“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, 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. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 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
1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV
None of us naturally embrace suffering. Our tendency is to seek the easy path. Our tendency is to do anything and everything to either avoid or escape suffering. Yet, in the above passage, we’re called to do just that.
On the surface, this is a tricky passage. Peter’s focus has been on suffering for the sake of righteousness. And we must bear this in mind if we’re to understand his words.
Just as Christ suffered in the flesh, just as he suffered for the sake of righteousness, we’re to arm ourselves with the same way of thinking. This helps us to understand his next statement, which could be easily misinterpreted otherwise. He says that whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.
He’s not suggesting that, if you once had a toothache, you’re done with sin. Nor is he suggesting that, if we suffer for righteousness, we will be perfect and never again fall prey to temptation or the sinful nature. He’s saying that the one who is willing to resist the desires of the flesh, the one who is willing to suffer in service of the Lord, is living a life of repentance. He is living not for his sinful lusts, but to carry out the will of God.
This life of repentance and faith sets us apart from the world around us. The people of this world are surprised that we don’t behave as they do. They’re surprised that we don’t engage in sensualities, passions, drunkenness, idolatry, and the like, and they ridicule us for it. A life of repentance and faith invites persecution. It invites suffering.
That being said, Peter also reminds us that they will answer to God for their actions. God is the judge. And they must give account to him for the things they have done.
This is why the gospel is preached to those who are dead. He means, by this, not those who are physically dead, but those who are spiritually dead. It is preached to them that, even though they are judged, even though they are spiritually dead, they might live in the Spirit.
In other words, the condemnation they receive, because of their sin, draws them to Christ. As they see their guilt and the punishment they deserve, they are drawn to salvation. They are drawn to a life of suffering for the sake of the gospel.
Once again, if we’re to be freed from our bondage to sin, we must embrace suffering. We must be willing to suffer for the sake of righteousness. We must be willing to suffer that the gospel might go forth to those who are spiritually dead. If we’re willing to surrender our very life to the Lord, if we’re willing to endure everything for his sake, we have ceased to live for the flesh and are living, instead, for the Lord.