Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid!
McCauley Caulkin captured our hearts with his portrayal of Kevin in the Home Alone series. You remember the movie. When he first realizes he’s been left behind he dances around the house until something frightens him then he runs and hides under the bed. But, finally, as he gets more accustomed to being by himself and fending for himself, he finally reaches the place that he conquers his fear. One of my favorite scenes is when he calls out to the bad guys. “Hey, bad guys, I’m not afraid anymore.”
Well, I had that experience last week. Ok, I didn’t get left home alone, although there may have been a few times when my wife wished I had, maybe. No, my “deliverance from fear” occurred when we went on vacation. Now, if you know me very well, you know I am deathly afraid of heights. We have a battery powered lift here that will take you up to heights of about 24'. I have tried to talk myself into going up in that lift over and over again, but there is something about that which scares me silly. I end up crouched down in the bucket afraid to look over the side. I know, I’m an altitude wimp!
Well, it happened to me again last week. We stayed at this place in Myrtle Beach while we were on vacation that was on the 15th floor. The first time I walked out on the patio attached to our living room, it took my breath away. You know, I kinda creeped up to the edge of the wall and just peeked over. I didn’t want to get too near the edge. The thoughts of that patio being unsupported and just over hanging empty space gave me butterflies. BUT, I had the home alone experience. After a few days of going out there and reading or just enjoying the sea breeze I could say with McCauley Caulkin, “I’m not afraid anymore.”
What about you, ever have the “Home Alone” Experience? What are you afraid of? Some of you are afraid of spiders. I mean you see one of those creepy crawly webspinners, you run for the hills. But then, you went to Camp Lapihio. There were spiders everywhere, and after a week there you had the experience. You could say it. “I’m not afraid anymore.”
Some of you are afraid of public speaking. You would rather be shot than get up and do what I’m doing right now, but then you got “that” job. You may not have realized it when you got it, but they expect you to run a meeting every week, and, when you first found it out, you would have quit if your wife would have let you, but after a year or so of doing it, you can say it: “I’m not afraid anymore.”
Psychologists have a word to describe this. They call it “desensitization.” It was popularized in the Bill Murray movie, What about Bob. In that movie the main character, Bob, is coached by his psychologist to take “baby steps” to overcome his fears. That’s the whole idea of “desensitization.” By exposure, you gradually overcome your fears.
But did you know that it also happens spiritually? It sometimes goes like this: A man or woman hears the gospel and they come to fully grasp, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, that they are sinners. They understand that they stand under the judgment of a Holy, Perfect, Sinless God who is angry with the wicked every day. When the Spirit opens their eyes to their condition they are filled with a sense of dread and conviction. But then they hear of the great mercy of God and how Christ died for them. They come in repentance and confess Christ as their Savior and their sin is taken away and they are so happy. They feel, as one pastor used to say, “squeaky clean” on the inside.
But then something happens. They sin. They realize they have displeased and hurt the God that saved them and they think they’re doomed again. But someone explains to them that God has become their heavenly dad and that He will always be “faithful and just to forgive them of their sin” if they will just ask. So they ask and again they experience His great forgiveness and they are so happy. But, then, the thought enters their mind: “Well, if all I have to do is ask God to forgive me when I sin, and He’ll do it. After all, He promised he would, then why can’t I just sin like I think I need to, and just ask Him to forgive me?” And they begin to have, what I call the Home Alone Christian experience. They begin to say, “Hey God, I’m not afraid anymore.” They become desensitized to fear of God.
Now some would say that’s a good thing. Well, if they do say that, they’d be at definite odds with the Apostle Peter. In his first letter, chapter 1, verse 15, He writes: but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” When God says in that verse Be holy, for I am holy, I understand that the word “holiness” contains two ideas: Complete separation and complete perfection. God is absolutely, uniquely separated from man and God is absolutely and completely perfect and no sin can enter His presence. Now, holding that thought in your head, read on in v 17: And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear; Peter says, “Hey, church, recognize who you’re dealing with! God is absolutely holy and perfect and it is that holy perfect God who is going to judge you without any partiality whatsoever. In light of that judgement then, we must have a certain quality. He says we must spend the time of our stay here in this world in, what? That’s right in f-e-a-r: fear! I other words, I am not to let my heart become spiritually desensitized to Who He is. I am to always hold God in reverence and, as much as our politically correct, psycho-cibernetic, I’m ok, you’re ok, world says it’s not good, in great FEAR! I am to keep my heart sensitized to God.
See, here’s what I’m willing to bet this morning. There are some of you out there who have highly desensitized hearts. You’re like Bob walking at the end of What about Bob. You’re walking around with no fear of God. You claim to be a Christian, but you live like the devil. You can drink and it doesn’t bother you. You can live with your girlfriend or boy friend and justify it because NBC and CBS says its ok. You can curse and think nothing of it. You can walk by your neighbor who needs help and never even think about lending a hand. You can abuse your family with your tongue and justify it by saying its just your personality. Teenagers you can lie to your parents or steal and never even think twice about it. You can take inappropriate pictures of yourself or your friends and put them up on the internet and just call it “fun.” You never even stop to ask yourself what God thinks about it. You have a desensitized heart.
And here’s the deal: Desensitized hearts forfeit their opportunity to be used by God because they are too hard to even hear Him speak. So this morning, I want to try to tell you how you can keep a sensitive heart that truly fears God. These verses tell us a couple of truths we can remember in order to keep our hearts sensitized to God. First, if you want to keep a sensitized heart you can
DIV 1: REMEMBER WHO YOU’LL FACE
In verse 17 we are given the two faces of God. First of all, Peter calls Him our Father. I’m glad he starts with that picture. He says, “And if you call on the Father . . .”. If I know Him as my Savior God is my Father spiritually speaking and I belong to His family. He loves me.
But there’s another face of God here. Not only is He the Father, He is also the judge. He says, And if you call on the Father who without partiality judges according to each one’s work . . . The picture is clear. God is our judge, and He’s not a judge we can pay off or who, because He loves us, is going to let anything get by Him. He is completely without partiality.
Wow! That seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Our Father, is also our judge. The Father we love is also the judge we are to fear. How can you reconcile those two ideas? Well, one commentator says this:
This fear is neither dread nor anxiety; rather, it is the healthy response of a human being before an altogether different kind of being, God, and is a sign of spiritual health and gratitude. This holy Judge we now call “Father,”is a term indicating intimacy and love but also respect and submission. That is, though we now call God “Father” (cf. 1:14), as Jesus taught (Matt. 6:9), we must not let that familiarity with God degrade his holiness, for God is just and his judgment will be just.
This concept of God as Judge has fallen out of favor. In fact being “judgmental” is worse than being an axe-murderer in our society today. You’ll hear someone say, “Well, I may be a drunk, but at least I’m not a hypocrite.” or “I may be living with my fiancé, but at least I’m not judging anyone else.” Nobody likes to be judged. But God doesn’t care whether you like it or not. He’s the only one qualified to do it and He will do it whether we like it or not.
William Willimon tells of his early ministry in rural Georgia. One Saturday he and his wife attended a funeral in a little country church from another denomination. (I think Willimon is a United Methodist). He had grown up in a big downtown church and had never attended a country church funeral like this one. The casket was open and the preacher was primed.
He pounded on the pulpit and glared over the casket. "It's too late for Joe. He might have wanted to get his life together. He might have wanted to spend more time with his family. He might have wanted to do that, but he's dead now. It is too late for him, but it is not too late for you. There is still time for you. You still can decide. You are still alive. It is not too late for you. Today is the day of decision."
Then the pumped-up pastor illustrated his point. He told of a funeral procession on its way to the cemetery, much like theirs would be in a few moments. While on their way, the procession was overrun by a Greyhound bus and several people died. Then he told them that they never knew when that might happen to them. Then that old preacher said, “You should decide today. Today is the day to get right with God. Too late for old Joe, but it's not too late for you.”
Willimon said that he was so angry with that preacher that, on the way home, he asked his wife, “Have you ever seen anything as manipulative and insensitive to that poor family? It was disgusting.”
His wife answered, "I've never heard anything like that. It was manipulative. It was disgusting. It was insensitive. Worst of all, it was also true."
And I must tell you today, if you’re here without Christ, you will stand before the impartial judge one day and, if you have never become a follower of Jesus Christ, you will stand there with absolutely no hope. I know you think you’re a pretty good person, but God doesn’t grade on a curve. He’s not going to ask you to give him the names of three persons worse than you think you are to compare your life to. O no! He’s going to grade you against himself, and He’s perfect!
Can you picture that day? God, the perfect, impartial Judge will be there. You’ll stand before Him and He’ll ask you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” and you’ll say, “Well, I tried to be a good person,” and He’ll say, “Well, let’s check that out.”
And he’ll begin to call up everything you ever did, everything you ever said, and everything you ever thought that was sinful and He’ll begin to review. Now lets just say for the sake of argument that you have been a pretty good person and you limited your sin to just one bad thought a day and just one bad word a day and just one bad deed a day. By the way, if you did that, by our standards, you wouldn’t just be a pretty good person, you’d be like Mary Poppins: Practically perfect in every way. But even if you only committed three sins a day, over the course of a year, you’d commit over 1000 sins and, if you lived to be 70, you’d stand before God with 70,000 sins on your record and when He asked you, “Why should I let you into heaven,” do you think you could really tell him you tried to be a good person? No, I think you’d need something else to say!
Now, if you are a Christ follower today, you would know what to say, wouldn’t you? You’d say, “My sins are under the blood. I trusted what Christ did for me on the cross and I have committed my life to Him.” By the way, that’s the right answer, but it also raises another question for the believer, especially in light of 1 Peter 1:17. If all the sins of a Christ-follower are under the blood of Christ and that applies to his sin, past, present and future, why are we to be afraid of facing this “impartial judge?” Now, you can’t say that this wasn’t written for Christians because it certainly was: Who else could call God, “Father?” Well, I think what is being judged here is not our sin, but our works. It, in fact, says that, doesn’t it. V17 says, “And if you call on the Father who without partiality judges each man’s what? That’s right, “work.”
As a follower of Jesus Christ, there will be an outflow of His Spirit in my life that brings forth the fruit of the Spirit and all of it will produce in my a new attitude towards this world I live in. Specifically, I will not be a participant in this world, I will be a pilgrim in this world. I will not try to fit in and just go along. I will not be enamored with the world’s wealth or with the world’s philosophy. A thousand Darwins won’t shake me from the truth of Genesis. A thousand Freud’s won’t turn me from my faith in the radical transformation of a new life in Christ. A thousand Marx’s won’t convince me that my faith is just some capitalistic deception. And a thousand Milken’s won’t entice me to worship at the temple of materialism. I will constantly remember that I am a pilgrim, not a participant.
By the way, that’s what Peter says. Look at v 17 again. He say, “And if you call on the Father who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, (look!) conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear. The NIV renders that phrase, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. The ESV renders it conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile. The idea is clear. We are pilgrims, not participants.
What does that mean for you as a believer? It just means that you are to live your life with the conscious awareness that you belong to a Holy, Perfect God and that all of your life is to be lived as a participant in His Kingdom and a pilgrim here. When you do that, your heart will stay sensitive to His holiness, and you will please Him.
“OK, Rusty,” you might be saying, “but make it practical. What do I have to do specifically?” Well let me give you a couple of suggestions. First, remember the complete perfection of God. Our world has gotten entirely too “familiar” with Him. Now it is one thing to be intimate in your relationship with God. That’s a good thing! You need to be close to Him. But it’s quite another thing to treat God like your old fraternity brother who is just as unholy as you and who gives you a break when you sin. God’s not like that! God is holy. He is completely perfect. If my heart is to stay sensitive to Him I must remember his complete perfection.
And then I must remember His constant presence. We used to sing that little song when we were growing up. Do you remember it? It said,
“O be careful little feet where you go, O be careful little feet where you go, for the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little feet where you go.
O be careful little eyes what you see, O be careful little eyes what you see. For the Father up above is looking down in love, so be careful little eyes what you see.
Listen! God is constantly present.
He saw you when you went to the bar; He saw you when you cursed in your car;
He saw you when you stared at the porn; He saw you when your deception was born;
He was there when your honor was tossed; He was there when your virginity was lost;
Every thought, every word, every fault, every deed, every fear, every tear, everywhere, God is there!
When you really grasp Who God is and when you really grasp Where God is, you will live your life in reverent fear. It will sensitize your heart when you remember who you’ll face in judgment, but you can also have a sensitized heart when you:
DIV 2 REMEMBER WHO YOU OWE
In Romans 8:12, Paul writes:
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
This parallels what we find over in 1 Peter 1. Peter is urging us to a kind of lifestyle that should be the natural outgrowth of our relationship with Christ. In v 18 he says:
knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
We have been given, completely without any merit on our part, unbelievable blessings from Christ and the truth is that, as Paul says, brothers, “we are debtors.” Why? Well these verses give us four reasons.
We are debtors first because of the price He paid. Peter says that we should live a life of reverent fear because we know that we were “not redeemed with corruptible things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. The word “redeemed” is the word “ransomed.” We think of that in terms of the price paid for a kidnapped family member, but in the scripture, it’s meaning was significant for slaves. In the Roman culture, the master of a slave would take an offering to the temple and give it to one of the gods in the name of a slave. The slave would be “ransomed” from his master and would, in turn, become the property of that God. It seems that Peter has this in mind. We were once slaves to Satan and to Sin, but Jesus ransomed us to God, and now we have become the love-slaves of Christ. And the cost was not paid with “corruptible things like money, but with His own precious blood. Like the song says:
He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay
I needed someone to wash my sins away
And now I sing a brand new song, Amazing Grace
Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.
I owe Him because of the price He paid, but I also owe Him because of the freedom He gave. Look at what the Bible says Christ’s precious blood ransomed me from: Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold (watch!) From your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, That last phrase “received by tradition from your fathers” is actually only one word in greek, patroparadotos, which can be broken down in to “fathers” - patro and paradotos meaning “teaching handed down.” What Peter is saying is that, whether the reader is a Jew or a Gentile, they both had traditions and teachings that had put them in bondage. The Jew was in bondage through his sinful nature’s inability to keep the law; the Gentile was in bondage through his sinful nature’s attraction to idolatry. Both needed liberation and Jesus bought that to them.
And you and I, apart from Christ are in bondage. The “freedom” of sin is nothing more than a ball and chain. Ask the addicted drug addict if he’s free as he steal from his relatives to buy more crack. Ask the addicted pornographer why he pursued his lust to the point that it cost him his job. Ask the adulterous politician why he had an affair that cost him his career. Ask alcoholic why his cirrhotic liver hasn’t stopped his drinking. I don’t know if any of them would admit it this morning, but I can tell you why they all do what they do. It’s because they are slaves . . . slaves to sin. And only Jesus’ blood can set them free. I owe Him everything because of the freedom He gave and because of the price He paid.
But I also owe Him my all because of the love He displayed. This great love was prior love. It says in v 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world but was manifest in thes last times for you. But it was also particular love. Notice that this love was revealed in these last times for you. One writer said that Peter here adds “the stupendous words ‘for your sake.’” Listen, Before my dad, Roger ever met my mother Ruth, or my grandad, Arthur ever met my grandmother, Penny, my Heavenly Father, Jehovah knew Rusty! He had prior love and He put it on display on the cross for my sake. And, my friend, He displayed it for you too! And what a debt of love we owe Him!
We owe Him everything because of the price He paid and the freedom He gave and the love He displayed. But last of all we owe Him everything because of the way He made. V 20 says He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world but was manifest in these last times for you who through Him (that is through Christ) who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory so that your faith and hope are in God. Through the spotless lamb we have been given complete access to our heavenly Father and have been brought right into His presence. I owe Jesus everything because of the way He made to God.
And when I am connected and completely aware of all that Jesus did for me, I respond to Him with great reverence and awe, not because I feel guilty, or I feel like I have to. I am not a debtor in the sense that I am to American Express or Discover. I don’t pay the bill because I’m afraid of losing my house or, in this case, because I am afraid of losing my salvation. I respond to Christ’s love with love. I become a slave of that love and I live for Him out of gratitude and wonder for all that He has done for me.
A Chinese Christian evangelist who called himself Epaphras suffered during the leadership of the Communist leader Mao Zedong. He was arrested because he refused to sing the Communist Party songs, salute the Chairman’s picture, or show his allegiance to any leader other than Christ. For that transgression, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Epaphras replied, “Didn't the Lord tell me from the beginning to give up everything and carry the cross to follow him? This is the Lord's way. I am following him on the same path. Why should I be upset? Why should I complain? This is my biggest blessing."
He languished in prison for years, then some 11 years after Chairman Mao died, Epaphras, who was then 62, was surprised by prison official who set him free. What he didn’t know was why they set him free. He soon learned the reason, though. The Communist officials and the court changed Epaphras’ record to show that he had actually recanted his faith in Jesus.
Epaphras said in reponse, “The court cheated me,” then rented a cell-like room just outside the prison gates and kept himself under house arrest. He said, “If I stay in jail, they will know I haven’t recanted.” He went one step further. He determined he would fast 5 days a week. Always smiling, he would say, “If I die from fasting and living under house arrest, then I die as a criminal just like my Lord Jesus Christ!”
After 15 years of fasting, Epaphras died at the age of 78, having made an emphatic, brave statement that true freedom is found in Christ alone. Now there’s a man who was a slave, a prisoner, you might say, of His great love for Jesus Christ. There’s a man who lived with a sense of wonder and awe of God, who took God seriously even when no one else wanted to.
Can we just be very honest for a moment? I don’t know about you, but I just don’t see that level of commitment among believers today, do you? In the church today, God is more of a distant idea than a constant presence. He is more of a doting grandfather than an impartial judge. He is more of a coping mechanism than a powerful reality. He is a “Friend” on the fringes of life rather than a ruler on the throne of life. And consequently we have a “take it or leave it” attitude about Him. When its convenient we pray; when it’s convenient we worship; when it’s not, we forget Him.
Maybe you’re here this morning and you really know that what I am saying is true for you. You know that you are not living your life in the reverent fear of God and you say, “How can I change Rusty? How can I start to give God the dominance He deserves? How can I live my life in “reverent fear?” Let me give you three suggestions and I’m done:
First, Look up! What I mean is, trade apathy about God for awareness of Him. If you look inside your heart this morning and you find that your walk with the Lord has grown apathetic, its time to look up. Chances are that the busyness of your life and the pursuit of the wrong things had taken your gaze from the Master. You may have been close to the Lord at one time, but now, you’re really not anymore. Your job or your money, or your toys, or your sin, or even your family, has stolen away your focus. You don’t read His word anymore. Your prayers are meaningless or even non-existent. Its time for you to look up! It’s time to become conscious of Who God is once again. Look up!
Second, Open up! That is, trade secrecy for transparency. It is no accident that God has established the church as the primary place of His presence on earth. He never meant for you to exist alone. He knows that the only way for you to stay strong and to be challenged with the reality of Who He is is to stay connected with His people and accountable to them. Let me ask you: Are you a member of this church? Now, there are plenty of good churches in Wilson and there may be some better than this one, but if God is leading you here, don’t just hang out in the fringes. And if you have joined, have you gotten connected? Have you become a part of a small group of some sort through Sunday School or Life University. It is vital that you do that. If you don’t, I’ll make a prediction: It won’t be long until you start to lose the wonder of God.
Look up! Open up! And then, if you want to live your life in reverent fear, Get down! That is, trade presumption for gratitude. The heart that has lost its fear of God is a heart that is presuming upon the grace of God. The man who sins deliberately intending to ask for forgiveness later is the man who is presumptuous. The man who claims to be a Christian and is so hard-hearted that He can sin against God constantly is a man who is presuming on God’s grace, and do you know what the Bible says about such a man? It says, “Don’t be deceived. God will not be mocked. What ever a man sows, that will He also reap!” The whole point of what Peter is trying to tell us is this: When you really experience Who God is and what He has done for you, you will not be able to live in sin. The opposite is also true: when you can live in sin the changes are very good that you have not experienced Who God is nor what He has done for you.
You see, that was my question as I prepared this message. How could I present these verses to you in such a way that you would really get it. Not just mentally assent to the need for living in the fear of God, but truly experience His glory and His love till your heart changes.
I’m certainly not the first preacher to wrestle with that task. Many others have, and with much greater impact, I might add. One of those preachers, after one of his sermons, saw powerful changes that lasted. People were made humble, faithful, prayerful and holy. Churches became powerful place of worship where people, hungry to hear the Word, gathered. Whole towns were revolutionized and being good even became “fashionable.”
Who was that preacher? Well, he was Jonathan Edwards and that sermon that had so much power was Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. It is such a masterpiece that it is included in many American literature books. I didn’t know this about it, but it followed a style that was current at the time. Evidently when death row inmates were about to be executed, they’d bring in a preacher who would preach on meeting God and call them to repent. People listening to Jonathan Edwards in 1741 would have been well aware of the style.
What was unusual was to whom Edwards preached a death-row sermon. He preached to the respectahble people of his church. He hammered those church members with word pictures of themselves as standing before their impartial judge. His church came off the chain. They began to wail and to weep and sinners began to confess their sins. Revival broke out.
Now if you were in English literature, your professor may point to the rhetoric of that sermon or its death-row form as the reason for its success, but they’d be wrong! How do I know that? Well, I know it because just a few weeks before he preached that sermon in Enfield, he had preached it at his own church in Northampton. But Edwards’ flock evidently just yawned, endured, shook his hand when it was over, and went home to lunch.
When Edwards analyzed the Great Awakening (which is the name of the national revival that his sermon started). He said that, while faith comes by hearing the Word of God, that the Word must be empowered by the Spirit or nothing happens.
Which brings me back to my question: How can I present these verses in such a way that you really get it? I really can’t! It is the Holy Spirit that must drive home the truth of God’s word to your heart. It is the Holy Spirit who must open your eyes to see God’s perfect holiness and your utter sinfulness. It is the Holy Spirit who must show you the great love of Christ so that it doesn’t just make you yawn, but it makes you yield. It is only the Holy Spirit who can take away the pride of a presumptuous heart and fill it with reverent fear.