We, as followers of Jesus, can be carried away by our convictions. It is good that we’re sensitive to the Holy Spirit and desire to live a life that pleases God. The problem comes when we lay those burdens on others who haven’t yet decided to follow Jesus or been pricked with conviction from the Holy Spirit. I cringe when that happens. The words may be well and true, but the soil isn’t ready for them yet. Especially so when accompanied with condemnation. The result is often a wounded heart that is less receptive to God’s good news. I know because I’ve done it. Our next step through 1st Peter touches on that topic but centers on something else we don’t like to think about.
Welcome to our 18th step in our walk through Peter’s first letter to the believers of Asia Minor. Don’t worry if you’ve missed previous installments, they can be found at lambchow.com. While you are welcome to catch-up, you can also jump right into this week’s article.
Peter wrote, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.” (1 Peter 4:1–6, NASB95)
Let me say upfront that Peter uses some language that can be an off-ramp to error. He’s not saying that followers of Jesus no longer sin, we do. Neither is Peter saying that those physically dead have been preached to and can make a decision for Jesus. Both of those thoughts are inconsistent with the immediate and overall context of Scripture.
We don’t like to suffer. None of us do. Peter reminds us that although we have have been freed from the law of sin and death, we still war against the pull of sin. Like Paul’s reminder in Ephesians 6, our battle is not against flesh and blood, so we are to arm ourselves with salvation, righteousness, truth, the Gospel of peace, faith, and God’s word.
While followers of Jesus are no longer bent toward sin, we are not immune from its pull. It’s that intentional suffering that Peter is talking about. Anyone who has ever struggle with addiction can testify to what that feels like. But the truth is that all of us are addicted to sin, just not the same sin. I’m always and continually grateful that God in His grace only shows me one or two sins to work on. But I’m also reminded that walking away from sin and towards Christ is a journey that takes a lifetime.
While suffering against the pull of sin is internal there are external consequences. Peter provides the scenario. We, under the conviction of God, turn from a behavior. The problem is that those around us may still be fully engaged in the same behavior. By turning our backs on their desires, we end up triggering a perverse form of judgment because we won’t join in. Prig, prude, wimp, chicken, goody-two-shoes, pollyanna, holier than thou, etc… All that and we didn’t even say anything, we just refused to do something. Peter reminds his readers that those who malign and mock even the simple act of refusal will be judged by God.
The Next Temptation
This is where Satan traps us into a worse sin. We’ve done well by turning from a sin, we’ve silently suffered the slings and arrows of those still enjoying that sin. The next temptation is to sit in the seat of God and pronounce judgment on them. Oh, the wounds and scars we create when we take God’s place. Our job is not to pronounce judgment but preach, proclaim, witness, and demonstrate God’s Good News. Yes, they may be sinning. In fact, they most assuredly are. Yes, they are already subject to God’s judgment. But we are not the heralds of judgment but of mercy, grace, love, and forgiveness.
So, let’s talk about the other extreme just for a moment. The other side of the coin is never talking about sin and the things that are sinful lest we hurt someone’s feelings. We should love folks wherever they are at on the journey of faith. But we also need to be consistent with God’s word. Sin doesn’t change because of a cultural expectations or approval. We don’t vote on what is sin or isn’t. Neither should we elevate one sin and devalue or ignore another. We must also be careful not to create sins that God hasn’t revealed. That was one of Adam and Eve’s mistakes in the garden. God’s command to Adam was to not eat the fruit, but they added touching it.
Suffering is never easy if it were it wouldn’t be suffering. While it may not be easy, it is a natural, normal, and necessary part of our walk with Jesus. It hurts sometimes to make the hard choices of turning our backs on sin. It’s painful to sacrificially give up our time and resources. We deeply feel every barb thrown our way because we refuse to join in. And this doesn’t even begin to consider the physical and emotional suffering of persecution that Peter’s readers were experiencing. But the purpose is well evident, that they (and we) may live in the spirit according to the will of God.