1 Peter 1:17 (NIV), Lifestyle and Accountability God’s Way

John 3:36


By Spencer D Gear

I. Introduction

For the last 13 years in the Wide-Bay Burnett region of Queensland (Australia), I have been counselling families who are falling apart and devastated by many of life’s problems – divorce, severe conflict, rebel youth, parents who don’t know how to parent, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug addiction, gambling problems, etc.

There is a constant that is ever before me: What will it take to have families and individuals healed so that these issues are solved or prevented from happening?  Another burden is on my heart: Where can I find a community of people who will be an example for these fractured folks to see and receive help from?

We, the Christian church, need to demonstrate radically different relationships in our families and churches.  Too often, the conflict in our families and in the church is such a poor example of what Christ wants to be and do in our families and church.

Where can I find a Christian community that is an example – a radical example – of loving, caring, relationships and that have a real burden to reach the lost folks of this community?  A Christian community that will make the world sit up and take notice?

Peter cuts to the heart of this issue.  In 1:10, he stated, “Concerning this salvation.”

arrow-small In vv. 10-12, he links the salvation to the prophets and then Christ’s sufferings and the Gospel.

arrow-small But in vv. 13-16, he says, THEREFORE, and links this salvation to your lifestyle as Christians:

  • Setting your hope fully/completely in the correct direction (v. 13);
  • You must be holy (v. 15).

Now Peter continues this emphasis on the need for a vital Christian community, its salvation, and a lifestyle that stands out.  But this time he reminds us of our accountability.  Why should we live Christian lives of holiness & hope?

The MAIN THRUST of my message from this passage (v. 17) is:  Since you have experienced “this salvation”, your life must show that you are radically different through accountability.

There’s another command here that comes with lots of meat associated with it.

II.  Your salvation means, your lifestyle & accountability must be done God’s way (v. 17).

“Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear” (1:17, NIV).

We understand the meaning of “accountability” as the one who checks up on you.  Who checks on how well you do your work in your employment?  He or she is the person to whom you are accountable.  Who supervises your actions?  In living your Christian life here on this earth, who supervises your lifestyle?  To whom are you accountable – ultimately?

A.  This salvation means that you are accountable to God the Father

“Every word in this text is important and filled with meaning” (Kistemaker 1987, p. 63).  The Greek’s had an important way to emphasise something.  If we are speaking, we might shout for emphasis.  When writing, we would put it in bold, underline, or italics.  That was not possible when writing the koine Greek of the NT, so the writers would put a word near the beginning of a sentence and before the verb if they wanted to emphasise something.  That’s what happens here.  Our translation in the NIV states:

1. “Since you call on a Father” (v. 17)

But the Greek text literally says “And since a father you call on.”  Why is this?  Because if you are going to live a lifestyle of accountability, God’s way, your responsibility to your heavenly Father is at the centre of your accountability.

Not any old father, but God the Father.  This is the language repeated many times in the OT.  Take passages like:

Ps. 89:26: “He will call out to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.'”

Jer. 3:19: “I myself said, ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.”

Isa. 63:16: “But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.”

Remember the beginning of the Lord’s prayer?  When you pray, when you call on Him, whom are you calling on?  “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven . . .” (Matt. 6:9).

Paul to the Romans wrote of the Holy Spirit: “And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Why is it important for the Scriptures to emphasise that God is our Father?  Remember back in v. 14 of this chapter, Peter wrote to these believers as “obedient children.”  He is our heavenly Father, we are his obedient children AND as obedient children, we can expect at the end of this life that we will get either his approval or reproof.

The Scriptures are clear here and elsewhere that for all believers . . .

2. He “judges each [person’s] [2] work impartially” (v. 17)

There are no dud judges in God’s court.  He judges with absolute

justice and there are no favourites with him.

This emphasis comes elsewhere in Scripture.

  • James 2:1-9, God does not show favouritism, to the rich or to the poor.
  • Rom. 2:11, “For God does not show favoritism” to Jew or Gentile.
  • Eph. 6:9, “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do

not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”

  • Col. 3:25, “Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.”

Are you living daily for the approval of other Christians?  Do you live so that your church leaders will play favourites with you?  I think many of us would say that we are living for the Lord’s approval, but if that is so:

Why is there such conflict among us?  If we were living for God’s approval, shouldn’t we relate to one another in a godly way that will gain God’s approval?  I’m speaking to me as much as to you: I must think before I speak so that I am living in a godly way in my speech.  I ask you: What have you done this week, this month, that would gain the Lord’s approval: “Well done good and faithful servant”? [3]  OR, “That was a lousy job and I, the Father, am shocked with your performance after you became a Christian.  I am displeased with you.”

3. What will God, the Father, judge?

We must be very clear on this point.  Who is Peter addressing?  Go back to v. 1, “God’s elect.”  In v. 4, he wrote of those who have been given “new birth into a living hope.”  V. 10, “Concerning this salvation.”  He’s addressing Christians.  So, when he says that he will judge each person’s work impartially, he is NOT talking about judging you as to whether you are going to heaven or not.

Whether you or saved or not, is based on what you have done with the crucified risen Lord.  What have you done with the salvation through Christ’s death that has been offered to you?   Have you repented of your sin, accepted his salvation by faith, and are you continuing to live  a Christ-honouring life? If you have, Paul declares in Rom. 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

So this is included in the final judgment of Matt. 25:31-46 when the sheep are separated from the goats.  But, for the Christian, it is NOT the judgment for sinners who are still in unbelief.  Christ took the sin punishment for you and me and you are declared righteous when you repent.  This is the judgment of your actions AFTER salvation for your rewards.  Your sins were taken care of when you repented.  Here the sheep will be judged to receive rewards, based on their actions during their Christian life.  Unbelievers will be judged for their sins of unbelief.

Paul to the Romans wrote: “You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.’ So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Rom. 14:10-12).

Paul to the Corinthians:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad”(2 Cor. 5:10).

It is important for believers to understand that this judgment of believers “will be a judgment to evaluate and bestow various degrees of reward. . . but the fact that they will face such judgment should never cause believers to fear that they will be eternally condemned.  Jesus said, ‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life’ (John 5:24) ‘” (Grudem 1994, p. 1143).

What actions in your life will give you God’s favourable judgment?  2 Cor. 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.”  What does a life look like that is pleasing to God, and that will lead to his positive, impartial assessment of the deeds of our lives? You will get God’s “well done, good and faithful servant” when you do what God considers is good and faithful.  One of the best recipes for that is to live a life governed by the fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:16-26:

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery [ie eagerness for lustful pleasure (4)]; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

In your daily life with your family, your employment, living in this community, you will gain the better, fair judgment from God if what you do is determined by these kinds of attitudes and actions every day::

  • I will respond lovingly to all people today.
  • I will have a joyful attitude today, whether I am shy, serious or jovial.
  • Today, I will do all in my power to promote peace in the church, at home, on the job, in my community.
  • With God’s help, I will be patient with all people today.
  • Today I will be kind to that difficult person.
  • I will do what God considers to be good today and this week.  I cannot know what is good without studying God’s Word.
  • I will act faithfully to my spouse, children, boss and employees, my community, and most of all to my Lord today.
  • I will seek to do all things today in the gentlest way towards all people.
  • Lord, I need your help to be self-controlled in all my actions today – especially with my anger, eating food, the types of things I view.  In what areas of self-control, do you need the Holy Spirit’s help?

Since they are the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, he needs to be the one to spiritually water your life so that His fruit will grow.  I do not know how I can have the Holy Spirit’s fruit growing in my life without spending daily time in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit Himself.  Daily time in the Word and in prayer are critical to developing fruit that will last.

Is God the central person in your life.  Are you living so that when your work is judged impartially by God the Father, you will get this decision, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This verse continues in dealing with our lives.

4. You are to “live your lives as strangers” (v. 17)

Do you ever feel you are out of place in this wicked world?  “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.”  Please note what v. 17 (NIV) says, “Live your lives as strangers.”  The ESV reads: “Throughout the time of your exile.”  In v. 1 of this chapter, there is a different word, but a similar idea: believers are “strangers in the world.”  Here, the view is that we are living alongside our non-Christian neighbours as “pilgrims or strangers.”  It’s the same word that appears in Acts 7:6, where it speaks of Abraham, whose “descendants will be strangers in a foreign country.”

Peter is preparing us for what he will tell us in 2:11, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world.”  That’s for another time.

If you are true believers and you find yourself out of step with what is happening in the world, that’s the way it ought to be.  I’m not talking about being mean-spirited to unbelievers and separating ourselves from contact with them.  That would be contrary to the general emphasis of the Bible.

I did my master’s degree counsellor training at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio, where there was an old-order Amish community where the people drove around the city and countryside using horses & buggies.  They dressed in old-style, period costumes.  I don’t think that this idea of being “strangers in the world” means that we refuse to use electricity, motor cars, and other mod cons like the Amish, but Peter is making it very clear that we are strangers in the world.  If you are truly Christian you should never really feel at home in this wicked, materialistic, God-hating world.

That’s what we are to do: “Live as strangers” (v. 17).

  • God the Father is the impartial judge;
  • He is the judge of each Christian’s work while on earth;
  • While on earth, Christians are to live as strangers;
  • As strangers, accountable to God, Christians are to do it . . .

5. In reverent fear (v. 17)

Remember the core of this verse?  We deal with God the Father who is the impartial judge of our works.  How are we to live in his presence?  “In reverent fear.”  What does this mean biblically?  It seems to be a country mile from the views of the seeker-sensitive, user friendly evangelical church today.

a. Whom should we fear?

The devil?  Absolutely not!  This is the “reverent fear” of God the Father, as this verse states.

b. What does it mean to fear God?

Does this mean to shake all over at the thought of God? Let me share a few other Scriptures so that we understand the absolute importance of the fear of God:

  • Ps. 112:1, “Praise the LORD. Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands.”  The word, “fear” as it relates to God, appears 49 times [5] in the Book of Psalms.
  • Ps. 2:11, “Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling.”
  • Isa 8:13, “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”
  • Prov. 1:7, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.”
  • Remember Job?  Job 1:8-12 reads:

Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and  everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

God allowed Satan to kill Job’s children, kill the animals, destroy his property & crops, bring horrible disease on Job, and a wife who urged Job, “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).  What was Job’s response?

In Job 23:14-17, Job replies to God:

“He [God] carries out his decree against me,
and many such plans he still has in store.
That is why I am terrified before him;
when I think of all this, I fear him.
God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me.
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.”

Job feared God, but it did not stop devastation in his life, that was allowed by God.

What does it mean to have “reverent fear” of the Father?

A.W. Tozer said that one of the perils for the preacher is “when he loses his solemn fear in the presence of the High and Holy One.” [6]

What is the fear of the Lord?

“It does not mean fear in our usual sense of being afraid.  It means rather to quake or tremble in the presence of a Being so holy, so morally superior, so removed from evil, that in his presence, human boasting, human pride, human arrogance vanish as we bow in speechless humility, reverence, and adoration of the One beyond understanding.” [7]

This fear of God is not a dread or terror of Him in an horrific sense.  It is a loving reverence of him that finds us falling on our faces before him in willing obedience to his commands.

The fear of God includes trust in God, knowledge of God from creation and His Word, recognition of God’s claim on my life.  It is awe of the power and holiness of God.  When I fear God, I cherish the sense of His presence.  I tremble in his presence, knowing how puny I am, and how transcendently awesome He is.

We as human beings are dependent people.  We depend, not on husbands or wives, not on children, bosses or government leaders.  We must not depend on ourselves.  We cannot act wisely if we are our own king.

Dependent human beings must fear God.  We have a duty to obey Him.  We must carry out the plans of our Creator.  Life is only ordered correctly for us when God is in charge.  We depend on the Almighty One for our very existence.

Paul, the Apostle, knew this:  He wrote in 2 Cor. 5:11, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.”  You will not develop a burden to evangelise this community if you do not have an awesome fear of the Almighty, Holy God, to whom you are accountable.  Do you fear Him?  He is the one who judges your deeds, for rewards, with an impartial judgment.

I want to apply this message to you and me, here in the 21st century.

III.  Application

1. Who are you living to please?  Whose approval is most important in your life?  Your peers?  Your spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, your boss?  Do you seek the approval of your pastor, the church leaders?  If you seek the approval of anyone less than God the Father, you are doomed to dissatisfaction and failure.

2. Honest now, do you live each day for God the Father’s, “Well done, good & faithful servant”?  If you are not there yet, what do you need to change?

3. If you don’t live for God the Father’s approval, it probably means that you don’t really fear God as you need to.  Where is your “reverent fear” of God Himself?  Why don’t you have it?

4. Ps. 33:8 says, “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.”

Why is this sense of God’s awesome holiness virtually unknown among Christians today?  Why is this holy reverence and overwhelming wonder missing in our lives and churches?  How can we be so blind as to treat God as a daddy, a good bloke, rather than falling on our faces before Him in holy awe?

The apostle John, according to Rev. 1:17, fell as if he were dead at the feet of God.  The reason for this lack of fear of God becomes clear:

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.  Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid.  I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.'”

Surely, there would be profound reverence and godly fear if we suddenly found ourselves in God’s presence.

In John’s words, the reason he had this holy fear was: “I saw him.”  Our lack of passionate love for God.  The fear of God is not among us because we are so far from our Lord.  We need to seek Him.  We need to see him and know him.

5. What’s stopping you from being an obedient child of God the Father?

6. You will be judged by God for your actions as a believer.  Do you think that you ought to be on your face pleading for God to give you an awesome, reverential fear of Him?

7. Do you understand how radical the early church was?  Acts 19:18 reads, “Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds.”  But for believers, James 5:16 says that this is what should be happening among us: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  Have you ever thought that our prayers may not be effective and God’s healing does not take place for people in our churches when we call upon him for a miraculous intervention, because we don’t confess our sins to God and to one another?

IV.  Conclusion

Maximilian Kolbe [may be unknown to you, but he] knew the fear of the Lord.  It fueled his obedience—even to the point of pouring out his life for another.  His fear of God was greater than his fear of the tyrants of Auschwitz [the Nazi concentration prison camp in Poland.’The overall number of victims of Auschwitz in the years 1940-1945 is estimated at between 1,100,000 and 1,500,000 people.  The majority of them, and above all the mass transports of Jews who arrived beginning in 1942, died in the gas chambers.’ [8]. “The believers of Eastern Europe knew the fear of the Lord. They chose Christ over their communist [and Nazi] oppressors. (Now they must choose Christ over materialism or whatever elsefollows.)”[9]

The fear of the Lord was the secret of the early church.  When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead in judgment because they lied to God (they trampled on the holy), Acts 5:11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”  Is it going to take this kind of judgment of people in the church to get them to sit up and take notice of the need to have an absolute holy fear of the Almighty God?  Could the tsunami have been a wake-up call?

The Scriptures link an awesome, reverential fear of God with a determined pursuit of holiness.  Second Cor. 7:1 (ESV), “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”


2.  The NIV translated it, “man.”  The NRSV says, “All people.”  “Each one” in the NET Bible’s version, which it is “each person’s” in TNIV.

3.  Matthew 25:21.

4.  New Living Translation.

5.  Psalm 2:11; 15:4; 19:9; 22:23, 25; 25:12, 14; 27:1; 31:19; 33:8, 18; 34:7, 9, ; 36:1;  40:3; 46:2; 52:6; 55:19; 56:4; 60:4; 61:5; 64:9; 66:6; 67:7; 72:5; 85:9; 86:11; 90:11; 96:9; 102:15; 103:11, 13, 17; 111:5, 10; 112:1; 115:11, 13; 118:4; 119:38, 63, 74, 120; 128:1, 4; 135:20; 145:19; 147:11.

6. A.W. Tozer, God Tells the Man Who Cares.  Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1992, p. 92.

7. Caleb Rosado, “America the Brutal,” Christianity Today, August 15, 1994, p. 24.

8. “Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum” (Online), available from: http://www.auschwitz.org.pl/html/eng/historia_KL/liczba_narodowosc_ofiar_ok.html [8 May 2005].
9.  Charles Colson, The Body.  Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992, p. 383.

Works consulted

Grudem, W. 1994, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Kistemaker, S. J. 1987, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and of the Epistle of Jude, Evangelical Press, Welwyn, Hertfordshire.


Copyright (c) 2007, Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at: 13 October 2015.