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1 Peter 1:17-19 meaning

God’s children are to live their lives on earth with a healthy respect for their heavenly Father because He will hold them accountable for their work and because they know the high value of the cost of their redemption.

The previous section ended with a focus on God’s holy character. Peter exhorted us to live holy in all our behavior, because He is holy. This means living according to God’s (good) design for us: serving Him and loving and serving one another. Scripture urges us to believe the reality that this is actually for our best.

God’s holy character is satisfied through the death of Jesus for all who believe. Each person who believes is justified by God in His sight (Romans 4:3-4). Each believer is fully accepted as His child without condition.

However, God will evaluate the way each Christian lives on earth in order to determine their reward. It seems that those who learn to accept and faithfully execute responsibility here on earth will be rewarded with much greater responsibility in the age that is to come (Mathew 5:21, 2 Timothy 2:12, Revelation 5:10).

Peter makes a practical appeal: 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 (v. 17).

We can break this down as follows:

  • if, this if presumes “and you do” —a fact Peter assumes to be true,
  • you address as Father, which they do because Peter told us God has begotten them as His children (1 Peter 1:2),
  • the One who impartially judges, which God does because of His holy character (Acts 10:34), then
  • conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth

God judges according to each man’s work. The judgment of believers’ works will take place after Jesus returns, at an event Paul calls the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). The Scriptures explain the details of this judgement in many places. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, we are given a picture of each man’s work being like building materials we send ahead to the next life. These building materials will be tested in the fire of God’s judgment. Any deed done for ourselves or for our flesh will be like “wood, hay, straw” and will burn up. There will be nothing left to reward. These believers will be “saved, yet so as through fire.”

On the other hand, each man’s work that is done for Christ will be like “gold, silver, precious stones.” These are materials made more pure and stronger through fire. If our work endures the fire, we “will receive a reward.” These rewards are not trivial. They are the very fulfillment of who God made us to be. God’s rewards are beyond our ability to fully grasp (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Having the knowledge that each believer will be judged for the quality of the work he has done serves as a motivation to conduct yourselves in fear.

The Greek word translated fear is “phobos.” This word applies to any circumstance where our behavior is affected by concern for what someone else might do to us. Some examples follow:

  • Zacharias the priest had great fear when he saw an angel, possibly because of concern that the angel might slay him, since he was offering incense in the temple (Luke 1:12)
  • The disciples met in a hidden place due to concern over consequences that could be brought upon them by Jewish authorities (John 20:19)
  • The disciples had great fear fall over them out of concern for what God might do to discipline those who lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:5)

Proverbs tells us that the very beginning of both knowledge and wisdom is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:17, 9:10). Believers should not fear God’s rejection, because we are not His slaves, but we are His children (Romans 8:15). However, it is appropriate to have concern about the extent of our future fulfillment. And that will be in large part determined by the work each of us does during our stay on earth.

To conduct yourselves in fear in this context is to have greater concern for God’s judgment than for that of other people. We all enjoy gaining honor in this life. None of us likes to endure rejection. But we must choose whether to have greater fear of God or man. Peter exhorts his disciples to place a much greater fear for what God thinks than what other people think. Each believer has God’s acceptance of them as His child given to them freely and unconditionally. But God’s approval depends on what we do.

The believer’s time on earth is described as a stay, which comes from the Greek “paroikias,” meaning the time lived in the foreign location of this world, in contrast to permanently dwelling in an eternal home in heaven. “Paroikias” also appears in Acts 13:17 speaking of Israel’s stay in the land of Egypt.

The idea seems to be that we are like hotel guests; there is a duration to our stay. At some point we will “check out.” We do not know our time on earth, but we do know that it is brief (James 4:14). As a percentage of our entire existence, our time on earth is minute. However, the time of your stay on earth will shape who you become for the rest of your existence. Those who overcome as Jesus overcame will even be given the amazing reward of sharing His throne (Revelation 3:21).

Many heroes of the faith lived their temporary lives on earth from this eternal perspective. For example, Abraham had this eternal point of view, using this life as an opportunity to invest for the future:

By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” 
(Hebrews 11:9-10).

Moses also lived with eternity in mind, looking for “the reward”:

 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.”
(Hebrews 11:24-26)

Another reason to place a priority on God’s future evaluation of how we have lived our lives involves keeping in mind the high cost of our savior’s payment for the forgiveness of our sins. Peter explains knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers (v. 18). 

We can break this down as follows:

  • Knowing, meaning having information,
  • that you were not redeemed, meaning to be purchased by payment of a price,
  • with perishable things like silver or gold, expensive but temporary metals that can be lost or stolen (perishable),
  • from your futile way of life, referring to a life on earth that is empty, wasted, and of no eternal value.

Peter tells us that this kind of empty, wasted life was inherited from your forefathers, referring to a sin pattern passed on from generation to generation by the fathers who have lived before us. In the case of his Jewish audience, this includes their history of not heeding the prophets and making religious rules a burden rather than a benefit (Matthew 23:23, 31).

But, in contrast to the temporal earthly price of gold or silver being paid for our redemption, we are redeemed with precious blood, the blood of Jesus (v. 19). Peter identifies this highly valued blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless (v. 19). This paints for Peter’s Jewish audience a picture of the Jewish lamb sacrificed each year on the Day of Atonement. This sacrifice was for the temporary covering of sins (Leviticus 22:19-25). But Jesus was the final sacrifice that was given once for all (Hebrews 9:26).

Peter further identifies this unblemished blood of the lamb as the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:2, John 1:29, Romans 3:9, 5:9, Ephesians 1:17, Hebrews 9:12-14, Revelation 1:5, 5:9)

Peter sets forth here two huge motivations to live a life set apart to God. 

  • Believers should pursue the enlightened self-interest of gaining our very best life, both here as well as in the future judgment of the works that believers have done for Christ, and
  • Believers should recognize and have the greatest gratitude for the high value of the blood of Christ that secured the forgiveness of our sins and our everlasting place in heaven.

Both of these realities should motivate us to not waste our time on earth living lives dominated by our sin nature, but rather to live our lives on earth in sacrificial service to Christ. By making our lives count for eternity, we gain our greatest fulfillment. By living in gratitude for what Christ did for us, we live in reality.

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