Live in Fear - 1 Peter 1:17-21

This outline continues a series preached in 2002. For my own edification (and hopefully yours as well), I’ve restudied the passage and made some improvements to the outline.

Remember that Peter’s original audience was enduring suffering—persecution in particular. Of course, they would experience fear, just as we all do when facing times of trouble. So you would expect the apostle to offer a message of “fear not,” as God’s messengers so often did in Scripture. And in fact he does offer that message eventually (1 Pet. 3:6, 14). But first, rather than saying “fear not,” he says “live in fear.” Why? and what sort of fear does he have in mind?

In our fallenness we’re all only too willing to fear the wrong things and in the wrong way, and in troubled times, that tendency doesn’t go away. This is why God confronted His people through Isaiah with these words.

I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass? 13 And you forget the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens And laid the foundations of the earth; You have feared continually every day Because of the fury of the oppressor, When he has prepared to destroy. And where is the fury of the oppressor? (NKJV, Isaiah 51:12–13)

It’s also why Jesus proclaimed these sobering words.

And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him! (NKJV, Luke 12:4–5)   

So we can see why Peter calls even suffering people to “live in fear.” But what sort of fear does he have in mind?

I have a vivid memory from elementary school days. Back then you could still get paddled by the school principal, and because of the accumulation of small offenses, I had reached that point. I remember being called to the principal’s office and sitting in a chair waiting to go in and get my “swats,” as we called them. You might say I passed the time of my sojourning there in fear! This is not the sort of fear Peter is speaking of here. No punishment awaits those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1). 

As we reflect on the passage more carefully we see that the sort of fear Peter has in mind here is more like what we feel when we’re performing an important task with something that has great value yet is easy to damage. In a small way, I felt it when installing a new CPU in a computer for the first time. The chip was small, full of easily damaged pins on one side, and was easy to completely ruin with even a very ordinary poke of static electricity. At the same time, it was quite expensive on my budget.

Peter reveals here that our lives have enormous value to our Redeemer and that they are entrusted to us to handle with care. The passage gives us several reasons to live in fear in this sense. I’m going to highlight three.

Layout (ESV, 1 Peter 1:20–21)

17 And  …

   ↓if you call on him as Father  (a reason for fear is our child-father relationship with God)

↑who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, (a reason for fear is God’s impartial evaluation)

conduct yourselves with fear (we are to live our lives fearfully)

   ↑throughout the time of your exile,  (the duration of living fearfully: as long as we are here)

   ↑18 knowing that you were ransomed (the manner-of/reason-for living fearfully: we know of our ransom)

↑from the futile ways  (what we are ransomed from)

↑inherited from your forefathers, (the “ways” are both empty and automatically passed on to us)

↑not with perishable things  (the ransom was not cheap)

↑such as silver or gold,  (even “expensive stuff” is cheap by comparison)

19 but with the precious blood of Christ, (the ransom was immeasurably costly)

↑like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  (costly because of the perfection of its Source)

20 He was foreknown …   (Christ the Redeemer was chosen according to God’s plan)

↑before the foundation of the world  (the plan is vast in scope, predates all else)

↑… but was made manifest  (the Redeemer was eventually revealed)

↑in the last times  (the time of His revealing as Redeemer is recent)

↑for the sake of you  (the reason for His revealing: for our benefit)

21 who through him are believers in God,  (those who benefit from the revealing: believers)

↑who raised him from the dead  (the Redeemer is raised by the Father)

↑and gave him glory, (the Redeemer is glorified by the Father)

↑so that your faith and hope are in God. (our faith in Christ is also faith in the Father)

Three reasons to live in fear:

1. We should “live in fear” because we were bought with blood (1:18a & 19a).

We were “not redeemed with corruptible things … 19 but with the precious blood.”

A. We were redeemed with “precious blood.” 

Something can be “precious” in many ways. Two worth noting here:

1. Precious because of the effort that went into it. 

Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain. (KJV, James 5:7).

2. Precious because of the rarity of it.

And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald (Rev. 21:19).

B. We were redeemed with the blood “of Christ.”

By pointing out the personal source of the blood of redemption, Peter reveals that this blood is precious in both of the ways above and much more. It is precious in the sense of priceless.

Washington DC’s Smithsonian Institute houses the famous Hope Diamond. It is often referred to as “the most beautiful blue diamond in the world.” The Portuguese Diamond is on display there as well—a diamond twice the size of the Hope and brilliantly white. The story is told that a visitor once asked the guards there, “What’s the value of these two jewels?” He answered, “No price has ever been put on the two of them together. The Hope Diamond has been appraised by Lloyd’s of London because it was sold several times, but now it doesn’t matter what the value of these two diamonds is, because they will never be sold again. They are priceless. They are our own; they belong to America. They are ours forever”  (Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations).

We have only faltering analogies in our experience for what “priceless” really means. But we will have all of eternity to get a more complete idea. Only the precious blood of Christ really deserves the description. For the moment, maybe it’s enough to note that the cost of redeeming our lives was immeasurably great. And so the value of this opportunity we call life is also immeasurably great—even though this life includes pain and suffering. We should live with a sober fear of handling the opportunity poorly.

2. We should live in fear because we were bought from futility (1 Peter 1:17).

We were not only bought at great price but bought in order to leave something behind. “Vain conversation” means empty, futile, pointless living.

Know anybody who lives like that? It was all of us before Christ bought us out of it. It was me even though I was a kid. I was on that path. There used to be a popular bumper sticker: “He who dies with most toys wins.” Many live like this is their motto. Many also live like their motto is “He who dies with the most workplace promotions wins—or the most won arguments, or the most wives, the most parties they can’t really remember, the most DUI busts.” God rescued us from that kind of pointless living. We must not return to it.

Eph 4:17-20: This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not so learned Christ;

“received by tradition”

The phrase (πατρο-παρα-δότου; occurs only here) means literally handed down. It’s something we have by default.

Even in times of suffering, our attitude should be characterized by a sober sense of responsibility, a deep concern to not be seduced away from what really matters into empty pursuits.

3. We should live in fear because we were bought according to God’s plan (1 Peter 1:20).

“Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world” (NIV, “chosen before the creation”).

Two expressions here emphasize God’s activity in planning our redemption.

A. “foreordained”

The word for “foreordained” (proginosko) appears also in these passages:

Romans 8:29: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate …

Romans 11:2: God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel …

Though the precise meaning of “foreknow” is controversial, the use of this term in reference to Israel sheds a great deal of light. God goes out of His way in the OT to reject the idea that He chose Israel because of something good already in them (Deut. 7:7, cf. Deut. 9:6). Rather, He made something of them because He first chose them. The plan came first. So also Christ came as our Redeemer because He was chosen for that task before He came—in fact, before the world was even made!

B. “manifest in these last times”

The phrase helps us understand that what happened in AD 33 (or so), was really just an unveiling of events orchestrated long, long before.

Fearful living is appropriate for us because so much planning and preparation has gone into getting us where we are as a born again Christians.

Though everything in our experience is on a far smaller scale, we do understand the difference in importance between something spontaneous and something long-prepared. I’ve participated a few weddings over the years. Naturally, I remember my own the best. As the groom, I had a relatively minor role in the planning, but even my part was substantial. Then you have the event itself. Often there are so many nervous people present. Why? Because so many have worked and planned for so long.

I recall an early sermon I preached at the church my family attended during my college years. It was a Wednesday evening Bible study. I studied and read and outlined and re-outlined for months. After all that, a bit of fear is proper when you step up to the microphone! (And yes, I was nervous, but also thrilled. Fear and delight are really not mutually exclusive in human beings.)

Our redemption—now in progress—is the culmination of planning that began before the foundation of the world! The awesome scope of God’s plan to redeem a people for His glory calls us to a healthy, mature fear of being poor stewards of the opportunity we have. Even in the midst of troubled times, our focus should be not on how bad the trouble might get, or how we’ll get through, but rather on how dear we are to the Savior and how important it is to suffer well—faithfully—for the honor of His name.

Aaron Blumer Bio

Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.

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There are 4 Comments

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

In the context of the passage going all the way back to verse 13, I think the primary thrust of living in fear is the phobos (root to phobia) that arises whenever we disobey the Father. It's a very real, all-consuming dread confined to a very specific circumstance in the Christian walk.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture


Our fear definitely has to be constrained by faith. That is, we are not obedient in our fear if we are disobedient in our faith. So whatever the fear is, it must co-exist with trust in what God has said. What has He said? That we cannot be separated from His love, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ (both in Rom. 8), that He will never leave us or forsake us, that He works all things for good for the called (Rom. 8 again on that one... a favorite chapter of mine to be sure!). 

So we are certainly not called to fear that God might pour His wrath on us or that He might put us through random suffering or that He might reject us, etc. I can't personally see how an "all consuming dread" is compatible with God has told us to believe.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

I think it is the dread of displeasing the Father, and the dread of the consequence for my disobedience of my Father Who is described in the immediate context as the "Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds." In context this has to be specifically about the believer's deeds being judged.


Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Aaron Blumer's picture


Yes, I think I agree--mostly, if not completely.

There's a difference between our standing "in Christ" and the actual quality of our deeds, and with it a difference between how God accepts us vs. how He feels about our actual character and conduct. Believers are unalterably "accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6) and "stand" in grace (Rom.5:2) yet we are called to "walk ...worthy" (Eph. 4:1). Clearly, there is no need to urge believers to walk worthy unless it is possible--even probable--that we will not do so at times.

The matter of our Father's pleasure or displeasure: I've seen/heard many speak as though believers' release from God's wrath as His adopted children means He is nothing but pleased with us at all times. But doesn't follow that if we are "sanctified in Christ" already (1 Cor. 1:2) and our sins are all forgiven, that God is unaware or ambivalent toward what we actually do. 

It's why the NT says things like this...

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. (ESV, 1 John 2:28)  

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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