Judged for Our Work and Living in Fear
How do we read 1 Peter 1:17?
A reader asked me how to read the following verse through a new covenant lens:
If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth. (1 Peter 1:17)
Hmm, sounds scary.
Didn’t Jesus say something about having to give an account for every careless word? And didn’t Paul say something about being tested with fire?
Sounds like we’ve got some kind of big exam coming, and it’s going to be brutal.
Hollywood and Judgment Day
Every movie about Judgment Day portrays it as a terrifying, apocalyptic nightmare. But you know what? Jesus isn’t scared of Judgment Day and you shouldn’t be either:
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as he is, so also are we in this world. (1 John 4:17)
When you know how much God loves you, you will have zero anxiety about Judgment Day. In fact, John says you can have confidence on that day, and Jude adds that you will be able to stand “blameless and with great joy” (Jude 1:24).
I have never seen a movie showing people who were confident and joyful on Judgment Day, but that’s how it will be for those who are one with the Lord.
(Shameless plug: If you liked that last bit, it comes from my new and expanded book The Grace Bible: 1–3 John & Jude which is coming out soon in paperback!)
Okay, so Peter says we will be judged according to our work. Here’s what is NOT going to happen on that day. The great Judge will not open the books and say something like this:
My records tell me that you sinned an average of 267 times per week, you had impure thoughts 14 times a day, you cheated on your taxes 37 out of 38 years, you uttered 3,588 profane words, and across your lifetime you had 157 overdue library books. Now, let’s play a tape of some of your bigger sins. Roll tape…
Sounds silly, right? Yet that is what many people think will happen on Judgment Day. We’ll queue up and God will open the books and give each of us a line by line audit of our earthly performance. It’s a good thing we have eternity for this review, because that is going to be one slow-moving line.
No, no, no.
When Peter says we will be judged according to our work, he means we will be judged by what we have done with Jesus.
Judged for our work
On several occasions Peter heard the Lord talk about us being judged or repaid for what we have done (Matt. 16:27, John 5:29). He understood that the one work that counts is the work of believing in the One God has sent.
Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29)
You are not judged for what you did with your taxes or library books, but what you did with Jesus. Did you heed him? Did you take him at his word? When he offered salvation did you raise your hand?
“But what about all my sins?”
Jesus dealt with them at the cross. They’re all gone. Contrary to what you may have heard, God is not recording your sins and building a case against you (2 Cor. 5:19).
“So how will I be judged?”
You are not judged for your sins but by your response to the Savior.
Jesus spoke of an hour when those in tombs would hear his voice and those who had done good deeds would come forth to resurrection life (John 5:28–28). What are the good deeds that lead to new life? He tells us a few verses earlier:
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word, and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)
Those who put their faith in Jesus are not judged because they have been judged already. The moment they said yes to the Author of Life, they judged themselves as worthy of eternal life.
Do you see? You have nothing to fear from Judgment Day because in Christ you have already passed the test. How? You heard the word of grace and you believed. When Jesus came knocking, you opened your heart, and now you have the Holy Spirit as a pledge guaranteeing the good things to come.
Living in fear
Okay, what about the second part of that verse where Peter says, “conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth”?
Although the original word for fear (phobos) literally means fear, Peter’s use of this word in other contexts suggest reverence or deference (e.g., 1 Pet. 3:2). In the new covenant, to fear the Lord is to worship and revere him.
Why do we worship the Lord? Because he redeemed us from our bondage with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:18–19) and because we have been born again of imperishable seed (1 Pet. 1:23).
Peter finishes with an old prophecy about grass withering and flowers dying before adding, “this will not happen to you because the word of the Lord – which you heard and believed and which now dwells in you – endures forever (1 Pet. 1:24–25).
TL;DR. Peter is encouraging us to worship the One who has given us eternal life.
Read in context, Peter’s words are a wonderful reminder of what God has done. They inspire us to look forward to the future with confidence in our hearts and praise on our lips.
Those who have tasted the kindness of God have nothing to fear.
Not now, not ever.
Great stuff Paul [as always]. Keep em coming mate!
We’ve made much of sin, let’s make much of Jesus.
That’s a whole sermon right there, LJP. Ten words of power and grace!
Thank you, Dr. Paul, this is indeed reassuring and liberating!
Thanks Paul. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the scriptures become when we read them through the lens of Christ and his work.
Isn’t it amazing that people will only still look at the Lord through the lens of sinful man that only shows Him as they are. Only through the lens of grace can we truly see how awesome and wonderful He is, and that is what will motivate us to live our lives to honor Him rather than to be afraid of Him.
That’s it, Earl.
Can you tell me if we sin against anyone (example-tell a lie), if we ask the Lord to forgive us, are we forgiven and our salvation secure? Or do we have to confess to the person we sinned against? (Especially if it will cause great harm to many?)
You are forgiven on account of the blood of Jesus, so Jesus would have to travel back through time and NOT go to the cross for you to become unforgiven. Your salvation is based on his grace and not your works of confession.
Thank you for addressing this. I have been struggling with this question for quite some time. I lied about an incident to my spouse. I have since asked forgiveness. And know that I cannot bring the subject up again and confess that sin to my spouse. I have been in fear of my salvation because of this.
This is the most liberating, relief bringing news for all of us who have received Jesus, however stumbling or fumbling on our part, Thank you Paul, I have to ask though… what about the ones we love so much who once walked faithfully with Jesus but have since walked right away from Him. What hope can you shed on this kind of situation please?
I have great hope for such folk because my Hope is Jesus and his good promises (e.g., John 10:28-29).
I thought that it was how well you worked for HIM eg how well did you use your gift wow thanks.Some teachings keep people bound.
Thank you Paul… this used to scare me terribly… the church I attended years ago taught you had to work hard for Jesus and hope He was pleased with your performance. It’s disheartening to think how many people have been under bondage bc of such teachings.
I know Karen,we need to take heart because if the Lord got us out from under that horrible bondage He is doing so and will do so for the rest of His believing kids.I had a horrible time at “church” I ended up having a nervous breakdown and was totally freaked out about the Lord as a result of my experience there,nearly lost my faith,sanity,family, it took the Lord ages to get me back to His normal. Even now I am still jittery about the “church”. However it’s true what ABBA said in His word, He will never leave us nor forsake us Romans 8,and that the letter( Law )kills but the spirit gives life2 Corinthians 3.6. This is not the Lords will for us, it is all the devils ploy,plan,deception using and taking advantage of our inexperience,immaturity lack of knowledge of Abba / His word and our natural tendency to use our own power and strength in our enthusiasm to please the Lord to destroy us and keep us away from the truth as once we know the truth we shall be set free. We need to keep praying for us all and those still in “religious bondage” and deception for the Lord to deliver and protect us all because unfortunately as the Lord said the church will be infiltrated and wrongly taught and influenced by the devil in the disguise of this is the Lord However all glory to God in Jesus that He has already dealt with this and provided His solution to stop this “evil” at the cross for us.Not by “ our human,strength,effort,knowledge,understanding but by by Spirit (alone,only) says the Lord.Amen
Thank you, Paul.
Hi Sally, sorry to reply so late… but I agree with you. Have also had bad experiences at church that freaked me out & still also jittery at times about the “church.” God bless.
Paul, you are one of 4 people I would love to meet in person. Jesus will make it happen. I love everything you write. Keep up the great work.