We have been talking about responding to God’s great salvation. What should our responses be to God for all that God has done for us? We said first of all from 1 Pet. 1:13 that we want to be:
I. Completely fixing our hope in the return of Christ (v.13)
It all starts in the mind. Our heart and our hands move when our head is working properly. It is true physically and biologically and it is true spiritually. Our minds, disentangled by the world, get us prepared and set in the hope of His return. So the first response is hope.
II. Continually transforming into the likeness of Christ (vv.14-16)
Then the second response is holiness. And we said God wants us whole. Remember that’s what we said holiness is. It is wholeness. He is beautifying you so you start to live as you were intended to live. It is putting yourself in an environment so God can put His hands over you and change you. So He is committed to make us like Him as we, in child-like obedience are separated from sin and set apart to God. We have two final responses to God for His great salvation as we close this section. Here is the third thing:
III. Carefully walking in the fear of God (v.17)
1 Pet. 1:17-21 is another long sentence in Greek (1 Pet. 1:3-12 was another one which took us six weeks to unpack!). So we have again lots to look over here. He starts off in 1 Pet. 1:17 with “and” so he is continuing his thought on how we should respond to God for all that He has done in Christ. The key imperative or command here is found where Peters says, “conduct yourselves with fear.” The word “conduct” describes one's whole manner of life and behavior. This is the lifestyle, the atmosphere around you or the way you walk and what your lifestyle should be. What is it? Walk carefully in the fear of God. He gives us two reasons for why we should carefully walk in the fear of God. Before we look into that, let’s unpack this thought of the fear of God.
“Fear” here is from the Greek word “phobos,” where we get the word “phobia” which is an irrational fear. But I don’t think Peter has that in mind here. Phobos in Greek 47x in the NT and five of those time are in 1 Peter. It can mean several things depending on the context. Like the verb, the noun also is “used of panic-stricken terror, of numinous fear in the face of incomprehensible events, of fear as a fundamental attitude toward God and in divinely willed relationships of subordination in the sense of reverence, and finally of anxiety before threats and punishment.” In 1 Pet. 1:17, I think Peter is referring to the fundamental attitude toward God. Here is how I define the fear of God: the wholesome dread of displeasing God. F.B. Meyer says it is the fear of the love that cannot endure the thought of giving pain to the one loving and loved.
It can be translated reverence and respect. I think this is why the NIV and NLT says, “reverent fear” here. Now the phrase “fear of the Lord” or “God-fearer” is deeply rooted in the Old Testament (“yare” in Hebrew is found over 300 times) and found in many places in the New Testament. It would be a fun study to go through all the instances of the “fear of the Lord” in the Bible, but for our purposes here we will make a few observations regarding this. Bob Deffinbaugh does a quick survey of the “fear of the Lord” in Scripture. Pastor Ray Pritchard also has some more insights. Let me try to summarize their key points and give you a biblical overview of the fear of God. It is not exhaustive and I will limit commentary on each.
·The fear of God is associated with knowing God personally (for ex. Rom. 3:18 talking about unbelievers: “there is no fear of God before their eyes”; Acts 9:31; Ecc. 12:13-14).
·The fear of God is an attitude of the heart (Deut. 5:29: “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!”)
·The fear of God is an attitude of humility and the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 3:7: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the Lord and turn away from evil” and Prov. 9:10 “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding; also Job 28:28). If wisdom is the ability to make the most God-honoring decision in any situation, the beginning of that comes from having a healthy fear of God.
·The fear of God is a choice (Prov. 1:29: “they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord”).
·The fear of God is motivation for holiness (Prov. 16:6: through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil”; Lev. 19:14; 25:17; Prov. 3:7; Job 1:1). In the NT in 2 Cor. 7:1: “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” If you lack holiness, you lack a fear of God.
·The fear of God is the appropriate response to God’s power, majesty, holiness, and judgment (Ps.90:11: “Who understands the power of your anger, And your fury, according to the fear that is due You?”; Ps 119:120; Is. 8:12-15. In the NT, after the storm was stilled (Mk. 4:41; healing of the paralytic Luke 5:24-26; raising of the widow’s son Luke 7:15-16 for ex.)
·The fear of God can be learned and promoted by obedience to God (Deut 4:10: “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’”; Deut. 14:22-23; Deut. 17:18-20; Deut. 31:10-13; Ps. 86:11; in the NT church discipline brings fear: Acts. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:20).
·The fear of God is healthy and wholesome, leading to blessing and security. While it is our duty to fear God, it is also our delight (Neh. 1:11 says “Listen to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name”; Ps. 19:9; 31:19; 147:11).
·The fear of God is the single most quality a parent can pass on to a child (Prov. 14:26: “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge”)
A lot more can be said, but that’s a quick overview to whet our appetite. Do you fear God? Or do you fear man? I think if you want to cultivate a healthy fear of God, it comes from the first thing I said, which is cultivating the knowledge of God. Peter just told us that it comes from thinking correctly and putting yourself intentionally in an environment for God to make you whole. Let’s now focus on what Peter has to say about why we should walk carefully in the fear of God: The first reason is:
a) Because God our loving Father is also our impartial Judge
Notice “if you call on him as Father.” The word “if” is a first-class condition in Greek meaning, “since.” So it reads “since you call on God as Father.” Notice again the Father imagery (1 Pet. 1:2, 3). Jesus had taught Peter that believers can now pray to God as Father as described in the Lord’s prayer in Matt. 6:9 and Luke 11:2 (which should really be called the disciple’s prayer). Paul also says in Gal. 4:6 that we can call on God as “Abba Father” which emphasizes an intimate, loving or close relationship. Once again, Peter focuses on a command that flows out of relationship. He called you (1 Pet. 1:15) and now you call Him in worship and prayer continually (call is in the present tense).
As you continue to cultivate this relationship with the Father, you start to realize that God’s love is not a pampering love, but a perfecting love. If you are calling Him as a loving Father, Peter says, I am sure you also know that He is an impartial judge. You should not presume upon this relationship and think He ignores sin. Commentator Peter Davids adds, “They should remember his character and not allow familiarity to be an excuse for evil.” “Judge” here means to “separate, distinguish, discriminate between good and evil, select, choose out the good.” It is not so much an angry critical inspection pointing every little flaw and defect in every little thing you do. God’s impartiality is an honest appraisal of things. It is based on a love for you and wanting His best for you.
Notice God judges impartially, which literally means “without receiving the face.” Another commentator adds, “God’s judgment is not determined by outward appearance or pretense. Whatever faces or masks people try to hide behind, they remain transparent to God. God’s judgment deals with a person’s character, not simply one’s actions, which can be faked. God is concerned with individual actions and the internal motivation behind these actions.” He will, “without favoritism in the family, and, as only God could, with the full knowledge and understanding of all the facts. He makes no distinction, whether on grounds of religion (Rom. 2:10–11), nationality (Acts 10:34–35), status (Gal. 2:6; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25), or wealth (Jam. 2:1–4).” Some earthly fathers may play favorites with their children, but not our Heavenly Father.
What is he judging? Notice “each other’s deeds.” “Deeds” in the Greek is singular, emphasizing your life as a whole. God judges believers according to our works. This concept troubles some people. “Aren’t we saved by faith?” Yes, we are. We are saved by faith, but we are judged by our works. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that since you are saved by faith, your life doesn’t matter.” Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). This is not judgment for eternal destiny, but for reward.
He is looking for two things: the quality of our work (1 Cor. 3:10-15) and the motives of our heart (1 Cor. 4:2-5). Notice this is for “commendation” not condemnation. He is talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ that believers will go through. Unbelievers will face the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). The final result of that will be hell. Believers, however, will go through the Judgment Seat of Christ, and the final result is reward. Our condemnation has already been taken care of by God (Rom. 8:1). I am sure these believers were judged by the people around them. They were humiliated and treated unfairly and partially. So Peter is reminding them not to fear man, but to fear God. This is why Jesus said, “So have no fear of them (unbelieving persecutors), for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known…And 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. 10:26,28).
b) Because our life is short
Notice the phrase “throughout the time of your exile.” This is the same word used in 1 Pet. 1:1. If you remember we liked the word “sojourner” as opposed to “strangers,” “foreigners” or “exiles.” We also used the word “pilgrim.” It means as a believer, you are not a permanent resident, but on a visitor’s visa. As Paul says, our citizenship is in Heaven (Phil. 3:20). See the phrase “throughout the time.” Bruce Hurt says it “means literally to dwell near and thus to have a home alongside of. It refers to a person living in a foreign land alongside of people who are not of his kind or to a period spent in a foreign land without taking out or being granted rights of citizenship. In short it refers to dwelling at a place only for a short time.” Interestingly, if believers are called “sojourners,” do you know what the Bible calls unbelievers? “Earth-dwellers” (Rev. 17:2, 8). Believer, would your choices this past week give evidence that your are living more like a “sojourner” or an "earth dweller"?
We are not here forever. We are all terminal. We act like we will live forever, but really as Moses says we have 70 years, at most 80 (Ps. 90:10). So he prays, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). James 4:14 says, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So here Peter is saying, walk carefully in the fear of God. You don’t have much time. You don’t want to stand before God to find out you spent 40-50-60 years on things that didn’t matter, chasing bubbles (have you ever seen children chasing bubbles?)
So Peter is saying that we have a great salvation. He has secured an inheritance for us and is going to take us there (1 Pet. 1:3-5), but that does not mean we are flippant with sin. This does not mean we relax and coast our way to Heaven. That is not how the King’s children are supposed to act. There is a kind of fear that does not contradict fear. One commentator notes, “A confident driver also possesses a healthy fear of an accident that prevents him from doing anything foolish.”
Don’t fool around in sin and rationalize it. Don’t say, “God knows I’m weak” or “God knows I need this” or “I’ll play now and I’ll pray later.” Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones says, “Be careful how you treat God, my friends. You may say to yourself, ‘I can sin against God, and then, of course, I can repent and go back and find God whenever I want him.’ You try it. And you will sometimes find that not only can you not find God but that you do not even want to. You will be aware of a terrible hardness, a callosity in your heart. And you can do nothing about it. And then you suddenly realize that it is God [has left] you in order to reveal your sinfulness, and your vileness to you. And there is only one thing to do. You turn back to him, and you say, ‘Oh God, do not go on dealing with me judicially. Though I deserve it. Soften my heart. Melt me, I cannot do it myself.’ You cast yourself utterly upon his mercy and upon his compassion.” Be careful how you treat God your Father, who because He is also our impartial judge, walk carefully in fear of Him. How do you treat God? A.W. Tozer said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Earl Radmacher, former president of Western Seminary, adds, “Right living begins with right thinking. And right thinking begins with right thinking about God.” Satan loves extremes. If he can get you to just focus on God as loving Father alone or if he can get you to focus on God as impartial judge alone, he has gotten you!
I have shared this story before with you, but I think it’s helpful for me in understanding what it means to walk carefully in fear of God. When I was studying at Wheaton, I heard Jill Briscoe speak at chapel. She is a well-known writer and speaker. She shared a story which I never forgot. She talked about the time when she was 17 and hanging out with her boyfriend at her parent’s house. No one was home that day and her boyfriend suggested they go upstairs to the bedroom. She figured out from his suggestion he had other things in mind. She refused. He kept urging her and in frustration asked, “What’s wrong? Are you afraid of what your father will do to you if he found out?” She looked at him intently in the eye and said, “No, I am not afraid of what my father will do to me, but I am afraid of what this will do to my father.”
Do we fear God? Do we have a wholesome dread of displeasing Him? How do you treat God? Do you see Him as an angry taskmaster ready to hurt you if you sin? Or do you see that He is a loving Father-Judge, not wanting you to hurt yourself and hurt Him by your choices? Have you treated Him by intentionally sinning expecting His forgiveness, presuming His grace and fellowship? You will worship and serve that which you fear. If you fear God, you will worship and serve God. If you fear man, you will worship and serve what people think about you. But in the end, whose judgment only matters? Gods! Do we act like earth-dwellers or sojourners? As we prepare for Resurrection Sunday, we need to first go to the cross. Our loving Father became our impartial judge. Our sins were judged there: our lack of fear of Him, our pride, and our presumption. He was judged and was found guilty. Our sins were paid in full. Then ask God to help you cultivate a healthy fear of God as walk from the cross to the grave and walk in newness of life.
Hurt, Bruce. “1 Pet. 1:17 commentary” http://www.preceptaustin.org/1_peter_117-25.htm#1:17 accessed 25 March 2010.
1 Pet. 1:17; 2:18;3:2;14 and 16.
Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 3: Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament (432). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
As quoted in Hurt, Bruce. Ibid.
Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. 1062).
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “Fearing our Father (1 Pet. 1:17-21)” http://bible.org/seriespage/fearing-our-father-1-peter-117-21 accessed 23 March 2010.
Pritchard, Ray. “Living in the Fear of God”
http://www.keepbelieving.com/sermon/2008-10-24-Living-in-the-Fear-of-God/ accessed 23 March 2010.
Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (64)
Davids, P. H. (70).
Hurt, Bruce. Ibid.
Walls, D., & Anders, M. (13).
Hillyer, N. (48).
Pritchard, Ray. Ibid.
Hurt, Bruce Ibid.
Schreiner, T. R. (81)
Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1987). Revival (300). Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.
Tozer, A.W (1978). The Knowledge of the Holy (9). Harper: San Fransisco.
As quoted in Thrasher, Bill (2001). Living the Life God has Planned (54). Chicago: Moody.
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