First Peter 4:1–2: “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking [the same thought], for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
A Scary Religion
“Arm yourselves with the same way of thinking” since Christ “suffered in the flesh.” So, this is implicit in everything he’s said so far, but now he’s making it explicit. When you contemplate your Savior, a religion that has, as its center, a crucifixion is a scary religion for its members.
We worship a crucified, nailed-to-a-cross God-man, and Peter is drawing out some of the weighty implications of that, and he says, “If that’s your Lord, that’s your Treasure, that’s your Savior, your best friend, and everything you hope for was purchased right there in those hours of horrific torture and slaughter and suffering, arm yourselves with that thought for your own suffering because whoever has suffered has ceased from sin.” A big argument about what that means.
Interpreting ‘Ceased from Sin’
I think there are two big possibilities. I’ll tell you which one I think, but both are glorious and both are biblically true. But I don’t know which one is meant here.
One would be to think of it in a Pauline way, Paul way, from Romans 6 where if you’ve died with him, you will live with him, and he who has died has been justified from sin. Romans 6:1–12 are all about being identified with Christ in his death through baptism, which might be another reason to think of it here, and then coming to life no longer to live for sin.
We have died to sin, reckon yourself dead to sin, and alive to God, and Peter may be thinking exactly that way here. That would be very consistent with the way Paul thinks. So, “to suffer” here means to die with Christ by faith. Thus, “cease from” being a sinner and being made righteous and then living that out in the measure that God enables you to.
The other meaning is that this really does refer to your own readiness to suffer. If you have chosen now to walk away from what we’re going to see — here we go, right here in 1 Peter 4:2. Let’s read the rest of it.
So as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. (1 Peter 4:2–3)
If you have armed yourself with the thought, “I’m going to suffer with Jesus,” you have clearly said, “This is over. That’s over.”
Of course, they’re going to malign you, they’re going to mock you, that you don’t run with them in the same lawless debauchery; the next verse is going to say. But that’s the other meaning, and I’m inclined to think that’s probably right here rather than bringing all the Pauline freight in here, which might be right, but this just looks more like: “Since Christ suffered, have the same readiness and willingness to suffer, because if you choose to suffer rather than accede to what those around you want you to do, then you will have ceased from it.”
Stand Apart in a Culture of Debauchery
This is not sinless perfection. Don’t force this to mean, “What? Christians don’t ever sin?” He doesn’t mean that. He means you were doing all this: sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, lawless idolatry, and to the next verse: “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery” (1 Peter 4:4). So, you stopped. You don’t join them anymore, “And they malign you.” So, that’s the context.
I’m inclined to think he’s saying if you take the mind of Christ, who is willing to suffer rather than accede to the pressures of the day, to walk in any way but God’s will, if you go there, then you will have ceased from these things, and you will, in fact, do this. They’ll be surprised that you don’t join them. You don’t join them. You’ve ceased. That’s the “not.” That’s the cease right there. You don’t join them in the same flood of debauchery because you have chosen to identify with Christ and to suffer rather than escape the mockery of your former friends who wonder why you don’t go to the same parties anymore.
The Goal of Christian Conduct
Now, before we go to 1 Peter 4:5, let this sink in. The goal of this book, according to 1 Peter 2:12, is that they might see your good deeds and give glory to your father on the day of visitation, or glorify God on the day of visitation. So, his goal is to make Christianity so attractive through good deeds, that people will have all of their slanderous opinions shamed and come over to acknowledge that this is a beautiful faith.
Now, keep that in mind as you read 1 Peter 4:4. Or actually, let’s go back and pick up 1 Peter 4:3: “The time is past,” or the “past time suffices all that sin for doing what the Gentiles want to do.” Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people. They were this. That’s why they’re being made fun of in 1 Peter 4:4 because they don’t do it anymore.
So, once you were “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” — that’s Peter’s effort to describe a lot of American culture, just given over to flesh, given over to what the passions want, and time is over for that. “With respect to this they are now surprised [that] you don’t join them.” So, you have become a dud, square, nerdy, frumpy, Puritan to win the world.
The Challenge of Appearing Different
That’s the tension I want you to feel because there are so many people that have latched on to, “We got to win the culture! We got to win the world. And you can’t win the world by looking stupid. You got to look like the world. You got to talk like the world. You got to dress like the world. You got to go to the world stuff. You got to be like the world.” Peter doesn’t get that, does he?
“With respect to this,” all those things, “they are surprised [that] you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery,” and they make fun of you. What do you think they’re saying? What are they saying? What does this mean? I mean, you really need to imagine some sentences because you’re going to hear them and you’re going to be ruined by them. You’re going to lose sleep and you’re going to feel crummy because you just, “God didn’t know that he’d ever say that about me.”
They malign you because you’re not at the party, you’re not at the orgy, you’re not giving over to the passions. You talk like sex should just be in marriage. “Good grief, what an antiquated notion. Come on.”
Years ago, I was all caught up in the battle of whether condoms should be advertised on television. This is thirty years ago. I wrote a letter to the Star Tribune, the newspaper, and I argued against it and among my arguments were included: sex is for marriage. Oh man, I got some letters because they put in “Pastor of Bethlehem.” So, all the people I had to do was go find out where the church was and get the address and they didn’t have email in those days.
One guy said, “I am a human being. Part of my humanity is sexuality. You’re telling me I should be less human until I’m married?” What would you write back? I wrote him and I said, “Jesus Christ was the most gloriously human person that ever lived, and he never had sex. Ever.” End of my argument. I mean, there might be more that he would need, but they’re going to mock you, they’re going to malign you.
What I want you to feel here is Peter has not become an escapist, provincial, fearful, circle-the-wagons Christian. He’s out to win unbelievers. It says so. He wants to bring them to shame, he wants to put them to silence, and he wants to bring them to give glory to God. And he’s not afraid to say, “You can’t win them by joining them in their debauchery.” You cannot.
Be a Doer, Not a Don’ter
But here’s the interesting thing. Oh, this is so good and so convicting. He doesn’t say you’re going to win them by all the stuff you don’t do, right? “I don’t watch dirty movies, and I don’t commit fornication, and I don’t do adultery, and I don’t click on pornography.” Nobody gets saved because you don’t do those things. Nobody. Doing good in this book is all about proactive involvement in people’s lives: blessing, blessing, helping.
So, the big question is are we doing good — visible good — in the world? Not just are we avoiding doing bad? That’s a given. Avoiding doing bad is the only way that they will not say you’re just one of us. But beyond not doing bad, this book is all about when they see your good deeds, they will give glory to your Father in heaven on the day of visitation.
Okay. Hold those both. I am going to be a separatist on many issues. I’m not going there. I don’t care who invites me. I don’t care what. I’m not going to be involved in that kind of debauchery. But I’m not going to let that define me. “I’m a don’ter.” I love my dad. My dad was a fundamentalist. He loved the word “fundamentalism,” and he used to quote big-time fundamentalists, and this is what I grew up under. He said, “Be so busy doing a doer, you don’t have time to be a don’ter.”
I said, “That’s my kind of fundamentalism.” You know who said that? Dr. Bob Jones, the founder of Bob Jones University. My dad quoted him all the time. “Be so busy being a doer, you don’t have time to be a don’ter.” That’s so good. That’s just so wise to give that to kids, right? Give it to your teenagers because teenagers are going to say, “Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, all I’ll ever hear around this church or this family is don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t.”
Well, that’s not good if that’s all they hear. Put them in the car and take them downtown, put them in the soup line, take them to Marie Sandvik, put them on the street doing some evangelism, take them down to the abortion clinic and walk up and down seven o’clock in the morning talking to women who are walking in there. “Do, do, do.” That’s what will keep kids in the church.
Trust God the Avenger
Well, is that okay, Peter, to go there? Oh, one more thing. “But they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). What’s that? So, they’re going to malign you, but they’re going to be judged by God. What’s the effect that’s supposed to have on you? The effect they’re supposed to have on you is relax. They’re not getting away with it, and you don’t need to be their judge. God will. Does that sound sub-Christian to you?
If you’re being maligned or worse, fired from your job, or worse, having your house burned, or worse, killed, or worse, your children killed — if any of that is happening to you, your whole moral being, rightly so, will rise up and say, “That’s wrong. It is so wrong. It is so wrong. They cannot. They dare not get away with this. Something should be done about this.” That drives you to return evil for evil.
What will be done about this? That’s what this is. “They will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” That is not a unique teaching of Peter. He has already said it once before, back in 1 Peter 2, “[Jesus], when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten.” What did he do? Because Jesus surely knew they shouldn’t be doing this. They don’t have a right to kill me. Something should be done about this. “[He] continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23).
Jesus Christ, who never sinned, was able to stay on the cross because he knew justice would be done to his killers. Otherwise, he should have come down and killed them because they deserved to be killed now, and he didn’t kill them. He prayed for them. Because he knew God would either save them or kill them. He didn’t need to. That’s the way you will survive. You will.
Some of you already have, and all of you more or less will be wronged, deeply wronged. I think of child abuse, for example. Or somebody makes a deal with you to buy a business and they steal from you. They lie about you. They just wrong you. It’s just totally wrong. They cover their tracks and no justice is done. No justice is done.
I’m not saying justice shouldn’t be done in this world. That’s why 1 Peter 2:13 has governments. Governments are sent to punish those who do evil and to reward those who do right. I’m not talking that there’s no justice in this world. I’m talking about Christians who are wronged, and everything in you says, “It looks like they’re getting away with it.” They’re not. That’s the point. And Jesus, if he entrusted himself to the judge who judges justly, you should entrust yourself to the one who judges justly.
Here’s the clear statement of it all in the apostle Paul in Romans 12: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written,” — here comes the promise — “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay’” (Romans 12:18–19).