Wanted Dead and Alive
Do you live your life for the world or for God?
Throughout the Bible, we see the call to lives that are pleasing to God. This seems hard because the pressures of our culture are so intense. The world has certain expectations for those in the world and if you don’t live up to those, the world can treat you very harshly.
The world can be a rough place any time you don’t fit in and I have always been a bit of a misfit. My memories of growing up are filled with unhappy memories. This was largely caused by my background. I never had a father; rather, I grow up with an abusive alcoholic stepfather. I always felt uncomfortable around home so I searched for an escape. My escape was athletics. Fortunately, this type of pastime kept me out of any serious trouble. Though this gave me an opportunity to think of something other than my home life, I never really learned to relate to people. As a result, I never participated in the things that the people around me were doing. As I grew up I learned one thing–stay away from people and don’t get involved with them.
I attended college on a football scholarship. It was there I learned I had a chip on my shoulder. Around the other guys on the team I should have “sown my wild oats,” but that was tough since I wanted nothing to do with people. As a result, I just didn’t fit in. Though I was accepted by those on my football team, I was never one of the guys. Those on the team learned quickly that I wasn’t a partier. Those who were, became the “life of the team.” Those like me were largely ignored. My life was pretty lonely.
Even though I was not involved with my teammates, life was pretty good. Then I trusted in Christ. I subsequently learned there were two ways one could live a life. I could live for the world or I could live for Christ. Soon after becoming a Christian, I decided that I wanted to live for Christ. It was then that I really became a true misfit. Now people didn’t merely accept me for my position in society–they questioned me because of the way I lived my life. I began to see and understand that the world around me treated me quite differently because of my dedication to Christ. I came to understand that if I lived for Christ, then I would be persecuted by the world. What a chose to make! I could avoid sin by living for Christ or I could sin with the world to avoid persecution.
This is what Peter is telling his audience in 1 Peter 4:1-6.
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, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
In this passage, Peter is instructing us to follow Christ’s example.
Be prepared to suffer in the flesh
Peter has discussed in great detail how Christ suffered in the flesh. His suffering was unjustified because He was without sin. Christ suffered for us–the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Now Peter tells us that “since Christ suffered for us in the flesh” we should have the same mind. Christ suffered physically on the Cross. Now Peter tells us that if we endure physical suffering for our faith, we will no longer be bound to sin. It seems that if we are willing to separate from the world and suffer physically for such separation, we will not be so drawn to sin. Sin will no longer be master over us as we undergo the sanctification process. Peter is not saying that we will become sinless, but rather that our attitude toward sin will change.
In essence, Peter is telling us we can choose between suffering or sin. If we choose to live like the unsaved people around us, then we will fit in to their world–sharing in their pleasures. In this way we would avoid persecution. But if we choose to live holy lives as Peter has called to, then we can expect to persecuted by the world around us. The world looked with reproach toward Christ. He suffered at the hands of the wicked. We can expect the same treatment if we live in purity and godliness.
The audience to whom Peter was originally writing this letter were suffering under extreme persecution for their faith in Christ. They were tempted daily to stop living for Christ and to follow the ways of the world. Life would be so much easier. Peter is encouraging them to suffer courageously so as to avoid sin.
Peter sums this up by saying that you “should no longer live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). Jesus was willing to endure the suffering of the Cross because He determined to live His life in the will of God. So should we.
Live for the will of God
Peter’s challenge to us is to live separated from the world. We should not be conformed to the values promoted by our culture. This reminds me of the statement by Paul in Romans 12:1-2:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
In this passage, we see the link between presenting our lives to God–living for God–and being involved in the perfect will of God. This is also Peter’s message to us. We are to avoid the cultural vices present within the Gentile world. These include:
- Lewdness–vulgar behavior
- Lusts–powerful desire including greed and sexual desires
- Drunkenness–abuse of alcohol
- Revelries–feasts including gluttony, drunkenness, and orgies
- Drinking parties–drinking bouts leading to debauchery and brawls
- Abominable idolatries–the worship of idols and associated immorality.
These activities all have the same outcome. They cause people to abandon the true God and live with lower moral standards.
Peter is calling on Christians to stay away from these activities. When they do, the world will think they are an odd breed. Peter says that they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation. The world will also tend to speak evil of those who demonstrate such restraint. Even before I was a Christian, I was not drawn to these activities. So, people did question my behavior and they did consider me to be quite strange.
Peter then warns those God is ready to judge those who exercise these immoral behaviors in their lives. God stands ready to judge the living and the dead. Jesus gives this same warning in Revelation 22:12, “And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work.”
All people will be judged. At this point, Peter makes an unusual statement. He says, “For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.” (1 Peter 4:6)
There are several different interpretations regarding Peter’s statement. Perhaps the best is that those who suffered for their faith during physical life and then died physically. Now they live according to God in the spirit. That is to say, that in the flesh they were persecuted. They are physically dead, but they are spiritually alive. This again relates back to 1 Peter 3:18, “…being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit.”
We can expect to face persecution in this life. Physically suffering helps us avoid sin. Ultimately, we will face judgment before Christ. But the judgment of faithful Christians will be different than the judgment of those who follow the ways of this world. When we leave this world, we are assured that we will receive a new life with Him.
God wants us dead (to sin) so we can be alive in Him.
Are you allowing the culture around you to define the way you live?
Or are you willing to undergo suffering in this life while you live in God’s will?