Have you ever been really scared? I remember occasions when I have been a bit frightened. Lying awake as a child and picking out monsters from the pattern of the wallpaper; the first time I went on a ghost train; walking along a dark lane at night; in a film called The Serpent when a snake leaped out of the dark and bit the hero in the neck; when I punched a bully in the nose and made it bleed and then sitting in the classroom as the schoolmaster in charge of first aid walked by; but on none of these occasions was I really terrified.
1 Peter 1:17 tells us to live our lives a strangers here in reverent fear. The word 'reverent' is not in the original Greek or in the King James version; fearing God is something the Bible insists we should do. Luke's gospel tells us that we should not fear those who merely have the power to kill us, rather that we should 'fear him, who after the killing of the body has the power to throw you into hell.'
Yet somehow we find the idea of fearing God rather strange. Is this not the same God whom Jesus addresses as Abba (Daddy)? Were you afraid of your father? If he were a brute who came home drunk and beat up your mother before taking his belt to you, you would do well to fear him, but most people's fathers are not like that. I was a bit afraid of my father when I was a young boy. He was a big man and when he wanted he had a loud voice, but he never hit me. He had a temper and he could scare you by shouting, but he was never drunk and never struck any of his children. He loved to teach us things. He took me fishing and taught me how to tie a hook and bait it. He taught me how to play a forward defensive stroke and bowl and of break. He sat down with me to puzzle over maths problems. He taught me to read long before I went to school. He was shy at showing emotions and was never a dad you could hug, but I am sure that he loved his children, and though as we grew older we were no longer afraid of him we respected him as someone in authority over us, and we would do nothing that would upset him.
I think that the fear of God is something like that. If we are strangers to him or in rebellion against him, we would do well to fear him for he does indeed have the power to cast us into hell; but if we have been adopted as sons into his family, we are not terrified of him. We should be in awe of him; we should reverence him and respect him. CS Lewis's description of Aslan sums it up; "If there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than me or else just silly." "Then he isn't safe?" asked Lucy. "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Our God may be loving and caring, certainly, but He's not safe; He's not a tame lion. We should never presume on God; like a loving father he trains us in the way we should go; he might well chastise us when we stray; but if we love God and respect him as we should, he will love us and care for us, protect us and strengthen us, keep us and sustain us as long as we live and then take us home to be with him. So the NIV translators were right to insert that 'reverent' to distinguish the fear from the terror we feel in immediate danger.
The rest of this paragraph tells us why we should fear God. First, v17 tells us he is a judge. But you may ask, are we not free from judgement? Were we not bought with a price? Are we not saved? This passage is not written for the unbeliever, for Peter addresses us as 'Obedient children'. Yes, our salvation is not in doubt, but our reward is. The point is that we were saved for a reason and that reason is to do good works. Let me emphasise: we are not saved by good works, but without good works what evidence is there that we are saved? James, speaking about Abraham tells us that 'his faith and his actions were working together and his faith was made complete by what he did' and again 'faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.'
We shall be judged; not on our righteousness for that is the covering that Christ has bestowed upon us; but by how we used our salvation. If like in the parable of the talents, we simply bury it in the ground, we will be judged appropriately. We will wish for the judgement that says, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Second, we should fear God with reverence because he has redeemed us. Redemption is a word seldom heard outside a pulpit these days, but when I was young it was commonplace to pawn the Sunday suit on Monday and redeem it on payday. Pawnbrokers provided the cash to see you through the week and if you could not pay on Friday evening because father had drunk his pay then he forfeited his suit. That is the picture of redemption. Our souls are in hock, and because of our sins we have no means to buy them back. We need a benefactor to pay the price - God has redeemed us. We cannot repay him. But we treat him respect. Imagine the boss coming along and sees that you boozed your pay away and must appear in church on Sunday in your work clothes; yet he takes pity on you and pays the pawnbroker. How would you treat him next week. Would you join with your fellow workers and cock a snook at him? OR would you tell them of the good deed he has done for you?
Third, the price he has paid was not mere money. It seems strange to think of silver and gold as perishable things. Every few weeks we read of someone with a metal detector who has found gold or silver artifacts from Roman times or even from Celtic times. They appear in mint condition once the dirt is brushed off. In 2000 years they have not perished. I am reminded of the rich man who was buried with gold ingots in his coffin who was met at the pearly gates with the question, "Why have you brought us paving stones?" The price that was paid was with the imperishable blood of his only son; the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Fourth, it was not just a whim. Your salvation was not a spur of the moment thing. We sometimes praise a soldier for an instant act of heroism. His colleague is injured and bleeding from a roadside bomb and without a thought for his own safety he leaps to save him. That is heroism indeed, but what do we call the man who having weighed up the situation and seen the risk and despite the fact that it is almost certain death, walks into enemy fire to save his comrade? God's plan of salvation was made before the creation of the world. Jesus was more than a hero.
Fifthly and finally, our hope and faith are in God. We have no other hope. At the test match at Headingly this year England were in dire straits. Australia had played much better. Supporters might hope for a batsman who would bat well and make a high score. They might hope that several of the bowlers would score enough, they might hope for rain so that the match would be abandoned. They had several things to hope for. Alas Australia were not daunted and won easily. But we have no other hope. If Christ is not risen we are of all men most miserable. But Christ is risen indeed and we are safe. Our hope and faith is in him.
We do not put our faith and hope in mere possiblities; we trust in the certainty of Christ. We worship the Father God who prvided all this because he loved us. Fear Him?
Restore, O Lord
The honour of Your name;
In works of sovereign power,
Come shake the earth again,
That men may see
And come with reverent fear
To the living God,
Whose kingdom shall outlast the years.