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A Lifestyle of Healthy Fear
Living Radically Different
The importance of living under fatherly discipline
1 Peter 1:17
Fear is a powerful emotion and a part of life. There are normal fears all of us have, and God has given us the capacity to fear certain things for the sake of self-preservation and the protection of others. Normal fears that everybody has are the fear of disease, the fear of injury, the fear of the loss of family or the loss of love, the loss of a job, the loss of money, fear of death, and as many tests have indicated–a dominant fear–the fear of public speaking.
If a person can’t handle normal fear, we say that person has a phobia. By phobia, we basically mean an abnormal response to a normal fear, or the invention of an abnormal and bizarre fear. A phobia is fear exaggerated. It is fear that disables a person. It is fear that is uncontrollable and unconquerable. It is fear that totally takes control of a person so they can’t function normally. Such phobia leads to paranoia, panic attacks, and various kinds of anti-social behavior. When you look at people and examine what they’re afraid of, it’s quite amazing.
Ann Landers collected a list of the things people fear most. She says, “There are bizarre fears about which people have written me, such as the fear of falling into the toilet, the fear of certain colors (green), and the fear of being buried alive.
“But the most common fears, according to my mail” she said “are the following: animals, bees, being alone, being stared at, blood, blushing, cancer, cats, choking, corpses, crowds, darkness, death, deformity, demons, dirt, dogs, dreams, elevators, enclosed space, flying, germs, height, horses, illness, insanity, insects, lightning, mice, nakedness, noise, pain, poverty, pregnancy, robbers, school, sleep, smothering, snakes, spiders, strangers, surgical operations, thunder, travel, vomiting, work and worms.” Do you have a phobia?
Astraphobia: the fear of thunder and lightening
Trypanophobia: the fear of injections
Mysophobia: the fear of germs or dirt
Coulrophobia: the fear of clowns
Bibliophobia: the fear of books is a good phobia for students, or
Scolionophobia: the fear of school
My favorite phobia is lupo/slip/aphobia: this is the fear of being pursued by timber wolves around a kitchen table while wearing socks on a newly-waxed floor, which is actually a fictional phobia created by Gary Larson, author of the Far Side comics.
Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 1:17. Peter is going to expose another kind of fear–one that is misunderstood and misused. It is called the fear of God. The fear of God for the Christian is not terror, nor is it merely holy reverence or respect. It’s living every day knowing you have a loving heavenly Father who knows exactly what you do, what you say, what you think, what your motives are, and will like a loving Father discipline you when you get out of line.
The fear of God is never forgetting that, even though you have been saved by grace, under His mercy and loved by God, that as your Father He will spank you when you intentionally disobey. Genuine Christians don’t fear condemnation. Real believers are not dreading the final judgment, but true Christ-followers know that God spanks His children, and live in such a way as to avoid it. We have a healthy fear of God.
One of my major motives as a kid was to not get spanked by my dad–he was strong, big, made of gristle, fast, in shape, was a state champion wrestler and football player, and could deliver the goods! I was highly-motivated to stay out of trouble, and sadly it also meant I figured out how not to get caught. But our heavenly Father can never be fooled, and He does spank His children when they step out of line. If He doesn’t spank you, Hebrews 12 says you are not His child.
So Peter now calls his readers to live under the reality of a heavenly Father who does spank His children when they rebel. Peter is really pointed about this in 1 Peter 1:17-21. “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.”
Peter’s readers are struggling–they were most likely kicked out of Rome and sent to the Roman frontier near the Black Sea as a punishment for gathering as Christians, sharing the Gospel, and offering Roman citizens a new life in Christ. They are now suspect and suffering, so Peter shares with them twelve verses about what God has done for them in salvation.
Then as a result of the free gift of salvation from verses 1-12, in verse 13 Peter commands them for the first time. On the basis of what God has done for you (verses 1-12), there are three commands:
Verse 13 fix your hope–Live a focused life, hope in future grace, fix your mind
Verse 15 be holy yourselves–Live to be made holy in every area of your life
Verse 17 conduct yourselves in fear–Live accountable to God in all
As we dive into verses 17-21, know that this is one sentence in the Greek, so it’s one complete thought. We will only get through verse 17 today. And be warned, each of these commands moves us further and further away from the temperament of our day. To live in hope is not strange; to live holy is difficult; but to live in fear is automatically resisted because the fear of God is not a part of the acceptable air we breathe in our Christian culture. Today it’s all about love, God has a wonderful plan for your life, and perfect love casts out fear.
But the same God who loves His children also spanks His children. Just like a good parent, God’s spankings are expressions of love. The same God who saves us by grace disciplines us in love. The God who forgives all our sins will spank us for our current sins. If you spank your children Biblically, according to the Bible, then you know how God can desperately love us, but also correct us with the rod.
If you had great parents, they not only showed you affection but they also showed you some affliction. And you loved them for their affection, but you also feared them for their loving affliction–their Biblical discipline.
So here is the first challenge–growing deep as a Christian involves not only embracing the teachings you are comfortable with, but also embracing the teachings you are not comfortable with, and that are hard to understand–and embracing them with a confidence that God has not taught us anything false or harmful in the Scriptures.
The second challenge is to take verse 17 seriously, and strive to live counter to the culture, and deeply Biblical enough to make them a part of how you live, since the Lord wants us to not merely be hearers of the Word, but doers of His Word. You need these verses in your life right now. You, like me, have shown a sinful attitude, spoken some sinful speech, acted out some sinful action. Then you said to yourself too quickly and too flippantly, “Thanks for your forgiveness God–thank you that I am under grace, thank you that you still love me.”
Yes, He does, and He has, and He will–but don’t ever forget, He spanks those He loves in order to move them toward obedience and toward becoming more like Christ, so that you don’t sin. Now I know what my spankings were like, and I know how I tried to spank my boys. I know what they looked like and felt like. What do God’s spankings look like? The New Testament gives us some idea, and it should cause us to fear God.
Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 lied about how much they gave to the church, and their discipline was death–they dropped dead. Death is a consequence of our sinfulness–it’s the result of living on a fallen planet. All of us are going to die. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to you, but there are some Christians who die because they were proud, because they were flippant, and here because they lied.
So go ahead–have sex outside of marriage, lie to your parents, cheat on your spouse, or pretend to be godly–you are setting yourself up for sickness, weakness—or the discipline of death. You say, “God would never do that.” BUZZZZZZ –wrong! The Bible says, yes He would.
Speaking to Christians who were flippant about the Lord’s supper, getting drunk when they gathered, dividing up against other Christians in the same church, God said in 1 Corinthians 11:30, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.” That means God spanked them by causing them to be spiritually weak, physically sick, and a number died. Are you sure that’s discipline? Yes. Two verses later, in 11:32, “But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord in order that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
Listen Christian, God is serious about sin. Yes you’re saved by grace and live by grace, but God hates sin and is not going to tolerate sin that is not dealt with in your life. Do you know how much God hates sin? He killed His own Son to remove its penalty for His children.
In Revelation 2 and 3, Christ warns churches who are not obedient to God’s Word that He will take their lamp stand away. Ever been to a church where the lights are on, it’s full of people, but Christ is not present? The life has gone out of that church. God loves you, and part of His love is spanking you.
You know what a child acts like when he or she knows they are not going to get spanked. You know they only get threats–the parents wink at disobedience–that child is a what? A brat. There are Christians and so-called Christians who act the same way. So you won’t be a brat, Peter tells us from verse 17 onward . . .
#1 Fear living as if you won’t ever get spanked
Verse 17 “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.” Let’s draw out what’s here. Conduct is a command. “Conduct yourselves” has to do with your entire lifestyle, every action, every moment, all that you do, from driving, shopping, working, schooling, playing, friending, sporting, recreation and more. Your entire life is to be in healthy fear–fear of God’s discipline.
Fear—“I don’t want to disobey my heavenly Father or I might get it.” Fear not of condemnation, not of hell, not of punishment, but fear of being spanked by a loving Father who hates disobedience.
The fear of verse 17 is not merely reverential fear or respect. It’s not fear of punishment since all of that fell on Christ in our behalf. It’s not fear of condemnation, because there is no condemnation in Christ. But its fear of spanking, fear of displeasing a loving Father. Christian, never forget you do reap what you sow.
Make no mistake, the early church believers lived by grace, lived in God’s love. But they also lived in fear of God’s discipline. When Ananias and Sapphira fell dead, Acts 5:5 says, “As he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came upon all who heard of it.” Then in verse 11, “And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things.”
But the early church didn’t just live in fear of God when saints were dropping dead; they also feared the Lord when life was going great. Acts 9:31says, “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and, going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.” As you live the gospel everyday and manifest true repentance that includes a healthy fear, 2 Corinthians 7:11, “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong.”
Christian slaves were told to fear God in Colossians 3:22 “Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.”
If an elder continues in ongoing unrepentant sin they were to be confronted so that all may be fearful of sinning in 1 Timothy 5:19-20, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning.”
All Christians all the time are to live in a healthy fear. As Peter says to all Christians later in 1 Peter 2:17, “Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.” The fear of God’s discipline is a healthy attitude, the sign of a New Testament church growing in maturity, and the path to experience God’s blessing.
Again, fear living like a Christian brat–a brat is a child who has no fear of consequence, no fear of being spanked, no fear of losing control, and no fear of authority. The Bible commands, conduct yourselves in fear, live in such a way that you know with bad behavior comes God’s loving discipline. With your intentional, defiant disobedience, comes a spanking, consequences, reaping what you sow–God promises it in Hebrews 12:6,8 “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives . . . But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”
All genuine Christians will be spanked by God–phony Christians and make-believers are not spanked by God. True Christians are loved, under grace, never condemned, never punished, but they are spanked–are you? Fear living in such a way as if you think you will never be spanked. How do you do that?
First Live a lifestyle of hope, holiness and fear
Peter begins verse 17 connecting it clearly to what he just said, “And if you address . . .”–the “and” (kai) connects it to the previous verses. The command to live in healthy fear is connected to the commands “to hope” and “to live holy.” First, we are to long for Christ to return and bring with Him even greater grace. Second, we’re to live holy, unique, pure and beautiful in this life like Christ. Then third, Peter says we are to live in healthy fear. Don’t miss this–the “and” of verse 17 connects living in the fear of God with the Lord’s soon return.
I remember the fear of playing in the mud in the planter area where my dad told me not to play, fearing his soon return home from work. Then when I looked up in time to see him pull up in the driveway, all my fears that I should have listened to, soon found expression on my bottom.
We need to have more healthy fear of Christ’s immediate return in the privacy of our homes–what we share with others, what we talk about on Facebook, say on the phone, what we look at on our computer–knowing that Jesus Christ will return any moment. The word “and” connects the command of verse 17 to the command of verse 13. Fearing God is connected to Christ’s return.
Peter also connects living in healthy fear with the truth that God is holy, unique, pure and beautiful. Verse 17 is also connected to verse 15. If we are truly born again–if we are genuinely indwelt with the Holy Spirit–if we know God personally as our friend, then we know God hates sin, is absolutely pure and incredibly beautiful. So all who are one with Christ want to live holy too.
The “and” of verse 17 connects the command to healthy fear with the command to be made holy. Do you fear living in a way that displeases your Savior and Friend? Do you live in a manner where we don’t trust ourselves, have a holy self-suspicion, and fear offending the God we love more than life? You will if you live in light of His soon return, His holiness and . . .
Second Live with God as your Father
God is not a tyrant. He is a loving father you can go to for help. Peter says in verse 17, “And if you address as Father.” The verb address is unusual–it means “to ask for help, to call for aid, to appeal to a higher court,” and its tense refers to continual ongoing action, suggesting regular or habitual calling to God for help, a sign of all true Christians.
True Christians talk to their Father in prayer and ask for help, especially if they’re suffering like Peter’s readers are. The word “if” in “if you address” tells us Peter assumes the readers do pray to God regularly, and know Him as their Father—it is assumed as true.
Peter is trying to remind us, “If you call on a Father who is also the judge who shows no favoritism to his friends or his children, and who is continually disciplining or rewarding each child according to what he does, then live your life on earth in fear of His discipline.” To be a member of God’s family, to be related to Christ through salvation, is a great privilege. But being a genuine born again Christian must not lead to the presumption that disobedience will pass by your Father unnoticed or undisciplined.
God does not wink at your disobedience–your parents may be permissive, your teachers may not catch your disrespect, your leaders may not know what you say about them, but if you are God’s true child, your loving heavenly Father knows everything. And to add weight to what he is saying, Peter adds . . .
Third Live under an impartial judge
Verse 17, “And if you address as Father.” Notice the One who impartially judges. You live under an impartial judge who knows every secret, everything no one else knows, everything you’ve said or done. God is a judge–now what kind of judging is in view here?
Make no mistake, there is a future, coming judgment when all of humanity will stand before God Himself and give an answer for their lives. In Revelation 20:12-14, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
Now if you are in Christ, in the Lambs Book of Life, then you will not experience this final judgment, so that is not the judgment Peter is talking about in verse 17.
There is also a judgment for reward that Christians will face, described in 2 Corinthians 5:10. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Notice in this verse, you must appear each one before Christ that you may be repaid for what you did on earth in your physical body–so what you do now does matter for all eternity. And good or bad means useful or useless. Useful deeds are those done for the glory of God in the power of the Spirit, and useless deeds are those done for your own glory in the power of your flesh.
But that judgment is also a future judgment, and not what Peter is describing in verse 17. No, what Peter is talking about here is the healthy fear of living under a Father who spanks His children, and there are two reasons for understanding this verse in that light. One, the Greek word “judges” carries the sense of one who is currently judging. So it’s the idea of current ongoing judgment or discipline. And two, the exhortation to fear is inappropriate for Christians if Peter is talking about the final judgment, since Christians need have no fear of final condemnation.
Later in chapter 4, Peter speaks of discipline for the Christian in terms of judgment, verse 17, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Peter repeatedly recognizes God the Father’s present activity of blessing and disciplining His own children. And what is really sobering about God’s discipline is that this verse says it’s impartial. The Greek word for impartial is rare. Literally, it means no receiving face.
I used to hate it at school when certain gals got cuts because they were cute, or when teachers showed favoritism because of appearance or status . . . unless it was me. Then it was okay. I thought being swayed by a face would end with school, but it didn’t. It happens at work, in sports, sometimes at home–even in the Bible. Samuel the prophet was impressed by David’s big older brothers and thought they should be king. 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’”
God is not swayed by appearance, he doesn’t receive face–He’s not swayed by a pretty face–the word for impartial means without regard for persons or without showing any favoritism. Even Jesus’ enemies knew that the Lord doesn’t play favorites. Luke 20:21, “And they questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You speak and teach correctly, and You are not partial to any, but teach the way of God in truth.’”
Peter affirmed this when the first Gentiles were converted in Acts 10:34, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.” Paul warned slaves they should live for Christ, both for reward and to avoid consequences of disobedience in Colossians 3:24-25, “Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”
Our Father is not going to show partiality; God is not going to wink at your sin; your Father loves you enough to not let you get away with anything. Yes, if you are a true Christian, you are secure, forgiven, cleansed, ready for heaven and under His grace, but you are also under the judgment of a Father who loves you enough to spank you when you step out of line by violating His Word.
And Peter reminds us God’s scrutiny is not limited to groups or leaders, or people of the past, but focused on each one of you . . . students, children, fathers, grandparents, singles, widows . . . all.
Fourth Live knowing every deed for every individual is judged
Verse 17, “And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work.” Each man or each one’s work makes it clear that God’s judgment is not restricted to your parents, your leaders, non-Christians or only to the Christians who live near the Black Sea that Peter is writing to–God’s discipline is directed at all His children. Each one in verse 17 means His discipline is individual and personal for every single one of you.
And the word “works” tells you He evaluates what you do, what you work at, your ministry, your service, your duty, your obligation. Listen, God calls every husband to love his wife, and every wife to submit to her husband, and every child to obey His parent, and every father to parent his children. But He also calls you to minister your giftedness and to proclaim the Gospel, to care for the poor and orphaned, to function in a local church, to attend worship weekly, to give sacrificially, to submit to your leaders, and to love one another.
You are to live by faith, but faith without works is dead. You are to live for the glory of God–if you do, you will increasingly be more like Christ, which means you will not only become like Christ in character, but you will also live more like Christ lived–you will increasingly do what Christ did.
Every deed is going to be judged. I fear for some church people that their lives are filled with self–very little is done by faith, ministry is for someone else to do, sacrifice is rarely manifested, and faithfulness week-in and week-out is unheard of. The other frightening reality is this–so many of the things we do that are good on the outside can be rotten on the inside. Singing songs this morning is only good if your heart is engaged, you are filled with the Spirit, and doing all to the glory of God. Giving this morning only counts when it is done for God’s glory and with a heart filled with His Spirit.
The more we do, Christians, things that appear good to others but are not empowered by the Spirit or in dependent faith for God’s glory, the more we open ourselves up to spanking since we are being hypocritical, pretending to love Christ but just doing it for show. Every deed for every individual Christian is judged.
Finally, Peter warns us not to live like we are not going to be spanked, by reminding us to . . .
Fifth Live knowing this life is temporary
Verse 17, “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.” The time of your stay on earth is this present life right now, during which Peter’s readers are temporary residents on earth. The entire phrase, “during the time of your stay upon the earth” is literally “the time of your transiency”– you’re a transient. Like Israel sojourned in Egypt, or suffered in exile, these readers (and you and I) are transients. We don’t belong here, this is not our home, we’re just passing through.
This hardship is not forever–we will not always groan and suffer and experience trials–we will not always be under the discipline of a loving heavenly Father. This time is not forever–it is temporary. But it is what you do live under right now.
God is your judge–your Father knows what you’re doing or not doing and He knows why, He knows everything you do in secret–and we just learned in verse 15 that this same God is Holy, which means He is pure, unique, beautiful and set apart. And we just learned in verse 13, He’s coming soon. Are you ready?
Now, as Peter continues in verse 18, you’ll not believe what he says. Seen in context, it is shocking and motivating, and to see it, you will have to come back next week. But as we close, let me ask you two questions.
#1 Are you being disciplined now?
If you have been living in continual disobedience to God’s Word, and you have not been spanked, then that’s all the proof you need to cause you to question whether you are a true born again believer. Hebrews 12:8 says you’re an illegitimate child, and not a true son.
Listen friend, God is judge, and His judgment either falls on His Son for you, or His judgment falls on you forever in hell. Make certain you are truly God’s child. Make sure it is proven not by a decision, or you’ve always gone to church, or you like accurate Bible teaching, but you want to follow Christ in loving obedience!
#2 Are you busy with God’s will?
All of you are busy, but what are you busy with? God is not going to be impressed with your salary, or your athletic abilities, or your grades, or your school, or your after-school sporting events, dance school or singing lessons. God is impressed with those who follow His Word in the power of the Spirit for the glory of God. What are you busy with? Are you afraid of displeasing your heavenly Father? Then follow His Words.