Gravity of Christian Conduct
Passage: 1 Peter 1:17-21
One of our unfortunate tendencies as sinners is that we tend to take very significant things for granted. We begin to assume that privileges are rights, and we stop being grateful for what we have. We’ve all heard it said and experienced the fact that we don’t know what we have until we lose it. You’ve probably experienced this pattern with trivial things. For example, during my pastoral internship in college, we took a large group of teens on a mission’s trip to a remote village in Mexico. That week I gained a new appreciation for some basic conveniences that I had never considered. In particular, I gained a new appreciation for running water because this village had none. It was hot and humid, and we did heavy manual labor every day, but all we got to bathe each evening was a gallon or two of water. We would go into this dark and dirty building that sort of had a drain and we would sort of clean off. As well, we had around 50 people on the trip, and we pretty much overwhelmed the two outhouses at the church. By end of the week, if you had dropped a match down one of them, it probably would have shot 50’ in the air. Needless to say, when we crossed into Texas, we were all far more excited about a regular bathroom than we had ever been before. Of course, this tendency hits home on a much more significant level when we experience a major loss. When you lose a loved one, you miss them in unexpected ways at unexpected times. There’s a hole at holidays or other special occasions, and you never realized all of the ways that person contributed to your life until they are gone. Then you wonder how you ever took that person for granted. The fact is that we take many things for granted, some rather small and some very significant. This tendency extends to our Christian faith. We can easily take for granted the gifts we have received, and it affects our affections for God and our obedience to his will. Now thankfully, once we are saved, we don’t need to fear losing the fundamental benefits of our salvation. But this shouldn’t change our commitment to guard our appreciation of God’s gifts and to live accordingly. Our text for today challenges us along these lines (Read).
The structure of this text is pretty easy to follow. Verse 17 gives a condition and a command that flows from the condition. This command is the central theme of the text. Verses 18–21 follow with two reasons why we must obey this command, both of which draw on the significance of salvation. Let’s begin by considering the condition.
The Condition (v. 17a)
Not Doubting: We shouldn’t read this conditional statement as indicating that Peter actually doubted the sincerity of his readers’ faith. Throughout this entire book, Peter assumes that he is speaking to genuine believers. Because of that, some have actually changed the word “if” to “since.” I don’t have a problem with this reading, but I think it takes away a bit from the rhetorical strength of what Peter intended. Peter uses the condition to force his readers to look inward and to really ponder what he has to say. Both the condition and the command are very serious matters that require serious reflection.
What is fascinating about this condition is that Peter combines two aspects of our relationship to God that we can struggle to balance but that are both essential to that relationship. First, he notes that…
God is our Father. This first statement of the text describes the personal, intimate relationshipChristians enjoy with God. The reference to “calling on the Father” is most naturally a reference to prayer. The verb is in the present tense and describes a habitual or regular practice. It is a great privilege to have constant access to God. But when we pray, we don’t just plead for grace to an indifferent benefactor, we plead to our Father. Having grown up in a Jewish home, Peter probably had some exposure to the idea that God is the Father of his people. The Fatherhood of God was part of Judaism, but it was not prominent. Most likely, the idea of God as Father was something that took on a new reality for Peter during his three years with Jesus. When Jesus prayed, he regularly addressed God as his Father. In the garden of Gethsemane, just before he was arrested, Jesus cried out to God, calling him “Abba Father” (Mark 14:36). The early church adopted this form of address based on the fact that it is repeated in Romans 8 and Galatians 4. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to address God as “our Father.” We must not miss the significance of this address even though we use it frequently. The fact that we can call an infinite and holy God our Father is incredible.
But the fact that God is our Father doesn’t mean that he is soft or can be manipulated. The second part of the condition states…
God is our judge. The Scriptures repeatedly teach that all people will one day stand before God and be judged according to their works. Peter adds that God will judge without partiality, or favoritism. God’s judgment is unlike any human judgment. He doesn’t judge based on previous assumptions or bias. Emotional appeals or the political ramifications don’t sway him. God’s judgment will always be fair and just. This is a problem for those who have never been saved because no sinner can meet the standard of a holy God. We all fall short of his righteousness. Revelation 20 states that this judgment will be a dreadful day for unbelievers, and that all who die without Christ will be condemned to eternal judgment on that day because God is a just judge. But it’s not just unbelievers who will be judged. Second Corinthians 5:10 states of Christians, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” We do not need to fear God’s wrath at this judgment because Christ already bore our wrath. Primarily, we can look forward to God’s reward for the good we have done. But the NT consistently teaches that we should respond to this coming judgment with sobriety. We will stand before an impartial judge and give account for how we have lived our lives, for how we have used our spiritual gifts and opportunities for service, and for how we have failed to honor God in our obedience.
The point of this condition is to call us to consider the weight of our profession. Christianity is not a hobby or a part-time job. The fact that I claim God as my Father and that he will judge me one day, ought to weight heavily on my mind, and it ought to weigh heavily on you also. It’s very easy for us to fall into a casual pattern in our faith and to not take it seriously. But we must avoid this trap. Our faith is our life, and we will give account.
In light of this, God gives us a weighty command.
The Command (v. 17b)
Conduct: The command “conduct yourself” comes from the same root as the word translated “conduct” in v. 15. Peter intends to draw a tight connection between our pursuit of holiness and this command. We conduct ourselves in fear by pursuing holiness aggressively.
Fear: But what does it mean to conduct yourself in fear? Christians easily fall into one of two ditches regarding this question, because we neglect one of qualities mentioned in the condition. God is our judge, but some Christians are prone to think of God as little more than a judge and some preachers present God as nothing more than a judge. Their strategy is to scare and guilt Christians into obedience. God is a holy judge so confrontational preaching is appropriate. But if we only focus on God’s justice, we will never rest in his love, and our conduct becomes legalistic and man-centered. We live scared of God or under the arrogant delusion that I’m something and that I have earned my standing. Many people react to this tendency by strongly emphasizing that God is our Father and downplaying, if not completely ignoring, the fact that he is also our judge. They turn the fear of God into nothing more that respect. They create a god who is little more than a naïve grandparent who blindly pats his grandkids on the head as if they can do no wrong. The only way we can maintain a proper view of God and of Christian conduct is if we emphasize both concepts. God is my Father, and I am accountable to him. Frankly, it amazes me that people struggle so much to reconcile these concepts because a good human father is also both of these. I love my son James unconditionally, and he knows that as well as a 2-year-old can. But he also knows that I will hold him accountable for his behavior, and he fears the consequences of rebellion. If children can hold these ideas toward a parent in a healthy tension, then we ought to be able to do the same toward God.
Application: In this context, Peter is especially concerned to emphasize the importance of fear in light of my coming accountability. I want to challenge us all to feel the weight of this command. Someday, you will stand before God, and you will discuss how you lived your life. You’ll discuss the victories you won and the service you performed, but you will also discuss your failures to use God’s gifts and to obey his will. Maybe there is an issue of conduct that you have chosen to sweep under the rug. The fact that you have chosen to not notice doesn’t mean God doesn’t. We will be held accountable, and this fact must drive us to live with a healthy fear and sobriety.
Time of Your Stay: Before we go on, we must note that Peter inserts one other phrase in v. 17. We are to conduct ourselves in fear during the time of our “stay” or “sojourn” on earth. Verse 1 noted that Christians are pilgrims, and v. 17 reiterates the fact that this world is not our ultimate home. Peter inserts this idea to drive home the need for us to look heavenward in our conduct. We must not live with the values of unbelievers since we live for a different world. We must see past the things right in front of us to our eternal home and to the accountability that awaits us.
The command of v. 17 is already weighty, but Peter continues to build the significance of our conduct through two additional reasons we must conduct ourselves in fear. The first reason is given in vv. 18–19.
First Reason—The Cost of Redemption (vv. 18–19)
The Nature of Redemption: These verses speak of salvation using the language of redemption or ransom. This is a common NT picture, and we continue to use it a lot in our songs and other contexts. The basic meaning of redemption is to buy something back. The Law made provision for people to be redeemed from slavery, debt, and other bad circumstances. And Jesus picked up on this OT concept when he said that he came to give his life a ransom/redemption for many (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ death was intended to pay our sin debt and to provide us with freedom. Peter’s Gentile readers could easily understand this picture because slavery was a significant feature of their culture. And it was also common for slaves to gain freedom through paying a debt. They could understand how Christ has purchased our freedom through a payment.
The Purpose of Redemption: Peter is especially concerned with a particular purpose of redemption, which he states at the end of v. 18. I don’t want us to miss the weight of this statement. Peter’s readers were Gentiles, and they had been saved out of paganism, but their paganism wasn’t just a raunchy, lust-driven pursuit. It was a religious and cultural tradition that had been passed down for generations. Because of that, their traditions bore a lot of weight. But even though they were well established, they were ultimately wrong because they did not acknowledge the true God. Because of that, Peter calls them “aimless” or “empty.” They did not lead to eternal life, and they ultimately blinded people to the truth of God. Peter uses similar language a number of times in this book to describe the life of unbelievers. Verse 14 referred to the lifestyle of the Gentiles as “ignorant.” Peter’s point with all of these references is that we’ve totally missed the boat if we live life without God as our reference point. But praise the Lord that redemption rescues us from the blindness of sin and enables us to live for eternity and for God’s glory. Verse 18 is clear that redemption is not just about rescuing us from hell; it is about changing the direction of our lives so that we live for what truly matters.
The Price of Redemption: Redemption is a great gift, but what Peter really wants to emphasize is that it came at a tremendous cost. He makes this point through a simple contrast. Verse 18 notes that spiritual redemption cannot be purchased with “corruptible things, like silver or gold.” I mentioned several weeks ago that gold in particular is typically considered the most permanent form of wealth we can enjoy, and silver and gold were very effective in redeeming a slave. But no amount of silver or gold could ever pay for spiritual redemption. Rather, v. 19 states that this redemption required the blood of Christ, which Peter describes as “precious” or highly valuable and as “without blemish and without spot” or absolutely perfect. Our redemption wasn’t cheap. It cost God the life of his Son.
Application: Peter’s goal in vv. 18–19 is to cause us to ponder the significance of our redemption. He wants us to feel the weight of what God has provided for us. If you have been redeemed, you have been given a highly valuable gift. And because of that, you must conduct yourself in fear during the time of your sojourn on earth. Very often we deceive ourselves into thinking that this is my life, and I have the right to do with it what I want. I have the right to enjoy myself and to pursue pleasure. I have the right to certain relationships and on we could go. When we think such things, we are deceived. As 1 Corinthians 6:20 states, you are not your own, you are bought with a price. Therefore, we must glorify God with our lives. As v. 17states, we must conduct ourselves with fear in light of the cost of redemption.
Verses 20–21 then add a second reason we must obey the command.
Second Reason: The Significance of Our Redemption in God’s Purpose (vv. 20–21):
Peter makes this point in three stages. First…
God planned redemption in eternity past. The phrase “before the foundation of the world” is commonly used in the NT to refer to God’s eternal purpose. In this purpose, God foreordained Christ. The verb Peter uses is normally translated “foreknow.” It is a compound verb that literally means “know before.” But it has to mean more than that in this context, because it would be strange for Peter to simply say that the Father knew Christ, because that is pretty obvious and wouldn’t really contribute to the text. The NKJV captures the sense well when it translates the verb “foreordained.” Throughout the NT, this verb normally is used with reference to God’s sovereign purpose, and it has that sense here also. The idea is that God determined in eternity past that Christ would provide the redemption described in vv. 18–19. The death of Christ for sin was not “plan B.” God wasn’t surprised that the Jews and the Romans turned on Christ. No, God’s planned long ago that Christ would die for the sin of the world. The fact that redemption is God’s eternal purpose is a powerful statement to its significance. But Peter doesn’t end there.
The second stage in this argument is that…
God accomplished his eternal purpose for us. Verse 20 concludes by noting that we who believe are the recipients of this eternal plan of God. We talked about this at length in vv. 10–12. The salvation we enjoy as NT Christians is at the center of God’s eternal purpose. It is the greatest gift man can ever receive.
But it’s not just historically significant. It also makes a difference in our lives. The final stage to the second reason is…
We can hope in God. Verse 21 elaborates on who the “you” is at the end of v 21. You may recall that I mentioned two weeks ago that Peter tends to string ideas together like a chain, and v. 21 follows this pattern. The recipients of this salvation are Christians who have believed on God through the power of Christ. Peter adds that he is worthy of our faith because he proved his power through the resurrection of Christ and the bestowal of glory on him. And because God accomplished his eternal purpose through Christ, our text concludes by stating the ultimate result is that we have a sure faith and hope in God. We can rest secure in God’s promises and especially in the fact he will raise us from the dead and bring us to glory. The text opened by noting that God is our judge, but we don’t just serve him out of fear; we also serve him out of confidence that he will keep what we have entrusted to him.
The second reason Peter gives why we must conduct ourselves in fear is the historical significance of our salvation and the confident hope it brings. God has given us a great salvation that was planned in eternity past and accomplished in our time. Peter’s purpose in pointing this out is to make us feel the weight of what we have received. The gospel is more than a therapeutic pill to make us feel and function better. It’s not just one of many good things we can enjoy in life. Our salvation is the product of God’s eternal plan, and we better not take this for granted. As I said in my introduction, we must guard carefully against losing sight of what we have received. Then, our lives must be consistent with the incredible gift we have received.
My basic challenge today is to conduct yourself reverently in light of the coming judgment and the significance of redemption.
For Unbelievers: I want to urge all of us to give serious thought to what is said in this text. Everyone in this room will stand before God someday and give account of your life. Are you prepared for that day? It might be that the thought of God’s judgment scares you to death. You see that God is perfect, and you realize that you are a sinner and that there is no way you could possibly stand up to the judgment of God. That’s a terrible feeling, but the fact that you see your condition is much better than deceiving yourself into thinking you are okay. You should be afraid, but there is hope in the gospel. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus died to purchase your redemption, and v. 21 notes that the way we receive this gift is to believe on Christ. If you turn from your sin and trust in Christ, he promises to grant you forgiveness and his righteousness. And if you stand in Christ’s righteousness, you don’t need to be scared of God’s judgment. You can have a sure hope that you will be with Christ in heaven for all eternity. I want to urge you to make that decision today. The judgment of God is not to be trifled with. Today is the day to call on Christ, and if you would like to know more, I hope that you will talk with Pastor Kris or I afterwards.
For Believers: For those of us who have been saved, God has given us a great gift that we better not take for granted. We need to seriously ponder what we have received and ask ourselves if we are living up to the privilege we enjoy. We also need to ask ourselves if we are ready to give account of our lives. What will God say when he evaluates your obedience and service? In light of these challenges, conduct yourself in fear while remaining full of faith and hope.
Let’s have everyone bow their heads and close their eyes. As was the case last week, this text also calls for us to seriously ponder our spiritual state. Let’s take a moment to talk to the Lord about any sin you need to confess and to ask for grace to obey more fully.
We are going to close today by singing number #365, “There Is a Redeemer.” As we sing, let’s rejoice in the gift of redemption and hope in the day when we will see our Savior and sing his praise for all eternity.