‘Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear’ [1Peter 1:17].

Because of the self-centredness and innate legalistic bent of our hearts we probably focus on the command at the end of this verse – that we live our lives in reverent fear. We tend to read the Bible with ourselves at the forefront, asking ‘what is this telling me to do?’ And Peter does indeed tell us what to do, but his command is based on a very significant double-barrelled motivational priority.

The first motivational truth is that God is our ‘Father’ – ‘we call on a Father’. The God in whose presence we, as Christians, are to live in reverent fear, is not some distant, unknowable, unapproachable, implacable deity. He is not hard-hearted. He is not merciless.

He is our Father.

In the words of David: ‘As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him’ [Psalm 103:13].

In the words of Jesus: ‘... the Father himself loves you ...’ [John 16:27].

In the words of John: ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ [1John 3:1].

And the second truth, coming out of the first truth, is that God, our Father, ‘judges each man’s work impartially’. He shows no favouritism. He does not kowtow to the rich, the famous, the powerful. From his perspective, every one of us, left to ourselves, deserves condemnation. From his perspective, everyone who believes in Christ is the recipient of identical mercy. All are equally accepted. All are equally forgiven. All are equally acquitted. In Christ all are equal. In Christ, there is no consideration given to whether a person is rich or poor, famous or insignificant, strong or weak, pastor or lay person.

In the words of David: ‘If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?’ [Psalm 130:3].

In the words of Jesus: ‘I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you’ [Matthew 20:14].

In the words of Paul: ‘There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus’ [Romans 3:22-24].

A twisted response to the love and mercy of God is a careless life that sees God’s grace as an excuse, even a license, to sin. Such a response still has self at the centre. It uses and abuses the love of God. It relegates God to the outer edges of significance.

The appropriate response to the love and mercy of God is to be overwhelmed by its unexpectedness, its immensity, its sheer, stupendous generosity and liberality. And, in the depths of this reverential awe, to know beyond the slightest doubt, that we no longer belong to ourselves, to live for ourselves, but to him, to live for him, to glorify him.

Thus Peter said: ‘... live your lives ... in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed ... but with the precious blood of Christ’ [1Peter 1:17-19].

And John said: ‘... now we are children of God ... everyone who has this hope purifies himself, just as he is pure’ [1John 3:2,3].

And David said: ‘with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared’ [Psalm 130:4].

But we can go even further back into the history of faith, and find Job explaining why he chose not to sin:

‘... for fear of his splendour I could not do such things ... for I would have been unfaithful to God on high ...’ [Job 31:23,28].

This man, with no knowledge of God as Father, and without the evidence of God’s love demonstrated at Calvary, knew that reverential fear, not freedom to sin, was the rational and appropriate expression of faith. How much more should we, who call God ‘Father’, and who have been redeemed by the blood of his Son, live our lives in reverent fear!

© Rosemary Bardsley 2017