Fearing Our Father
Topic: English Passage: 1 Peter 1:17
Take a second and think about your answer to this question: What’s one particular attribute that’s missing in your Christian life? What do you wish there was more of?
Don’t think about it externally. Don’t think about it in terms of what this life might provide for you. I want you to think about that question from an internal perspective. What do you wish your Christian life expressed more of? How would you like others to characterize you?
There are many attributes you could choose from. One list of positive attributes would be the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. Those are qualities we’d like to work toward seeing developed in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. That’s a good list to pick from. We should strive after those things.
Another good list comes from 2 Peter 1, where we are called to diligently apply ourselves to faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. That’s another good list of qualities to focus on.
There is, however, one quality that seems to me to be very much neglected in our American Christian life. It’s not neglected in the Bible, but it isn’t part of our culture. In fact, there is a distinct push against it. This quality, I would say, stands behind the list of qualities we read. This quality produces those attributes in us. That quality is the quality of fear.
How many of us regularly think, “I wish my life was more characterized by fear”? That’s not a common pursuit, and yet we find that the Bible is filled with instructions and examples of godly, righteous fear. And this morning, we come together to one of those passages—First Peter chapter 1, verse 17. I invite you turn there with me.
This command is given in the context of a call and a reminder to holiness, even in times of great difficulty. Let’s read First Peter 1, verses 17-21.
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, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 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.
The main command of that passage is the second half of verse 17—conduct yourselves with fear. And really, we’re just going to be looking at this one verse for today.
Jesus Christ calls His church—He calls all of us—to live in fear. That’s the focus of verse 17, and so that’s going to be the focus of our time today. And in order to be obedient to that command, we need to understand what it’s saying. What is Peter talking about? What does it mean to conduct ourselves with fear?
The most basic idea of fear is that it’s a response to a real or perceived threat. It’s a response to something that may negatively affect you. What we want to understand, though, is how the Bible talks about fear.
In some cases, fear is used to talk about what we would probably call terror. When Isaiah has a vision of God’s glory, the word “fear” isn’t used but that’s the idea behind his words: “Woe is me!” When Jesus was walking on the water to His disciples, they thought it was a ghost, and they were terrified. When the angels came to Jesus’ tomb on the day of His Resurrection, the guards were terrified and went into shock.
Sometimes fear is a very visible and intense response. Let me just say that terror will be the response of every single person who has rejected Jesus when they see Him. They will fall on their face in terror when judgment comes.
That is not, however, the type of fear that Christians are supposed to have, or that Peter is calling us to in this passage. First John 4 says that God loves us, and it tells us that we have confidence for the day of judgment. There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear. Again, that’s talking about the dreadful fear of eternal condemnation.
So, if verse 17 isn’t talking about terror or dread for eternal condemnation, what kind of fear is it talking about? Again, fear is a response to a real or perceived threat. In this case, the fear is connected, not to something in the future, but to something in the present, more specifically, to someone. This is a fear connected to God and something He is doing in the present.
The more we understand God’s actions and attributes, and the more we focus on who He is, the more we will walk in biblical, righteous fear. So, what does Peter want us to focus on regarding God’s character?
Peter’s focus here is on God’s role as our Father. And I’m not clever enough to plan it like this, but this is what God has for us on Father’s Day. The specific attribute of God’s fatherhood here is His impartial judgment. That’s the focus here: God’s impartial judgment.
Now, remember we’re not talking about God’s eternal judgment. We don’t need to fear that. We have been saved by Christ. What we’re talking about here is God’s fatherly judgment, His paternal judgment. That’s not future; that is present. If you notice, the verb for God’s judgment here is in the present.
That present judgment is supposed to produce in us a present fear. It’s a fear we should have throughout the time of our exile. That’s what the end of the verse says.
That’s talking about our time here in this life, our time away from our true, eternal home. So, while we are here, we are called to live in fear because God is judging us.
What is God’s fatherly judgment? Fathers are called to train and to discipline their children for their good. Positively, that training includes instruction and protection. The flip side to that is correction or chastisement, or discipline. Fathers, as an expression of our heavenly Father will sometimes use pain to help us learn and grow. That’s exactly what God does.
In order to understand that better, go with me to Hebrews chapter 12. Like the epistles of Peter, Hebrews was written to a group of people who were in a difficult time. And those difficulties were tempting them to despair, or to fall away from the faith, or to sin.
Listen to what the author of Hebrews says to his audience. Hebrews 12, verses 4-12—4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
We’re not out looking for pain, but we need to realize that God will use pain to help us in our sanctification. Sometimes we have pain that God allows for us in this fallen world. Maybe we can call that worldly pain. It’s not because we did something to deserve it, but it’s because we live in a fallen world filled with sinners.
Worldly pain includes things like traffic, or sickness, or persecution. If we’re responding properly, God will use that pain for our good, just like He did with Paul’s thorn in the flesh. It helped keep him humble.
In today’s verse, though (1 Peter 1:17), Peter is not talking about worldly pain. He’s talking about God’s judgment for our disobedience. It’s pain that is a direct result.
Sometimes that result is natural. You can call that natural discipline. It’s the natural result of your actions. If you get drunk, you get hungover. If you punch the wall, you might break your hand. If you’re being reckless in car, you might get into an accident. If you rebel against your parents, you get punished. If you disobey the law, you get arrested. Those are natural consequences of our sinful, foolish actions. God has built them into this world and into society.
But sometimes, God brings pain that is not naturally related to our disobedience. Maybe you can call that divine discipline if you want. Like we just read in Hebrews, God, as our Father, will bring about corrective discipline on His children.
Sometimes, that discipline is internal. And that hurts. We feel the sting of conviction. We feel the pain of our conscience. That feeling of guilt can have serious effects, including physical ones.
But keep in mind, this is not an angry Father venting His frustration. This is a gracious Father moving you to repentance. He wants us to confess sin and to forsake it. So, where God’s people live in open rebellion, God responds.
In Psalm 32, David is writing about what it was like after he committed adultery and murder, but before he repented. He says: “when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”
God’s discipline was eating him up.
We see the same kind of discipline in the New Testament. God responds to the high-handed sins of His people.
In Acts 5, we read about Ananias and Sapphira. God killed them for lying to the church and misrepresenting themselves. As a result, the Bible says, great fear came over the church.
First Corinthians 11 gives us another example. People in the church there were taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner and bringing judgment on themselves. Paul says, “That’s why many of you are weak and sick, and some have died.” That’s the kind of judgment Peter is talking about. That’s God’s fatherly judgment.
One final example that speaks to this kind of fatherly judgment is James 5. There, it mentions a sick person calling for the elders. And then, it connects that person’s healing to forgiveness for his sin. That’s not the judicial forgiveness of salvation. That’s talking about fatherly forgiveness and fatherly restoration. And it has the instruction there to confess our sins to one another. So, James is linking confession with healing. So, it’s possible that this wasn’t a sickness that falls under the category of worldly pain. This sickness was a divine discipline for unconfessed and unrepented sin.
Here’s the biblical message: If you don’t deal with your sin, God will. If you don’t deal with your sin, God will. And if you doubt that, you can ask Jonah. God judges us today. He will discipline His children for the sin that we refuse to confess and forsake. That’s His fatherly judgment, His paternal judgment. Again, it’s not a condemning judgment or an eternal judgment.
It is, however, as verse 17 tells us, an impartial judgment. It is an indiscriminatory judgment. To be impartial means you’re not showing favorites. You don’t give anybody special treatment. Everybody is going by the same rules.
As a father, this is one of the difficult aspects of disciplining and correcting my children. I need to be thinking rationally and biblically, not simply going by some kind of gut feeling.
As parents, we are tempted at times to be too rough on a child. And we are tempted also to take it easy on a child. Some kids are easier to discipline and some kids are easier. But, as a dad, I don’t get the liberty to play favorites with my kids. Every situation is unique, but I’m supposed to make decisions, not based on how I’m feeling about the kid at the time, but on what I know happened, and what the Bible says.
I remember, as a kid, being spanked on the night of Christmas Eve, after midnight. So, technically it was Christmas Day. I got spanked on Christmas. And I deserved it. That’s impartial judgment.
Those of you with siblings all know the feeling of thinking your parents are playing favorites, and maybe that was you. Well, God doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t give any of us a free pass. He doesn’t say, “You know, Luis, you did a great job making breakfast for the family today. I’m going to let this on slide.” He doesn’t do that. God doesn’t trade points. He judges impartially.
When there is sin in my life that I need to address, but I’m refusing to do that, God will address it, one way or another. Pastor or member, rich or poor, young or old, male or female—God shows no partiality. He doesn’t play favorites. None of us gets a pass.
So, here’s the message. This is what the Bible teaches: If you don’t deal with your sin, God will. If you don’t deal with your sin, God will. And if you doubt that, you can ask Jonah. God judges us today. Again, for His children, it’s not a condemning judgment or an eternal judgment. It’s His fatherly judgment. It’s His fatherly discipline.
This is the God we serve. If you don’t like that, then your perception of righteousness and your pursuit of righteousness are not aligned with God’s. And I’m going to say that again. If you recoil at the idea of a God who brings fatherly discipline on His children, your perception of righteousness and your pursuit of righteousness are not aligned with God.
We live in an age, and we are especially seeing it right now, that hates the idea of authority and judgment. You have movements of people saying that a man should not be the head of the household. You have movements of people saying that parents shouldn’t spank their children.
Well, where has that led us? What happens after multiple generations of broken families and absentee fathers?
It leads us to a culture that rejects authority. They see authority as a threat and as a menace, rather than as a God-given institution for our good.
We know that husbands or parents can abuse their authority. But the abuse of authority by a portion of a group does not undo God’s design that that authority must be in place. This culture wants to cast of all authority.
And now, instead of just saying, “Get rid of the father’s and get rid of spanking,” they’re crying out, “Get rid of the police! Get rid of any authority and just let us live our lives. Leave us alone!”
Ultimately, they aren’t lashing out at husbands and parents and police. This is a culture lashing out at God. As Romans says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
And God, in His mercy, is being patient. He’s allowing it to happen. Instead of responding immediately, these groups are, as Romans says, storing up wrath for the day of judgment. But for now, God is patient. He grants sinners time to repent, so that they can turn to Jesus. And if you have never done that, God’s message to you, and our church’s message to you is: “Be reconciled with God. Turn form your rebellion and surrender to Jesus Christ.”
He faced God’s wrath on the cross so you wouldn’t have to. And He resurrected in power and glory, and now He calls you to walk in holy, reverent fear. It’s not the fear of a God standing there with a hammer behind his back waiting to smack you. who wants to destroy you. It’s the fear of a father who loves you enough to address your sin.
Children will fear a criminal intending to hurt them. And they will also fear a father who loves them enough to discipline them. But those are two different kinds of fear. God calls us to have that second kind of fear.
For now, God will to some degree, be patient with the sins of this world. But you know what He won’t ignore? Sin in His own children. That was the message of Hebrews, and it’s the message of First Peter 1:17. As a dad, I’m not responsible to address every child I see messing around. I will respond, however, to my own kids. That’s my responsibility. And that’s what God does.
First Peter 4:17 says: “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.”
In His sovereign plan, God has given a man the strength necessary to lead his family, to provide for His family, and to protect them. And that strength is also to be used wisely to train children in the instruction of the Lord.
As dads, we can’t guarantee our kids will walk with Christ when they grow up. But while they are growing up, what we want to do, is be God’s instrument to shape them, to give them an informed and a sensitive conscience.
I think that’s part of why God gave dads a bigger voice, so he can say, “Hey! Stop it!” Our heavenly Father can do the same thing in His own way.
Are you a Christian? Is God your Father? Do you expect Him to provide for you and protect you? Do you believe He’s watching over you? If that’s the case, know that He will discipline you as well—for your good, and for your joy, and for His glory.
So, let’s walk in the reverent fear of our heavenly Father. We don’t need to fear man. But we do need to fear God.
Our culture opposes fearing God because of scientific reason. They oppose fearing God because they’ve given into the psychological model of self-esteem. They oppose fearing God because they think it’s incompatible with love.
But we know better. We know what God has told us in His word. And what does His word say? It says (Php 2), “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
And let's not forget the words of the Proverbs—The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.