Suffering Like Christ For Not Sinning Like The World (1 Peter 4:1-6)

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Introduction

I invite you to turn with me in your Bibles once again this morning to the book of 1 Peter. Our passage for today’s sermon will be 1 Peter 4:1-6. If you do not have a Bible with you today, I encourage you to make use of one of the pew Bibles where you can find this passage located on page 1016.

One of the things that we often say as Christians is that we want to be more like Christ. Sometimes we even say that we are trying to be more like Christ. And while the Christian faith is not as much about asking “What would Jesus do?” as it is about being saved as a result of our faith in “What Jesus has done,” it does make sense that if we truly want to follow Jesus, we will pay attention to the example he has left for us. And the place where we learn about this example, of course, is in the pages of Scripture.

Yes, in the Bible we get to see how Jesus interacted with other people—how he treated them, how he cared for them, how he loved them. And we know that as Christians we ought to do the same. And, when we look at the Bible, we also get to see how Jesus’s whole life was lived in obedience to God and how Jesus loved spending time with his heavenly Father and talking about him with other people. Yes, despite what we often hear about the danger of being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good, Jesus showed us that there is no such thing. He was the most heavenly-minded person who has ever walked the face of the earth and did more earthly good than any other person who has ever lived. And so, if we want to be more like Christ, we will have to mimic him in this way as well.

But, while we readily accept the importance of treating people the way Jesus has taught us to treat them, and loving God in the way that Jesus has loved him, we quickly (and perhaps intentionally) gloss over the things Jesus said about being prepared to suffer as he suffered. We quickly gloss over verses like Matthew 10:22 where Jesus says, “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” We quickly gloss over the verses in John 15 where Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18 ESV). And, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20 ESV).

We gloss over and ignore these things because we don’t want to think about having to suffer for our faith. But, for the original recipients of this letter, suffering for their faith was a real part of life. It was not something they could just ignore. And they needed to receive some guidance from Peter in this area. And, as we are about to see, the starting point for Peter’s instruction on this topic, is to remind these believers who were suffering for their faith in Jesus, that Jesus suffered as well. Yes, the truth is, when you are suffering for your faith, it sure does come in handy to know that your Savior suffered as well.

Now, you may be tempted to tune me out at this point because you think that what Peter has to say here can’t be very relevant to us today since we aren’t being persecuted for our faith in this country. But, let me remind you that the folks Peter wrote this letter to, weren’t yet experiencing systematic, state-sponsored persecution either. What they were experiencing, at this point, was ridicule and rejection from their unbelieving family, friends, and neighbors. They were struggling with being ostracized for what they believed. And, as we are going to see today, they were being ridiculed for turning their backs on their old sinful way of life—a sinful way of life in which their family, friends, and neighbors still participated.

And the truth is, while are not being physically persecuted for our faith in this country, many Christians already know what it is like to be mocked for their faith and to be ridiculed for having different morals and values than others. The truth is, people don’t like it when we refuse to participate in things they are engaging in because we think those things are inappropriate and sinful. They don’t like it because they assume that by our lack of participation we are judging them and condemning them for what they are doing. And the way they respond is by ridiculing us or making fun of us for being prudish and judgmental. They respond by making it clear that we are in the minority and that we are the weird ones, not them.

And this is pretty close to what was going on for the people to whom Peter wrote this letter. We are a little better off because Christianity is not an unknown religion in this country and the worship of idols is not intertwined with our regular holidays and celebrations like it was then. No one believes that if we worship Jesus that it is going to anger the gods and provoke them to kill our crops and bring about other calamities. So it is a little bit different for us. But, as the views of Christianity have changed for many in this country, and as Bible-believing Christians start to be considered strange and odd and even hateful and harmful by certain segments of our society, we are beginning to experience treatment not too dissimilar from what the original recipients of this letter were experiencing. And this is probably not going to get better anytime soon, and so we better pay attention to what Peter has to us about suffering like Christ for refusing to sin like the world.

So, if you haven’t done so already, I hope you’ll turn with me now in your Bibles to 1 Peter 4, and follow along as I read verses 1-6. Peter says,

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 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. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:1–6 ESV)

Now, before we dive into these verses, let me remind you that we are in a section of Peter’s letter where he is telling us the importance of conducting ourselves in the right way as Christians while on this earth. Yes, we are in a section of the letter where we are learning that our goal as sojourners and exiles in this world is not to withdraw from society, but to live in such a way in front of society that observing unbelievers will be drawn to the one, true God through faith in Jesus Christ. We’ve been focused for a few weeks on a difficult passage from this section of the letter, and so I don’t want you to forget where are at in Peter’s argument. We are focusing on the importance of living out our faith in front of others in such a way that they want to know more about Jesus. And he gives us three more bits of instruction in this area that I want to focus on this morning.

We Must Be Prepared To Suffer (1a)

And the first thing Peter tells in this passage about how we can live in such a way that unbelievers are drawn to God through faith in Jesus Christ, is that while we are living as Christians in this world, we must be prepared to suffer along the way. And, again, he uses Jesus as our example. Notice what he says in verse 1. He says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” In other words, we must be prepared to suffer—and to suffer with the same mindset and attitude with which Jesus suffered. We don’t retaliate when we suffer for our faith, but we endure the suffering knowing that God is using it for good. That is how Jesus endured the cross. And it is what he expected us to do when he said that we must take up our cross and follow him. It is not just following him in the suffering, but it is following him in the way he suffered. So, how did Jesus suffer?

Well, again, he was prepared for it. He was ready for it. He knew it was coming, and yet, he was still willing to endure it. Why? Because it was his Father’s will. It was, as Isaiah 53:10 tells us, God’s will “to crush him.” Now, the mistake we make is that we think that because Jesus was both God and man that this was somehow easy for him. But remember, on the night before he was crucified, Jesus was so worked up by what he was going to have to endure the next day, that he pleaded with his heavenly Father saying, “if you are willing, remove this cup from me” (Luke 22:42). Yes, he was in such anguish that the gospel writer Luke tells us, “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:43). And yet, he was so committed to being obedient to his Father that he prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Friends, that is the sort of attitude toward suffering that we must “arm” ourselves with if we are going to be like Jesus. We must be prepared to suffer willingly, obediently, and even unselfishly. Now, unlike Jesus, we are not suffering to atone for the sins of humanity, but we just might be suffering so that others will be drawn to the One who came to take away the sin of the world.

Friends, “arm” yourselves with this. Adopt this mindset about suffering for your faith. And then do it willingly, obediently, and unselfishly, just like your Savior. That is the first thing Peter tells us in this passage.

We Must Be Done With Sin (1b-3)

Now, the second thing Peter tells in this passage about how we can live in such a way that unbelievers are drawn to God through faith in Jesus Christ, is that while we are living as Christians in this world, we must be done with sin. Let me read verses 1-3 again. Peter says,

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 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 4:1–3 ESV)

Now, what does Peter mean when he says, “for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin?” Does he mean that if we suffer enough for our faith that we will somehow stop sinning? Well, that can’t be what he means because we know as long as we remain in these bodies that have been corrupted by sin that we will continue to struggle with sin. And the Apostle John tells us in 1 John 1:8 that “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”

To understand what Peter means at the end of verse 1, we have to look down to verses 2-4. By looking at these verses, we can see that what Peter is talking about is a change within us that keeps us from living for human passions, but instead choosing to live for the will of God. Do you see that in verse 2? And then in verse 3, he gives us some examples of the human passions that were ruling the unbelievers of that day. He talks about “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” And he reminds his readers, who had all come out of that sort of lifestyle, that the time for doing those sorts of things had passed for them. They cannot participate with their old friends “in the same flood of debauchery.” That’s what Peter says in verse 4. And that’s what Peter means by ceasing from sin. It means that as Christians we have made a conscious decision to turn away from an old way of life—to die to that old way of life—and to live, instead, in obedience to God. The time has passed for all that other stuff. It is time for it to cease. It is time to bring those things to an end in our lives. It doesn’t mean that we don’t sin ever again, but it does mean that we are not running around doing the same old things we were once doing and the same old things everyone else is still doing.

Now, the truth is, those who are willing to suffer for their faith in the way Peter described in verse 1—those who have armed themselves with that way of thinking—are normally the same folks who have made a serious decision to leave their life of sinning behind and be obedient to God’s will instead. Those two things sort of go together. When we get serious about following Jesus, even if it means suffering and ridicule are in our future, we are probably also ready to forgo the sinful activities we used to participate in—and vice versa.

Now, I want you to look at the list of sins in verse 3. While this list of sins remains a pretty good description of the ways people continue to sin today, we shouldn’t get too focused in on these particular sins that Peter lists here. These were certainly the sins of that day, and while they are in many ways the sins of our day too, we probably have some sins that are unique to our own day as well. And so, the way I want you to think about this list, is not in terms of these particular individual sins that are listed, but in terms of any sinful activity, mindset, or behavior that is so common and prevalent in our own day, that to refuse to participate in them makes you seem weird and different to those around you.

For example, being obedient to God might mean you get some pushback at work for not being willing to do something a little shady to make a little extra money for the company. It might mean making someone at school mad at you for not allowing them to pressure you into letting them copy your homework. It might mean being seen as weird and “off the deep end” for deciding to skip an otherwise perfectly wholesome activity with friends because doing so would keep you away from church. You see, it’s easy to look at that list of vices and say, “Well, I don’t struggle with any of that, so I am good,” and miss the point. The point Peter wants us to understand, is that the time has passed for participating in anything that is against the will of God for your life, no matter how normal that activity is perceived to be by society. Friends, I hate to break it to you, but if you are truly going to follow Jesus, if you are going to sell out for him—people are going to think you are weird. There is no getting around it. And if you are not ready to be seen as strange and different by your family, friends, and neighbors, you are not ready to follow Jesus. I hate to put it so bluntly, but it’s the truth. Jesus doesn’t promise your best life now if you follow him. What he promises are rewards beyond comprehension in the end. And that brings me to my next point.

We Must Remain Focused On The End (4-6)

Yes, in addition to being prepared to suffer and being done with sin, we must also remain focused on the end. That is the third thing we must do if we are going to live in such a way that unbelievers are drawn to God through faith in Jesus Christ. Because if we do not remain focused on the end, we will inevitably become discouraged when friends ridicule and pass judgment upon us for not joining with them in certain activities.

Let’s read verses 4-6 again. After giving us a list of sins which characterized the unbelievers of his day, Peter says,

4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:4–6 ESV)

What Peter wants us to understand in these verses is that the final verdict upon the way we live as Christians will not be doled out by human beings, but by God. And on the day of God’s judgment, those who have chosen to live in the ways Peter described in verse 3, and have mocked and slandered Christians for not joining “them in the same flood of debauchery,” will answer to God for those things.

Friends, it is so easy for us to think that the pressure we are feeling today to conform to society is something new and unprecedented. But, this passage is clear evidence that Christians have always felt the pressure to “go with the flow” by conforming to the cultural standards of the day. We are not the first generation of Christians to be seen as strange for refusing to condone and participate in debauched activities and behaviors. We are not the first generation of Christians who have been told to get with the times. And we won’t be the last.

But, we must remember that one day, all those who are currently standing in judgment over us, will themselves be judged by God. Yes, according to verse 5, one day they will stand before God and “give account to him” for their behavior—including the ways they have treated God’s people. And we must resist the temptation to give in to the pressure we are facing as Christians on a variety of issues today. We must resist the temptation to give in, remembering that we too will give an account to God. There is a lot of pressure on us to adopt alternative interpretations on passages of Scripture that do not line up well with our culture’s definition of appropriate and inappropriate ways of living. But we must resist that pressure and continue to point people to the truth no matter how much we suffer as a result. That was Peter’s message to the original recipients of this letter, and it is his message to us today. Yes according to verse 6, this is why the gospel has been preached—not just to us but even to those who have come before us and are now dead. The gospel has been preached so that even though we might be judged by others on this earth, “the way people [often] are,” and even though we might still experience physical death like everyone else, we can trust in the promise that one day we will “live in the spirit the way God does.” This is the hope we have as Christians. And regardless of what people say about us or think about us in the meantime, nothing is going to change the fact that one day God will judge the world, and when he does, we will be vindicated and rewarded with eternal life.

Conclusion

So, brothers and sisters, be prepared to suffer. Understand that it just comes with the territory for us as Christians, and it’s not, therefore, anything that should surprise us. We will suffer like Christ for not sinning like the world. It is part and parcel of serving a suffering Savior. So be prepared for it—arm yourself with that way of thinking. But, in addition to preparing yourself to suffer, also commit yourself to resist the many temptations you are going to face to ignore God’s will and to go with the flow of a society that is very much against God’s standards for living. And, understand that this is going to make life even more difficult, and bring about even more suffering. But remember, as Peter said in verse 3, now that you are a believer, the time has passed for doing what unbelievers do. You must cease from those things no matter how much pressure you feel from others to participate. You are a new person now, and you must live, not according to the world’s standards, but according to God’s standards—even when that makes you look strange to those around you, and even when it results in suffering for you and your family. And, when the pressure is really high to conform, remind yourself that the end is near and that God is about to set people straight and make things right. Things will not continue on like this forever. While we may suffer a bit now for what we believe—and for what we refuse to believe—one day soon, God is going to vindicate us all. One day soon, the whole world will see Jesus for who he really is and finally understand that we weren’t so crazy and strange after all.