Fearing Our Father (1 Peter 1:17-21)
1 Peter 1:13-21
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Upon entering seminary in Dallas a number of years ago, I worked part-time in the warranty division of John E. Mitchell, a manufacturer of automobile air conditioners. One day a fellow-worker who wanted to cut a piece off of a two-by-four quickly decided to use a saw set up to cut aluminum. With a 15-inch blade powered by a 5-horsepower motor, that radial arm saw was awesome. But there was no stop on the saw to hold the piece being cut. As my friend began to saw, the teeth caught the blade thrusting the board through the wall behind the saw! My friend escaped unhurt.
Today I own a considerably smaller radial arm saw, but I have never forgotten that incident. Because I fear my power tools, I use my radial saw with great caution. John Maurer, a friend who has a number of saws much bigger than mine, has a great deal of respect for his saws too. John has remarked that the most dangerous tool in a wood shop is the shaper. Because the shaper does not look or sound as dangerous as the other tools, workmen may become careless in its use.
We often think of fear in negative terms, as a non-productive or even counter-productive force. In truth, fear may be very positive and productive. Peter speaks in verses 1 Peter 1:17-21 of our text about the “fear” which should characterize Christians. We find the principle command in verse 17: “Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth” (verse 17).
Certainly the fear of God is not characteristic of a pagan culture. Sadly, all too often a proper fear of God is not a prominent part of the Christian’s life either. Fear is viewed as harmful by our culture. Children have no fear of their parents. Citizens have no fear of lawful authorities. And yet Peter tells us to live out our lives in fear. Surely this kind of fear does not come naturally for us or for Peter. A careful study of our text can provide helpful understanding of that fear which compliments our faith and our hope in God.
The Structure of our Text
Our text falls into three parts: Verse 17 introduces the subject of fear with a command to live in fear, and one reason is set down as a basis for fear. Verses 18 and 19 set down a second basis for our fear—the redemption which has been accomplished through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Verses 20 and 21 set down a third basis for fear—the work of the Father in our salvation.
The Context of our Text
At the beginning of verse 1 Peter 1:17, the “if” of the New American Standard Bible is rightly rendered “since” by the New International Version:21
Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
The problem with their translation is the translator’s omission of the very important word “and” which is found in the NASB:
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.
The best of both translations would catch the positive emphasis of both:
And since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.
The “and” is very important as it clearly links verses 1 Peter 1:17-21 to the two major commands Peter set down in verses 1 Peter 1:13-17:
Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 13).
Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior (verse 15).
Verse 21 shows us that the theme of hope is still in Peter’s mind. The fear Peter calls for is the other side of hope, and it is a strong motivation for living a holy life. Thus we have the “and” at the beginning of verse 17. Peter’s final words in verse 21 are “faith” and “hope.” Not surprisingly, his subject in 1:22-2:3 is love, a love linked to the Word of God.
Living in Fear
(1 Peter 1:17)
And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.
Peter assumes his readers are true believers and thus God is their Father (compare John 8:31-47 and Romans 8:14-16). The term here rendered “address” has several uses. It is used for the giving of a surname or of one’s surname (Acts 10:5, 18). It is also used a number of times with the sense of “appeal.” In the Book of Acts, this term is used for Paul’s “appeal” to Caesar (see Acts 25:11-12, 21, 25, etc.). Many times the term is employed for one’s call upon God for salvation or for help:
“‘AND IT SHALL BE, THAT EVERYONE WHO CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED’” (Acts 2:21).
And they went on stoning Stephen as he called upon [the Lord] and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:59; see also Acts 9:14, 21; 15:17; 22:16; Romans 10:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:22).
If we are a child of God, there is a sense in which we can think of God as being “there for me.” But there is much more to the concept of God as Father than this. As Peter is about to indicate, the fact that God is our Father requires of us the holiness which fear promotes:
14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? 16 Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I WILL DWELL IN THEM AND WALK AMONG THEM; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE. 17 Therefore, COME OUT FROM THEIR MIDST AND BE SEPARATE,” says the Lord. AND DO NOT TOUCH WHAT IS UNCLEAN; AND I WILL WELCOME YOU, 18 AND I WILL BE A FATHER TO YOU, AND YOU SHALL BE sons and daughters TO ME,” SAYS THE LORD ALMIGHTY (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
The Father-son concept begins early in the Old Testament. God referred to the nation Israel as His son, His first-born son:
22 “Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My first-born.”’ 23 So I said to you, “Let My son go, that he may serve Me’; but you have refused to let him go, Behold, I will kill your son, your first-born”’“ (Exodus 4:22-23).
When the nation failed to fulfill its mission as God’s “son,” God chose David and his descendants to be His son as each of these kings ruled over the people of God. Part of the Father-son relationship involved correction:
12 “‘“When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever”’“ (2 Samuel 7:12-16).
When David and his sons after him failed to fulfill their sonship, God sent the Lord Jesus to serve as His son:
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise and take the Child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.” 14 And he arose and took the Child and His mother by night, and departed for Egypt; 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, “OUT OF EGYPT DID I CALL MY SON” (Matthew 2:13-15).
3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; 4 having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say, “THOU ART MY SON, TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN THEE”? And again, “I WILL BE A FATHER TO HIM AND HE SHALL BE A SON TO ME”? (Hebrews 1:3-5).
Those who are “in Christ” by faith in Him are the sons of God who will share in His rule over the earth:
12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, [even] to those who believe in His name, 13 who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13).
15 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).
23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for [our] adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:23).
To be a son of God, and thus to have God as our Father, involves much more than the assurance that we have a certain hope, a place in the kingdom of God. It means God is our Father in the fullest sense of the term. The One whom we call upon as Father is also the One who “impartially judges according to each individual’s work.” We cannot have God as our Father in a restricted way, but only as He is completely. Our Father is also the “Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). His judgment includes all men and is conducted without partiality. In judgment, God shows no favorites. God deals equitably with all men. The Jews in particular presumed otherwise. They were wrong, as we are if we expect God to judge us differently as His children. Indeed, as His children, we have been given more, and our responsibility is greater.
Years ago, my father taught Junior High in the same school where I was an elementary student. We did not see each other all that often at school. My friend Ricky and I discovered quite a legitimate way to skip class. We became school projectionists and were excused from class to operate the movie projector for other classes. This required pushing the projector on a mobile cart all around the school building. And, of course, at times we raced in the halls to see just how fast we could negotiate those 90-degree turns. One day I was doing especially well wheeling the cart around a sharp turn at high speed when I crashed—right into a teacher walking down the hall. That “teacher” just happened to be my “father.” I can assure you I received no special treatment; indeed, it could not have been worse. My father was also my “judge.”
We dare not presume upon our status as sons or upon God’s position as our “Father.” He judges every individual without partiality on the basis of his work. This judgment includes both the saved and the unsaved:
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man who He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
6 May it never be! For otherwise how will God judge the world? (Romans 3:6).
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is [to be] revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and [that] the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:10-17).
5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
I find it interesting that Peter does not say God will judge each individual, but that He does judge (literally, “the One who judges,” a participle). I believe this is because judgment is both present and future. As I understand the Scriptures, believers are judged more in this life, while the judgment of the wicked comes largely in the future:
31 But if we judged ourselves rightly, we should not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:31-32).
30 For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31).
5 But they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God (1 Peter 4:5-6).
17 For [it is] time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if [it begins] with us first, what [will be] the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 AND IF IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED, WHAT WILL BECOME OF THE GODLESS MAN AND THE SINNER? (1 Peter 4:17-18).
9 Then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment (2 Peter 2:9).
7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).
Having introduced the fact that our Father is also the Judge, Peter sets down the principle command of the passage:
Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth.
Ready or not, here we are commanded to live in fear—in fear of our Father. Exactly what does it mean to live in fear? What does Peter expect us to understand by his command? A brief survey of the Scriptures may prove helpful on the subject of fearing God.
There are many reasons why men should fear God. Peter will certainly call our attention to the fact that God is our judge, but let us not overlook that we should fear our fathers:
3 “Every one of you shall reverence his mother and his father, and you shall keep My sabbaths; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:3).
Very often, in both the Old and the New Testaments, having “the fear of the Lord” is synonymous with being a true believer in God, while unbelievers are said to lack this fear:
18 “THERE IS NO FEAR OF GOD BEFORE THEIR EYES” (Romans 3:18, quoting Psalm 36:1, see Genesis 20:11).
29 “‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
18 Now Joseph said to them [his brothers] on the third day, “Do this and live, for I fear God” (Genesis 42:18).
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase (Acts 9:31).
The last words of the Book of Ecclesiastes sum up the essence of life:
13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 Because God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).
The fear of the Lord is an attitude of humility and the beginning of wisdom:
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil (Proverbs 3:7). 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). 28 “And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding’” (Job 28:28).
The fear of the Lord causes one to turn from sin and obey God’s commandments: 14 “‘You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD’” (Leviticus 19:14).
17 “‘So you shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the LORD your God’” (Leviticus 25:17).
29 “‘Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!’” (Deuteronomy 5:29).
12 “And you, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all year heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13).
6 By lovingkindness and truth iniquity is atoned for, And by the fear of the LORD one keeps away from evil (Proverbs 16:6).
Fear is the appropriate response to God’s power, majesty, holiness, and judgment: 11 Who understands the power of Thine anger, And Thy fury, according to the fear that is due Thee? (Psalm 90:11).
120 My flesh trembles for fear of Thee, And I am afraid of Thy judgments (Psalm 119:120).
12 “You are not to say, ‘It is a conspiracy!’ And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. 13 It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread. 14 Then He shall become a sanctuary; But to both the houses of Israel, a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over, And a snare and a trap for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many will stumble over them, Then they will fall and be broken; They will even be snared and caught” (Isaiah 8:12-15).
In the New Testament, we see an ever-increasing fear of the Lord Jesus the more men come to understand who He is. The disciples feared when they witnessed the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:41). When Jesus healed the paralytic, the crowds were filled with fear:
24 “But in order that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, and take up your stretcher and go home.” 25 And at once he rose up before them, and took up what he had been lying on, and went home, glorifying God. 26 And they were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying god; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today” (Luke 5:24-26).
Men became fearful at the raising of the widow’s dead son:
15 And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and, “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:15-16; see also 8:37).
The fear of the Lord can be learned and promoted by obedience to God’s commands:
10 “Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when the LORD said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children’” (Deuteronomy 4:10).
22 “You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year. 23 And you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the first-born of your herd and your flock, in order that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:22-23).
18 “Now it shall come about when he [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel” (Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
10 Then Moses commanded them, saying, “At the end of every seven years, at the time of the year of remission of debts, at the Feast of Booths, 11 when all Israel comes to appear before the LORD your God at the place which He will choose, you shall read this law in front of all Israel in their hearing. 12 Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, in order that they may hear and learn and fear the LORD your God, and be careful to observe all the words of this law. 13 And their children, who have not known, will hear and learn to fear the LORD your God, as long as you live on the land which you are about to cross the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 31:10-13).
11 Teach me Thy way, O LORD; I will walk in Thy truth; Unite my heart to fear Thy name (Psalm 86:11).
The discipline of the Lord leads to fear: 5 “Thus you are to know in year heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6 Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deuteronomy 8:5-6, compare Hebrews 12:1-13).
In the New Testament, the disciplining of Ananias and Sapphira produced a healthy fear in the church and outside (Acts 5:5). In Acts, the disciplining of the Jewish exorcists brought fear to those who lived in Ephesus (Acts 19:17).
The fear of the Lord is healthy and wholesome, leading to blessing and security. While it is our duty to fear God, it is also our delight:
11 “O Lord, I beseech Thee, may Thine ear be attentive to the prayer of Thy servant and the prayer of Thy servants who delight to revere [fear] Thy name, and make Thy servant successful today, and grant him compassion before this man.” (Nehemiah 1:11).
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever (Psalm 19:9).
19 How great is Thy goodness, Which Thou has stored up for those who fear Thee, Which Thou has wrought for those who take refuge in Thee, Before the sons of men! (Psalm 31:19).
11 The LORD favors those who fear Him, Those who wait for His lovingkindness (Psalm 147:11).
26 In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence, And his children will have refuge. 27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, That one may avoid the snares of death (Proverbs 14:26-27).
The fear of the Lord motivated the saints to avoid evil and also promoted that which is good. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).
1 Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
The fear of the Lord is not merely an Old Testament phenomenon to be set aside by the “love of God” in the New. The writer to the Hebrews informs us that the “fear of the Lord” should be even greater for those of us who live in this age than it was for those in Old Testament times:
18 For you have not come to [a mountain] that may be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, 19 and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which [sound was such that] those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. 20 For they could not bear the command, “IF EVEN A BEAST TOUCHES THE MOUNTAIN, IT WILL BE STONED.” 21 And so terrible was the sight, [that] Moses said, “I AM FULL OF FEAR AND TREMBLING.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23 to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than [the blood] of Abel. 25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned [them] on earth, much less [shall] we [escape] who turn away from Him who [warns] from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “YET ONCE MORE I WILL SHAKE NOT ONLY THE EARTH, BUT ALSO THE HEAVEN.” 27 And this [expression], “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:18-29).
I call your attention to two Old Testament psalms which are very instructive concerning the fear of the Lord. These psalms praise God for His character, wisdom, and power, as well as the fact that He will judge the earth:
4 I sought the LORD, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears. 5 They looked to Him and were radiant, And their faces shall never be ashamed. 6 This poor man cried and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles. 7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, And rescues them. 8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! 9 O fear the LORD, you His saints; For to those who fear Him, there is no want. 10 The young lions do lack and suffer hunger; But they who seek the LORD Shall not be in want of any good thing. 11 Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. 12 Who is the man who desires life, And loves [length of] days that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace, and pursue it (Psalms 34:4-14).22 9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth. 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.” 11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; Let the sea roar, and all it contains; 12 Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy 13 Before the LORD, for He is coming; He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, And the peoples in His faithfulness (Psalm 96:9-13).
To sum up Peter’s teaching in verse 17, we are to fear the God who is both our Father and our judge. As sons of God, we may call upon Him for help to bring justice to the earth and even to punish the wicked, but when we do so let us remember that He also judges us. His standard for us is holiness, and thus we must conduct ourselves with an awareness of our own weakness and vulnerability to sin. We must not expect God to overlook the sin in our own lives, for while it’s penalty has been paid at Calvary, God is at work to purify us to His glory. We should live our lives in this present age well aware that we are citizens of heaven and that our conduct must not only meet the requirements of earthly authorities, but also of our Father.
Our Redemption: A Reason to Fear
18 Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
Redemption is a prominent theme in this epistle. Over and over again Peter refers to our salvation, brought about by the Father through the shed blood of His Son (see 1:1-3, 10-12, 13, 18-21; 2:4-10, 21-25; 3:18-22; 4:1, 13; 5:1). Peter’s use of Old Testament terms and citations bring to mind the first great redemption God accomplished at the exodus of Israel from Egypt. This redemption is overshadowed now by that redemption brought about by God through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The greater redemption is described in terms reminiscent of the former.
One would expect Peter to emphasize the work of Christ, for it is the basis of our salvation. But who would have expected him to speak of it here in a context where he calls us to live in fear? How could the first exodus or the second (see Luke 9:30-31) be an incentive to fear?
We should begin by remembering the purpose of the first exodus, the execution of God’s promise to Abraham and His descendants (see Genesis 15:13-16). It was also God’s intervention to relieve the sufferings of His people (Exodus 3:7-10). But it was also accomplished to bring glory to God by demonstrating His power and glory through the opposition of Pharaoh and the devastating defeat of the Egyptians:
13 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews,” Let My people go, that they may serve Me. 14 “For this time I will send all My plagues on you and your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is no one like Me in all the earth. 15 “For [if by] now I had put forth My hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, you would then have been cut off from the earth. 16 “But, indeed, for this cause I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power, and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth” (Exodus 9:13-16).
Not until after the deliverance of the Israelites at the exodus was the Law given and God’s standards of holiness set down in the Law. By means of the exodus, God’s great power and sovereignty were made known, not only to the Egyptians but also to the Hebrews. They watched as God humbled and defeated the Egyptians, mocking their gods by each of the plagues. No one contested God’s repeated claim given as the Law was set down, “I am the LORD” (see Leviticus 19:37). Only twice was this claim made in Genesis (15:7; 28:3), but it is found dozens of times in the rest of the Pentateuch and hundreds of times in the Bible.23
The first exodus was an event designed to teach the Israelites to fear God (see Jeremiah 32:16-22). The final exodus likewise was designed to produce a holy fear in the hearts of God’s people:
38 “And they shall be My people, and I will be their God; 39 and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good, and for [the good of] their children after them. 40 “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jeremiah 32:38-40).
In the redemption of Christ on the cross of Calvary, we see the holiness of God and His hatred of sin. We see there the terrifying judgment of God upon sin. We also see the power of God in raising up the Lord Jesus from the dead. Our redemption certainly should produce a healthy and holy fear.
The key to understanding verses 17-21 may be in grasping two dramatic contrasts Peter’s words bring to our attention. First is the contrast between God our Father (verse 17) and our forefathers (verse 18). The second contrast is between the worthless heritage we gained from our forefathers and the priceless, precious heritage we have gained from our heavenly Father, through the work of Jesus Christ.
Let us first consider the contrast between our Father and our forefathers. We have nothing in which to boast that we have received from our forefathers. Many of the Jews wrongly assumed that their status was dependent upon their earthly ancestry. They believed that being “sons of Abraham” made them “sons of God.” John the Baptist warned them that this assumption was false:
9 “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9).
When the Lord Jesus was on the earth, He maintained God was His Father and His opponents had the devil as their father (see John 8:31-59).
The Jews had nothing to boast about concerning their ancestral origins:
5 “And you shall answer and say before the LORD your God, ‘My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation” (Deuteronomy 26:5).
2 “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? 3 Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can [men] take a peg from it on which to hang any vessel?” (Ezekiel 15:2,3).
Both Jews and Gentiles inherit from defilement from their forefathers, not righteousness (see Ezekiel 20:30).
The word rendered “futile” by the NASB in 1 Peter 1:18 is translated “worthless” in James 1:26. What we gain from our earthly forefathers is of no value. Indeed, what we gain from our forefathers is of negative value. Though what we gain from our earthly fathers is worthless, what we receive from our Heavenly Father is priceless. The redemption He has provided in Christ is not that of the sacrificial animals of old but the blood of the precious, sinless Son of God shed for our sins for our salvation. The treasure of this redemption, in contrast with the comparative trash of our human heritage,24 should produce a deep sense of fear, a fear which stems from the supreme value of that which God has given to us.
Each time we partake of communion and remember the redemption we have received we are reminded of the depth of our sin, the height of His righteousness, love, and mercy, and the awesome magnitude of His divine judgment. We should be humbled, overcome with gratitude, and filled with a holy fear.
A Fear of Our Father
20 For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you 21 who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
Two points catch our attention as we consider these two verses. First, the fear Peter requires of us is closely associated with faith and hope (verse 21). Second, verses 14-21 focus on the Father.
The fear of God is not incompatible with faith and hope. Faith requires fear. How can we place our trust in a God whom we do not fear? The fear of God is rooted in who God is, in His holiness, power, majesty, justice, and mercy. How could we trust in a God who is not infinitely greater that we are? I suggest we can only trust in a God whom we fear.
Hope likewise is related to fear. Hope looks forward in time, and fear does as well. Hope looks forward to those things we desire, and to some extent, fear looks forward to those things we should dread. Hope draws us toward the things of God, and fear should repel us from those things which offend God.
I find the emphasis on God the Father both interesting and instructive. Quite frankly, the Father is perhaps the most neglected member of the Trinity, even though He is the One to whom both the Son and the Spirit are and will be in submission (see 1 Corinthians 15:20-28). We usually find much emphasis and attention focused on the Son and on the Spirit, but we do not see nearly as much focused on the Father. Peter’s words should serve as a corrective to us.
In verses 20 and 21, Peter portrays salvation in a very significant way. He portrays the Son of God as the “Servant” whom the Father has sent to redeem His chosen ones. It is the Father who chose or predestined (“foreknew”) the Son. Our salvation was the plan of the Father in eternity past, before He created the world. God sent the Son to save us, for our benefit. What was planned and purposed long before has now appeared to us in Christ Jesus. As God the Father sent the Son, so it is He who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him. And for this reason, our faith and hope are ultimately in the Father.
The words of our text should shape our theology. They inform us that it is certainly not our worth which attracted God to us, for we did not exist at the time He purposed our salvation. The work of Christ is not to be viewed in terms of “our worth to God” (the current trend in evangelical circles), but in terms of the Father’s plan for His Son. The cross was not meant to glorify lost sinners but to save them, to the glory of God the Father. Our Lord knew this, even if we do not (see John 17:1-6). It is the blood of Christ and the redemption it accomplished which is precious, while what we have contributed is the worthless way of life inherited from our forefathers.
This should also straighten out some of the crooked thinking currently popular regarding our past, especially regarding our parents. I do not know how many times I have heard it said that we cannot understand God as our Father until we first have a proper picture of our earthly fathers. Peter teaches us just the opposite. We cannot understand our forefathers correctly until we do so in the light of our Heavenly Father. He has purposed and provided our salvation, through His Son. Our forefathers have only provided that which is futile. When we come to fear God as our Father, we learn to fear our parents as well. But we also recognize them as sinners who will always fall short of what fatherhood is all about, because fatherhood comes from God (see Ephesians 3:14-15, in several translations).
Our text should also serve to instruct us as fathers and parents. Our children should learn to fear us, as parents, in a healthy and godly way, just as they must learn to fear God. I see hardly any healthy fear of parents in our culture,25 or any fear for those in authority. I see far too little fear of parents in the church today. If fear of God and of parents is biblical, and it surely is, then let us strive to promote the fear of God in our lives and in the lives of those under our authority.
I believe we must also seek to apply the teaching of our text in evangelism. Some would tell us we should evangelize by stressing the “love of God” and not the “fear of God.” We simply cannot proclaim the cross of Christ without emphasizing both. Why would our Lord promise that the Holy Spirit would “convict the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8) if men were not to fear the wrath to come? Why would Paul say that the “terror of the Lord” was an incentive to his evangelism and ministry (see 2 Corinthians 5:11)? Men and women need to trust in Jesus Christ because they rightly fear the wrath of God. And having come to faith in Him, they need to continue to live out their lives in fear, just as Peter commands in our text.
Have you come to fear God? I pray that you have. And if you have, you will no longer fear those things which once paralyzed you in the past. You will fear the living God, in whom you have faith and hope. This fear is pure and purifying.
One final word on the subject of fear comes from our Lord Himself.
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple that he become as his teacher, and the slave as his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear [whispered] in [your] ear, proclaim upon the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And [yet] not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:24-33).
23 It is worthwhile to note that when the nation Israel forgot or rejected the truth that God is the Lord they would have to relearn it. But this time it would be by means of their own punishment (like the Egyptians--see Deuteronomy 28:15ff., especially verses 27, 60, 68), so that they would know that He is the Lord. This is a constant theme in the Book of Ezekiel (see, for example, 22:16; 25:5, 7, 11, 17; 26:6).