Originally posted October 19, 2017, at Women of Purpose.
In this week’s lesson we are studying 1 Peter 1:17-25, covering doctrinal concerns including the final judgement and the image of our salvation as a “ransom,” or “redemption,” paid for by the precious blood of Christ. Peter’s eternal view of our life and sufferings now is a strong encouragement to faith, and we explore our need for continual reminders to look beyond the now and set our hope fully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Peter’s purpose in writing this letter is to encourage believers to stand in the “true grace of God” (5:12) by reminding them who they are and who God is. Looking through our brief passage yields rich encouragement on both points.
I am God’s child (17), ransomed from a futile life (18) by the imperishable, precious blood of Christ (19), who was made manifest in these last times for my sake (20). Through Jesus I am a believer in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so my faith and hope are in God (21). I am one whose soul is purified by my obedience to the truth and can therefore love others from a pure heart because I have been born again by the imperishable seed of the living and abiding word of God (22-23). I will therefore live on after the grass withers and the flowers fall, because the good news of the gospel is the seed of my new birth and it will remain forever.
God is my Father (17). He is the high and holy Judge of all mankind, and he is my Father (17). He sent his only begotten Son to pay my ransom and rescue me from a captivity from which I could not rescue myself (18). He planned this rescue from before time began, but made Jesus manifest in these last times for my sake (21) so that through Jesus I would believe in him, who raised my Savior from the dead and gave him glory, so that my faith and hope would be in him, my Father (21). It is by his living and abiding word that I am born again (23), so that I may purify my soul by obedience and love others from a pure heart (22).
With the security of our salvation firmly established, Peter now says that we will be judged by God. What does this mean? The idea of “judgement” rings negatively in our ears and our first thought may be eternal condemnation. Let me state flat-out that judgement does not, for believers, mean condemnation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Peter, in verse 17, says clearly that this is an impartial judgement of “each one’s deeds,” and Paul elsewhere agrees (1 Cor. 3:11-15; 2 Cor. 5:9-10). In his very next breath Peter goes on to say that we look to this judgement in the understanding that we have been ransomed from our futile ways by the imperishable and precious blood of Christ. He is clearly not talking about being judged for works which will determine our eternal home. He is talking to believers who have been caused to be born again to a living hope (1:3), to an imperishable inheritance (1:4), and are being guarded for salvation (1:5) by the very same God who is both their Father and Judge.
Paul also links these ideas when he teaches that “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:8-10). Securely saved people, created in Christ Jesus—in an indissoluble union with our Savior—are to do the good works which God has prepared us to do, now that we are saved. The works come after the salvation—not before. We can’t disqualify ourselves from this great salvation by failing to do the works God gives us to do. We can’t out-sin God’s grace.
So, again, what are these works by which we will be judged? Herman Bavinck has ransacked the Scriptures for an explanation which I find rather helpful.
“In his judgement of the living and the dead, [Jesus Christ] celebrates his highest triumph and realizes the consummation of his kingdom and the total subjection of all his enemies. For that reason the main issue in the final judgement is that of faith or unbelief. For faith in Christ is the work of God par excellence (John 6:29; 1 John 3:23). Those who believe do not come into judgement (John 5:24); those who do not believe are already condemned and remain under God’s wrath (John 3:18, 36).
Therefore, the standard in the final judgement will in the first place be the gospel (John 12:48); but that gospel is not opposed to, and cannot even be conceived apart from, the law. The requirement to believe, after all, is itself grounded in the law, and the gospel is the restoration and fulfillment of the law. In the final judgement, therefore, all the works performed by people and recorded in the books before God are considered as well (Eccles. 12:14; 2 Cor. 5:10; Eph. 6:8; 1 Peter 1:17; Rev. 20:12; 22:12). Those works, after all, are expressions and products of the principle of life that lives in the heart (Matt. 7:17; 12:33; Luke 6:44) and encompass everything effected by humans, not in the intermediate state but in their bodies, not the deeds alone (Matt. 25:35ff.; Mark 9:41-42; Luke 6:35; 14:13-14; 1 Cor. 3:8; 1 Thess. 4:6; etc.) but also the words (Matt. 12:36) and the secret purposes of the heart (Rom. 2:16; 1 Cor. 4:5). For nothing remains hidden and everything will be revealed (Matt. 6:4, 6, 18; 10:26; Eph. 5:11-14; 1 Tim 5:24-25). In the final judgement, therefore, the norm will be the entire Word of God in both its parts: law and gospel.”
So, the works that we now do, as believers in Christ, are what will be evaluated by God. As was said in class, we haven’t all been given the responsibilities of Billy Graham, but that which we have been given, let us strive to be faithful in doing. Our obedience in Christ, our love for one another, our turning from temptation and fleeing from sin, humility, gentleness, kindness, giving cups of cold water to those in need and speaking words in season, etc.; we are each given works to do, and we each—all of us—fail in some, and succeed in others. Repent when you fail, rejoice when you succeed, and pray for grace and courage to do the next thing. We serve a holy God who is also our loving and merciful Father.
Concerning this judgement of our works, Peter says we are to conduct our lives with “fear throughout the time of [our] exile.” (1:17). This is not a terror or dread, but a reverent and holy fear of our Father God. As Daniel Doriani explains:
“Peter here combines two concepts that we needlessly separate. God is both Father and Judge. It is a great privilege to call God Father. But this intimate relation hardly exempts us from obedience… While we live as strangers in this world, we both think of God with familial love, as Father, and retain an awe of the mighty and holy Lord. C. E. B. Cranfield observes:
‘It is of God’s infinite condescension that you are allowed to call him “Father.” You are not to presume on his goodness, but rather, let it make you reverent and humble. He has not ceased to be the impartial judge of all men. The more truly, the more intimately, we know him, the more of awe and reverence we shall feel.’”
And right there is a key to how this understanding should influence how we are to live. Reverent awe should characterize our lives, as well as humility—knowing that we didn’t earn our salvation—and therefore, gratitude which expresses itself in obedience. For those of us coming to this understanding later in life: teachable-ness! We need to be willing to let go of ideas, habits, and patterns of sin to which we have become accustomed (and which we hold dear), and learn to live the gospel-centered life as set forth in the Scriptures and lived out in the lives of mature saints around us.
After all, Peter tells us that we are to live as strangers, pilgrims, and aliens here. We forget that, don’t we? This world is not our home. It seems awfully comfortable when we are going along with its ways, but it is an enemy to our spiritual growth and love for Christ. Paul reminds us that: “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:20). We are children of our heavenly Father and our citizenship is not here in this world, but in heaven. We may still tread this mortal soil, but our earthly passports are expiring!
Without missing a beat—indeed, still in the same sentence—Peter tells us that the reason we are to conduct our lives with this reverent fear is that we know “that [we] were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] 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” (1:18, 19). He has previously used the terms “elect,” “born again,” and “called” to describe what God has done for us in Christ. He now introduces the idea that we have been “ransomed” (or, in some translations, “redeemed,”). To explore what this means I turned to one of my favorite books, from which I have learned a much deeper appreciation for the atonement purchased at the Cross and a higher love for Christ, my God-provided Lamb: The Cross of Christ, by John R. W. Stott.
“At its most basic to “redeem” is to buy or buy back, whether as a purchase or a ransom. Inevitably, then, the emphasis of the redemption image is on our sorry state—indeed our captivity—in sin which made an act of divine rescue necessary. Propitiation focuses on the wrath of God which was placated by the cross; redemption on the plight of sinners from which they were ransomed by the cross.”
“Although it is still inherent in the concept (in the New Testament, relative to Old Testament usage) both that those needing redemption are in a bad plight and that they can be redeemed only by the payment of a price, yet now the plight is moral rather than material, and the price is the atoning death of God’s Son. This much is already evident in Jesus’ famous “ransom saying,” which is foundational to the New Testament doctrine of redemption: “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 10:45). The imagery implies that we are held in a captivity from which only the payment of a ransom can set us free, and that the ransom is nothing less than the Messiah’s own life. Our lives are forfeit; his life will be sacrificed instead… The death of Jesus means that there happens to him what would have had to happen to the many. Hence he takes their place.”
We see in this explanation, as elsewhere in Scripture is also made clear, that we belong to God:
“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19b, 20)
The price of our ransom is framed in contrast (again) to things believed to be precious, but in eternal light are perishable. Our ransom was not purchased with mere silver and gold, but with the “precious blood of Christ.” John Stott quotes Alan Stibbs to explain that, in Scripture, “blood,” is “a word-symbol for death.” Stott then draws from another source to conclude that, “’Blood of Christ’ is (like ‘Cross’) only another, clearer expression for the death of Christ in its salvation meaning” or redemptive significance.”
Peter tells us we have been redeemed, or ransomed, from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers. Paul elaborates on what characterizes this empty way of life when he writes to Titus that, “we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Whether Peter is writing to Jewish or Gentile believers, whatever the way of life that has been handed down to them by their forebears: if it does not rely on Christ, it is empty, unfruitful, purposeless, and will yield them no benefit before the bar of God’s holy justice. Only a life hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3) will yield fruit which is pleasing to him. This is the life which Christ died to purchase for us—or rather, to ransom us into. As Stott writes:
“Remembering that Jesus Christ has bought us with his blood and that in consequence we belong to him should motivate us as individual Christians to holiness, just as it motivates presbyters to faithful ministry and the heavenly host to worship… Bought by Christ, we have no business to become the slaves of anybody or anything else. Once we were slaves of sin; now we are the slaves of Christ, and his service is the true freedom.”
In verses 23-25, Peter returns to the topic of our new birth and the imperishable nature of the seed from which it has grown. He quotes from Isaiah to make his point. This is his third mention of the imperishability of our salvation. Peter is writing to believers who, as we have discussed in past lessons, are already suffering for their faith and are about to be thrown from the frying pan into the fire. They need to know that their eternal home is kept securely for them in heaven because their earthly home is becoming increasingly uninhabitable. In view of this, his choice of encouragement from the prophet Isaiah is illuminating. He is, with this brief few lines, alluding to a broader idea than merely the perishability of grass and flowers relative to the “living and abiding word of God.”
We use this sort of allusion all the time. If I were to say to you, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya…” not only could you likely finish the line, but the entire movie from which it comes would flash before you and you would probably smile or laugh at the reminder, since it is among most people’s favorite, and easily most quotable, movies (The Princess Bride, 1987).
So when Peter quotes this bit from Isaiah, those who were familiar with the writings of the prophet would have been reminded of the beauty, majesty, comfort, and promises of Isaiah, chapter 40. This chapter follows 39 chapters of calling out the people of God for their disobedience and unfaithfulness for which God is going to punish them with all the curses of the covenant. But when he gets to Chapter 40, there’s a dramatic change of tone. Read with me through the entire chapter:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah declares to them comfort from the Lord! After he reminds them of the brevity of life, he affirms the tenderness of his disposition toward them, and then he shows them his own majesty and strength:
Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel?
Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.
Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.
All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.
Even Babylon. Even Rome. Even Great Britain. Even the Third Reich. Even the Soviet Union. Even… America. Compared to our everlasting God, the nations—every nation—are a drop in the bucket. He then tells of the futility of any religious systems invented by men:
To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?
An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.
He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.
How foolish this is, seen in the light of who God is telling them he is!
Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;
who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.
To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name;
by the greatness of his might and because he is strong in power, not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Our God upholds the very stars! How can we imagine that he does not see our plight; that he cannot rescue us?
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
This is the promise of our Eternal, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Immutable, loving, gracious, merciful, faithful, Holy God. He sees our trials and suffering; he knows our griefs. Because of his great love for us he sent his Son to pay our ransom and rescue us from our captivity, and the Holy Spirit to guarantee our place in heaven and prepare us for that eternal home by making us holy. This is the God who will see us through and guard us by his power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. It was important for Peter’s first readers to know this as they went through suffering and persecution, and it is important for us to know now as we go through the trials and tribulations of life.
We may not have Roman legions marching into our neighborhoods, but a cancer diagnosis, or divorce, or unemployment, or car wreck, or name-your-trial, will press you right up against your need for God’s power to see you through to the end. Until he calls us home, we need him every hour, whether we realize it or not.
Peter writes that the “word of God” which God used to implant new life in us is “the good news that was preached to you” (23, 25). What is this word?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1-5, 14-17)
The good news is the gospel. What is this gospel?
Jesus Christ is the gospel.
Jesus Christ is the Word that will not wither like the grass or fall away like the flowers. He is the Word that we, as we wither and fall, so desperately need.
 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, originally published 1895-99, translated from Dutch by John Vriend, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 4.700.
 Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 46.
 Thanks goes to Lane Speck for this image. ❤
 John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 173.
 Ibid., 175.
 Ibid., 178.
 Ibid., 178-179.
 I am indebted for this insight to Jen Wilkin, who spoke on our passage at The Gospel Coalition’s Women’s Conference, in the summer of 2016, available online at TGC.org