That word has many definitions and meanings and we all relate to it in each of the ways. We have all been in a situation where we were scared of something, maybe even to the point of our bodies going into the flight or fight response. We have also experienced the fear that is the feeling of reverence, as in obeying an authority figure out of respect. And we have also been in a situation where we were afraid to bring something to someone’s attention.
As a Christian, the first two applications can apply to our relationship with the Lord. Fear actually serves a holy purpose in the life of a Christian. In its rightful place, this fear can be a motivator to leave the world and its ways behind to live a life pleasing to God. Similar to how discipline is what first keeps a child in line and brings about behavior change, we should be afraid of the one who can separate us from himself in eternal torment.
However, there’s another layer. The second meaning of fear is what sustains the behavior change and lifestyle shift. Many times throughout the Bible the word fear is mentioned and usually someone explains that it’s not a fear as in being afraid of God as we would be afraid of a wild animal. It’s meant to communicate that we should be reverent in our feelings towards God and this reverence is what drives our obedience.
As I studied this passage, it became clear that fear means that we should not be afraid of God but we should fear displeasing God. It’s the same kind of feeling a child has toward its parent that makes him want to obey the mom or dad once the discipline has resulted in the child feeling safe and loved.
1st Peter was written to believers who were not new believers. They had moved on from the initial fear and were maturing in their faith. Peter was explaining this type of fear, this reverence for the one who loves them enough to redeem them.
Yes, God is our Heavenly Father but he has done so much more for us than any earthly parent does for their child. The reason we feel this way for God is because verse 18 tells us that we were “ransomed from the futile ways of our forefathers” when Jesus does on the cross for our sins.
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
1 Peter 1:17-19
This fear of displeasing God comes from a heart of gratitude when we fully grasp what the Lord did for us. It becomes a driving passion to keep ourselves from treating God and the blood of Christ as trash. Peter is communicating to us that being holy comes from treasuring the living hope that we have because of salvation and our fear of displeasing the Lord.
Both kinds of fear have a holy purpose in the life of the believer. They both produce motivation, helping us to live the holy life we are called to live as followers of Christ.
May our hearts always be tender towards this attitude of gratitude that comes with the reverent fear of the Lord!