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 1:17-19
There is a lot to study in this passage, so let’s dive right in.
“And if you call on him as Father” is speaking of praying to God the Father (cf. Matt. 6:9; Lk. 11:2; John 16:23; Eph. 5:20; Col. 3:17). “Call” (epikaleo) in this context carries with it the idea of appealing for help. The term is used in passages which speak of “calling on the name of the Lord,” which is correlated with obeying the gospel and receiving salvation through faithful, penitent baptism (Acts 22:16; cf. 2:21, 38; Mk. 16:16; Rom. 10:12-14; 1 Pet. 3:21). In this case though, Peter is addressing baptized believers and directing them to “call on” their “Father.” Thus, he speaks of them appealing through prayer to God the Father to help them.
Our heavenly “Father” is said to “judge impartially according to each one’s deeds.” Daniel Webster reportedly said that “The prospect of standing before God to give account” was the most profound thought he had ever considered. We must never forget that in the end God will judge us through his Son (Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom. 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10a), that judgment will be without partiality (Acts 10:34; Rom. 2:11), and it will be based on what we have done in this life (Ps. 62:12; Eccl. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5:10b).
For this reason, Peter exhorts Christians to “conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” Faithful Christians are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13) because God calls us to be “in the world,” but “not of the world” (John 17:15-16, 18-19; cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; 4:3-4). Since our true citizenship is in heaven (Phil. 3:20-21), we are “not of the world” – i.e., different, separate in the sense that we do not partake of the world’s sinful ways – because we eagerly wait for our eternal reward (cf. 2 Pet. 3:13-14). To be “exiles” in this sense (cf. 1 Pet. 1:1b), we must “conduct ourselves with fear” and do so “throughout the time of (our) exile,” i.e., throughout our lives here on earth. “Fear” (phobos, from which we get phobia) refers to both great fear as in terror as well as great reverence and respect. Both definitions are needed in how we view God, as is clearly seen when one considers all of the following passages; take particular note of how often the concept of fear – whether terror or reverence – is correlated with obeying God (Deut. 6:2; 10:12; Job 28:28; Ps. 22:23; 33:8; 89:7; 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Eccl. 5:7; 12:13; Lk. 12:4-5; 2 Cor. 5:11a; Eph. 5:21; Phil. 2:12; Heb. 10:31; 12:28). There are times when terror of the Lord is needed to motivate heart-felt obedience (cf. Acts 2:36-41; 2 Cor. 5:10-11a), while at other times obedience and growth is motivated out of heart-felt reverence and respect (cf. Ps. Prov. 1:7; 9:10; Eph. 5:21; Heb. 12:28).
As we do this, we must always know “that (we) were ransomed” – (lytroo); the concept is purchasing the freedom of someone held in bondage – “from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers.” “Futile” (mataias) was often applied to idol worship, considering that the worship of these false gods was ultimately meaningless (Ps. 115:4-8; 135:15-18; Is. 44:9-20; Jer. 2:5, 8; Hab. 2:18; Acts 14:15; 1 Cor. 12:2). Peter’s Gentile readers came from pagan families; even his Jewish readers would remember the idolatry practiced by their ancestors during Old Testament times (Judges; 1-2 Kings). We all had been held captive by sin in general (Rom. 6:17-18, 22; 8:2), but “the precious blood of Christ” set us free (Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:7; Rev. 5:9). Our earthly mortal money could not do this (Matt. 6:19-20), but “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) who lived a sinless life “without blemish or spot” (cf. 1 Pet. 2:22) did…by dying for you and me!