Whether we I like it or not God designed life to bring continued changes in every area of our life. Knowing that, Connie and I intend to grow old gracefully. The only exception to involuntary changes is in our spiritual life. Although He purposes for each believer to become like Jesus, our daily decisions determine the pace of that spiritual formation process and whether we will endure to the end.
Peter, Jesus’ outspoken lead disciple, wrote, … if you call on [God] as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 1 Peter 1:17 (ESV). We may think we judge impartially, but we invariably respect some more highly than others and treat them accordingly. God does not prefer one over another because He has nothing to hope or fear from any of His creation. So how is it that He will “judge” us if He is impartial?
Did you notice that Peter pointed out God will judge … according to each one’s deeds and not according to Christ’s deeds on our behalf? Now that is thought provoking. On which of our deeds will He focus His attention and make His judgment? Paul added some insight here when he wrote For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son… Rm 8:29 (ESV). If God purposed for each believer to be conformed to the image of Jesus, then anyone not continually becoming more like Jesus will be judged for not allowing the Holy Spirit to reshape them.
Here is a revealing paradox. The sobering judgment challenge is set in contrast to the incredibly desirable hope of being conformed to the image of Jesus. It is stunning to think of being able to literally be like Jesus as when He endured all He did between His resolution prayer in the garden to His final breath. He hardly said a word, certainly NOTHING evil to his abusers! Plus, to think I can literally experience the intense pleasure of His joy (Jn 15:11) along with the other fruit of the Spirit. Who could possibly look askance at those things?!
The Bible teaches healthy fear and love for God result in the same promises and fruit in our lives. Both are essential for authentic faith in God just as two sides of the coin are needed to validate its value. The difference between healthy and unhealthy fear is unhealthy fear focuses on you potentially getting hurt while healthy fear focuses on not hurting others—God in this case. Peter is saying the latter type of fear is essential to living the acceptable Christian life.
On the fear side of the coin, if I’m understanding what Peter is writing, God will judge each of us according to how far we have allowed the Holy Spirit to take us in our spiritual reformation. If we allow ourselves to stall in our progressive changes, He will judge us for decisions surrounding that resistance. It is in that context Peter writes …conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your [time on this earth] 1 Peter 1:17 (ESV). The loving God side of the coin leads to being …filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 1 Peter 1:8 (NIV) and growing …to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ Ephesians 4:13 (ESV). It all boils down to which side of the coin we focus our attention on. When we chose the latter, fear fades into the shadows.
I, more than anyone else, know that I have a long way to go in my spiritual reformation. I allow the unhealthy fear to affect my life far more than I would like. But I take great comfort when His Spirit challenges me to change in one more area of my life—in fact it gives me great confidence! I want to mature to the full stature of Christ. How have you been doing in the process of being changed into the image of his Son? I urge you to come grow with me.