May 17, 2020

Fearful Faith in a Foreign Land

Dave Zuleger | 1 Peter 1:17-21

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the 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

Introduction: What do you fear most?

One of the ways to get to know ourselves us is to examine what we fear. Why is that? Because what we fear can show us what we hope in. We are living in a season where fear is running in lots of different directions and revealing lots of desires. 

But, fear can also serve our good. Our family went to Florida several times growing up, and there were always signs near these little ponds outside of businesses and even resorts that said, “Alligators sometimes present.” That developed a healthy fear in us to not get too close to the ponds—for our own good and safety. What we fear—like a pond full of alligators—reveals what we want, namely, to live. What we fear most will reveal what we want most.

Fear has a way of helping shaping our reality that in turn shapes our behavior for good or for bad. And fear is the main point of this passage today. 

Peter exhorts his readers to “conduct themselves in the fear of their Father throughout the time of their exile.” In other words, my job this morning is to help us properly fear our heavenly Father with the goal that it would shape our hearts and our conduct. My desire this morning is that we would fear our Father more than we fear anything else and that it would mark us as a people. And I believe that if we properly fear our Father it will increase our hope and trust in him in a way that brings our good and shines forth his glory.

So, here is my outline: Walk in fear a) knowing the impartial discipline of your Father, and b) knowing the precious, freeing blood of your Savior. Let’s dive in.

Walk in Fear ...

So, let’s first look at the idea of walking in “fear” from 1 Peter itself.

Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.—1 Peter 2:17–18 

We see the word 2x in these verses. We are to fear God, and household servants are to submit to their masters with all fear—same word. We find this word in the context of relationships. In other words, it is a relationally-based fear. Honor the emperor— because of who he is to you! Submit to your master with all fear—because of who he is to you. And fear God—implied because of who he is to you. Who these authorities are shapes how we relate to them.

In 1 Peter 3:5–6 we see that the “holy women who hoped in God” are those who do not “fear anything that is frightening.” Why did they not fear anything frightening? I think because they were filled with more trembling toward the God they had put all their hope in than afraid of anything else this world could take from them. So, what we fear most is directly connected to what we hope in most. And greater fears can drive away lesser fears. (e.g., Esther, Ruth, Sarah)

Or in 3:14 where Peter is telling these people that persecution is likely coming: 

But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.

So, instead of fearing persecution that makes them deny God, what should they do? 

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.—1 Peter 3:15

They should regard Christ as holy and give a reason for the hope that is in them with gentleness and fear—same word. This means that they are gentle toward those who persecute them but are filled with trembling before God. In other words, they don’t fear their persecutors and deny the faith—because they fear being unfaithful to their Father more. They must obey God rather than men. Again, we hope in God and so we fear denying him more than persecution.

So, in 1 Peter—and I think the rest of the Bible—this word has the idea of a reverence toward God because of who he is. We know who he is and how we ought to relate to him. Lets examine how Peter is unpacking that in our passage. 

... Knowing the Impartial Discipline of Your Father (v. 17)

And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.

Let me just draw out a couple themes we’ve seen in the book already. God is our Father. We saw in verse 14 that we are called “obedient children.”

We are elect exiles. We are a people that belong to the family of God, and we feel a homesickness while we are here. We don’t quite fit in. We aren’t satisfied because we’re longing for the fullness of our adoption in the presence of our Father forever. And while we are in this place that is not our home, as children of God we are called to conduct ourselves with fear of our Father. Why? We don’t normally think of the Fatherhood of God as a reason to fear.

In fact, just a week or so ago I recorded a devotional for the South Campus from Romans 8:15 …

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

So, there it says we can cry “Abba, Father,” and we are free from fear! Here it says, we cry out to our Father and we fear. So, which is it? It’s both. In Romans 8, we are set free from the fear of condemnation because we are no longer enslaved to sin. We belong to the family. 

Therefore, I don’t think the fear in 1 Peter 1 is a fear of condemnation. So, what is it? Peter wants us to know that our Father is also always impartially judging. The judging in this verse is in the present tense, which means he’s doing it now. What is he judging? Our work. Our conduct. In Romans 8, Paul is talking about our eternal position as children of God. In 1 Peter 1, Peter is talking about our present conduct as children of God (the beauty of the reality of these together?).

So, the picture is a Father watching the way his children conduct themselves with impartiality. In other words, we don’t get a pass to act however we want to as his children, but instead we are “called to be holy because he is holy.” We are called to bear a family resemblance. We are called to become who we are as a part of the family of God. What will he do if he finds us walking in ways that don’t accord with his holiness? 

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?—1 Peter 4:17

Notice that the picture here is of a household, with a Father who is God. He’s not going to let his blood-bought family continue in their sinfulness that would lead to their destruction. He’s going to refine them. He’s going to discipline them. Because he loves them and he’s holy. In 1 Corinthians 11:31–32, when the church in Corinth is making a mockery of the Lord’s Supper, Paul says something instructive for our passage:

But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.

This ongoing, impartial judgment will lead to the painful discipline of a Father who loves us too much to let us cozy up with our sin that would destroy us. This judgment isn’t one of condemnation—it’s one that keeps us from condemnation. In Hebrews 12 it says that we know we are children of God because he disciplines us. This is what good, loving Fathers do.

Our Father wants what is best for us, so he sets forth commands that are meant to lead us into full, abundant life and to shine forth his glory and then—because he loves us—he disciplines us when we are breaking those commands that will lead to death for us and dishonor for him. 

While I was growing up, my dad was a city administrator. This meant that lots of people knew him, and my actions would reflect on our family in our community. I knew that I wouldn’t get special treatment if I did something foolish. It would be impartial. There were at least a few times I can remember where I was held back from doing foolish things, knowing the discipline that would come and the dishonor it would bring my family. There was a healthy fear that was for my good and meant to lead me to true life. 

Yet, there were times I still did foolish things I thought I could get away with it. But, there is no sneaking around God. There is nothing we do out of his sight. Feel the comfort in this fear. We have a Father who sees it all and will discipline us to keep us from ultimate ruin. That’s love.

We fear as beloved, obedient children born again to a living hope, with a sure inheritance. This fear is of the discipline of a Father who is a watching our work and means for us a to bear a family resemblance—to love what he loves and turn away from what he says is evil. He does this for our good and our abundant, true life. He does it for the sake of his Name. How many marriages or ministries might have been saved by this kind of healthy fear? How many might it save right now? It changed how I loved my family and how I wrote emails this week. 

... Knowing the Precious, Freeing Blood of Your Savior (vv. 18–21) 

Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.—1 Peter 1:18–19

We often think of the blood of Jesus as simply paying for the penalty of sin. But here, it says the precious blood of Jesus Christ—more precious than any silver or gold this world could bring—ransomed us from futile ways of life they inherited from their forefathers. It doesn’t just free from the penalty of sin, it brings us to a new Father and gives us new power to be like him. 

Last week, Pastor Steven pointed us to Peter’s reference to Leviticus and our call to be holy because God is holy. Well, in these verses we see Leviticus linked with Exodus. Listen to Exodus 12:5 as Israel prepared for the Passover where God would pass over their households because of the blood of the Lamb and ransom them from slavery in Egypt: 

Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old.

Peter is bringing the story of redemption together here. Who is the ultimate Passover lamb? Jesus Christ. The perfect, pure Lamb of God. We are not ransomed with silver or gold that perishes. We are set free from slavery to sin like Israel was set free from their bondage to Egypt by the precious blood of the Son of God—the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!

And what was expected of Israel as they were redeemed by the blood? They were to be Holy because their God was holy. They were redeemed to be holy. They were to live differently in their sojourning while they waited for the promised land as a witness to the glory of God. Peter is connecting Exodus and Leviticus here. A people redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and called to become like their Father. 

We saw in the introduction that we are elect exiles “for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.” We are to walk in holy trembling before our Father because the precious blood of Jesus was spilled to set us free from vain, futile, and foolish ways. This is what we were redeemed for—for the sake of our Father’s Name. And your redemption by the blood of Jesus to walk in holiness has been planned for quite some time.

He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and agave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.—1 Peter 1:20–21

This blood shed to set us free has been planned before the foundation of the world. The Son of God, who was loved by his Father since eternity past, entered into our mess in these last days for our sake. The last time we saw the word foreknown was in 1 Peter 1:2 when it said we are elect exiles according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

Jesus was loved before the foundation of the world by his Father, and he came in these last days to shed his blood and set free the people loved by God before the foundation of the world. He came for us, died to set us free, and was raised up by his Father all as part of a plan made before the foundation of the world.

In her commentary on 1 Peter, Karen Jobes says it this way: God knew the complete program of redemption before the foundation of the world. This pandemic is a small blip compared to God’s eternal program of setting free a people by the blood of Jesus to live for his glory and live in fellowship with him now and forever.

Does that make you tremble? Does that make you walk in fear of forsaking God more than anything else? Christian, you have been loved by your Father from before the foundation of the world. The Son of God came to set you free from your bondage to sin by his precious blood. You’ve been sanctified and set apart as holy by the Holy Spirit into the family of God (1:2). 

You’ve been liberated at great cost. You’re exiles in this world because you’ve been redeemed from the futile ways of this world. God means to work this holiness in you because he’s paid for it by the blood of Jesus for your good and his glory …

As you get ready to click on that link again. Or as you get ready to say that harsh word again. Or as you get ready to give in to that addiction again. Or as you get ready to grow impatient again. Or as you get ready to gossip or linger on that bitter thought again. Or as you get ready to run to the money, power, and prestige the world values again. Or as you get ready to entertain that self-righteousness again. Or as you get ready to be envious again. Or as you get ready to run down that Google trail that is dominating your heart again.

Remember, your Father who loves you too much to let you continue in sin is watching. He is judging your work. He will discipline you if you wander from his commands. His commands flow from his character and are meant to draw you into life. As you remember that, let a holy, loving fear flow into your heart and give you pause. See the sign about alligators in the pond, and pause. Don’t go into the water even though it looks inviting and refreshing.

Pause. Then tremble with great joy before your Father who sees you in that moment and remember he sent his Son to set you free from these futile ways. He knew this moment was coming before the foundation of the world, he loved you while you were yet a sinner, and sent his Son to pay for your sins and to set you free from your futile ways. He redeemed you to bear a family resemblance, welcome you into true life, and walk in true fellowship with him as obedient children.

Tremble in that moment, remembering the impartial discipline of your Father and the eternal plan to spill the precious blood of your Savior to give you the power to turn from the pond. Pause and run past the pond to just a block down the street—to the ocean with sandy beaches and beautiful waves that you almost didn’t get to because you couldn’t see it when the pond full of alligators looked so good.

Application: Faith and Hope that Shines (v. 21)

And as elect exiles, bearing a family resemblance, our fear of our Father will serve our faith and our hope in way that shines to the world.

When we tremble most before the watching eyes of our loving Father and tremble most in light of the eternal plan of the blood shed from our Savior, other fears will lessen. Are you afraid right now and tempted to run and take control and give in to fear and frustration? Perhaps we are tempted to do and say things that don’t show that our hope is set fully on the grace that is to come at the revelation of Jesus. Remember your Father who loves you is watching. And remember he paid for your holiness. Tremble before him and set your hope and faith fully on him again. Let other fears fall away. 

Christian, there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins—that was planned before the foundation of the world—to save us from our sins and set us free from our foolish ways. The fear of God points us back to the sacrifice of the Son—the only one who lived in perfect holiness—and the Father who planned for him to be our greatest Treasure so that we fear losing fellowship with God more than anything else. 

The fear of God reminds us that our faith and hope must be in the precious blood of Jesus Christ alone, for our forgiveness and our holiness. We are saved by his blood to sin no more. And that makes us trust and hope in our Father who planned it and loves us enough to finish it.

We trust him alone. We hope in him alone. And then, our faith and hope overflow in love to those around us as redeemed, obedient children. We shine forth a fearful faith in this foreign land we live in that shows that God is our ultimate hope—and that only his ways bring true life. 

Sermon Discussion Questions

Discussion Questions

  • What is the main point of 1 Peter 1:17-21? How does that land on you?
  • What does it mean to “walk in fear”? Why should we fear our heavenly Father?
  • What does it mean that God judges us “impartially”? How is this judgment and fear (v. 17) different from what we experienced before we were born again into the family of God?
  • From what have we been set free? To what have we been set free?
  • Why does Peter emphasize the preciousness of the blood of Jesus?
  • Why does Peter emphasize the eternality of God’s plan for our holiness?

Application Questions

  • Evaluate your own life. Do you walk in this kind of trembling before your heavenly Father? Do you seek to walk in holiness because of the preciousness of the blood of Jesus?
  • As “elect exiles,” what might God do among our own neighbors, families, and friends if we walk in a way in which we fear God more than anything else?

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