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8. The Cross And Separation From The World (1 Peter 4:1-6)

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On February 18, 2017, The Washington Post printed an article about a woman called Norma McCorvey, who had just died. The significance of her death was that Norma McCorvey had become a household name back in the 1970’s in the U.S. What you may not know is that Norma McCorvey was “Jane Roe” of the infamous “Roe vs Wade” court case that led to the legalization of abortion in America in 1973.

What you also may not know is that 22 years after “Roe vs Wade,” Norma McCorvey’s life took a complete reversal, a 180 degree turn. In 1995, she was working in an abortion clinic in Dallas Texas when the national headquarters for Operation Rescue (a leading pro-life Christian activist organization) moved right next door to the clinic where McCorvey worked. Though they were staunch opponents, Phillip Benham, the leader of the Operation Rescue office, began taking an interest in McCorvey. Soon, Norma McCorvey began visiting the office next door, getting to know their people who showed her courtesy and friendship.

One day in August 1995, a 7 year-old girl called Emily, the daughter of Operation Rescue’s office manager, invited McCorvey to church. She accepted the invitation and that very night she trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior. That decision radically changed the direction of McCorvey’s life. She was delivered from lesbianism, began volunteering at Operation Rescue, became pro-life, and spent the rest of her life as an opponent of the movement she once symbolized. Such is the transforming power of the gospel that a person’s life can be so radically changed. Instead of spending her life fighting against God, she became productive for God.

Such is the radical conversion that takes place when we follow Christ – separating from the sinful desires of our own will and pursuing the new desires of God’s will. We are studying 1 Peter 4:1-6, the subject of which is, “Identifying with Christ in his sufferings.” The overall teaching of this passage is that when we identify with Christ in his sufferings, a radical change takes place on our lives. Peter is continuing his exhortation that our identification with Christ involves suffering with and for him, and that identification involves a conscious change…

I. To Identify With Christ In His Sufferings Requires That You Make A Conscious Change In Your Attitude (4:1-2)

Having described in the previous chapter the awesome results of Christ’s suffering (3:18-22), Peter now connects back to 3:18 and makes an astonishing application to the Christian life. Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1).

1. To identify with Christ in his sufferings requires a conscious change in your perspective (4:1a). “Arm yourselves” is reminiscent of the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11ff.), the spiritual armor that God has provided with which we are fully protected against the attacks of the enemy. But Peter shifts that imagery somewhat here so that instead of arming ourselves with spiritual weapons, we arm ourselves with a spiritual attitude (a certain way of thinking, a distinctly Christian point of view), namely, the attitude that Christ demonstrated when he “suffered in the flesh.”

To “arm yourselves” implies that when we choose to follow Christ we know that suffering will come and therefore we must be armed and ready for it. We have been called to a life of suffering even when we do good: “If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (2:21). That’s a new, uniquely Christian perspective.

What we need to do, Peter says, is change the way we think by preparing (arming) ourselves with the same attitude as Christ. “Since Christ suffered in the flesh” then we need to be willing to suffer for and with him, in full unity and identification with the one who laid down his life for us at the cross. That’s an enormous change in perspective! This involves a radical change in how we view the world around us and how we relate to it. The apostle Paul affirms this change when he writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).

Not only does identifying with Christ in his sufferings require a conscious change in your perspective, but also…

2. To identify with Christ in his sufferings requires a conscious change in your purpose (4:1b-2). When you change your thinking and attitude, a radical change occurs in the purpose of your life, especially when that new purpose is that “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from (finished with) sin (4:1b). While Peter must have thought it intuitively obvious what this clause means, to us it is somewhat confusing because two questions arise: (1) What does it mean to “have suffered in the flesh”? (2) What does it mean to “have ceased from sin”? So, let me spend a few minutes on this sentence. Of all the explanations that have been proposed the following makes the most sense to me…

“Has ceased from sin” indicates a completed act in the past with continuing effects for the present and the future. Those continuing effects include suffering in the flesh, for “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). This does not infer that we can become sinless as Christ was, but rather that we resolve to be done with sin and we express that resolve in enduring suffering. To have “ceased from sin, as D. Edmond Hiebert writes, “depicts the spiritual state of the victorious sufferer…It need not mean that he no longer commits any act of sin, but that his old life, dominated by the power of sin, has been terminated” (cited in Sinlessness will only be ours in our future glorified state. As we know from our own experience and from the Scriptures, we struggle with the battle against sin throughout our lifetime (Gal. 5:24; Rom. 7:7-25). Obviously, Peter’s perspective here is eschatological, as it is throughout much of his epistles. He is exhorting us to take a position against sin not only ideologically but also practically throughout our lifetime and in view of the end (cf. 1 Jn. 3:3).

Previously in this epistle, Peter has exhorted us to follow Christ’s example in responding to unjust suffering as a Christian (2:20-21; 3:8-17), but now he goes a step further - we are to follow Christ’s example not only in the way we respond to unjust suffering but also in how we “cease” from sinful behavior altogether. Christ ceased dealing with the sin issue after he suffered for our sins as our substitute on the cross, and we too must having nothing more to do with sin in our lives, being willing to endure suffering rather than entering into sin.

When a Christian decides to not compromise their testimony and to bear the consequent suffering when it comes, that person has practically ceased from, or finished with, sin. They consciously decide to turn away from their past sinful habits and to not be lured into the ways of the world around them. Their willingness to suffer as a consequence of this decision is evidence of the change that has taken place in their lives. In other words, suffering as a Christian is the price you pay for having “ceased from sin.” As Wayne Grudem puts it, “Whoever has suffered for doing right, and has still gone on obeying God in spite of the suffering it involved, has made a clear break with sin” (Tyndale N.T. Commentaries, 1 Peter, 167).

Let me put it in more tangible terms. If you refuse to go to a drinking establishment or strip club with your work colleagues based on your testimony as a Christian, you know that your decision may result in ridicule and opposition, but you have consciously decided to suffer by staying apart from sin, ceasing from sin. Thus, your attitude follows the example of Christ, whose purpose in coming into the world was to suffer “once for sins” (3:18) - not for his own sins for he had none, but for our sins. Having suffered for sins once, Christ will never deal with sin again. He offered himself once and is done with it forever. As Hebrews 10:12 states, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” And again in Hebrews 9:28, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Christ’s dealings with the sin question are over, never to be repeated.

Just so, we must resolve to be done with sin in our lives, not only in how we respond to unjust suffering as a Christian but also to cease from sin altogether, for to continue in sin after becoming a Christian would be a contradiction between your profession and your actions. If you identify completely with Christ in his sacrificial death on the cross for sin, then you have thereby decided to “cease from (be finished with) sin.” This is the practical outworking of “being conformed to his death” (Phil. 3:10).

It’s not enough to merely say, “I will not sin! I will stand for Christ.” At the same time we must actually cease from sin, the one goes with the other. What we say and what we do must correspond. What Peter is doing here is drawing together two strands of this whole subject of suffering: (1) The practical response to suffering as a Christian; and (2) The practical resolve to live without sin in the flesh. This is similar to what the apostle John deals with: 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:6-10). John is pointing out that what we say and how we act must coincide. Indeed, how we act is the true litmus test of who we really are.

So, the way this statement holds together is that the Christian who decides to suffer rather than compromise with the world is the one who has decided to finish with sinful behavior. Understand that sin, in Peter’s writings, is concrete acts of sin – he is not referring to the sin nature (the sin principle), as Paul does (cf. Rom. 5:12; 6:6; 7:18). We all have a sinful nature by birth and by practice, but the power of that sinful nature has been broken through our new birth in Christ by which we have a new nature that delights to please God (1 Jn. 3:9; 1 Pet. 1:4). Nonetheless, due to indwelling sin and the weakness of our will, we still sin from time to time. That’s the struggle of the Christian life.

But what Peter is talking about is purposefully and consciously breaking from sin. Living in the flesh in a sinful world that may treat us unfairly and unjustly demands that we deal with sin in the flesh. You cannot deal with one (suffering unjustly as a Christian) without dealing with the other (our own sinful behavior). Once you grasp this perspective on and attitude toward sin in the flesh from the example of Christ, then and only then will you truly “cease from sin” and live a life of victory in Christ. The inference here is that we must make a conscious decision to suffer for our testimony if such suffering is the will of God. We must make a conscious decision to not sin, knowing that the full realization of this will only take place when we receive our glorified bodies in heaven.

The intent of this resolve is to “live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (4:2). Those Christians who have “armed themselves” with Christ’s attitude to suffering have made a complete and radical break from their former way of life with its passions and lusts. They have already spent too much of their past life in worldly ways of living. Their purpose in life is to no longer satisfy their “human passions” (sinful desires) but to do “the will of God.” As John Piper puts it, “When you suffer for what's right, it's a sign that you have renounced sinful human desires and embraced the will of God as a higher value. So for the sake of righteousness and freedom from sin, arm yourselves with this purpose” (

That’s the choice you have to make - either to fulfill the self-centred, sinful desires of your flesh or to do the perfect, holy will of God. For the Christian, this is an “either / or” proposition - you cannot have both. If you choose to live according to the will of God, whenever sin rears its ugly head you say, “No longer. That’s not who I am!” So, which will it be in your life? Your choice is to endure suffering or to compromise with sin. If you choose to not live a sinful life, you will surely suffer for it as Christ did. But if you choose not to suffer as a Christian, then you have not “ceased from sin.” That’s the choice. So, which will it be in your life?

So, to identify with Christ in his sufferings requires that you make a conscious change in your attitude. And…

II. To Identify With Christ In His Sufferings Requires That You Make A Conscious Change In Your Activity (4:3-6)

When you change your attitude, the first thing that happens is…

1. You abandon the sinful activities of your past (4:3). For you have spent enough of your past lifetime doing the will of the Gentiles (4:3a). When you become a Christian everything changes. When you decide to follow Christ you abandon the sinful activities of your past and a radical change occurs in your life. A transformation takes place in your behavior, habits, associations, desires, goals etc. So, don’t waste any more time with your previous lifestyle, because, as Peter says, “You already spent (more than) enough of your past lifetime in the sinful behavior of unbelievers.” Now, you follow Christ and you leave the past behind: it is no longer part of your way of life. When you choose to follow Christ, you make a clean break from your old sinful lifestyle. Now as a Christian, you no longer participate in the sinful activities of your old, worldly, friends and habits. You have changed from practicing evil to doing good.

“For” introduces the reason why we should “live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (4:2). The reason is because formerly - before you decided to follow Christ - you spent your life “doing the will of the Gentiles” (4:3a) but now your focus needs to be on doing “the will of God” (4:2). These two objectives are polar opposites. You cannot be committed to doing “the will of God” (what believers choose to do) and at the same time do “the will of the Gentiles” (what unbelievers choose to do). Those two pursuits can never mix. “Enough is enough,” Peter says. “You have already spent more than enough of your past lifetime, pursuing ‘the will of the Gentiles.’ Now, you need to change your lifestyle to be consistent with your faith.”

“Gentiles” is the term Peter uses to describe unbelievers whose sinful behavior his readers once followed, such as “sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (4:3b). The unbelieving world lives without any moral or religious constraints. The lives of Peter’s readers were similarly characterized prior to their conversion to Christ. In their prior lives they engaged in (1) Moral depravity: “sensuality” and “lusts.” These activities describe a thoroughly degenerate and depraved lifestyle. “Sensuality” has primarily to do with lack of moral restraint, particularly in regard to sexual relationships. “Lusts” describes those sinful, base human passions as in, for example, “drunkenness, orgies, and drinking parties.” Alcoholic binges often lead to carousing and unconstrained, socially disruptive behavior in general, accompanied by indiscriminate sexual activity. (2) Religious abominations: “lawless idolatry.” This probably does not so much have the sense of illegal activity as far as governmental authorities are concerned, but the sense of an “unholy and profane lifestyle” (Thomas R. Schreiner, NAC, 1 Peter, 203). Such activities might include idol worship with demonic overtones, heathen ceremonies, and the worship of pagan gods, which today we might associate with witchcraft, the occult, seances and the like. That’s how you once lived, Peter says, “doing the will of the Gentiles” (4:3) rather than “the will of God” (4:2), living like the world around you with no thought of God or his will for your life.

This stark description served to remind Peter’s readers of who they once were prior to their conversion to Christ and to warn them against being tempted to return to their former lifestyle, which they may be tempted to do in order to avoid their suffering as Christians.

Now you may say, “Well I’m a follower of Christ. I don’t live like the world around me.” Really? Let me challenge you on that. Let me first address young people. How much of your life is spent in partying and drinking? What about sexual immorality? Ever do drugs? “No,” you say. “I don’t do that.” Well, what about looking at pornography in the secrecy of your bedroom so that no one knows? “No, you say. I don’t do that either.” Alright, what about time spent on electronic devices and social media platforms? A survey conducted during the fall of 2018 showed that the most popular social network for 46% of U.S. teens was Snapchat, followed by Instagram at 32%. How much time do you spend sending and reading useless and perhaps even defiling messages on social networks? Studies show now that social media is producing a generation of isolated, anxious, socially inept, and psychologically unbalanced teenagers. All these activities – sexual immorality, drunkenness, partying, drugs – are a serious moral problem. But do you know another problem? When you engage in these activities you are not only wasting your life but also running the risk of ruining your life!

Now let me speak to adults. How much time do you waste posting and reading frivolous and useless information on Facebook? Who really cares what you made for supper last night? I mean, really! This problem isn’t limited to any one social group. It cuts across all age ranges and classes. It applies to pastors, elders, deacons, and ministry leaders as well. Are you wasting your time in sinful living like the rest of the world? Think about this: one day everyone of us will give an account to God for how we lived our lives. God has given us a certain number of days to live, a certain number of breaths to breathe. We are responsible for how we use that time.

If you are a Christian, you are going to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ one day and everything that you have thought, said, and done will be reviewed by him at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). Think about that! Everything that you did that was not for his glory, what the Bible calls “wood, hay, straw” (1 Cor. 3:12), will be burned up because it has no lasting value. Though you yourself will suffer loss for misusing the time and gifts and opportunities God gave you, praise God that because of your faith in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross you yourself will be saved, “but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).

If you are not a Christian, you too will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ one day and everything you have thought, said, and done will be reviewed by him at the Great White Throne judgement. Think about that! If you are not a Christian, there will be nothing that is for God’s glory in your life. Everything about your life will be revealed as being self-centred and useless as far as your standing before God is concerned. For you, there will be no excuse and no remedy – you will have nothing to say! Instead, you will hear the words from Christ himself, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23) and you will be banished from God’s presence forever.

So, make a conscious decision right now. Don’t spend your life pursuing sinful desires. Turn away from the world and its self-centred focus. Instead, decide to follow Christ. Decide to do the will of God. Make a conscious decision to abandon the sinful activities of your past. That’s what you do when you become a Christian. You identify with Christ in his sufferings and you make a conscious change in your activities. You abandon the sinful activities of the past - that was then – and...

2. You accept the consequences of the present – this is now (4:4). If your lifestyle does change radically, there will be a price to pay. You will have to accept the consequences in your present life. When you follow Christ, you will suffer for it. One of the first indications of this is your relationship to your unbelieving friends and acquaintances. “With respect to this they (unbelievers) are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you (4:4). You will be ridiculed and scorned by your unbelieving friends. They will mock you for having decided to cease from sin because your conduct convicts them of their own sin. Once you turn to Christ, your unbelieving acquaintances with whom you once spent your past lifetime will be “surprised” that you no longer do what they want to do, when you no longer associate with them in their degenerate behavior. They will vilify you because you now dissociate from them, because you no longer join in their impetuous and excessive acts of self-gratification, because you don’t participate in their unrestrained indulgences. Your previous unbelieving friends will openly mock you, defame you, speak evil of you, (lit.) “blaspheme you.” By not participating in their immoral lifestyle, you condemn their sinful ways and they, in turn, will respond in self-justification by slandering you as a Christian.

When you become a Christian, you identify with Christ in his sufferings and in so doing you make a conscious decision to change your attitude and to change your activities. You abandon the sinful activities of the past - that was then. You accept the consequences of the present – this is now. And…

3. You trust God’s judgement for the future – this is coming (4:5-6). Peter moves from “that was then” to “this is now” to “here’s the future.” Regardless of what you have to suffer from unbelievers now, in the future “they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (4:5). Lest Peter’s readers should become discouraged and be tempted to co-mingle once more with the world in order to escape suffering, let them remember that God will vindicate them. At the final judgement those who torment believers now will give account” to God for their actions. But then it will be too late – there will be no escape for them! Then they will see how utterly useless their lives were, how utterly self-serving their lives were, how utterly this-worldly their lives were, how utterly short-sighted their lives were, how utterly depraved their lives were. Then they will acknowledge that their lives were thoroughly devoted to self and devoid of God. Then they will know the truth and consequences of the gospel.

Christians may be unjustly judged by people now, but at the final judgement, their accusers will be judged by God - both those “living” at that time and those who are already “dead.” None of those who blaspheme or falsely accuse or malign believers will escape God’s judgement! God is “ready to judge.” His judgement is imminent, for “the Judge is standing at the door!” (Jas. 5:9). As Peter reminds us, “the end of all things is at hand” (4:7). Jesus Christ is the judge whom God has appointed (Acts 17:31). The One who himself was unjustly treated (2:23) will, at the last day, judge justly everyone who has ever lived. In keeping with Peter’s theme throughout the epistle, those who caused believers to suffer for their faith will not ultimately get away with it. God is their judge and at that time he will fully vindicate his own people.

Since “the living and the dead” will both be judged by God, the obvious concern is, “What will happen to Christians who have already died?” Peter responds: For this reason (i.e. in view of having to “give an account” to God who is “ready to judge the living and the dead”), the gospel was preached also to those who are now dead, so that, on the one hand, they might be judged in the flesh according to men, but that, on the other hand, they might live by the Spirit according to God” (4:6). We all die (1 Cor. 15:22; Heb. 9:27) – no one can escape that destiny, Christian or non-Christian, unless Christ comes for Christians before they die. But to those Christians who had already died at the time of Peter’s writing, though they might have been subject to the judgement of men while they were alive – i.e. they may have been judged according to the standards of earthly courts and civil authorities (perhaps inferring that they may have been judged by unbelievers for their Christian testimony) – yet because of their faith in Christ (through the preaching of the gospel which was “also” preached to them as it was to those who are still alive) they will be raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. 3:18) according to God’s standards. Peter is really reiterating Jesus’ words to Martha, “Whoever believes in me, though he may die, yet shall he live” (Jn. 11:25). Thus, the end of believers is vastly different from that of unbelievers when they give an account to God (4:5). This is the great reversal, the counterpart, if you will, to the slander they experienced from unbelievers.

Note that Peter is not teaching that people have an opportunity to respond to the gospel after they have died. No! He is teaching by way of a sharp contrast that, “on the one hand” the Christians who had already died were “judged in the flesh according to men” (i.e. they had died either from persecution or from being unjustly condemned to death or from some other cause) “but, on the other hand,” since they had died in faith (having heard and responded to the gospel while they were alive) they will be raised to everlasting life “by the Spirit according to God.” This contrast can only be said of believers. Unbelievers do not die as a result of being “judged in the flesh according to men” nor will they live “by the Spirit according to God.” It was important for Peter’s readers to understand that Christians do not suffer the same destiny as unbelievers - true, we die, just like everyone else, but those who die in Christ will not come under God’s condemning judgement as unbelievers will.

Ultimately, there will be a complete reversal of situations. The believers who are now suffering for their faith, even losing their lives for their faith, will ultimately be raised from the dead at the last day by the power of God’s Spirit to live eternally, just as Christ himself was “put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit” (3:18b). But their tormentors who are now maligning the believers and even putting them to death for their faith will be judged by God and condemned to eternal death – eternal separation from God. What will be a time of eternal judgement for unbelievers will be a time of vindication and eternal life for all believers.

Be assured of this: God will vindicate every believer! He will eternally condemn all those who have opposed him and his people and he will eternally bless those who have stood firm for his name’s sake in this life. As Peter Davids points out, “They, like Christ, may have been judged as guilty by human beings according to their [human] standards … But also like Christ, God will have the final say, and his verdict in the final judgement will be life. Thus they will live in resurrection life (i.e. ‘in the Spirit’).” (First Epistle of Peter, NICNT, 155).

So, Peter is saying the same thing as the writer of Hebrews. When you suffer unjustly for your faith remember the example of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Hebrew believers “endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” (Heb. 10:32-33a)<. In such circumstances, the writer encouraged them to “look to Jesus (fix your eyes on Jesus), the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb. 12:2-3).

Final Remarks

We see once more in this passage the centrality of the cross in 1 Peter. In our passage, Peter is emphasizing the example of Christ and the impact of the cross on our Christian behavior through separation from the world. At the cross, Christ suffered once-for-all for sin, for which he will never suffer again. This is the model that we are to follow by identifying wholly with Christ, such that just as he dealt finally and fully with the sin issue in his sacrificial death on the cross, never to take it up again, so we must also “cease from sin” in our lives, to be done with sin “so as to live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Bear in mind that such a decision will put you in harms way – the devil does not like Christians living like Christ, so he attacks us by causing us to “suffer in the flesh” just as Christ did. Oh, we may not suffer crucifixion as he did, but we will encounter some kind of opposition or even physical persecution.

Remember our thesis: When we identify with Christ in his sufferings, a radical change takes place on our lives. First, you make a conscious change in your attitude (4:1-2) - (1) Your perspective changes (1:1a); (2) Your purpose changes (1:1b-2). Second, you make a conscious change in your activity - (1) You abandon the sinful activities of the past (1:3); (2) You accept the consequences of the present (1:4); and (3) You trust God’s judgement in the future (1:5-6).

You can only do this by being conformed to Christ, by “sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10), by watching with him in the depths of Gethsemane, by entering into his griefs, by falling at his feet, like the apostle John, as one dead (because we are not worthy to be in his presence), and by rising with him in his resurrection to eternal glory. This then is the life to which we, as believers, have been called. We have been called to a life of suffering (1 Pet. 2:21) followed by a life of glory (1:11; 4:13; 5:1, 10). This is the prospect and reward which lies ahead. The question is: “Are you armed and ready for this?”

John Stott reminds us that “The cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but it gives us the right perspective from which to view it. So we need to learn to climb the hill called Calvary and from that vantage point survey all life’s tragedies. Since God has demonstrated his holy love in a historical event (the cross), no other historical event (whether personal or global) can override or disprove it.” (Through the Bible, 88).

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