A perplexing question has had me racking my brain for several days now. In what way are we as Christians judged by God? The text that has motivated this question is 1 Peter 1:17, which says
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,” (1 Pe 1:17).
Verse 17 comes in the midst of Peter telling his readers to place their hope in Christ alone (13), to not be conformed to their former way of life (14), but instead to be holy as God is holy (15-16). So then, the context deals with Christian conduct. More specifically, Peter wants his readers to understand that their profession of Jesus Christ as their Savior should also result in transformed living.
Verses 13, 14, 15-16 provide commands to live a certain way, as well as they provide the motivation for such living. Verse 17 seems to follow suit. It provides a command, “conduct yourselves in fear”. It also provides a motivation, God is both the Father of those who profess Christ to be their Savior and the Judge of all.
How Can God Be The Judge of Christians?
Verse 17 says God judges all impartially according to their works, which should lead to us conducting ourselves in fear during our earthly stay. Commentators and preachers differ in regard to what this judgment on Christians could be.
- Some hold it is a judgment regarding rewards (Rom 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10-11).
- Others skip over the phrase, “who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds,” opting only to deal with the word fear. They then conclude fear means we need to live in reverence to God.
- While others hold a tension between fear referring to reverence for God, and also a fear of God’s judgment.
What I Think
Based on Peter’s mentioning of God as Father and Judge, the context calling for believers to live a transformed life as a result of their salvation, as well as Romans 2:6-11, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, and John 3:36, I think Peter is presenting a tension here. A tension both John and Paul present in their writings and one that is evident in the passages above.
The tension I think Peter is presenting is that our faith in Christ should produce good works (Gal. 5:21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11). It is these works that are judged, proving that we are Christians. So then, on the one hand, our fear is to be one of reverence and respect for God. On the other hand, we are to fear God as judge, knowing that if we do not finish the race (1 Cor. 6:9-11), we will not inherit the kingdom of God. Even if at one time we did great works for the kingdom, we must continue to live a righteous life throughout our time here on earth. In other words, we must finish the race. God is not a partial judge, no matter how much good we have done for the kingdom.
I don’t believe our righteous living earns us salvation, but I do believe it proves our salvation since it would not be possible to live righteously without the Holy Spirit residing in us. The Holy Spirit would not reside inside of us, if we did not believe Christ to be our Savior.
Final Questions: I Want Your Thoughts
Those are my thoughts. I want to know what you think. To help facilitate that, here are my final questions:
- Am I on the right track believing there is a tension between God as Father and Judge, or am I missing something?
- Do you also see a tension between our faith and works, with our works, or obedience, proving our faith?
- Do you believe fear in 1 Peter 1:17 is referring to reverence only, or both reverence and judgment?
- Do you believe Peter is talking about our rewards in heaven? If so, how would those rewards motivate us to live holy lives now?
- What do you make of verses like 1 John 4:18-21, which tells us those who fear have not been perfected?
2 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud: How is God a Christian’s Judge?”
This is about my eighth trip through reading this post, Casey. This is tough and mind-provoking stuff. Interestingly, back on the first, I picked up JR Daniel Kirk’s “Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul,” (I’ve barely been able to get into it) which addresses the tension between Jesus’ gospel accounts and Paul’s ‘grace.’ I’m pondering the difficulty of reconciling the rich young ruler’s story with the message we hear taught today. I think the Bible clearly presents salvation as God’s work by grace through faith alone, but as Luther claimed, “That faith doesn’t come alone.” Thanks for really working my mind over. God bless.
Thanks for reading and thinking through my post. I am still racking my brain with the question. It is probably something I will not figure out for some time. I did come across something in Calvin’s Institutes. He writes,
As far as your question about the rich man, I don’t think him selling all of his stuff was necessary for salvation. What I think is that Jesus was exposing his heart. By asking him to sell all he had to the poor, he was showing the rich man that he thought his stuff was more important than Jesus being his Savior.
Thanks again for reading,