“Practical Salvation, Part 1b: Fear YHWH Your God” – 1 Peter 1:17-21
Updated: Jun 12, 2021
“And if you call upon the Father, the One who impartially judges according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your sojourn, knowing that it is not by perishable silver and gold that you have been redeemed out of your useless inherited conduct, but by precious blood as from a lamb without blemish and without fault, the blood of Christ. Who has been foreknown on the one hand from before the foundations of the world and on the other hand, appeared in these last times for your sake. Who through Him are believers in God who raised Him from the dead and gave to Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”
Peter adds another imperative to his commands to hope and to be holy (or to love Yhwh). This section provides us with the other side of the same coin, a side that emphasizes a holy fear of God. As Peter continues to describe the practical implications of salvation in the context of Christian relationship with their God, he crystalizes two key components of a healthy and holy fear of Yhwh.
The Context of Fear (v. 17)
This section is written much like the one before. Peter is fond of saving the imperative for the end of the verse while he first provides a clear context for the command. Peter is not one to drop an open command and leave it hanging in the air. It is important to him that his readers fully understand what they are being told to do. First, Peter’s readers need to understand the fully orbed reality of their relationship with God. Then they will be able to receive the command.
The Reality of our Relationship (v. 17a) – “And if you call upon the Father, the One who impartially judges according to each one’s deeds”
By saying “if” Peter is not suggesting a hypothetical situation. The Greek construction presents this clause as fact. This could be read in a manner like: “if you call upon the Father (and you do) then conduct yourselves in fear…” Peter doesn’t question but assumes that his readers do indeed call upon the Father.
When these Christians pray to the Father, it is necessary that they keep in mind that their Father is also an impartial judge. The word picture being painted is one who refuses to “lift the face” of someone. The idea is that of a judge who refuses to look at the evidence but decides to turn favor towards a person in spite of the evidence against them. Our Father is not one who will cut His children any slack simply because we are His children.
Peter refers not to the final judgment that is yet to come, but to God’s ever present judgment upon His children. We are being judged, not by our association with Him, but according to our deeds. Each of us are held individually accountable to Him. The force then is this: Don’t think God will turn a blind eye to your sin (as so many typical parents do). He is holy! Therefore, if you pray to Him as your Father, know also that He is an impartial judge.
The Command in light of our Context (v. 17b) – “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your sojourn”
The command to conduct yourself (ἀναστράφητε) comes at the end of this verse and is built upon the same root as the term “behavior” (ἀναστροφῇ) in v. 15. It was there that Peter commanded his readers to be holy in every behavior. That behavior here is to be conducted with an attitude of fear.
To properly understand the concept of the fear of Yhwh we must include our knowledge of who Yhwh is. It is inappropriate to teach that we must grovel and cringe as abused slaves who are never sure when their master’s hand might strike. We know that God is good, knowable, and abounding in lovingkindness. To approach the fear of Him in this manner is to assume that He is capricious and unknowable. But because God is also holy, just, and righteous we must not lower this fear to a loose familiarity where we approach Him without dread.
A well-balanced approach, and one that takes the character and nature of God into account, is to view this fear in the sense of a loyal child who understands his submission to his father and is rightfully but lovingly swift to avoid anything that will displease his father. He fears repercussions, knowing that his father is just. But he approaches his father with a loving desire to please him.
By referring again to the fact that his audience are sojourners, Peter reaches back to his introduction in v. 1. Though this is a different term, the idea is much the same. The Greek παροικίας literally means “alongside house” and indicates those who may live alongside others, but who are not part of the household. To be holy now in this time of our sojourn, we must conduct ourselves with an attitude of fear directed toward the impartial judge who is our Father.
This imperative is given in the same straightforward and forceful manner that the command to hope (v. 13) and the command to be holy (v. 15) were delivered. This command to behave in an attitude of fear drives the rest of the passage. The next four verses flesh out the reason and motivation for a healthy and holy fear of God.
The Cause of Fear (vv. 18-21)
The theme of redemption permeates these coming verses as they articulate the right motivation of the fear of Yhwh. In vv. 18-19 Peter argues that we must fear God because of the means by which He redeemed us. In v. 20 Peter presents the greatness of Christ our redeemer and the relationship that He shares with this God whom we fear. Finally, in v. 21, Peter points back to his readers, the redeemed, and expresses how much they owe this fearful and gracious redeeming God.
The Means of our Redemption (vv. 18-19) – Peter is fond of presenting the negative side of an argument before presenting the positive. Much as he did in vv. 14-15, Peter first states what his audience were not redeemed by to make the reality of their redemption price that much more impressive and precious.
Not by the Perishable (v. 18) – “knowing that it is not by perishable silver and gold that you have been redeemed out of your useless inherited conduct”
This verse begins with a causal participle (εἰδότες) which explains the reason why the Christians of Asia Minor should fear God. In short, Christians should fear God because of the means by which God redeemed them. The very word “redeem” (λυτρόω) has been used throughout Scripture to describe the redemption of the first born among Israel (Ex. 13:13), the nation from slavery (Ex. 6:6), and the reclamation of a fellow countryman who has been sold into slavery (Lev. 25:25). This term assumes a purchase price that is paid to buy back. The purchase price of our redemption is higher than any amount of silver or gold could reach. If all the silver and gold found in the world were added to the scales, the sum would not come close to fulfilling what was owed.
The state in which we were enslaved is described here as our useless inherited conduct. Again, we see the noun form of ἀναστροφή (conduct/behavior) but this is called useless (μάταριος – vain/useless/worthless) conduct which we inherited or literally given from fathers (πατροπαραδότου). This conduct is more than worthless tradition passed down from generation to generation but includes our inherited sin which is passed from father to son.
This is what we have been redeemed out of. The very form of the verb is enough to preach a sermon on. The aorist tense points to a single event in history. The passive voice reminds us that we contributed nothing to the purchase price nor the application of the payment. As for the price itself, we must find something of infinite greater value than perishable silver and gold. It is as if Peter is thinking of Isaiah 52:3 as he pens these words, “For thus says Yhwh, ‘You were sold for nothing and you will be redeemed without money.’”
But by the Precious (v. 19) – “but by precious blood as from a lamb without blemish and without fault, the blood of Christ”
The gospel is found in the contrastive conjunctions. This “but” (ἀλλὰ) introduces the same sort of strong contrast as we saw in v. 15. Here we have the positive side, the side that tells us what God used in order to redeem us. He used precious blood (τιμίῳ αἵματι), blood of extremely high value. This cannot refer to any amount of animal blood, for that is more perishable than silver and gold. This blood is not the blood from a lamb, but it is as if this blood came from a lamb that was without blemish and without fault.
The reference to a lamb brings up many Old Testament images. There are several specific lambs that we could point to as all lambs used for the Levitical sacrificial system had to be without blemish (ἀμώμου) but none of them were required to be without fault (ἀσπίλου). There is a sense where these two terms are synonymous, for there is a large overlapping of meaning between the two. Yet the first term could pertain to the outward appearance, a lamb that appears to be in perfect condition. The second term addresses the reality, a lamb that is truly without fault. Peter stresses the sinlessness of the one whose blood this is.
The Old Testament reference is none other than the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the one who never committed violence nor uttered deceit (v. 9). This is the same lamb who the Baptist said would take away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). The one whom Peter simply identifies as Christ. It is His blood that was paid as the price of our redemption. We are to fear God as we sojourn in this world because we know the steep price of which was paid on our behalf.
The Nature of the Redeemer (v. 20) – “Who has been foreknown on the one hand from before the foundations of the world and on the other hand, appeared in these last times for your sake”
Peter capitalizes on the mention of Christ and now unfurls a brilliant theological counter point. It is necessary that the reader understands that Christ’s life was not a last-minute adjustment to God’s plan of redemption. Our fear is motivated by the precious means of Christ’s atonement, but this was no afterthought. The Greek construction (μὲν…δὲ) creates a balance in the way we might say “on the one hand…and on the other hand…” Here we see the perfect balance of the two aspects of God’s perfect lamb.
In the same sense that God foreknew His elect saints (v. 1) He also foreknew Christ as the price of redemption. Because God is God, He cannot simply know something without it happening. His foreknowledge assumes His decree and His decree makes stuff happen. Before God ever spoke the world into being, He already decreed that Christ would pay the ransom price for His elect. This was set in stone from before the beginning.
Yet, on the other hand, Christ has already accomplished this redemption. Christ’s appearing refers to His incarnation and first advent. He who was invisible in heaven became visible by taking on flesh and dwelling among us (Jn. 1:14). If the first statement affirms Christ’s eternal nature, this second statement affirms the efficacy of Christ’s atonement. Christ’s first advent was designed for the specific purpose of redeeming the elect. Peter points at his audience and states plainly that He appeared for your sake. Christ’s death accomplished precisely what the Father decreed it to accomplish. Such is the nature of our redeemer.
The Character of the Redeemed (v. 21) – “Who through Him are believers in God who raised Him from the dead and gave to Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”
Peter uses this final verse to connect the readers back to God the Father through the work of Christ. Here he zeros in on who Christians truly are and what they truly possess. Christians are first and foremost believers (πιστοὺς) or those who trust in God through Christ. All that we are, we are only because of Christ. As such, we cannot separate our connection to Christ from our connection to God. To trust in the work of Jesus Christ alone is to also trust in the God who foreknew Christ and His work. Because we are in Christ, we are therefore believers (those who trust) in God.
Peter expounds upon this connection by stating that it was God the Father who both raised Christ from the dead and gave Him glory. These are the two key points of the gospel message. Without the resurrection the Christian has no Christ in which to trust. Without the glory bestowed upon Christ the Christian has no hope of a returning Christ. Yet God accomplished both to confirm that Christ’s atonement was accepted and so that Christians would have both faith and hope. God’s work of raising and glorifying Christ results in our faith and hope in Him.
This is the third time Peter uses that blessed word “hope” (vv. 3, 13). We both trust (have faith in) and have confident expectation (hope) in God because of what He has done. To Him be the glory, great things He hath done!
Peter’s command to be holy is given in conjunction with this command to conduct ourselves in the fear of Yhwh. To fear Him is to approach Him for who He is. He is not a spineless father who can be easily manipulated but a righteous judge who will take all the facts into consideration. He is not capricious or reactive deity but has ordained from before the foundations of the world to purchase a people for Himself. We cannot love Him without also fearing Him. We cannot be holy as He is holy unless we fear His judgment.
It is difficult to think of a single deficiency in modern evangelicalism, for they are legion. But I do not think that it is an overstatement to say that the greatest deficiency in churches today is a complete lack of a healthy and holy fear of Yhwh. Those who do not fear God do not take seriously His commands nor do they think twice about their sin. Those who do not fear God flaunt their rebellion and consider it to be a good thing. These are fools who will feel His wrath. They treat lightly the precious blood of Christ that redeems men from the very vain traditions to which they sinfully cling. It is because the fear of Yhwh is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10) that those who say “there is no God” are fools (Ps. 14:1). Only a fool, a rebel, and a reprobate would treat lightly the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Let us not be fools, but wise men as we worship the only wise God in fear and in trembling.
Soli Deo Gloria!
 R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 62-3.  Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003),, p. 88.  D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 104.