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, 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: 17-19
Typically, I feel as though we like the idea of a God who judges us based on the things that we do. We as humanity tend to think of ourselves as a fairly decent group. Would not our good works generally outweigh those bad things we’ve done? The general population hasn’t committed any sort of heinous atrocities, and should we ever be faced with a trial similar to that of the Germans during WWII, we would surely never allow such a thing as the Holocaust. So, God must be rather pleased with us, we would expect.
When Peter wrote to those who saw God as an impartial judge, though, they seem to have had quite the different outlook on their standing before God. For the Israelites, that news would not have been good news at all. If you read through the Old Testament, what you will discover, for the most part, is a laundry list of the Israelites’ failures throughout their history. Ultimately, their discrepancies culminated in an exile. God’s chosen people lost out on a majority of the material blessings that had been promised them.
So, to hear about the Lord who judges impartially likely wrecked their sense of security. “God judges us by our works? Then, we are doomed! Since our parents could not sustain a life of holiness, why should we think such habits will change with us?” They understood something that a lot of people in the present age do not quite grasp. Humanity simply cannot live a life that aligns with God’s character: his holiness, love, and justice. Many will argue that we have progressed here in our modern era, but such people who argue these things do not remember such atrocities as those of the previous World Wars.
Even though there are wars and rumors of wars going on around our world, most people seem to have caught on to this idea that humanity is progressing: morally, intellectually, etc. This idea, humanism, has its roots in the evolutionary paradigm. A few decades ago, modernization provided the foundation for this anthropological progressivism (and was enhanced by a fledgling evolutionary theory). The irony, however, surfaced when the mechanisms of modernization produced devices that could instantly kill hundreds, many times thousands, of people.
Today, those of us who did not live through those generations have not been students of history when it comes to our way of understanding this human condition. Those who saw humanity as this enlightened entity were shattered by the reality of World War. To them, a simple message that recounted the failures of their ancestors would have spoken volumes to their souls. For many of us, though, we have slowly regained this idea of progress. Unfortunately, it seems as though when humanity starts to feel this sense of progress, it becomes poised for this great fall. The harbingers are currently out there to be witnessed in the international arena; perhaps we are moving toward a similar drama as that of past generations.
Regardless of where we are headed, I think that we can be sure that we are not as good as we think we are. When framed alongside the second half of this passage from 1 Peter 1, we find a reason for hope. What Jesus accomplished on the cross provides the avenue by which we might be redeemed from the futile ways of our ancestors–those ways which led to bickering, disharmony, and war.
The ransom of Jesus Christ, though, ought not be understood in terms of a profound sort of teaching. To a certain extent, Jesus’ teaching, though revolutionary, can be more or less ascertained from other religious and moral philosophers. Though themes such as “love your neighbor as yourself” have become prolific in ethics today, have we seen that teaching play out in politics, either at home or abroad? No. Such teaching has done little to affect the condition of humanity.
It is true that if humanity could live up to the words of Jesus, then we could have quite an excellent society. Yet, by putting the words of Christ up against any human civilization, we discover that none live up to that standard. Here, Peter reminds us that humanity’s redemption rests not in solid teaching but in the loving actions of a perfect Savior who laid down his life on a cross. That is the only thing that can ransom us from our previous and current heresies, collectively and (more importantly) personally.
As Savior, Jesus’ goal in dying and rising again was to save humanity in general. This process, though, takes place one person at a time. Once you put your faith in Christ, you are not just another face in the crowd. Jesus is not about tallying numbers. He is in the business of redeeming persons. His work can and must be accomplished within you as an individual. Salvation should be highly personal, and it can be between you and the only God who is big enough to realize such a task though millions call upon his name every day.
You do not have to continue going on without Him–the only one who can make you into something new. God alone can take you from failure to faithful.