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.