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1 Peter 1

19 Nov 2018

Bible Notes Series

I’ve decided to go through the Bible one chapter per week and write down observations that I find interesting. I don’t expect these observations to be interesting to anyone else, but I find that I learn better and discover more if I have something to work towards.

I’m not a theologian, I’m not a scholar, I’m just a Christian who wants to understand the book he claims to revere. These notes are not properly researched or fully thought through, it’s more a log of what I’m learning as I study the Scriptures. Hopefully they prompt others to think about things, but don’t be surprised if what you find are just the disordered thoughts of a fool.

1 Peter

First Peter addresses an Anatolian church facing, at minimum, social pressure and ostracization, yet the letter’s message is one of hope based on the foundation of Jesus Christ. These churches can rest assured that God has marked them out as a holy nation—a unique people group that ignores ethnic identity markers in favor of a unity forged through the blood of Jesus Christ. This new nation is designed to live out the love of God. (Himes 2017)

1 Peter is all about our identity, who we are in light of who God is. Once we understand that we can know how to live out that identity in a society that doesn’t share our beliefs.

Christ is not an accessory to our identity, as if one were choosing an option for a car. He takes over identity so that everything else becomes an accessory, which is precisely what ‘Jesus is Lord’ means. (Snodgrass 2011, 8)

In summary, 1 Peter was written to churches struggling under harsh external pressure to remind them of who they are in Jesus Christ and how they should live. (Himes 2017)

Interesting Things

1 Peter 1:17

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17–21, NIV)

Outline

Marshall’s outline of 1 Peter places this verse in a section about ‘Fear and Faith’ (1991):

  • 1:1–2. Opening Greeting
  • 1:3–12. Thanksgiving
  • 1:3–2:10. The Basic Characteristics of Christian Living
    • 1:13–21. Hope and Obedience
      • 1:13. The Vigor of Hope
      • 1:14–16. Obedience and Holiness
      • 1:17–21. Fear and Faith
    • 1:22–2:3. Love and Purity
    • 2:4–10. The Spiritual House and the Chosen People
  • 2:11–3:12. Social Conduct
  • 3:13–5:11. The Christian Attitude toward Hostility
  • 5:12–14. Closing Greetings

What I Found Interesting

1 Peter 1:17–21 speaks to (or at least hints at) the book’s main themes:

These verses jumped out to me because I’ve been wondering for a while whether the Reformers’ catchphrases sola gratia and sola fide have been taken too far by pastors and theologians today. It seems to me that we’ve become overzealous in our efforts to guard against a heresy of the past. In order to absolutely guard against any conception that one is saved through works, we ignore warnings that given by Paul, James, Peter, the writer of the Hebrews and even Jesus himself. And I think v 17 is one of those warnings we’ve ignored. We don’t know where to put it, because it seems to say that God will judge us based on our work.

It Matters How We Live

Christians are not in a position where it doesn’t matter how they live because they believe in Christ and all will be forgiven at the last judgment. On the contrary, they should live in this world, filled with its temptations, with reverence for God in the face of judgment. (Marshall 1991)1

It matters how we live. Maybe this is obvious to everyone else. Or maybe my mind just works in a strange way and I’m getting hung up on something I shouldn’t. But I think we’ve lost track of the truth that we need to care about how we live not only for the sake of the gospel (live lives of which people will ask questions, be good ambassadors for Christ) but because we will be judged by the very person we put our hope in.

Consider this example: I am terrified that people might find out the truth about me, the truth about my sin. And sometimes, when people ask me questions about things, I lie, I cover up my sin. This is not good behaviour. Nobody would say it’s good behaviour. But nobody’s ever warned me that I shouldn’t lie because I shouldn’t presume on God’s forgiveness – nobody’s ever told me that I should tell the truth out of reverent fear for God’s judgement that will come. Why not? Perhaps most other people have worked through what they think about this – they might have very good reasons for not bringing up this verse and others like it – but it’s not something I’ve thought about and so, when I do come across it, I’m not sure what to make of it.

Marshall concludes by saying:

The more immediate question is whether this section plays its part in preparing Christians for life in the world: Does it furnish them with adequate internal resources? These verses inculcate attitudes of continuing faith and hope in God himself, which are based on what is known of God’s will: that his people should be holy; that he, as the Father, is to be revered; that he purposes to redeem his people, lovingly and powerfully, in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. These attitudes are still the basis for Christian confidence, based not on our own abilities or even on our faith but on the God in whom we trust. (ibid.)

I’m not convinced of his conclusion that our confidence is ‘based not on our own abilities or even on our faith but on the God in whom we trust’. Of course, I’m aware that this is exactly the sort of conclusion we’re expected to draw – surely my confidence must be in God. It is only because of the Holy Spirit living in me that I have the power to live a holy life – in this way, yes, my confidence is in God and not my own abilities. And yet, I read these verses in 1 Peter as saying we need to be holy (the preceding verses talk about this) for two reasons: 1. God will judge us impartially and 2. it cost God a lot to redeem us.

Schreiner talks a little about this and gives a helpful example:

Did Peter mean that believers should live reverently or in terror? Most commentators opt for the former since the confidence believers have in Christ seems to be at odds with the idea of living in a terrified state. Abject terror certainly does not fit with the joy and boldness of the Christian life. Reverence, however, can be watered down so that it becomes rather insipid. Peter contemplated the final judgment, where believers will be assessed by their works and heaven and hell will be at stake (see below). There is a kind of fear that does not contradict confidence. A confident driver also possesses a healthy fear of an accident that prevents him from doing anything foolish. A genuine fear of judgment hinders believers from giving in to libertinism. (Schreiner 2003, 81)

Schreiner refers to Wayne Grudem’s assertion that ‘the phrase is better understood to refer primarily or even exclusively to present judgment and discipline in this life’2. I’m not even sure what it would mean for God to judge us in this life – wouldn’t that judgement still be potentially bad?

Grudem says that ‘the exhortation to “fear” would be inappropriate to address to Christians if the subject were final judgment, for Christians need have no fear of final condemnation’. At the risk of being wrong (I never quite know when this applies), I think Grudem is begging the question here (by which I mean assuming the conclusion in the premise) – when answering the question of whether Peter is referring to the final judgment, Grudem says that, no, he is referring to discipline in this life because ‘Christians need have no fear of final condemnation’. And perhaps this is a true statement, Christians need not fear final condemnation (though I think there is a jump here from fearing the final judgement to fearing final condemnation). Grudem doesn’t seem to address the possibility that Peter is saying that just because you call on the Father doesn’t mean you don’t need to fear his judgement.

The Final Judgement

Schreiner gives a number of verses that show how pervasive ‘judgement according to works’ is in the Bible:

Repay them for their deeds
and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
and bring back on them what they deserve. (Psalm 24:4, NIV)

and with you, Lord, is unfailing love’;
and, ‘You reward everyone according to what they have done.’ (Psalm 62:12)

If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? (Proverbs 24:12)

‘I the LORD search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.’ (Jeremiah 17:10)

They themselves will be enslaved by many nations and great kings; I will repay them according to their deeds and the work of their hands.’ (Jeremiah 25:14)

great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds. Your eyes are open to the ways of all mankind; you reward each person according to their conduct and as their deeds deserve. (Jeremiah 32:19)

‘Before your eyes I will repay Babylon and all who live in Babylonia for all the wrong they have done in Zion,’ declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 51:24)

Yet you Israelites say, “The way of the Lord is not Just.” But I will judge each of you according to your own ways.’ (Ezekiel 33:20)

For the Son of Man is going to come in the Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:27)

God ‘will repay each person according to what they have done.’ (Romans 2:6)

For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:11)

A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God. (Romans 2:28–29)

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. (Romans 14:12)

their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13)

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Corinthians 5:10)

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (2 Timothy 4:14)

I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (Revelation 2:23)

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Revelation 20:12–13)

‘Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. (Revelation 22:14)

Schreiner says that ‘no dichotomy exists between judgment according to works and God’s grace’ and that ‘the fear of judgment still plays a role in the Christian life’ and I tend to agree.

Third, no dichotomy exists between judgment according to works and God’s grace. Good works are evidence that God has truly begotten (1 Pet 1:3) a person. Perhaps Peter used the singular ‘work’ to summarize the lives of believers as a whole. Peter reminded his readers that God is an ‘impartial’ judge who does not reward people as one who plays favorites (cf. Acts 10:34; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25). Fourth, the fear of judgment still plays a role in the Christian life. Paul himself realized that he would be damned if he did not live the message proclaimed to others (1 Cor 9:24–27). Such a recognition inspires him to live faithfully; it does not paralyze him with fear. Paul himself taught that genuine faith always manifests itself in works (cf. Gal 5:21; 1 Cor 6:9–11). (Schreiner 2003, p. 83)

His final statement that the recognition that God will judge us doesn’t paralyse us with fear, but instead inspires us to live faithfully makes sense to me.

In the fourth book of his Christian Origins and the Question of God series, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, N.T. Wright addresses this issue in a discussion on Romans 2:1–6.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1–6, NIV)

This opening paragraph (verses 1–3), springing the trap on the self-satisfied moralist, simply assumes a future judgment. The second (verses 4–6), warning against taking the divine kindness and forbearance for granted (these themselves are a familiar second-temple theme, an explanation for why judgment is delayed), simply assumes that there will be a coming ‘day of anger’, ‘the day when God’s just judgment will be unveiled’ (verse 5) … And part of this future unveiling of the creator’s right and proper decision will be, as in verse 6, the classic principle: ‘he will repay everyone according to their works.’ This uncontroversial maxim goes back at least to the Psalms and Proverbs, and is echoed in many strands of later Jewish thought. It can hardly be thought un- or sub-Christian, since it reappears in one form or another not only in Paul but in several other strands of the New Testament. One could only deny its validity if, with some late-modern trends, one were to convert the quite proper doctrine of ‘justification by faith’ into its modernist parody, that of a God who shrugs his shoulders over human behaviour and ‘tolerates’ anything and everything. (Wright 2013, pp. 1086f)

It seems clear to me that there is some sense in which we need to fear God’s coming judgement, that at this judgement what we have done (our works) will matter. Wright’s description of how many of us understand the doctrine of ‘justification by faith’ as a ‘modernist parody, that of a God who shrugs his shoulders over human behaviour and “tolerates” anything and everything’ seems apt. I’m not sure how this fits in with the rest of the Bible. I am at least sure that acknowledging the reality and gravity of the coming judgement means I don’t have to explain away what seems like the clear teaching of 1 Peter 1:17. My working hypothesis is that we must work on our faith if we don’t want to lose it, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit to do good and to avoid evil.

Thinking about these things has been helpful to me in my daily walk. I am encouraged to continue to pursue holiness and obedience to the Lord Jesus.

References

Grudem, W.A., 1988. 1 Peter: an introduction and commentary, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Himes, P.A., 2017. 1 Peter D. Mangum, E. Vince, & A. Salinger, eds., Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

Marshall, I.H., 1991. 1 Peter, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Schreiner, T.R., 2003. 1, 2 Peter, Jude, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

Snodgrass, Klyne R. 1977, ‘I Peter ii. 1–10: Its Formation and Literary Affinities.’ NTS 24.1: 97–106.

Wright, N.T., 2013. Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

  1. Just so it doesn’t seem like I am picking and choosing to make a point, I’ll add what Marshall goes on to say:

    Peter fleshes out what this attitude involves. If he talked about God as the Father who should be reverenced because he judges his people, Peter now introduces a deeper motive for Christian conduct in the fact of redemption. (ibid.)

  2. These arguments are too technical for me to properly understand, but here is the argument from Grudem’s commentary on 1 Peter:

    Who judges each one impartially according to his deeds could be understood to refer to the future, final judgment in which believers will not be excluded from heaven but will be judged and rewarded according to their deeds in this life (as in Rom. 14:12; 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 2 Cor. 5:10, etc.). However, the phrase is better understood to refer primarily or even exclusively to present judgment and discipline in this life, because: (1) this Greek construction (ton krinonta, articular present participle) would naturally carry the sense ‘the one who is judging’; and (2) the exhortation to ‘fear’ would be inappropriate to address to Christians if the subject were final judgment, for Christians need have no fear of final condemnation.

    A reference to God’s present discipline in this life is appropriate for Peter elsewhere recognizes God’s present activity of blessing and disciplining Christians (4:14, 17 [with the cognate word krima]; cf. Heb. 12:5–11; Matt. 6:12). (Grudem, 1988, 86)