When Justin Martyr addressed his apologia, his defense of Christianity, to Emperor Antoninus Pius, he sought to defend the truth claims of Christianity. Not only did he give the normal arguments for the truth claims of Christianity, but he also challenged the emperor to examine the lives of Christians and to observe their purity. No apologist would use that as an argument for Christianity in our culture today. We cannot.
Because believers are called by God to be his special people and possession (1 Pet 2:9-10), we are to behave in ways that reflect well on our heavenly Father. Peter has encouraged us to holy living by pointing us to the Lord, saying, ‘conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile’ (1:17). We are to live in reverent fear. In his commentary on First Peter, Robert Leighton, a 17th century Scotsman, asked, ‘How does this link up with the previous verses [1:3-12] and the assured hope of love and joy and inexpressible glory?’ He responded:
“All these excellencies fall, as it were, into a dungeon when fear is mentioned after them. Did not the apostle John say that “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18)? Is not fear completely counter to perfect or assured hope, and to faith and joy as well?
“In actuality this fear is no handicap but rather preserves those other graces and the comfort and the joy that come from them. They all agree so well with it that they naturally help each other…
“The fear that is commended here is, undoubtedly, a holy fear of offending God. The more a Christian believes and loves and rejoices in God’s love, the more reluctant he is to displease God. This fear is the right way to live – running away from sin and from temptation to sin, and resisting all temptation when it attacks. This is a guard for the soul that keeps a lookout for all enemies and anything that may disturb the soul. Thus inner peace is preserved, the assurance of faith and hope is unmolested, and joy remains untouched. But all this is in danger when a proper fear disappears, for then some great sin or other easily breaks in, puts everything into confusion, and makes it seem as if these graces do not exist. (Robert Leighton, 1 Peter, The Crossway Classic Commentaries)
Yet, someone may still ask, ‘Why should the person who is certain about his salvation fear?’ Again, Leighton is so helpful here when he writes: “If there is truth in his assurance, nothing can disappoint him, not even sin itself. This is true, but it is no less true that if he has no fear of sinning, there is no truth in his assurance.” Thus, Peter urges his readers to have a sober mindset (v13), about their relationship with God. When they approach God with awe and respect, recognizing him as holy, believers will know to keep an appropriate distance from sinful, worldly behaviors and move themselves toward holy living.
The teaching of A. W. Tozer provides a helpful perspective at this point:
“To Israel first and later to His Church God spoke, saying, ‘Be ye holy; for I am holy.’ He did not say ‘Be ye holy as I am holy,’ for that would be to demand of us absolute holiness, something that belongs to God alone. Before the uncreated fire of God’s holiness angels veil their faces. Yea, the heavens are not clean, and the stars are not pure in His sight. No honest man can say ‘I am holy,’ but neither is any honest man willing to ignore the solemn words of the inspired writer, ‘Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12:14).
“Caught in this dilemma, what are we Christians to do? We must like Moses cover ourselves with faith and humility while we steal a look at the God whom no man can see and live. The broken and contrite heart He will not despise. We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness” (A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy, 106-7).
Hence, knowing that God is Judge and that he judges with absolute fairness drives us to live in a healthy fear and awe of him. In fact, the fear of God is so important a theme in Scripture that Professor John Murray wrote simply, “The fear of God is the soul of godliness.”
I hope you can join us this week as we are aided in the growth of godliness through First Peter. As we continue our study in chapter 1 verses 13-21, we will learn of several life-shaping values that will move us on toward holiness. Invite someone to come along with you. See you this Lord’s Day.
For His Glory,