As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Peter 1:14–19, ESV)

Last weekend, Living Praise continued our study of 1 Peter. We read the command, to “conduct ourselves with fear“. It is not uncommon to hear Christians qualifying the word “fear” with reverent, awe etc. We seem to be afraid to define fear for what it is.

Well, we don’t have to be afraid of fear. This command by Peter is framed in the context of a father and son relationship. We are to be holy because our heavenly Father is holy. So holiness is a mark of obedient children. Our failure to behave as children of God does not make our Father abandon us. The command to be holy is given to a people who have already been redeemed by God.

Tim Keller in his book Prayer illustrates the concept of the “fear of God” by retelling a scene from The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame).

“The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” where the characters Mole and Rat meet the animals’ deity, the god Pan and hear him playing his pipes. They are stunned:

“Rat,” he found breath to whisper, shaking. “Are you afraid?”

“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love. “Afraid!! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet-and yet-O, Mole I am afraid!”

That captures the concept of the “fear of God” as well as anything I know. We could say that fear of punishment is a self-absorbed kind of fear. It happens to people wrapped up in themselves. Those who believe the gospel-who believe that they are the recipients of underserved but unshakable grace-grow in a paradoxically loving yet joyful fear. Because of unutterable love and joy in God, we tremble with the privilege of being in his presence and with an intense longing to honour him when we are there. We are deeply afraid of grieving him. ..Of course, we can’t really harm God, but a Christian should be intensely concerned not to grieve or dishonour the one who is so glorious and who did so much for us.

Keller, Prayer, p.98-99