We know what we have been ransomed from.
1 Peter 1:17-19
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, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. ESV
If you have God as your Father, if you have become a child of God then there is something that you must most certainly “know” and what you know gives you reason to “conduct yourself with fear throughout the time of your exile”. So, what is it that Peter says believers in Christ know? In our last post we took up verses 18-19 and considered the first of three “we know” points. In this post we are going to consider Point #1.
1 We know that we have been ransomed
2 We know what we have been ransomed from
3 We know how we have been ransomed
So, we know that we have been ransomed. We were once slaves. We’re now free and that is not our own doing, it’s because someone else has paid the price to set us free. Next let us see that:
We know what we have been ransomed from
We see that because Peter continues in verse 18 by saying: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”.
That word “from” literally means “out of”. So, before we were ransomed we were enslaved in something or were held captive in something but we have been set free by being ransomed “out of” it. What have we been ransomed “out of”? Well, the ESV uses the word “ways”. That doesn’t sound very informative. What are “ways”?
Well, the Greek word that has been translated as “ways” here in the ESV is actually the same word that Peter used back in verse 15 where he said: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct“. The NIV has “in all you do” in verse 15 and “way of life” here in verse 18. That captures the sense better than “ways”. The word really means “pattern of life” or “way of life”. So, what Peter says we have been ransomed out of is an established way of living. Before we were ransomed we were slaves to a way of life.
Next, notice that Peter said that this way of life was “inherited from your forefathers”.
He wasn’t saying that they’d needed to be set free from their way of life because it was one that had been imposed upon them by an alien conquering power. Neither had they needed to be set free from their way of life because they had foolishly allowed themselves to be seduced by some sort of new fangled, wacky, off the wall sect or something. It hadn’t been that they needed to be set free so that they could get back to their roots. No, the way of life that they had needed to be set free from was simply the way of life that they had “inherited from their forefathers”. It had seemed perfectly normal and natural to them. It was hereditary. It had been handed on from generation to generation. It was the way of life that they had always had.
Why did they need to be set free from a way of life that seemed so ordinary and natural?
Well, notice that Peter describes it as “futile ways”. The NIV puts it as an “empty way of life”. The same Greek word that has been translated as “futile” or “empty” is used in 1 Corinthians 15v17 where Paul said: “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins”. You see the sense of the word clearly there. Paul was saying that if Jesus has not been raised from the dead then having faith in Him would be useless. It would accomplish nothing. Such faith would be empty, futile, a waste of time. We find the same Greek word being used again in Titus 3v9 where we read: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless”. Here, the word is translated as “worthless”.
So, you see the shocking thing that Peter is actually saying here.
He’s saying that an ordinary, respectable, status quo way of life achieves nothing. It’s useless. It’s worthless. Now, you might say that Peter was writing to churches that were predominantly Gentile so the way of life that had been handed down to them “from their forefathers” had been a pagan way of life that centred around idol worship and led to all manner of vile practices. Paul said in Ephesians 4v17-19: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity”.
Surely, you say, that is the “empty way of life” from which they had been ransomed.
Probably so, but we mustn’t think that it’s only pagan Gentiles who have inherited a futile, empty way of life. Remember Paul’s words in Philippians 3v4-9: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”.
The way of life that Paul had inherited from his Jewish forefathers was a far cry from that of pagan Gentiles. It acknowledged God. It involved trying to obey the law of God and being righteous. Nonetheless, as soon as Paul came to faith in Christ, he realised that the way of life that he had inherited from his forefathers had actually been every bit as empty and worthless and useless as the way of life that the pagan Gentiles had inherited from their forefathers.
It’s not something that natural people want to face up to or admit.
But the fact is that unless you are made right with God and relate to Him as He intended any way of life is futile. No matter how you conduct your life, no matter what you set as your priorities, no matter how positive and good and constructive you seek to be, the fact is that apart from having a right relationship with God at the centre of your life, your life will ultimately be futile. You might have some laughs along the way. You might find some things satisfying for a while but they always end. In the final analysis, life without God is futile, empty, vain. That’s the clear message of the book of Ecclesiastes isn’t it? The writer begins in chapter 1 verse 2: “Vanity[of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity”. He didn’t say that because he was a bit of a Puddleglum. It’s not just that he was an Eeyore type character who always saw the gloomy side of things. He seriously wanted to find meaning and purpose. That opening statement came on the back of desperately searching for meaning by trying every sort of thing that life in this world has to offer.
He tried the intellectual way of life.
We read in chapter 1v13: “And I applied my heart[to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven”. Surely exercising an enquiring, scientific mind to explore the wonders of this world must be a worthwhile and satisfying thing to do? Well, having tried it, we have the writer’s verdict in the next verse: “I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind”.
He tried the self indulgent, hedonistic way of life.
We read in chapter 2v13: “I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself”” That’s the prevailing way of life for many in our day and age isn’t it? Did it provide meaning and purpose for the writer? No, his verdict was: “But behold, this also was vanity”.
He went to the opposite extreme and tried the hard working way of life.
The term “the protestant work ethic” hadn’t been invented in his day but that was effectively what he tried. Surely there must be joy and satisfaction working hard and seeing the fruit of your labour? Having tried that we see the writer’s verdict in chapter 2v18-23: “I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity. So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun, because sometimes a person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it. This also is vanity and a great evil. What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity”.
The fact is that whatever nationality or culture or philosophy or religion that is inherited from our human ancestors, it is always going to a futile, empty, vain way of life that ensnares us. We need to be set free from it and that requires a ransom.
Next week we will consider:
We know how we have been ransomed
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!