How do Protestants interpret 1 Peter 1:17? It reads:

1 Peter 1:13-17 (DRB) Wherefore having the loins of your mind girt up, being sober, trust perfectly in the grace which is offered you in the revelation of Jesus Christ, 14 As children of obedience, not fashioned according to the former desires of your ignorance: 15 But according to him that hath called you, who is holy, be you also in all manner of conversation holy: 16 Because it is written: You shall be holy, for I am holy. 17 And if you invoke as Father him who, without respect of persons, judgeth according to every one's work: converse in fear during the time of your sojourning here.

This is something I would expect and take for granted in Catholic theology, where we as servants of Christ have a duty to use our talents, or grace, or we can be assigned in Hell (cf. Matthew 24), and there is "no respect of persons" (i.e. just because you are Christian). But how does Protestant theology incorporate this verse, which seems to be a rather clear and direct warning to believers to be holy because God will judge by our works, 'not faith only?'

In other words, how isn't there a direct teaching here that our holiness and conduct comes into justification (cf. Hebrews 12:14)? I say justification, because you don't 'conduct yourself in fear' because you won't recieve a perhaps optimal 'reward.' You conduct yourself in fear because your deeds are to be judged: and no one fears a judgement of their deeds wherein no condemnation is brought against them.

Thanks in advance.

2 Answers 2


As a lifelong Protestant of more than six and a half decades - first by birth and upbringing in Presbyterianism and then by conversion and baptism in my mid-teens - I would say that now, as a mature Christian and an elder, I fear more greatly than ever before in my life and yet I believe more fervently and more intelligently than ever before in my life.

I fear sin. I fear slackness. I fear worldliness. I fear error. I fear heresy.

And I call upon Him who is the God and the Father of Lord Jesus Christ for my every need, spiritually, and for my every provision, materially.

Yes, to the OP, I shall be judged of my works and my words. But I know from bitter experience that the moment I turn to the Law - or any law - to try to perfect myself, in that moment I fail and in that moment I am darkened.

For the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is ever deadly. And will never, ever bring fruit. By the Law is the knowledge of sin, said Paul. And so it is. And that is all that it does. It can never justify - only condemn.

This is the work of God, that ye believe in Him whom he hath sent.

. . . said Jesus himself. [John 6:29.]

And John tells us :

This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

I John 3:23.

The works I do are works of faith and of love. Not works of the flesh to earn reward. Nor deeds done in fear of punishment.

The works I do are those which follow on from knowing that God's righteousness was utterly satisfied upon his own Son, Jesus Christ, who bare our sins in his own body on the tree . . . and who, made sin, containing sin, yielded unto death that sin might be - within the containment of his own humanity - utterly destroyed, in his death.

It is in faith of his sufferings and death that I live.

And I live to love. And I live to believe.

And I live in fear that I should wander out of this way, back into a way of works and Law and oppression and darkness. Or that I should be overcome of worldliness and ease and pleasures of this life.

I have bought my burial plot. I have paid off my funeral plan. My grave awaits me just over the garden wall.

And each day I fear.

And each day I follow after Jesus Christ who loved me and who gave himself for me.

  • +1 "fear of God" -- a reality for the believer, and so hard to understand and balance correctly. Easy on one hand to see a failure as "I knew you not", even with true faith. Easy on the other hand to not feel compelled by the Spirit to honor God with our walk.
    – Bit Chaser
    Nov 22, 2018 at 3:18
  • 1 John 3:24 states quite clearly that we must obey his (Jesus) commandments. Isn't commandments (Plural) that must be obeyed, Law? The law of Christ if you will? Always the scriptures that fit our beliefs are the ones we cling to, the ones we pick and choose to adhere to are the ones that we accept. The Laws of Christ and there are many, are working with the GRace of Christ, not independent of each other. The "obedience of faith" Two book ends in Romans 1 and 16, unite the Law of Christ with faith in him who gave it.
    – Marc
    Nov 22, 2018 at 14:12
  • @Marc Each individual must discover, personally, what is of Law and what is of Grace. And we have the scripture (and the ministry) to help us.
    – Nigel J
    Nov 22, 2018 at 14:17
  • @NigelJ I respect your Tradition. You would have to show me some indication from the Bible that an individual must decide for themselves what is the Law and What is Grace. I would agree that you have the freedom as a person to do so, but I would suggest that such an idea is unheard of in history and not mentioned in the bible. Eve, discovered for herself, personally what was the Law through disobedience. It is a slippery slope.
    – Marc
    Nov 22, 2018 at 14:25
  • I appreciate your answer, Nigel. Appreciate it a lot. A short follow up: How does the Protestant not fall into the 'you were an exacting master, reaping where you do not sow [i.e. ignoring that he was specifically given grace to do the good]' when you say something like: "I know from bitter experience that the moment I turn to the Law - or any law - to try to perfect myself, in that moment I fail." And doesn't your answer contradict its thesis about works not entering into justification? "Or that I should be overcome of worldliness and ease and pleasures of this life?" Thanks! +1 Nov 22, 2018 at 15:31

Context is key. Verse 17 is surrounded by context. For example, verse 24 reads thusly:

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: 1 Peter 1:24

Peter tells us your works, your flesh, your glory wither and fall away. What endures then? If your works are useless, if your things are corruptible, what then?

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you. 1 Peter 1:25

What's the gospel?

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you, Who by him do believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory; that your faith and hope might be in God. 1 Peter 1:18-21

Christ is your redeemer. You know this. Know is in the perfect tense. You know it. This was done once and for all; it was completed; and never needs repeating.

So, what is there to fear?

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 1 Peter 1:17

How do you live in fear? Live in the fear of falling away from the gospel into a works based religion. It won't do you any good. God is no respector of persons.

  • You seem to be conflating all works with works done with the motivation of fear only, or done to earn. These are not the same as the works Jesus "created" us unto surely: the ones we do "by the Spirit" (grace of God) and as such cannot possibly 'earn' or 'boast?' Nov 22, 2018 at 15:49
  • The difference is works unto salvation (to get or to keep salvation) or works that God created for us. That's Peter's point in 1 Peter 1. Your works, flesh, glory will all wither away. God is no respector of persons however pious one may think they are. Works to get or maintain salvation are meaningless compared to Christ's work in/by which we are redeemed (saved). What about the works created for us to do? Go do it. Hey, this post is probably one of them. But will it help or hinder my salvation? Heavens no.
    – SLM
    Nov 22, 2018 at 18:49
  • You're begging the question. You say God is doing it, yet conflate it with dead works which people do specifically to earn with it. These are not the same kind of works. They are ontologically different. We could do one and boast because it is 'of ourselves' but such are like rags. We could do works by the grace of God, and these would not be rags, and they wouldn't occasion any boasting. You can't boast that you did any good work that God gave you the grace to do. This is the entire point of the New Testament: that God is to thank for salvation, it's not 'your good works'. Not all works=bad Nov 22, 2018 at 19:03
  • OP: "how isn't there a direct teaching here that our holiness and conduct comes into justification (cf. Hebrews 12:14)?" Conduct = works or not?
    – SLM
    Nov 23, 2018 at 4:22

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