1 Peter 4:1-6 Lesson Nine – Following Christ
Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, equip yourselves also with the same resolve —because the one who suffered in the flesh has finished with sin — 2 in order to live the remaining time in the flesh, no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. 3 For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the pagans choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. 4 So they are surprised that you don’t plunge with them into the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. 5 They will give an account to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, so that, although they might be judged by men in the fleshly realm, they might live by God in the spiritual realm. (HCSB)
The majority of this passage is relatively straightforward and easy to understand. It is only the last verse that presents a challenge, but more on that later. By starting this passage with the word “therefore” Peter is tying this section into what was discussed in 3:18–22, that Christ’s suffering was the road to victory. Since Jesus suffered in the flesh, believers should prepare themselves to suffer as this indicates that they are no longer letting sin have control over them.
Peter’s point is for believers to prepare themselves for suffering. The term “equip yourselves” is related to military preparation and its use in other passages compares the life of a believer to the life of a warrior.
- Romans 6:13b – But as those who are alive from the dead, offer yourselves to God, and all the parts of yourselves to God as weapons for righteousness.
- Romans 13:12b – So let us discard the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:8 – But since we belong to the day, we must be serious and put the armor of faith and love on our chests, and put on a helmet of the hope of salvation.
The military language implies that discipline and perseverance are needed to live as a Christian, with an attitude that suffering will come at some point. Just like soldiers prepare and train for battle, Christians must prepare for suffering.
The challenging part of this verse is the reference to “finished with sin.” The logical question is who this is referring to. There are three possible interpretations.
- Jesus – The most apparent reason to reject this interpretation is that Jesus never sinned. Those who support this interpretation do so on the grounds that Jesus took on the sins of the world as He went to the cross. Still, this interpretation should be rejected.
- Christians – Any believer who has died is freed from sin. Romans 6 says that believers have died with Jesus, via baptism, to the power of sin. However, this interpretation should also be rejected.
- Christians who accept and embrace their suffering – These believers have finished with sin because they cease to participate in those activities and they endure the persecution that accompanies that decision. This commitment reveals a passion for a new way of life that is not yet perfect but is still different from the unbelievers around them. This is the correct interpretation.
Believers prepare themselves to suffer so that the remainder of their lives are a reflection of pursuing God’s will and not the desires of their flesh. However long they live, believers are to live with passion pursuing God. Pursuing God invests the remainder of our life in activity that is lasting and satisfying. However, following the world leads us to waste the remainder of life and face regret when we stand before Jesus.
For the person who has submitted to the lordship of Jesus, they’ve already spent enough time chasing the desires of the flesh. They are not to participate in those activities anymore. Peter gives a list of actions to be avoided.
- Unrestrained behavior – Behavior completely lacking in moral restraint, often pertaining promiscuous sexual behavior.
- Evil desires – To strongly desire what belongs to someone else, to covet or lust after the possessions of others.
- Drunkenness – Means what it says, to be drunk.
- Orgies – Out of control drinking parties with associated immoral behavior.
- Carousing – Also describes out of control social drinking parties.
- Lawless idolatry – Unholy and profane lifestyles.
The activities in this list were uncommon in religiously devout Jews, but were common place in the practice of Gentiles.
Because of the difference in behavior between the pagans and the Christians, they are now facing persecution for their faith. However, the persecution at this point is from individuals and not from any government or groups. The activities listed under verse three were normal and expected in the Greco-Roman culture and when people choose not to participate it was seen as going against societal norms. In the culture at the time of this letter public festivals, where the “gods” were celebrated was considered a civic duty of citizens, as well as worship of the emperor. Those who chose not to participate would be viewed as social outcasts. It is easy to envision that believers would be discriminated against and the object of abuse.
As he does throughout this letter, Peter focuses the readers on the last days and judgment. At the present time for the recipients of this letter the pagans may have enjoyed the upper hand in society, with the perks of advancement and recognition. However, that was a temporal state that would be turned on its head on the day of judgment. Whatever advantages the pagans enjoyed at the moment was not to be desired by believers. By holding fast to the faith and pursuing the will of God they would be vindicated at the time of judgment. No matter how difficult the circumstances they must not fall back into old practices.
We now get to what I referenced in the introduction as the most difficult verse in the passage.
The first thing to note is that the word “for” links this verse to the preceding verses. At the same time “for this reason” points ahead to the purpose “so that.” But before moving on we need to determine what Peter meant by “the gospel was preached to those who are now dead.” Here are some possibilities.
- Peter is referring to the spiritually dead.
- Avoids an interpretive problem of the Gospel being preached to those who are physically dead and agrees with Paul’s position that unbelievers are spiritually dead.
- However Peter never used the word “dead” (nekros) to talk about spiritual death. Plus, the word “dead” in the previous verse is clearly talking about physical death.
- Context doesn’t support this possibility.
- Peter is talking about the physically dead.
- Those who support this possibility often refer to 1 Peter 3:19. However, if you remember from the last lesson this verse talks about Jesus proclaiming His victory over sin and death, and not a proclamation of the Gospel message.
- The verb “was also preached” talks about the preaching of Christ, not the preaching by Christ. This preaching was done by believers.
- This view implies that the Gospel was preached to all the dead after their physical death. This would suggest a second chance for everyone. However, Scripture is clear that there is no second chance. Hebrews 9:27a And just as it is appointed for people to die once–and after this, judgment.
- Peter is talking about believers who have experienced physical death.
- Unbelievers viewed the physical death of believers as proof that there was no advantage to being a Christian, as everyone dies.
- However, the unbeliever’s viewpoint misses the understanding of the Gospel. A believer experiences physical death but receives eternal spiritual life in heaven.
- Physical death is not the last word. Rather, it is a new and eternal beginning.
- We should embrace this interpretation as the correct understanding of the verse.
- Prepare yourself daily to live as a follower of Jesus. Every day the world slips further into depravity and sinful behavior. As a believer, we must spend time reading Scripture, praying, gathering with other believers, and sharing the Gospel with the lost. This won’t happen by itself, it takes preparation and dedication on our part.
- Turn away from sinful desires and practices. Find an accountability partner or group to meet with and share your struggles. Don’t wait to ask for help as you might find yourself mired in sinful practices before you realize it. Challenge fellow believers if you see them participating in or even condoning sinful behavior.
- We must never lose sight of the fact that we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ. Will we stand in assurance of salvation, or despair in eternal separation from God? Will we be rewarded for living fruitful lives, or will be ashamed of all the wasted opportunities? Regardless of what you’ve done before you can make a decision right now to living fruitful life, glorifying God in the process and resting in the full assurance of your salvation.