“And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (I Pet 1:17-19).
If you can imagine the best possible father who adores you, who provides for you, who gives you good gifts, and yes, who disciplines you for your own good, you are beginning to see what your heavenly Father is like. He is not only “like”, but so much more than the best father we can imagine.
But as we said last time, God is not an indulgent father. He has a discipline program, a training regimen, designed to mold us into the righteous image of His Son. And just like our earthly fathers instilled in us, there should be a healthy fear of our Father’s discipline.
When Peter talks in this passage about “the time of your stay upon earth”, he is highlighting the fact that we are actually aliens on this planet. Our citizenship is in heaven. Our eternal home is in heaven. Our true King is in heaven. Our Father is in heaven. And we honor our Father by holy living. We demonstrate our loyalty to our true King by our righteous behavior.
The fear referred to in these verses is a healthy fear, a reverent awe. The ESV Study Bible notes that, “The fear in verse 17 is not a paralyzing terror but a fear of God’s discipline and fatherly displeasure; it is a reverence and awe that should characterize the lives of believers during their exile on this earth.” We are to have a healthy fear of disappointing our good and loving Father. We should have a healthy fear of treating lightly the sacrifice that was made for us, the precious blood of Christ.
This is not a fear of “God is waiting to pounce on us and crush us at our first offense”. Fearing that kind of treatment from our Father requires us to explain away so much of the New Testament message about our good Father. It requires us to ignore so much of the New Testament teaching about who we are as God’s child and how He treats His children. We would have to cast aside His promise of His unconditional love, care, and protection. And yes, we would have to neglect His own description of His discipline as being for our good; never capricious, never random, never mean.
There is a healthy fear of the Lord in the New Testament, but it is a reverence informed by all we have learned about our good good Father.