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1 Peter 1:17-23

In verses 13-16 of this chapter, Peter was exhorting his readers to holy living, telling them to be “alert” and “sober” and not fall back into the destructive patterns of living they knew before they knew Christ. Instead, they are called to live in a way that reflects the nature and character of the God who called them. Such an exhortation could easily be read as an exhortation to perfect performance, a burden or obligation that is now placed on followers of Christ to be conspicuously different from the world. That might induce fear in some people about what would happen to them if they didn’t fulfill that duty. Peter doesn’t want his readers to think of holy living in those terms. So, in these next verses, he reminds them of the ground of their salvation, the work that God did in Christ.

First, he reminds his readers that they call on God as a Father. Right away then, the secure familial nature of their relationship with God should keep them from thinking that they are like laborers who must prove their worth to their boss or else get fired. He reminds them that God is one judges “impartially.” In so doing, he uses a word that literally means “not taking face,” meaning not favoring some people over others on the basis of external things like personal beauty or social status or any other criterion that human beings use to devalue some people and idolize others. God simply evaluates the way people live, the “work of each.” Since that is the case, Peter tells his readers that they should just go about their life with a sense of respect toward God, which is the real meaning of “fear” in this passage and not the sense of being-scared-because-God-might-smite-you. Live in ways that bring honor and respect to your Father, in other words. This is simply another way of stating the call to “Be holy as I am holy” that we find in verse 16.

In case anyone is still tempted to think that the way we live should be thought of as a performance or a transaction (we give God good works, God gives us blessings—that sort of thing), Peter goes on to remind his readers of how they were saved. They were not purchased from their old life in any business-like way, as if they were hired hands and that God paid for their lives and time with stuff like gold or silver. Rather, God undertook a great personal cost, the “precious blood of Christ,” to obtain their release from their former way of life. It was a life that God offered in exchange for their life, and that ought to evoke much more the sense of personal loyalty in response than the sense of a debt that needs to be repaid or an obligation that needs to be satisfied.

Using the sacrificial imagery from the Old Testament in a way reminiscent of Paul or John the Baptist, Peter likens Jesus to a perfect lamb that is offered up in atonement for the sins of the people. This means that any sense of debt or obligation is actually done away with by the sacrifice of Christ; we shouldn’t think that Christ just comes to bring it back again in a new way. We’ve been “paid for” so that we are no longer obligated to pay—not so that we just ending paying back God in another way. This, Peter reminds them, was God’s plan from the very beginning. From before the creation, God had been willing to love God’s creation so much that God would undertake sacrifices for its well-being. We just couldn’t see that this was the kind of God that God was until it was made clear to us in Christ in these most recent times. It is because of Christ, then, that we are called into God’s family, empowered to believe in God as our Father. Because God raised Christ from the dead and glorified him, we can have confidence that God will use that same power for our well-being, and so we trust that and hope toward the things that God will do in the future.

Such a faith and hope also serves to empower our love, Peter goes on to explain, and it is love—and not duty or obligation—that ultimately drives the lives of those who would follow Christ. Our fear-as-reverent-respect of God means that we want to be loving to others as God has already proven Godself loving to us. And it is our trust and obedience to God that God uses as a channel for empowering us toward that end. Verse 22 could be translated this way: “Because you have purified your souls by obedience to the truth for the purpose of having a sincere brotherly love, love one ano