In 1 Peter 1:17, Peter 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.” (Emphasis added). The word “if” is known as a conditional. If you scratch my back, I will scratch yours. If you work, you should get paid. There is an understanding that “if” typically creates conditions between two parties.
That little word “if” makes a claim on us. But wait, isn’t God’s love unconditional? How could he possibly have conditions for us knowing how sinful we are? I think we often run into problems about conditional phrases in the Bible because we know that salvation is unconditional. God freely gives his gift of grace to those He chooses, through no merit of our own. But just because God saves unconditionally does not mean that all of the other gifts of God are also unconditional.
In today’s passage, we see a condition. That if we call on God, (pray for His help, ask Him to bless us or heal us, ask Him for guidance), then there is an expectation upon us that our conduct would reflect a fear of the Lord. And this makes logical sense, doesn’t it? It’s like when one of my kids is being super naughty and then asks me if they can have a cookie. Their conduct doesn’t reflect an appreciation for the gift they are asking for or the giver. And for many of us, our prayer lives are the same. We flippantly live our lives however we see fit with little to no thought about obedience or fear of the Lord. Then when something difficult comes we cry out to God and ask Him to make all things right again.
In order for us to call on the Lord, we are told to live life marked by a proper fear of the Lord. Just before this “if” phrase in 1 Peter 1:17, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 1:13-16, “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” This is our end of the condition. Live our lives for the Lord.
So if this is our end of the condition, what is the Lord’s? “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your 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 Peter 1:18-19). We absolutely got the better end of this deal. God gives us the infinitely precious, free gift of the blood of Jesus Christ to cleanse all our sins. Then, through Christ’s blood, we have access to the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. God only asks us to obey His commands, (with the help of His Holy Spirit, His Word and His Church), in order to access Him in prayer.
Don’t be turned off by conditional phrases in the Bible. God has a right to lay claim on our lives even before all He has done for us, (He made us so that alone is enough for Him to make claims on us). God has given us all we need to live the life He has commanded us to. Thus, instead of being ungrateful children who refuse to live obedient lives and then ask God for help, may we live with a proper fear of the Lord so that we can call on Him in our times of greatest need.