Peter reminds his readers of the special status they had been given when they believed in Jesus. They had become the children of God, members of his family. Of course, this was a word of encouragement from Peter to his readers. He says to his readers that, as children of God, they have his nature and they have his promised inheritance. In addition, Peter’s reference to adoption is a call to delightful diligence because the joy of their status as God’s children should cause them to rejoice in his service.
How should they live as God’s children? They had to avoid living like those around them who did not believe in Jesus. Peter highlights two features of their outlook: they are ignorant and they have evil desires.
Ignorance here does not mean lack of intelligence. The ancient world was full of intelligent persons (we only have to think of their philosophers, sculptors, builders etc.), but despite their achievements Peter classifies their lifestyle as ignorance. We know what they were ignorant of -- they did not know God and therefore they did not know themselves or what he wanted of them and was prepared to do with them.
The other feature of their outlook was their desires, which Peter describes as ‘passions’. It is important to realise that there are both good and evil passions. Passions are expressions of one’s heart, and the wrong passions are things we desired when we were ignorant of God. These passions cover a wide range of options and we are not to limit them to one area of life. They are things that we look to for satisfaction instead of looking to God to provide it. For some, it is materialism; for others, it is fame; for others, it is physical endeavours. We can easily tell what our passions are, they are the things in which we delight. Some of them are not wrong in themselves, but they become sinful when we put them in place of God.
Instead of being devoted to such things, the children of God should be devoted to obeying his commandments. The requirement stressed by Peter is comprehensive heart obedience to God. Peter does not mean that we can be as holy as God, such a standard is impossible for a creature. But he does means that we should be devoted to God in every area of life. We can put it this way: in which area of his life and purpose does God not put his glory first? Such an area does not exist. Similarly, the children of God are not to have an area of life in which God is not first.
Peter also reminds his readers that they can speak to their Father at any time and ask him for help and provisions! Yet although prayer is a privilege, it has conditions attached to it. We pray to the God who is both Father and Judge. It is not possible to have a meaningful prayer life if one is indifferent to the fact that God is continually assessing his people as well as all others.
The particular attitude that is essential for a meaningful prayer life is fear of God. Of course, the type of fear that is required is reverence for him, not terror; another way of describing it is filial fear. Such reverential fear has two aspects: there is the fear of offending a holy Father whom we love, and there is the fear of experiencing his displeasure (his chastisement).
Yet we also know that every other person with whom Christians share this world is also marked by fear. We hear about these fears every day – fear of economic collapse, fear of disrupted plans, fear of illness and disease, fear of losing prestige among one’s peers, fear of what others will think. In fact, there are numerous causes of fear in society. While it is true that Christians are influenced by what happens around them, they cannot allow their circumstances to reduce their fear of God. And such consistent reverence is a challenging lifestyle for those who see it, which is a reminder that fear of God leads to a credible witness by the children of God.