“Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For… you were redeemed from your empty way of life… with the precious blood of Christ…” (1 Peter 1:17)
A well-known Reformed theologian, Professor John Murray, once said that the ‘fear of God is the soul of godliness.’ I am not sure whether Murray was aware of how counter-cultural his statement was around fifty years ago, but if it was counter-cultural then, it’s even more so today. Even some Christians have a strong aversion to ‘fearing’ God.
Nevertheless, the command to fear God is said to be one of the characteristics of Christ’s own life – ‘the Spirit of the fear of the Lord will rest on Him’ (Isa 11:2) – and it’s also described as one of the blessings of the New Covenant by the prophet Jeremiah – ‘and I will inspire them to fear Me’ (Jer 32:40). So it definitely seems as though God wants us to ‘fear’ Him.
But in what sense? Many people do not like the concept of the ‘fear’ of the Lord because they are confused about its meaning. The Bible uses the term in two distinct ways: that of anxious dread or terror, and that of reverence or awe. When the term is used of Christians it is used in the latter sense. Here, in 1 Peter 1:17, Peter reminds us that Christians need not fear God in the sense that He will punish them for their sins, but they do need to ‘reverence’ Him because Christ, as the precious Lamb of God, she His precious blood to make us clean. Here Peter is simply echoing the psalmist who reminds us that God’s forgiveness should cause us to reverence Him – ‘If You, O Lord, should mark iniquity, then who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You so that You may be feared’ (Ps 130:4).
Of course, many of us at this point draw a wrong conclusion. We think that if a precious ransom has been paid for us, then we have less reason, not more, to fear the Lord. In one sense, that is true. God no longer condemns us; He justifies us. However, in another sense it’s not true.
One of the consequences of Christ’s redemption is that it inspires within us a deep love and reverence for God as our Father, Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and the Holy Spirit as our Sanctifier. We should feel indebted to God in a way that we have never felt before. When we can say with the apostle Paul that ‘the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal 2:20) – when we know that Christ not only died for sinners but that He also died for me – then we will love Him and reverence Him as we ought.