We are all familiar with the “if…then” formula. In many ways, our world is made up of “if…then” points. If I eat then, my hunger is satisfied. If I go to work and do a good job, then I will get paid. And if I get paid then I can have a roof over my head. The little bits of code that make your computer or smartphone work are built on programmed “if…then” statements. In our next step of Walking Through 1st Peter we encounter a powerful “if…then.”
Welcome to our sixth installment of Walking Through 1st Peter. If you are just joining us or have missed the previous articles they can be found at Lambchow.com. In our last entry, Peter declared that we, as followers of Jesus, are to be (or become) holy. Immediately after that instruction Peter continues, “If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on 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. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:17–21, NASB95) The structure is simple – if…then…because…so.
The purpose of “if” is to act as a filter or a trigger. The following only applies if or if something is true then do something. If you address, consider, pray, rely on God as your Father then what follows is for you. Or you could say it this way, if you have been born again and are following Jesus, then this next bit is for you.
Peter identifies the Father as the One who impartially judges according to each one’s deeds or work. In the light of this season of grace we often loose site of God’s judgment and justice. Paul wrote to the Romans, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” (Romans 1:18, NASB95) For some reason we like to exclude ourselves from the list that follows (19-32), but if we’re honest we too have done at least some of those things and also deserve God’s wrath. God does judge with perfect and impartial judgment, He does weigh our deeds so to speak. This truth must be distinctly understood, or we will miss something amazing.
Peter’s “then” is implied in the next phase, “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth.” If God is your Father, then behave like it. Peter doesn’t explain or give us a picture of what that looks like so we must be careful to avoid pouring in our own presumptions and rules. Folks will often throw the phrase “that’s not very Christian” at someone like a stone. It’s a phrase of judgment. The irony is that just saying that phrase isn’t very Christian either. To get Peter’s meaning, we have to explore fear.
Peter is specific, we are to conduct ourselves or behave in fear, but what does he mean? In super broad strokes there are two kinds of fear. One is the fear of the unknown or of what might be. Just for this discussion, let’s call that terror. Terror can freeze us in place. It can keep us from venturing out or even going a certain way. Sometimes the terror is rational and justified, but often it’s not. Yes, that tube of aluminum called an airplane could crash, I could die, and the only way to prevent it is to not get on board. But that is fear of the unknown, we don’t know that the plane is going to crash, only that it could. That’s terror, and that is not the fear Peter is talking about.
The other fear is better identified as a risk we know and respond accordingly. This is not the fear of the unknown, but respect, awe, with a healthy dose of caution. For instance, whenever I handle a pistol or a gun, whether it is a high power rifle or a BB gun, I treat it with respect. I check the safety, I open the bolt and inspect the chamber. Even If I know the gun is not loaded I treat it as if it is and never point the barrel at anyone. Call it the fear of the known. Basically, Peter is calling us to remember who we are and who God is. We are not God’s master, He is our Lord. God is our Father, and He invites us into His throne room, but we are His people and owe Him respect and honor.
This fear is to drive our conduct and behavior so that as Paul says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17, NASB95) We aren’t doing right things to earn points with God or to somehow earn salvation. Neither are we trying to build up enough good deeds to overcome our sin before God, that is an impossible task. Nor are we doing things to get our prayers answers. Our right conduct and behavior is simply to honor God in the life we now live in Him
Peter continues, “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. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory.” Peter often returns to this point to refocus his readers on Jesus. As we were saying above, we don’t do good works to pay our sin debt before God, Jesus did that for us. But we do good works to demonstrate our love and awe back to God for His mercy through Christ. This is real worship. More than just singing a few songs and going to church for an hour or two. Worship, real worship, is expressing our love and awe to Jesus in everything we do and say.
Remember who Peter is writing to. They are scattered, persecuted, and outnumbered. They are outcasts out of step with the prevailing culture and norms of society. Perhaps they feel downtrodden, unwanted, and without any value. Peter isn’t encouraging them to rise up and rail against the system. He is reminding them that they are valued and accepted by the only one that really matters, Jesus Christ. The same is true for us, we too must gain our value and acceptance from Christ and Him alone.
Earlier we looked at God’s judgment and justice. Peter doesn’t draw our attention to this truth, but it is there nonetheless. God is just whether we like it or not. We are all guilty and deserving of His wrath. There are no exceptions, there are no mitigating circumstances, there is no way to blame someone else. And perhaps what is most damning is that we cannot make it right. James wrote, “For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13, NASB95) Through the precious blood of Jesus, we have been granted mercy before God. What we could not do God has done for us.
Taking a literal viewpoint the last phrase of this section, “so that your faith and hope are in God,” only applies to the preceding point about Christ’s death and resurrection. I also believe though that Peter was wrapping up his thought. That everything we’ve talked about has the purpose of setting our faith and hope in God, and that is the desired outcome of the “If…then” statement.
One thing we have to wrestle with is truth. How can two truths be seemingly opposed yet true at the same time? How can the truth of the pain and struggles of life align with the truth of God’s love? Some look at that equation and determine that God can’t exist. Other’s look at the same equation and see its reality and a greater over-arching truth. We may never now the why of our pains, struggles, and heartaches but we can rest in knowing God through His love and mercy. Living in that greater truth means that our faith and hope are in God alone no matter what the world, what life, or what others throw our way.