by Mark Dever
I remember showing up to teach a Sunday school class in New England only to find everyone already there—and they had been there for an hour! Their clocks had all sprung forward an hour; I had forgotten to change mine. I was living differently from them, obeying a different clock. In the first chapter of 1 Peter, Peter says that Christians live different lives because we have different goals. Peter’s readers were young Christians who were a little confused. They had become Christians, but then their lives seemed to get harder rather than easier. They began to wonder: “Are we doing something wrong? Why are these things happening?” Peter, in this brief letter, gave them a wonderful answer.
He showed them that as God changes our loves, our lives change. And what they change to be is amazing—our lives change to reflect God’s own character! Three things seem to mark the life of the Christian as Peter describes in 1:13-25—holiness, reverence, and love.
The apostle says in 1:13-16 that we are to desire the beauty of being like God in His holiness. He quotes the Lord’s command in Leviticus in which the people were commanded to be holy because He, the Lord, is holy. That was still true in Peter’s day, and it’s still true in ours.
In fact, if holiness stood out in Peter’s day, it’s certainly no less distinctive in our own. Today, our beliefs are seen to be primitive and even alarming by many of those around us. A friend recently told me of attending a certain meeting at the American Bar Association. He was sitting outside one of the big hotel meeting rooms before a meeting, reading a commentary on Genesis. An eminent lawyer he knew came up to him to say hello. After some small talk, the lawyer asked my friend what he was reading. He showed it to him and remarked that it was a commentary on the book of Genesis. That did it. My friend said that the lawyer physically recoiled and backed away. He thought he was going to fall! The lawyer’s face turned red, his eyes bugged out, and he started stammering. Finally, he stuck out a finger, pointed it at my friend’s book and said, “I can’t believe you brought that here,” meaning, my friend guessed, “How could you bring that relic of another age to this august gathering of rationally minded types?” Then, my friend said, the lawyer took off in the fastest, most worried walk you have ever seen.
What was going on there? My friend was experiencing the strangeness of being a Christian believer in modern America. And yet my friend, like all who are truly Christians, shouldn’t live his life ignoring God, as our non-Christian friends normally do. We should be holy, as God is holy.
A second aspect of the Christian’s life is to have reverence for God. In everything we do, we are to consider God. And we are right to fear the displeasure of such an all-knowing, impartial Judge. We are to conduct ourselves in the light of His presence and character, in the light of what He’s done for us in Christ and what He will do as Judge. Peter says to “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth” (1 Peter 1:17).
This idea of fear often confuses Christians, but it is a natural part of any significant relationship that we have. We don’t want to wrongly offend or lose a friend. Those things we most value are reflected—like a mirror image—in our fears. What do we fear? Illness? Financial hardship? Rejection? Poverty? Loneliness? Failure? To fear these things more than God means to regard pleasing them more than God. Finally, it means to obey them more than we obey God.
What if following God’s will for your life means that you endanger your health by moving to Afghanistan or risk rejection as you refuse to do an unholy thing with a friend? Peter told these Christians—and he tells us—that we are to regard God first in all our actions.
Finally, in this first chapter, Peter says that the Christian’s life is to be marked by love. “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart” (1:22). Peter commanded them to do this because the pressure these early Christians were facing from their non-Christian friends could well have led them to become irritable and short with each other. We don’t always react graciously under pressure, do we?
What if we do live lives of holiness, reverence, and fear? Is our name magnified? Are we lifted up in glory? Peter says that the result of this is that God is glorified. “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (2:12). If as Christians we live lives of holiness, of reverence, and of fear of God, God will be glorified.
Was it worth it for these ancient Christians to live like that? Is it worth it for you and me? It all depends on what our goal is. If our goal is our own ease and immediate comfort, then the answer would have to be “no.” Faithful living will mean awkwardness and even rejection sometimes. But if our goal is the glory of God, then all the trials we could ever undergo are certainly worth it. Like these early Christians, we know this. Let’s pray that we live it for God’s glory.