FEAR OF JUDGMENT: 1 Peter 1:17-21 : August 4, 2020
Reflection | Peter has just called those to whom he is writing to be holy. As we previously learned, manifesting such holiness isn’t about our being perfect; it is about continually yielding to the grace of God that seeks to refine us and make us whole. To be holy isn’t to try or to claim to be better than others. To be holy is to have our thoughts, our words, and our actions shaped by the direction of the Holy Spirit and thus, to extend God’s grace to others.
While our good works do not make us holy; the Spirit’s work of making us whole should be evident through the good works that we do. It is this corollary which Peter addresses next in verses 17 – 21, a passage, which in the original Greek text, is one long sentence. In this single sentence, Peter expresses quite a few varied ideas that are all built around a single theme – namely, that the works of our life will be judged by God.
Peter begins by reinforcing the kind of relationship that we have with God: “Since you call on a Father…” (verse 17). By the grace of God, we have been both called and brought into a relationship with our Creator, no longer as rebels or enemies but as children to their Father.
We are saved and we are secure through the love He has shown us in Jesus Christ and the love He continues to extend to us through the Holy Spirit.
And yet, as a good Father, one who does not merely smile and nod approvingly no matter what we do, God, Peter stresses, “judges each person’s work impartially.” It is vital we understand the judgment Peter is writing about is not about whether or not the Lord will forgive us and save us. It is out of the assurance and freedom of our standing and salvation in Christ, that our Father evaluates our works – if and how we are living out of the grace we have been given – including the insight and direction we are offered through God’s Word and Spirit. In other words, our Heavenly Father pays attention to whether or not we act and behave like His children. Are the choices that we make and the actions that we take reflective of our Father’s character, of our Father’s will for all creation or “the evil desires” we had when we lived in ignorance (see verse 14)?
Peter emphasizes, in evaluating our stewardship of all that God graciously provides to and for us, our Father is impartial in exercising His judgment. Unlike most of us, our Father does not discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, gender, or socio-economic class. We are each and all equally loved and equally held responsible as God’s children. Just as the Lord bestows grace without prejudice; the Lord executes judgment without favoritism.
In light of this, Peter adds, we should be motivated to “live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.” Biblically, while this is our Father’s world, this world as it is, is not our home. We are children of our Father’s Kingdom, of the world to come – of all creation as it will be when Jesus returns to make all things new. Peter’s call for us to live as “foreigners” then is a reminder not to become comfortable and complacent with the way things are but instead to be both seeking and committed to actualizing, as the Spirit leads and empowers us, our Father’s Kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
Our posture in living in this way, according to Peter, should include a healthy amount of fear. The fear being invoked here is not in the sense of the terror of loss or the facing of wrath. Such fear is rather the awe and respect a child maintains toward a parent in the anticipation of continual learning and loving discipline as he or she keeps growing and maturing.
Peter spends the rest of this passage carefully unpacking the basis for such reverence as he presents the Gospel to us. Our devotion to God is derived out of our deepening awareness of the great worth the Lord has placed on our lives. Apart from our Father, in our rejection and rebellion against God, our humanity becomes worthless as we each ultimately confront “the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors” (verse 18). Apart from the Lord, we can do nothing because we have nothing that lasts and thus, our lives amount to nothing. The good news of the Gospel is more than being saved from death and hell; it is being redeemed from an empty and meaningless existence.
For Peter, our value to our Father is evident in all He was willing to pay to deliver us. “It was not with perishable things such as silver or gold,” that God both set us free and brought us home to Him. Our worth to our Father cannot be measured in mere dollars and sense. The securing of our redemption is more than a mere economic transaction. What God offers for us is something of inestimable worth, of limitless value. The price paid, the currency of our redemption, was “the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (verse 19). The value God places on our lives was equal to that of God’s own life as expressed through God coming down and offering Himself for us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Peter goes out of his way to make it clear the coming of God in Christ was not an improvisation. “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake” (verse 20). Our Father did not decide along the way that we were valuable to Him and thus decided to give more for us. No, despite our stock as humankind going down rather than up, God coming to be with and for us in Christ was the price our Father was willing to pay for us. From the very beginning, this was our declared value to God as spoken through the prophets and marveled at by the angels (verses 10-12).
Peter describes Christ as a lamb free from blemish or defect. This is an image that would have been immediately familiar to his Jewish readers. Celebrating the Feast of Passover, they remembered the Lord’s provision of life in the midst of death through the sacrifice of a perfect, spotless lamb without defects or blemishes. Growing up with the Temple in Jerusalem, they may have carried a memory of observing the various animal sacrifices that were needed to temporarily make atonement for human sin.
But now, Peter is declaring, God in Christ became for us the ultimate sinless, spotless, righteous Lamb willingly sacrificed once and for all. Peter goes on to add God’s plan didn’t stop with the Cross: “Through him you believe in God, whom raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (verse 21). The sufficiency of what Jesus does for us, the vindication of its finality – that no more blood need be spilled, no more lives need be lost – is revealed through the resurrection of Christ.
We cannot overestimate our worth in our Father’s eyes. In the final and forever offering of Himself in Christ, God affords limitless value to lives that would otherwise have been futile and empty. Peter’s point in sharing all of this is to motivate us to make the most of both the grace and the time we are given. At the end of all things, our life’s portfolio will be subject to review and evaluation by the Lord. We have been bought with a price, one that makes our lives priceless. We reflect the value of our lives to God through the investments we make in terms of how we live. We have been saved, we are empowered not to make worthless choices but to cultivate investments that will glorify our Father and thus last forever.
Consider & Discuss | What does the portfolio of your life look like? Are you living out of the grace God has given you? How is the Holy Spirit directing and empowering you to invest in the work of the Kingdom? What would it look like to shift your focus from living for today – for this world as it is – and living for eternity – the world as it is becoming and finally will be when Jesus returns?
Prayer Focus | Good, good Father, Peter’s words remind me of the brevity of life and the importance of wise choices. Though I believe and trust that I am saved not by anything I do but only by Your grace, I confess that I struggle with being a good steward of the grace You have given me. You speak to me – directing my thoughts, my words, and my actions – through Your Word and Your Spirit but I so often choose to ignore or forget how and where You are leading me. The time is short but because the Gospel is true, I have no fear of dying. But I do want to keep a reverent fear of You so that I don’t stop learning and growing by Your Hand. Breakthrough the closing of my mind and the hardness of my heart. Silence my doubts and fears. Make me uncomfortable if that is what it takes to follow You more closely and more fully. Teach me how, where, and in whom You want me to invest all the gifts and resources with which You have blessed me. Show me what is the best investment of my remaining days and sweat, tears and laughter in this world. And give me the courage and the strength not to hold back but to give away everything You have first given to me – for Your glory. Amen.