Living in the Fear of God | 1 Peter 1:17-19

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  • Living in the Fear of God | 1 Peter 1:17-19
  • The church I grew up in did not have a New Members Class. When one began, it became the most popular class in Sunday school. The class name piqued interest: “I’m Saved, Now What?” 1 Peter 1:13-21 is a biblical, fundamental, practical answer to that question.

    Verses 3-12 explain the reality of our salvation in Christ. Verse 13-21 explains the response to our salvation in Christ. There are three ways we should respond to the God who has saved us:

    • Verse 13 says live in hope.
    • Verses 15-16 say live in holiness.
    • Verse 17 says live in fear.

    The call to hope is obviously encouraging. The call to holiness is convicting but undeniably important. The call to fear is virtually ignored. What ever happened to the fear of God?

    More than a century ago, the British politician and statesman, W.E. Gladstone, addressed college students at Christ Church. His talk spoke optimistically about the betterment of English society during his lifetime. A student asked, “Sir, are there no adverse signs?” Gladstone replied, “Yes, there is one thing that frightens me – the fear of God seems to be dying out of the minds of men.”

    Gladstone’s concern is now the way of the world. There is no fear of God. This is also the state of the church. But it should not be so. To know God is to fear God.

    • Psalm 2:11 says, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”
    • Proverbs 1:7 says, The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
    • Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”
    • 2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”
    • Philippians 2:12 says, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

    What is the fear of God? One translation of verse 17 reads: “reverent fear.” It is a well-intentioned attempt to clarify that the fear of God is not a cringing, slavish fear. Yet it dilutes the term. The fear of God is not about your attitude in worship on Sunday morning. It is about how you live day-by-day.

    The fear of God is the fear of God. If you know God, there will be things you are afraid to say, things you are afraid to do, places you are afraid to go. It is holy carefulness toward God rooted in respect and love.

    1 Peter is about Christian living in a hostile society. The readers needed hope to fear persecution. How does fearing God bring hope? ANSWER: The fear of God cancels out the fear of man. 1 Peter 1:17-19 teaches three reasons we should live in the fear of God.

    Paternal Judgment

    Verse 17 ends with the command to fear God. It is the only command in the paragraph and the main point of the passage. The verse begins by reminding us that Christians are children of the God who is Father and Judge.

    God is our Loving Father. Verse 17 begins “And if you call on him as Father…” What a profound way to describe Christians. Verse 3 says, “According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Verse 14 calls Christians “obedient children.”

    Verse 17 can be paraphrased: “If you are a Christian…” “If” is in the first-class condition, which assumes the statement is true: “Since you call on him as aFter…” Peter is not trying to cause his readers to question their salvation. He is seeking to get them to consider what it means to be saved.

    To be saved is to call on God as Father. In the Old Testament, God is rarely addressed as “Father.” The limited references speak of God as the corporate Father of the children of Israel. Yet Jesus teaches his disciples to invoke God in prayer as, “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus can authorize us to pray this way because he is the one that makes the privilege possible. John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

    In and through Christ, we call on God as Father. Many people view the word “father” negatively. But we must not judge God by the failures of man. God is a good Father. The proof is we can call on him as Father. We do not merely call him Father; we call on him as Father. This is an idiom for believing prayer. D. Edmond Hiebert wrote, “You cannot be Christian if you do not pray.” Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

    God is our Holy Judge. Verse 17 says, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” We must not view God as some affable TV sitcom dad. God sits in heaven on a sovereign throne, not an easy chair. The heavenly Father is the holy Judge.

    Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation does not mean no judgment. Those in Christ will not stand before the Great White Throne. Those in Christ will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must 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.”

    By grace we are saved from the penalty of sin. But grace does not mean we are free to live as we please. Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means.” If you are saved, you are saved forever. But you will answer to God for how you live your life. Warren Wiersbe called it “family judgment.”

    Verse 17 says the Father “judges impartially according to each one’s deeds.” “Impartially” means without considering the face. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The paternal judge to whom we give account is watching and living. William Barclay wrote: “Reverence is the attitude of mind of those who are always aware that they are in the presence of God.”

    Heavenly Citizenship

    Verse 17 says, “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” This is the second time Peter exhorts us to practice godly conduct. Verse 15 says, “But as he who is called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.’ Verse 17 says, “Conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.”

    This is also the second time Peter calls his readers “exiles.” Verse 1 addresses this letter “to those who are elect exiles.” Here is the paradoxical reality of the Christian life. We are elect of God. Yet we are exiles in this world.

    • An exile is not a tourist visiting a foreign country.
    • An exile is not a refugee trying to flee warfare.
    • An exile is not an immigrant seeking citizenship.

    Christians exiles are resident aliens. We are in the world, but not of the world. This world is not our home. Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we wait a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian’s value system is shaped by eternity.

    • We worship heaven’s King.
    • We obey heaven’s laws.
    • We seek heaven’s pleasure.
    • We pursue heaven’s agenda.
    • We declare heaven’s message.

    2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be recognized to God. We are not to live in this world as vagabonds. We are on mission for the Lord Jesus Christ.

    We are not in this world to stay. We are on our way home to heaven. Life is short. We do not have time to waste. Any day our work visa will be up, and the Lord will call us home. Be a good steward of the time of your exile by living in the fear of God. To fear God is to refuse to fit in with the world.

    John 15:18-19 says, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

    We should not retreat from the culture around us. But we should engage the culture as the church. If you show up as a Christian, the culture may cancel you. But the fear of God cancels out the fear of man.

    Costly Redemption

    In The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer condemns “cheap grace.” Cheap grace seeks forgiveness without repentance. Grace is free. It is not cheap. It cost the Father his Son and the Son his life to save us. This is why we should live in the fear of God. Our redemption was costly.

    Note the first word of verse 18: “knowing.” Peter did not stop talking about salvation in the introduction of the letter. The rest of this text is about how God saved us in Christ. Fuzzy convictions do not produce godly fear. The call to ethics is based on redemption. Psalm 130:4 says,” But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” To live in the fear of God, you need to know what you were redeemed from and with.

    What We Were Ransomed From. Verse 18 says, “You were ransomed from the futile ways you inherited from your forefathers.” “Ransomed” is a synonym for salvation. It is a more specific description of what it means to be made right with God.

    • Verse 23 describes salvation subjectively: “you have been born again.”
    • Verse 18 describes salvation objectively: “you were ransomed.”

    We are saved by the historical fact of Christ’s finished work of redemption. To ransom is to set free from bondage by the payment of a price. A slave could be redeemed by someone paying his debt for him. It is what God did for Israel in the Exodus from Egypt and their later deliverance from Babylonian Captivity. It is what God did for us when Jesus died on the cross.

    We were ransomed from the bondage of sin. Note the way Peter describes it: “From the futile ways you inherited from your forefathers.” Peter’s Gentile readers understood this phrase to refer to the idolatry they practiced before they trusted Christ. Peter’s Jewish readers understood this phrase to refer to the traditions they practiced before they trusted Christ.

    The fact that they inherited these futile ways from their forefathers warns us Christians do not define themselves by racial, national, and cultural distinctions.

    Life without God is “futile.” It is empty, worthless, unfulfilling. Ecclesiastes 1:2 says, “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” The life of sin is bondage to futile ways. John 8:24 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” The world tells us we are free to live as we choose. It does not tell us that once you choose the life of sin, you are not free to stop. But John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    What We Were Ransomed With. Verses 18b-19 record a negative and positive statement that contrast worldly wealth and precious blood.

    Worthless Wealth. Verse 18 says, “You were ransomed form the futile ways you inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver and gold.” This is the second reference to the corruptible nature of precious metals. Verse 7 says your faith is “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire.”

    Here Peter says we were not ransomed by perishable things such as silver and gold. This statement is ironic. Nothing is more durable or valuable than silver or gold. It is scrap metal in comparison to the human soul. In Acts 8:20, Peter told Simon the sorcerer, “May you silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” Material prosperity is spiritually worthless. Money cannot save you!

    Matthew 6:19-20 says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth. nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    Precious Blood. Verse 19 says we were ransomed “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” The blood of Christ refers to his death on the cross. We are not saved because Jesus bled. We are saved because Jesus poured out his blood in sacrificial death. It was a substitutionary atonement. 1 Peter says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” The blood of Christ that redeemed us is “precious.”

    • Precious because it is the blood of God’s only Son.
    • Precious because it cost Jesus his life at the cross.
    • Precious because it is the only way of salvation.

    The end of verse 19 describes Jesus as “a lamb without blemish or spot.” Lambs offered sacrificed in the Old Testament were a type of Christ. Christ is the Lamb of God without internal blemish or external spot. Jesus Christ is qualified to be our ransom us because he was sinless. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    • When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God covered their nakedness with coats of skin. It was one lamb per person.
    • During the Passover in Egypt, God sparked the firstborn of every home covered by blood on the doorpost. It was one lamb per household.
    • On the Day on Atonement, the high priest made a sacrifice for the sins of the children of Israel. It was one lamb for the nation.

    One day, John the Baptist saw Jesus and declared, “Behold, the lamb of God takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)


    H.B. Charles Jr.

    Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.