Third Sunday of Easter (A) April 6, 2008
Three Things You Should Fear (1 Peter 1:17-23)
We bounced along the bumpy dirt road until we reached a clearing congested with people and parked cars. The road was barricaded. The atmosphere was that of a carnival. Families picnicked. Merchants sold T-shirts out of their cars. Flippant remarks about surviving the day filled the air. For a moment clouds wrapped themselves around the peak we’d come to see.
When Mt. Saint Helens finally emerged we watched a steady stream of steam belch from her side. We enjoyed the scenery, snapped a few pictures and happily drove back down the road. Three weeks later, Mt. Saint Helens violently exploded killing almost sixty people – some on the same road we had driven. Sometimes, we don’t have the good sense to be afraid of things we ought to fear.
Peter reminds us of that in 1 Pet. 1:17- 23. He tells us that, even as people saved by grace, there remains a place for “reverent fear” in our lives.
1. We ought to fear God’s discipline (v. 17)
In verse 17, Peter says we must live our lives “as strangers here in reverent fear.” But exactly what are we to be afraid of? Peter says we are to live in reverent fear because we call on “a Father who judges each man’s work impartially…” Does this mean we are live our lives in fear of eternal condemnation? Not as believers (Rom 8:1)!
So what is the judgment Peter speaks of? It is the judgment of our Father’s discipline. Like any loving Father, God judges and disciplines His children. This knowledge produces a proper fear. In every healthy family love and “reverent fear” coexists. Growing up, I knew beyond doubt that my earthly father loved me. Even so, when I violated family rules I feared his discipline.
As a son, this fear of my father was right and proper. So is our fear of God’s discipline. But fear of God’s discipline is not the only proper fear we should feel as people saved by grace. In light of the greatness of God’s grace and the knowledge that we “call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially…”:
2. We ought to fear being seduced by the empty things of this world (vv. 17-18)
In verse 17 Peter says that living in reverent fear means living “as strangers” here on earth. In verse 18 he tells us why – our redemption and eternal joy aren’t rooted in the “perishable” and “empty” things of this world. Silver, gold, and money don’t redeem us from sin. They don’t bring forgiveness or fellowship with God. They cannot set us free from the meaningless lives handed down to us by our fallen ancestors.
The empty life that entices us here on earth is a life lived for self and pleasure rather than for Christ. It’s a life build around possessions, recreation, entertainment, sex, self-help religion and other momentary pleasures of this world. As believers we ought to fear their seductive powers. We ought to tremble at the thought of immersing ourselves in the very things Jesus came to save us from.
As a believer saved by grace do you fear being captivated by those things that “come not from the Father but from the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting in what he has and does” (1 John 2:16)? Do we “live as strangers here in reverent fear”? Do we take care not to value perishable things more that we value the God of our salvation?
Ultimately, of course, fear cannot be the focus of our Christian life. Reverent fear brings spiritual maturity, but only if we respond to it properly.
3. We ought to respond to reverent fear by relying on God’s grace (vv. 19-23)
a) The grace God offers us in redemption (19-21)
We are not redeemed by silver or gold, “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” Peter reminds us – before God created the world, He planned to save us. Before time began, God determined that Jesus would meet our need. That’s perfect love! That’s unconditional, self-sacrificing love.
Recognizing the depth of that love destroys this world’s power to seduce. Recognizing the depth of that love calms our fear of discipline.
b) The grace God offers us in fellowship (v. 22)
“…love one another deeply, from the heart.” The same grace that redeems us makes us a part of God’s family. In that family we can love and be loved by encouraging each other to grow in Christ (Heb 10:25). Loving each other delivers from the fear of loving the empty things of this world.
c) The grace God offers us in His Word (v. 23)
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” The word of God is the means by which he reveals Himself to us. In His word we discover our redemption. By His word we are made new. His word enables us to stand against the deception of perishable things. Through His word we learn to fear God and, at the same time, find deliverance from that fear.