Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 13

Originally posted February 8, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

This post is a week late. Last week we had the Grand Boys for four days. So, exactly when I ought to be writing up the post for our lesson on 1 Peter 4:1-11, I was chasing a five-year old and a two-year old from one activity to another, feeding them, cleaning up after them (well, sorta…), and falling exhausted into bed as soon as I’d said, “nighty-night.” I hope the tardiness of this post and the rush to get it out haven’t muddied the message.  

“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.” (1 Peter 4:1, 2)

Already in this epistle, Peter has set Christ before us as an example of unjust suffering which, as believers, we are to follow. His suffering accomplished for us the means by which we are enabled to endure our own suffering: freedom from the bondage to sin which would hold us in the passions of our former ignorance, and the grace from heaven which empowers us to live for the will of God. He now commands us to “arm ourselves” with our Savior’s attitude toward suffering. This is a similar call to action as that which we received in 1:13, where he told us to prepare our minds for action, also translated as, “gird up the loins of your mind.”

These are ‘fightin’ words.” Rather, they are terms that invoke militant images. The church may in many places in Scripture be called a flock of sheep, but that is not all we are. We are also called to war. We live in a hostile culture and world, and we face enemies mortal and spiritual, which would destroy us because of our faith in our Risen Lord. Nothing focuses the attention of a soldier like the sound of the enemy creeping through the nearby grass, or the rattle of approaching guns. That is to be our degree of focus. But our call to action defies the “wisdom of the world.” We are called not to destroy the enemy outright, at least, not our human enemies, but to win them to our side by doing good, by loving one another sacrificially, and by living lives patterned after the example of our Captain and King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, in chapter 4, Peter exhorts us to adopt Christ’s attitude, because when we endure suffering while clinging by grace to our faithful Savior, it proves that we have made a decisive break with our sinful past. When we understand Christ’s suffering, real change is wrought in our lives as we “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (2), and we “conduct ourselves with fear throughout the time of our exile, knowing that [we] were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [our] forefathers” (1:17-19). This changed attitude is shared by the Apostle Paul when he writes:

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:8-12)

Peter is calling his readers to abandon the personal indulgence which marked their lives as unbelievers and enter fully into the Christian life marked by sacrifice: Christ’s sacrifice, followed by theirs, and our own. Our lives today are so very easy compared to the lives of multitudes of our brethren down through the centuries and around the world. We do not now, in America, face the loss of professions, possessions, family or life when we confess Christ as our Savior—yet. But to read the history of the Church is to read of those who suffered severe loss and died for their faith. For one to make the choice to die rather than to give up Christ, to choose the hard way rather than the comfortable and safe way, is to choose suffering over sin. This is what Peter means when he writes, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1).

“When the believer identifies completely with Christ, he knows that he is done with sin. . . . The follower of Christ has abandoned a life of sin, because the ruling power of sin has been broken. Granted that he is unable to live a perfect life, the believer is free from the dominance of sin.”[1]

As believers in Christ we still battle our natural tendencies to sin, and we each fail in ways great or small every day. But sin is no longer our master; it is no longer the defining feature of our lives. Peter’s first readers used to live for human passions, engaging in lives of sensuality, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry, ignorance and futility (vv. 2, 3; 1:14, 18). In Christ, however, there is hope for change:

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. . . .  For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:6-7, 10-11)

“Ceasing from sin,” then, looks radically different for those who are in Christ. Believers are called to be holy, because we have been called by a holy God; we are to put away all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander; abstain from the passions of our flesh and live honorably before a watching world so their slanderous accusations of us will hold no merit; honoring everyone, loving one another, fearing God, and obeying the ruling authorities (1:15, 2:1-2, 11-12, 17). For the glory of God we are to resist evil from within ourselves and from others, and we are to do good in every situation in which God wills to place us.

Living this way will be noticed by those around us—particularly by our former friends, as Peter’s readers were learning.

“With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you” (4)

Peter’s readers have found that their former friends are offended enough by their changed lives that they are maligning—insulting and slandering—them. We see that in our world today, where Christianity is offensive to so many on personal and cultural levels. Christians are the butt of jokes in movies and on television and are suspect on college campuses and in many intellectual realms. What was unheard of decades ago is becoming commonplace: Christians are being sued and losing their jobs for exercising their beliefs in the workplace, or even in private.

I find Peter’s word choice interesting, that so soon after writing about Noah he describes the lifestyle of the unbelievers as a “flood of debauchery.” Such imagery evokes for us scenes of the lowest and darkest forms of sin, as well it should. In Noah’s day, the sins of the people were so great that the Lord destroyed the world with the waters of the flood to cleanse his creation. Peter is reminding us of the destructive nature of unbelief and sin. Even quiet, good citizens, nice-neighbor unbelievers will be swept away at the final judgement and be finally lost forever if they do not seek refuge in Christ.

Even if someone is “just a really, nice person,” outside of Christ, they won’t escape judgement, but, “they will give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (5). This is sobering, if not terrifying, news. The pagans in Peter’s day lived their lives without expecting consequences. But the truth then, and now, is quite the opposite. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10), and “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

The fact that everyone will face judgement is the reason for the preaching of the gospel, as the next verse makes clear.

“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” (6)

In this passage, Peter is reassuring his readers that those of their number who were believers in Christ, but have already died, are safe in the promises of the Lord and are alive in the spirit. Indeed, in the grief of mourning loved ones who have died, many of us have questions about what has become of them. The Bible is clear that believers are secure in Christ, but there are so many unanswered details that leave us wondering. Daniel Doriani quotes Karen Jobes with reassurance of what we do know for certain, that: “Death exempts no one from this judgement, nor does death remove any believer from Jesus’ care.”[2] He then goes on to write:

“This passage . . . . makes a claim about Christ. His gospel is essential for all and is no fleeting, provincial social construct. The people who mock it need it, lest they face the judgement with nothing but their sin. Everyone needs the gospel, and all who believe it ‘live according to God in regard to the spirit.’”[3]

And just in case we aren’t feeling the urgency in what Peter has already written, he continues with:

The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” (7)

This verse calls up images of a frantic-looking guy standing on a busy street corner holding a sign that declares, “The End Is Near!” to all passerby. And, well, perhaps it should. We should heed the warning ourselves and take seriously the call to holiness and godly activity to which Peter has been exhorting us. This call to self-control and sober-minded awareness of the passing of time brings to mind Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), who, as a young man, wrote up a long list of resolutions to “regulate his own heart and life, but fitted also, for their christian (sic) simplicity and spiritual-mindedness, to be eminently useful to others.” Of the first 70 resolutions, several dealt with his use of time:

#5. Resolved, Never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

#7. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

#17. Resolved, That I will live so, as I had wish I had done, when I come to die.

#19. Resolved, Never to do any thing, which I should be afraid to do, if I expected it would not be above an hour before I should hear the last trump.

#52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

The biographer who compiled Edwards’ memoirs comments on his Resolutions, “The man who could thus write, was not one who could easily trifle with sin, or who could enter any of its paths without the immediate reproofs of an offended conscience.”[4]

Let’s just tuck that last bit away with our definition of conscience which we uncovered last week, shall we? And let us also take to heart the gravity of what Peter is writing and which Jonathan Edwards grasped so early in his life. The world would anesthetize us to the understanding that a long life is not guaranteed, and we do not know beyond this very moment what time we have left. Let us therefore be about the Lord’s work and heed his call to holiness! For, “Even though no one knows when the end will come, Christians should live in ardent expectation of the consummation.”[5]

And why does Peter tell us to be self-controlled and sober-minded with a view to the nearness of the end? For the sake of our prayers. Such an awareness will focus the prayers of God’s people as our priorities are sharpened. As Doriani writes, “We must live in light of Jesus’ return and be clear-minded, prayerful, and full of love and forgiveness, because we are in the last phase of God’s plan of redemption.”[6] Remember, Peter keeps bringing up “the last time” (1:5), and that Christ was “made manifest in the last times” (1:20). “Peter asserted that the end is near almost 2000 years ago, and he was right because we have been brought into the final phase of God’s plan of redemption by the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of God’s Spirit.”[7]

Peter therefore gives us our marching orders: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (8)

What does it look like to love one another earnestly in a way that covers over a multitude of sins?

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

This passage from 1 Corinthians look lovely when painted on a plaque with vines and flowers adorning its loveliness, but if you read it slowly you will understand that it’s not always so pretty. Peter is exhorting us to such love “above all,” because “the church is a society of sinners, redeemed by grace. Because we are all sinners who both offend each other and take offense when no real offense is given. We cannot hope for a strong Christian community if we fail to extend to one another the grace that the Lord first gave us. . . . Love includes feelings (Rom. 12:10), but it is more than a feeling. Love is a resolve to do good to others, including the good of forgiving their sins.”[8]

Sisters, this is costly. Loving others this way will require inner renovations which only the Holy Spirit can work in our hearts. Loving others this way will require at times that we “not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless (3:9).

Finally, Peter lays down a few more imperatives which begin in the body of Christ, the local church, and work outward from there.

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (9-10)

We have been given much, we should hold our gifts with open hands, ready to turn and share them with one another, for that is why they have been given. We are merely stewards of our gifts, and so we ought to use them well, to give effort to improving our abilities in using them, and seek to bless one another in their use. Peter begins with hospitality and tells us not to grumble, which means that it’s not only for when it’s convenient, but even when it’s burdensome. He then lists speaking as a gift, and advises that we handle our words carefully, as if speaking the very words of God. This would seem to indicate that he is referring to someone who is speaking before others in a teaching or preaching capacity, or perhaps even in a mentoring role. And lastly, he lists serving, which covers a multitude of needs in the church, for which I haven’t the space in this post.

The point is, serve. The church is a living organism made up of many members, each of whom have gifts which are for the benefit of the whole body. Our gifts may grow and evolve, our circumstances may change, restricting or freeing us for service. Serving may be burdensome, and it may mean re-ordering your priorities, but note carefully what Peter says: that we serve, “by the strength that God supplies.” Serving one another is not an end in itself, but rather, it brings glory to God, as Peter finishes: “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (11)

This is a high and worthy goal, and I pray that it gets under our skin, works its way into our hearts, and becomes part of the very DNA of our local church.

“To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 157.

[2] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 167.

[3] Ibid., 168.

[4] From The Memoirs of Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 1, (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007, Reprinted from an 1834 edition orig. pub. In Great Britain), lxiv.

[5] Kistemaker, 166

[6] Doriani, 171

[7] Ibid., 171

[8] Ibid., 172

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