor does it belong exclusively to some sort of esoteric group of people but to those who through faith in Christ believe in God, on the empirical evidence that God “raised Jesus from the dead and gave him glory.” That’s why we believe in God.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation stone of Christian belief, for “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). The basis of our belief in Christ is that God raised him from the dead, even to his own right hand, giving him honour and “glory.” To give him “glory” means that God glorified him by exalting him to his own right hand, the place of supreme power and exaltation: 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).

The result of this wonderful truth – the manifestation of Christ in these last times and his subsequent resurrection and glorification - is “that your faith and hope are in God” (1:21c). “Your faith and hope are in God” because just as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead by God’s power so shall we. This is the gospel in which “faith and hope” are inseparably linked. In fact, that has been the basis of Peter’s thesis thus far in this epistle (cf. 1:3, 5, 7, 9, 13).

Final Remarks

What a wonderful way to draw this exhortation to a close. The God whom we fear is also the God whom we trust forever. After telling us to live holy lives (1:14-16) and to fear God’s discipline and displeasure if we disobey Him (1:17), especially considering that God redeemed us from sin at such great cost (1:18-19), Peter concludes by reminding us that the God whom we fear as Judge is also the God whom we trust as Savior. The sequence of thought goes like this: In the counsels of eternity past, God foreordained our redemption in these last times through the incarnation and manifestation of Christ (1:20), through whom we believe in God who raised Christ from the dead and glorified him, the consequence of which is that we place all our trust and hope in God (1:21).

What a privilege to live in this age when we can know God as Savior through Christ. What a motivation for holy living - to fear the Lord because He is our Judge and because he is our Redeemer.

Here then again, we se the centrality of the cross in Peter’s first epistle. The entirety of who we are as the redeemed people of God is dependent upon the work of Christ on the cross. Apart from his saving sacrifice on the cross, we would be forever lost. We would never know God, much less fear him. But in and through Christ, we have drawn near. 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have bene brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:11-13).

Remember our thesis: Believers ought to fear God by pursuing a holy lifestyle that is consistent with our salvation. Who of you would knowingly lead sinful lives in the light of who God is? Who of you would cheapen the grace of God by indulging in sin from which you have been redeemed at such great cost? Do you remember God’s eternal decree to send His Son to be our Savior? Do you remember what Christ did in shedding his blood to purchase our freedom? Will you resolve, in response to such great salvation, to obey God and live holy lives for His glory and to do so in the fear of God because He is your Judge and your Redeemer? Remember, You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:20). Amen!

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