Sermon preached on 1 Peter 4:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/03/2011 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 4:1-6
“Arm Yourself Also With The same Mind”
Our life has been completely changed. That moment we became a Christian, a change took place. When we professed our faith, we were renouncing our old way of living. We were confessing that previous way as sinful. We were committing to seek a new life. A life of following Christ. And not only that, but we were at the same time receiving forgiveness for our sins and the gift of eternal life. We received those blessings by faith. Faith in Jesus. And that same faith also trusted that Christ would be with us as we seek this new life. We believed that he would be our help and strength in our new life. When we come into Christ’s church, this is what is represented. All of this makes us different than the rest of the world. It’s why Peter in this letter has been calling us pilgrims. We are different than the world.
Peter again draws our attention to this. Here in this passage he paints a picture again of the contrast. He describes how the unbelieving world acts and thinks. And he reminds us of how we are to act and think as Christians. And he encourages us in this again with eternity. He points to the final judgment that will damn the unbelieving the world but will confirm Christians in eternal life. And so we’ll walk through this passage today in three points. First, we’ll consider verses 1-3 and think about Peter’s call here for a certain mindset. Second, we’ll look at verse 4 and consider how the world will think us strange as Christians for how we live – we’ll consider the world’s response to us. Third, we’ll look at verses 5-6 and think about both judgment and the gospel.
Let’s begin then with verses 1-3 and consider Peter’s call for a certain mindset. Verse 1 starts out by saying, “Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” Peter essentially is telling us that Christ’s suffering in the flesh, should inform our minds. We should have the same mindset and attitude that he had. For Christ, a life of godliness and gospel ministry resulted in persecution. He suffered in the flesh because he was not willing to compromise in what God had given him to do. Christ would not deviate from the teachings that the Father gave him to speak. Christ would not turn from the perfect path of righteousness that God had commanded. He spoke truth, even when it offended people. He wouldn’t live like the rest of the world – and the world hated him for it. This resulted in various persecutions against him. Chiefly it meant the cross. But even then, Christ would not shrink back from that destiny. Indeed, it was God’s will for him to go to the cross. And since it was God’s will that he would become a sacrifice for sin, he was willing to suffer in his flesh for it. This is the mind we’re called to have. Christ’s mind in following God’s will, even if it involves suffering. Peter calls us to have that mind.
A common question comes up here right away in verse 1 is about this “ceasing from sin.” What does that mean and how’s it connected with our suffering? Well, at first glance, we might incorrectly think its saying that our grow to stop sinning as a result of suffering; that if we suffer then that means we will grow to cease from sinning. Surely it is true that suffering can often grow us in godliness in different ways. But in further reflection, that notion doesn’t seem to fit here in this passage. This passage seems to be too absolute to be describing that here. You see, sometimes suffering does not necessarily yield a “ceasing of sin” as described here. Sometimes it results in people blaming and slandering God. It doesn’t seem to follow that ceasing from sin is a result of suffering in the flesh.
Rather, a better explanation of this is simply that the Christian suffering shows that you are living a life ceased of sin. In other words, that the fact that you are suffering for Christ and like Christ means that you must be living like Christ. Because if you didn’t want to suffer for Christ and like Christ, then you could simply renounce Christ. You could avoid the suffering described here by simply yielding to the world’s demands of you to renounce your faith. And so that fact that you are not willing to renounce Christ, shows something. It shows that you are looking to live a life ceased of sin. And so it’s not that suffering will lead to a life where you follow Christ more. No, rather it’s the other way around; a life where you follow Christ more tends to lead to Christian suffering.
So then with that explanation of the relationship of Christian suffering with this ceasing of sin, let me offer a clarification here. This “ceasing from sin” isn’t talking about living a perfectly sinless life. The New Testament is clear that Christians will not reach a perfect righteousness this side of heaven. In this life, we will still struggle with sin. And yet the cross and our faith mean that we’ve turned from a life characterized by sin. The most immediate context for verse 1 is actually 3:18 where it just explained Christ’s sufferings; that he suffered once for sins. On the cross, Christ definitively put an end to sin. It no longer lives to condemn us. And now as Christians we have renounced that former manner of living. We no longer look to practice sin. And so the Bible often talks very bluntly in that way. Since Christians have repented of their former life of sin, it can be said that we have stopped that former life of sin. Well, that’s what’s being talked about here. Like 1 John 3:9 which reads in the NKJ that, “Whoever has been born of God does not sin.” Well, the grammar and context there suggests that it means that we don’t regularly practice sin anymore; not that we never will commit any single sin anymore. And that’s like what is being described here. We have ceased from sin, in the sense that we’ve repented of it and committed to live our live for Christ. We put our faith in Christ’s death that put an end to sin definitively in our lives. And we’ve promised then to live for Christ in a way that is no longer characterized by sin. Yes, we don’t do it perfectly. But in this sense, we’ve ceased from sin. We see that commitment expressed and lived out when we are willing to suffer for Christ’s sake.
And so Christians are to have a mindset like Christ’s. That’s a mindset that you will follow God’s will for your life no matter what the cost. That’s how we see this flushed out in verses 2 and 3. Verse 2 contrasts God’s will versus human lusts. The mindset Peter calls us to is the mindset of following God’s will, even if suffering comes from humans. Peter says that mindset is in conflict with the unbelieving worlds’ mindset. That worldly mindset he says in verse 2 is one focused on fulfilling human lusts. The world’s mindset leads to sin. The Christian’s mindset is to cease from sinning and instead embrace God’s will for your life; even if he wills that you endure some suffering now for a little while for Christ’s sake.
Peter then gives examples of what that pagan mindset leads to. That’s verse 3. Lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. Lewdness here in the Greek is a general word for living unrestrained by moral laws, often with a connotation of sexual immorality. Lusts is a general word for strong desires acted upon, here used with regard to filling your life with sinful cravings. Drunkenness is general word for too much wine; it’s about taking in excessive alcohol and getting drunk. Revelries is a word about a wild party involving large amounts of feasting and drinking and wild activity. Drinking parties are parties focused on consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, and of course additional sinful behavior tends to follow that. Abominable idolatries reminds us that there were all sorts of different false religions and idol worship going on at that time, and Christians should see these as God sees this – as violation to God’s laws which demand people to worship him. And so Peter says this is what the unbelieving world craves and tends to do. This is a list about drugs, sex, and false gods and false religions. It’s a list of wild parties that lead to various forms of ungodliness. Doesn’t seem too much different than today. The human condition without Christ is still the same. People are focused on fulfilling their own sinful desires, instead of living out God’s will for their life.
Now to be fair, even pagan moralists back then would have spoken against many of these sorts of things. Wild parties and drunkenness and these sorts of things were condemned by the most moral pagans back then. Even today, this description would not describe the lifestyle of many unbelievers. Don’t get yourself in trouble by going around and assuming that every unbeliever lives exactly like this. Rather, Peter is talking about the end trajectory of a life lived apart from God. To the person solely bent on satisfying their own desires, this is where that mindset will lead. When unbelievers show some concern for moral living, it’s actually borrowed capital, as Van Til says. It’s showing that God’s image is still at work in their life – that God’s will does put a demand on them, even if they won’t explicitly acknowledge it.
And yet one thing an unbelieving moralist back then would not have criticized is all the idolatry. Studies suggest that back then they lived in a very diverse world in regards to various religions. Most of the pagan who wrote about morality had a spirit of tolerance toward other religions. Peter instead here strongly denounces these different religions. You can see why people started to hate Christians. You can see why people hate Christians today, when the world around us has this same sort of attitude; this attitude of having tolerance toward every religion. The Bible doesn’t hold back in saying that these other false religions are not pleasing to God and are wrong.
And so as Peter drives home the mindset that he wants us to have, he says don’t be any longer like the Gentiles. Don’t have the mindset that the unbelieving world has. You have to love Peter’s language here in verse 3. He essentially says we’ve spent enough time doing that already. We’ve wasted enough of our life already doing things the world’s way, and we’ve realized that such a life comes up empty. Think of the Prodigal Son. He went away and did the worldly thing for a while and realized that it left him with nothing. As Christians now, we must not return there again. Verse 2 says we must now live productive Christian lives. We must use the rest of our days in this life for good. That’s the mindset he commends.
And so we must capture those thoughts that might come up contrary to this. You might think for a moment back to some sin you used to enjoy. You might think, we’ll maybe I just indulge in that one last time. I’ll repent right afterwards. Don’t go there! If you’ve read the Lord of the Rings, think about how Frodo’s uncle Bilbo saw the evil Ring of Power with Frodo – the ring that used to be his. What did he want to do? He asked if he might put it back on just one more time for old times’ sake. Don’t fall into that temptation. Peter says we’ve had enough with that old life! Don’t return there again. And well, maybe you are a covenant child here today who’s grown up in the church. You say, you’ve never experienced yet all those sins. You feel like you are missing out on something. You want to go try them and then you’ll turn from them. Well, I pray that you won’t go there either. There is nothing in that life. Wickedness doesn’t pay. Learn from the wisdom of the Scriptures that these things will leave you empty and can destroy you. Have you ever cut your fingernail too short? If you have, you know it can hurt for days until it grows back. If you’ve never done that, do you really need to experience that? Can’t you trust that it’s no good to cut your fingernail too short? Is there any value in purposely doing it? Some things you don’t need to experience. You should count yourself blessed if you’ve not experienced certain things. Of course, the reality is that often sin doesn’t feel bad at all at first. Often it doesn’t feel like the pain of cutting a finger nail too short – at least at first. No, it can be seductive. You can try a little and it will keep luring you in for more. Once that happens, its hold can be so powerful. It may seem exciting and fulfilling at first, but it will ultimately destroy you. No, let us set our minds to follow God’s will, even if it involves some Christian suffering in this life.
Okay, let’s move now to verse 4. Let’s move to consider a typical response by the world to us as a Christian. Verse 4 sees the unbelieving world thinking this is strange. Notice that verse 4 says that what they specifically think strange is our actions. Verse 4 says that when you won’t run with them in their reckless behaviors, they’ll think it strange. You see, they will know your mind and heart from your actions, first and foremost. It will surprise and startle them that you won’t join in with them. They won’t be able to fully understand why you will abstain. This will especially seem strange to them if these were you buddies that you always did these things with. Now you turn them down. They’ll be surprised to say the least.
And yet verse 4 goes on to think of how many unbelievers will then proceed to speak evil of us. They will slander us and malign us. I mean just think about this. An unbeliever invites you to some party or activity. You turn them down. They ask why, and you share your Christian convictions. How do they feel? They probably feel judged and condemned by you. So it’s very likely that they then lash out at you and say you’re judgmental; intolerant; fundamentalist; narrow-minded; hateful, and hurtful. This has been a subject Peter has already been writing on. In 2:12 he mentioned that unbelievers might speak against us, and so we should look to live righteously in response. In 3:16 he said something similar and said that our good works in response could put them to shame. Now, he connects their slander with their surprise. And that makes sense. You see, people will often slander things in ignorance. Their surprise reveals their ignorance. That’s why Jude 1:10 can speak of false teachers who speak evil of whatever they do not know. In the same way, Peter connects their ignorance here of who we are in Christ with their slander of us. I have personally found that to be the case. So often the things people slander me with for my Christian faith don’t actually apply. They often are a misrepresentation of my Christian faith and the Bible’s teachings. God can use us in those circumstances to bring God’s truth. The hope would be that they would hear and understand and ultimately believe themselves.
Peter then in the final two verses offers us comfort and hope. Yes, unbelievers may slander you. Yes, they might do worse than that. They may persecute with both words and actions. You may suffer for Christ and like Christ. But at the end of the day, God will bring justice. And God will bring us the promised eternal life with him. And so let’s turn now to verses 5 and 6 and think about both judgment and the gospel.
In verse 5, Peter responds to the slander of unbelievers. He responds by pointing to the final Day of Judgment. One day, Jesus Christ will return and judge the living and the dead. Each of them will have to stand before God and give account for their actions, even for their evil words against you. Peter is encouraging us here with the justice of God. Just like back in 2:23 where he said that Jesus entrusted himself to God who judges justly. He commends that response to us as well. Do you see the mindset of Christ again coming out? Verse 1 here told us to have Christ’s mindset with regards to our view of suffering. 2:23 told us that part of Christ’s mindset when it came to Christian suffering is that he trusted in God’s justice. Here now he flushes this out for us in verse 5. There is coming a final Day of Judgment. Then each will have to answer for the ways they persecuted God’s people. We can trust that God’s justice will win out. And at the same time, we should pray that these who persecute us would find salvation in Christ and be set free from this impending judgment – even as we have. And so this judgment is a future thing, but it is a certainty. A certainty which Peter says for which Jesus is ready. Peter had called us to be ready just a few verses ago to defend our faith against unbelievers. Well, we might not always be ready to defend our faith. But Jesus is ready to defend us when he brings each before him on Judgment Day.
Peter’s encouragement continues in verse 6. This is also a verse that sometimes has been misinterpreted. It talks about why the gospel has been preached to those who are dead. Well, sometimes this verse is seen as related to last chapter’s reference to Jesus preaching to the spirits in prison in 3:19. Some who think chapter 3 is talking about Jesus going down to hell to preach to imprisoned spirits here, think that’s what’s again in reference here. Well, that would again be reading into this text. The simplest way to understand this is that Peter is talking about the people who are currently dead; that before they died, the gospel was preached to them, when they were alive. The reason why Peter says this is simply to encourage us – that even though they die according to the flesh, they now live according to the Spirit.
This might be a bit confusing because of the middle part of this verse which says “That they might be judged according to men in the flesh.” This is another case where I think the Greek is helpful. The Greek is simply saying that though on the one hand they might die in the flesh, they can live in the Spirit. The fact that it mentions that they are judged according to men, could mean simply that they die like all humans end up dying. But probably a better understanding of that is that Peter has in mind those Christians who die at the hand of unbelievers. These unbelievers may haul Christians before human judges. They might be condemned to death in the flesh. They might suffer in the flesh this way. But Christians can take heart. They might die by the hand of men in the flesh, but they will live by the work of God in the spirit.
This understanding of verse 6 frankly fits much better in context. Verse 5 had been talking about the final Day of Judgment. Verse 6 mentions that as the reason for why the gospel was preached to those who are now dead. You see, the pagans might think they showed those Christians when they put them to death. The unbelievers might think that puts an end to the Christian’s claims. That’s what the people even thought at Jesus’ crucifixion. They mocked him and said that if God was really with him, then God should save him. Well, Christ did rise from the dead. And even though believers are put to death, or even if they die naturally, their hope has not been lost. That’s Peter’s encouragement to us today. Yes, there will be a final judgment. But for us, we will not be condemned. No, we who have already been raised spiritually to life, will on that day enter into the final state of glory with our resurrected bodies.
Brothers and sisters, we have this wonderful hope of eternal life. Why? Because of verse 1. Because Christ suffered in the flesh. He did that for us. Jesus made the way so we can “live according to God in the Spirit.” Again, Peter preaches Christ to us. Again, I preach Christ to you. And if you have not known Christ, I urge you today: find eternal life in him. Come to Jesus as your precious savior. Call upon him and be saved. Turn from your former manner of living and begin to live according to his good plan for your life. You might sit here as an unbeliever and think that your life is not described by the list of sins in verse 3. You might think you live a pretty decent life. But if your life has not been lived in 100% perfect obedience to God’s revealed will, then you need a savior. Jesus is that savior. He died for sins. Come to him and find forgiveness and grace. Live forever with God, and begin that life today.
And so let me conclude today by driving home Peter’s opening exhortation to us. His command from verse 1 is to arm ourselves with the same mind of Christ. The word for “arming” ourselves is battlefield language. Peter has given us a glimpse today of that spiritual battle we are in. We often think about that battle experienced through Satan’s various temptations in our lives. But it can also be lived out through our interactions with unbelievers. And yet Paul tells us how to be equipped for this battle. We are to arm ourselves with this mindset he’s presented today. Have the mindset of Christ that says it is okay if we suffer now for a little while if I’m doing God’s will. Many other religions are all about how to get out of suffering. Some think you must not be blessed by God if you find yourself suffering for your faith. Peter says otherwise. Having this mindset of Christ is how we gear up for this spiritual battle. Let’s be prepared as we go into this spiritual battle by having right thinking. Biblical thinking. By having a Christian mind and worldview that properly frames Christian persecution.
This mindset means that we won’t try to avoid Christian persecution at all costs. It doesn’t say we go looking for trouble, just for trouble’s sake. But if we are soldiers for Christ, let’s make sure we are in the battle. What I mean is that it’s too easy today to avoid the arguments. We know how to make subtle little notes in our conversation with unbelievers about Jesus. We know how far we can go before we might face any persecution, and so we never go very far with them. We are afraid of a hostile response by them, so we keep our Christian confession on the surface level. On the level least likely to offend. But it’s likely that the point of offense is exactly what is needed. I’ve been struck lately that in Marin it’s that point of the exclusivity of the Christian faith that is most likely to offend. That Jesus says he is the only way and that other religions are false and wrong. That’s the point most likely to offend today. And yet isn’t that the point of conversation we really need to have with people around us? Isn’t that the point we really need to challenge Marin with?
I was reflecting on this in light of a quote that’s typically credited to Martin Luther, but actually it was written by an English novelist named Elizabeth Charles. But she was reflecting on this sort of thing. She wrote this which seems very applicable to us, “If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point” (The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family, Thomas Nelson, 1864).
And so we don’t go looking for Christian persecution. But let us not miss where the battle rages in our day. The issue I just mentioned is one of those battles. Christ is the only way of salvation. Other world religions are false according to the Bible. That will offend people. They will likely speak evil of us in return. But if we equip ourselves with this mind of Christ, we can have confidence to stand firm in this battle. We can have confidence to share our faith, and even suffer for our faith. Lord Jesus, help us to stand fast. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.