by Mike Ratliff
17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, angels and authorities and powers having been made subject to Him. 1 Peter 3:17-22 (NKJV)
The Lord Jesus Christ suffered unjustly on behalf of those He came to save because it was God’s will. He perfectly accomplished God’s purposes in this. Even though those in Emergence Christianity are attempting to hijack our Lord’s Crucifixion for their own purposes, let us never forget that His violent, physical execution did terminate His earthly life when He was “put to death in the flesh”, nevertheless, He was “made alive in the spirit” on the third day. This is not referring to the Holy Spirit, but to Jesus’ true inner life, His own spirit, which is contrasted with His humanness, His flesh, which was crucified and lay dead for three days in the tomb. His deity, His Spirit, remained alive, literally “in spirit” (Luke 23:46). In light of our Lord’s suffering for righteousness, Christians should have a “Christian” perspective on suffering in the flesh as well.
1 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, 2 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. 3 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. 4 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. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 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 4:1-6 (NKJV)
1 Χριστοῦ οὖν παθόντος σαρκὶ καὶ ὑμεῖς τὴν αὐτὴν ἔννοιαν ὁπλίσασθε, ὅτι ὁ παθὼν σαρκὶ πέπαυται ἁμαρτίας 2 εἰς τὸ μηκέτι ἀνθρώπων ἐπιθυμίαις ἀλλὰ θελήματι θεοῦ τὸν ἐπίλοιπον ἐν σαρκὶ βιῶσαι χρόνον. 3 ἀρκετὸς γὰρ ὁ παρεληλυθὼς χρόνος τὸ βούλημα τῶν ἐθνῶν κατειργάσθαι πεπορευμένους ἐν ἀσελγείαις, ἐπιθυμίαις, οἰνοφλυγίαις, κώμοις, πότοις καὶ ἀθεμίτοις εἰδωλολατρίαις. 4 ἐν ᾧ ξενίζονται μὴ συντρεχόντων ὑμῶν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν τῆς ἀσωτίας ἀνάχυσιν βλασφημοῦντες, 5 οἳ ἀποδώσουσιν λόγον τῷ ἑτοίμως ἔχοντι κρῖναι ζῶντας καὶ νεκρούς. 6 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ καὶ νεκροῖς εὐηγγελίσθη, ἵνα κριθῶσιν μὲν κατὰ ἀνθρώπους σαρκὶ ζῶσιν δὲ κατὰ θεὸν πνεύματι. 1 Peter 4:1-6 (NA28)
Verse 1 is the key for us. The word οὖν is translated here as “therefore” and this is pointing both to what Peter spoke of in 3:17:22 about our Lord’s suffering on the Cross for our sake and here in 4:1 Χριστοῦ, “of Christ” παθόντος “having suffered” ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν “for us” σαρκι “in flesh… Since this is true, what are we supposed to do? We should see that this is what God used to bring the greatest triumph of all time through our Lord, therefore, we should also be willing to suffer in the flesh, knowing that it potentially produces tremendous victories. If we arm ourselves with this same mindset, we become servants of the gospel rather than purveyors of it. Remember my brethren; the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is not inside us. It is not within any of us. It is outside of us. We are to serve it, it is not to serve us. With this mindset, we will look at suffering the same way our Lord did. We should voluntarily accept the potential of death as a part of the Christian life. Also, if we are martyred, we have ceased from sin. Let that sink in.
In vv2-4 we see clearly that Christians are called to be separate from the sins of the flesh. Yes, all sin, but we are being sanctified. We walk in repentance. As we mature, these sins should be further and further in our past. We should grow more and more Christlike as we serve the gospel and learn what it means to suffer for righteousness sake. In v5 we see something that I see that is missing in much of what professes to be Christian in today’s version of the Church. So many say and do things that I wonder if they have given any thought to the account they will have to give at their judgment about those things. I see a great lack of discernment and wisdom in these people. In fact, online, I have ended some very ugly exchanges online about doctrine by pointing out to those who were not debating me, but were, instead, attacking me using insults and logical fallacies, that they seemed to be forgetting that all of us had to eventually stand before our Lord at His Bema Seat and give an account. If you have to resort to doing your theological work in the ways of the world then I doubt very seriously if it is valid nor is it of the Spirit. It is amazing how quiet it gets when that hits home.
What does it mean in v6 about the gospel being preached to those who are dead? The preaching of the gospel not only offers a rich life, a ceasing from sin, and a good conscience, but also an escape from final judgment. Peter was talking about believers who had heard and believed the gospel when they were still alive, but who had died by the time he wrote this epistle.
My brethren, I pray that God will open your understanding to the purpose of suffering in the life of the believer. I do not claim to be an expert in it, but I do know about suffering and I also know about how God has changed the focus of this ministry as the magnitude of that suffering has changed. I know this, this life is short. Eternity is forever. If suffering is what it takes for God to cause me to serve Him for His glory as He sees fit then so be it. His grace is sufficient.
Soli Deo Gloria!