God, who “disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness,” deserves far greater reverence than even the best earthly fathers (Heb. 12:10). Peter knows unless his people have a sense of holy reverence for their Father—the Holy One with grand purposes for them far beyond comfort or social acceptance—the pressure to fit the world’s mold, revert to old habits, and blend in will overwhelm them.
How do you counsel a persecuted and alienated church?
If you’re Peter, you begin with the gracious fatherhood of God. Speaking to marginalized first-century Christians suffering mistreatment and social estrangement, he comforts them with the knowledge that they are “elect exiles” only by the sovereign “foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:1–2). And this isn’t just any Father, but the one who deserves praise because, according to “his great mercy,” he has given them “new birth into a living hope” through Jesus Christ (1:3) and an unspoiled inheritance in the heavens (1:4).
So, despite their present suffering (1:6), they are even now being kept and preserved by God for salvation (1:5). God is their loving Father who sees all and will provide for his sons and daughters.
So far, so good. But then you encounter a curveball: “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). Fear the Father who judges?
I know God is Father, Judge, King, and much else, but the unblushing way Peter runs Father and Judge together sounds a note often absent in more recent preaching on the gospel of adoption. We usually hear not only that we are forgiven and justified by Christ, but that we are also named children of God (1 John 3:1). In Christ, we no longer live the life of slaves, but that of sons and daughters, since we have received the Spirit of the Son who allows us to cry out with the tender intimacy of love, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
But if we have the love of the Father, what place is there for fear and judgment, since “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18)? Christ shows us God’s warm, fatherly heart. It seems like a natural dichotomy: We know God as either Father or Judge, but not both.