A Sojourn on Earth in Confident Fear
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About Fear & Anxiety
Part of the series 1 Peter: Grow in the Grace & Knowledge of Christ
1 Peter 1:17-19
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; 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.
The Third Command in 1 Peter
We come now this morning to the third command of the Christian life in 1 Peter. Verses 1–12 were celebration of what God has done to make us his own forever and ever. Then in verse 13 came the first command: "Fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ." So the first command is HOPE fully in the grace of God.
The second command came last week in verse 15: "Be holy in all your behavior." God says, "Be holy for I am holy" (v. 16). So the first command is be hopeful in the grace of God, and the second command is be holy in the holiness of God.
Today we reach the third command: "Conduct yourselves in fear." Verse 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."
- Live in hope!
- Live in holiness!
- Live in fear!
The Possibility of Increasing Resistance
With each of these commands we move farther and farther away from the temperament of the modern world. And with each succeeding week I know I can count on less and less natural sympathy for what I say.
For the first commandment, "Live in hope," I doubt that anyone had their defenses up thinking, "No way is he going to convince me that hope is a biblical way to live."
For the second commandment, "Live in holiness," the receptivity was still pretty high because we believe that God is holy, but we're not so sure we know what it means or what is really expected of us. So there's a little wariness about hearing a sermon on the necessity to be holy.
For the third commandment, "Live in fear," I assume almost universal suspicion for what I am about to say. Not that you don't trust me. Fear of God just isn't in the acceptable air we breath today. It's not part of the culturally correct—which means mainly psychologically correct—view of the healthy, satisfying religious life.
And not only that, but fear simply seems to be incompatible with hope. And incompatible with faith and peace and joy. After all, doesn't 1 John 4:18 say, "Perfect love casts out fear"? Yes, but the verse goes on, "Fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love." So until we are perfected in love, we may not use that verse to say there is no place for fearing punishment.
So for cultural and biblical reasons I understand that there is resistance to preaching about the fear of God.
What I Want to Plead For This Morning
So what I want to plead for first this morning is that you recognize that growing deeper and stronger as a Christian comes not by choosing to embrace only those biblical teachings you are already comfortable with and already easily understand—you don't grow that way. But rather you grow deep and strong by also embracing the teachings you are not comfortable with and that are hard to understand with the confidence that God has not taught us anything false or harmful in the Scriptures.
The second thing I want to plead for is that you take verses 17–19 seriously and strive to be counter-cultural enough and deeply biblical enough to make them part of how you live.
How Are We to Fear God?
We have a few minutes. Let me focus your attention on how Peter sees fearing God in relation to judgment and redemption. The command to fear is the second half of verse 17: "Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth." There's no special word for "reverence" or "reverent fear" in Greek. Adding that word is an editor's interpretation of what flavor he thinks the word should have. It may be right, or may be too limiting.
On either side of that command to conduct ourselves in fear is a reason for this fear. On the front side in the first half of verse 17 is this reason: "If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man's work . . . "
So the first reason for conducting ourselves in fear is that the One we call heavenly Father judges everybody on the same kind of evidence—namely, what do our lives (our deeds) say about our heart? There won't be different rules for different people. There is one thing that saves: faith. And there is one standard of judgment: life (deeds).
Fear Living as Though Our Faith Were Not in God
If this is true, Peter says, there is a very appropriate fear as we live our lives, namely, a fear of living as though our faith (our hope!) were not in God. Here's the link between verse 17 and verse 13, between living in hope and living in fear. What we are to fear, Peter means, is not hoping in God (cf. Romans 11:20).
When we are tempted to conduct ourselves in a way that would show that our hope is in money rather than God, we should fear. When we are tempted to act in a way that would show that our hope is in the pleasure of pornography instead of God, we should fear. When Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:18, "Flee fornication," he meant, "Fear what it would mean about where your hope is if you commit fornication." It was the same spirit that Jesus had when he said, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better to enter life with one eye than with two to be cast into hell" (cf. Matthew 5:29). Fear living in ways that betray your lack of satisfaction in God.
This is one crucial missing note in modern Christianity, and one of the main reasons why the church is such a carbon-copy of the world. We think that grace means there's nothing to fear in our behavior. And so the sanction of judgment has no place in our lives. And 1 Peter 1:17 is simply blanked out in our superficial adaptation to culture. But God is gracious and calls us back today to fear the behavior that leads to destruction.
Fear Living as Though Jesus' Blood Is Not Precious
But now notice that on the other side of verse 17 Peter gives another reason for conducting ourselves in fear. He says,
Conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed [or ransomed] 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.
If I said, "Let's not be anxious about our finances, knowing that God will meet all our needs," what I would mean is, "Don't be anxious, because we know God will meet all our needs."
That's the same reasoning we have in these verses: "Conduct yourselves in fear, knowing . . . "—because you know your were ransomed not with small temporary values like gold and silver, but with an infinite, eternal value, the blood of Jesus. Boiled down: "Fear, because you've been ransomed at infinite cost."
Make sense? It didn't to me at first. But here's where you can grow. You can send your roots deeper and your branches higher. Don't just blank it out. For one thing, it sounds just like Psalm 130:4, "There is forgiveness with you [O God], that you may be feared." Forgiveness leads to fear! In the same way Peter says, "There's an infinite ransom paid, the blood of Jesus, to rescue you from your old ways of life; so conduct yourselves in fear."
In fact what Peter specifically stresses in verses 18 and 19 is the surpassing value and eternal durability of the ransom paid for God's people. He says that gold and silver are "perishable"—they are not durable, they don't last. And he says that the blood of Jesus is "precious"—it's infinitely valuable. So he stresses that the ransom paid for us is permanent and precious.
You'd Think It Would Be the Other Way Around
And the point in connection with verse 17 is: in proportion to the preciousness and the permanence of the ransom we should all the more conduct ourselves with fear. You'd think it would be just the other way around: The more precious and permanent the ransom paid on our behalf, the less we need to fear.
Yes! Yes! And that is gloriously true in one sense: "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies! Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died [who paid the infinitely precious and permanent ransom!]" (Romans 8:33–34).
Ransomed for the Purpose of Transformation
But what if Peter means, "Fear conducting yourself as though the ransom were not precious"? I think that's exactly what he means. Because he says in verse 18 that the design of the ransom—the redemption—is to rescue you from your futile way of life. Do you see that? Verse 18: "You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life . . . but by the precious blood of Christ."
The aim and purpose and design of the ransom in this verse is not forgiveness but transformation. The aim in this verse is victory over the power of sin in your everyday life, not forgiveness from the guilt of sin (as true as that is). The reason Jesus shed his infinitely precious blood was to change our conduct (cf. Titus 2:14).
So when Peter says, "Conduct yourselves in fear, knowing that you were ransomed from bad conduct by the blood of Jesus," he means, fear conducting yourself in way that shows that the blood is not precious to you.
If your heart soars with assurance as you meditate on the eternal permanence and infinite preciousness of the ransom Jesus paid with his blood, great! God wants you to soar with assurance. But don't ever twist that assurance into a justification for conduct that proves you don't think the blood is infinitely precious.
Let me put it finally in a systematic way: God's purpose in the blood of Jesus is our justification and our sanctification. Our pardon and our purity. They cannot be separated (Peter stresses the purity in verse 19).
Therefore, if in our conduct we are tempted to act as though the preciousness and the permanence of the blood of Jesus were impotent to hold us back from sin, then we should fear. Because if our lives bear constant witness to the powerlessness of the blood of Jesus, then Jesus is not really our hope and joy. And we do not belong to him. And that is a fearful prospect.
The sum of the matter is this; hope in the grace of God! And fear not hoping in the grace of God! Fear the behavior that would show you don't trust in the all-satisfying preciousness of the love of Jesus.