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. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 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. – 1 Peter 4:1-6 ESV
Peter’s first verse of chapter four sounds very similar to the words of Paul found in His letter to the Philippians. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 ESV). Paul goes on to explain just what that attitude or mindset of Jesus was. “…although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). During His earthly life, Jesus suffered all kinds of scorn, rejection, abuse and ridicule. Yes, He had followers, but He had just as many detractors. There were those who wanted Him dead, and they did not let up until they had succeeded in having Him executed. Jesus willingly endured all of this in order to do the will of His Father in heaven.
When Peter says, “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” it seems that he is speaking of suffering for the sake of Christ. In other words, he is picking up his thoughts from verses 13-18 in chapter three. There Peter talked about suffering for righteousness sake. He described it as “good behavior” or “doing good.” If we are doing the right thing, the will of God, then we are not sinning. To do the will of God is NOT to sin. So we have ceased from sinning. I don’t believe Peter is inferring that we will no longer sin at all. He is simply saying that it is impossible to live within the will of God and sin at the same time. Our goal should be that of Jesus, to do the will of the Father while we are on this earth. If we do, we most likely will suffer as a result, just as He did. But we will discover that we can live on this earth and in this fleshly, sin-prone bodies, “no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2 ESV).
We can choose to live according to God’s will or our own will, which Peter describes as “what the Gentiles want to do” (1 Peter 3 ESV). Those who don’t know Christ as their Savior are “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Peter 4:3 ESV). Paul called them the “deeds of the flesh” and included among them “immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-20 ESV). In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul provides another list that describes those who are not living within the will of God because they are not children of God:
…the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God… – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV
But he goes on to tell his believing readers, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11 ESV). Their behavior had changed because their lives had been changed by coming to know Christ. They had a new, God-given capacity to live righteously and differently. And Peter told his readers that their lost friends “are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery and they malign you” (1 Peter 4:4 ESV). The lost can’t comprehend the change that takes place in the life of a believer. The new-found ability of a believer to say no to sin and yes to God is incomprehensible to the unbeliever. Rather than doing what comes “naturally,” believers begin to do what is supernatural, living under the influence and power of the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul encourages us, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16 ESV). We can and should live differently, as Jesus Himself lived. We should live in and for the will of God. When we do, we will most likely suffer as He did. But we will be free from sin while we do so. Walking according to the Spirit and within the will of God makes sin impossible. And the more we learn to live like Jesus, we will see the impact and influence of sin diminish in our lives.
The gospel is the key. Peter, like Paul and the other apostles, was determined to preach the gospel so that others might come to know the experience of living in the will of God, freed from slavery to sin and knowing the incredible joy of a right relationship with God and the capacity to live righteously in this life. Peter even indicates that those believers who had heard the gospel but had died, though they had to experience the pain of physical death, were now living in the spirit with God. They had received their reward. The gospel does not prevent physical death from taking place. But it does eliminate the threat of spiritual death – eternal separation from God.
Standing beside the grave of Lazarus, Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life.Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). Jesus would go on to raise Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus would eventually experience physical death again. But he would never have to worry about the threat of spiritual separation from God. Paul said, “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8 ESV). We can live differently here. We may suffer for doing so, but we can rest in the knowledge that our reward is eternal, unbroken fellowship with God and His Son. The author of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus, to fix our eyes on Him, “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” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). Our glorification is coming. Our eternal reward is secure. We can live confidently and righteously in this life because we have the assurance of eternal life.