RPM, Volume 16, Number 17, April 20 to April 26, 2014

Living for the Will of God

1 Peter 4:1-6

By D. Marion Clark


"What does God want me to do?" "Why has he put me in this school…in this dorm, this job, this neighborhood?" "I'm surrounded by people who give me a hard time? Why?" "What is it that I am suppose to be doing?"

God's ways are mysterious, to be sure. And oftentimes, it is difficult to know what his will is for us - what job to take; what major to study; where to live, and so on. There are a number of factors to consider in each decision. On the other hand, God's general will is actually easy to know, because it applies to all circumstances. We've already seen that will expressed in Peter's principle that he has been presenting in his letter. Do you remember it? Live in response to God, not the world. We will see this same principle again, but this time changed slightly. Now he is saying live for God, not for our sinful pleasures.

Done with Sin (vv.1-2)

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

Unfortunately, Peter did not make high marks in grammar, and his writing here is confusing. What do you mean, Peter, arm yourselves also with the same attitude? To suffer is not an attitude; it's an activity. Do you want us to have an attitude in which we act like we are suffering or that we should desire suffering? And who is "he"? Is "he" Christ who has suffered? But then how could Christ who did not sin be done with sin? Is "he" any Christian who has suffered? If so, how are Christians done with sin when they are still sinners?

Let me rephrase what Peter seems to be saying.

Therefore, since Christ suffered death in his body to remove the guilt of our sin and to overcome its power over us; since he is done with having to deal with sin for us, arm yourselves with the same attitude of being done with sin, so that you do not live the rest of your earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

You get the point. Christ died to deal with sin once and for all. Have the same attitude. Don't keep hanging on to sin. Don't try to keep one foot in God's kingdom and the other in the world. Or let's use another metaphor. Don't keep dipping your foot in the pool of sinful pleasures now that you have emerged out of it into the sunlight of the gospel.

Even if we follow the alternative translation of verse one, we end up at the same conclusion. That interpretation reads this way: Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body and is done dealing with sin, arm yourselves with the same attitude, knowing that your own suffering for Christ has "burned the bridges" to living lives for sin. So do not live the rest of your earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

In the first interpretation, Christ has dealt with sin by suffering on our behalf so that we would no longer have to live for sin. He ended sin's ownership of us. In the second interpretation, Christ's suffering is an example for us: just has his suffering allowed him to deal with sin, so our suffering allows for us to deal with sin. Peter could be thinking of what he said back in 1:6-7 about the way that our trials refine our faith. I prefer the first interpretation, because Peter seems to be speaking of a once and for all break with sin, which even our sufferings don't really produce. I can see how Christ's suffering ended sin's ownership forever; but I can't understand how any suffering I go through does the same.

Some commentators interpret the phrase "who has suffered" to mean our mystical identification with the sufferings of Christ, similar to what Paul says in Romans 6:3-4: Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. But if that were true, I don't understand why Peter specifically adds the phrase "in his body." Peter means real physical suffering.

But again, whichever interpretation we choose to travel along, we end up at the same destination point - be done with living for sin and be on with living for God.

The contrast Peter makes in verse two is between evil human desires and the will of God. The contrast is not between two desires or two wills. The choice for Christians is to give into demeaning cravings or to choose to follow the good and righteous will of God. I am making an important distinction here. One does not choose lust; one does not choose to follow the will of base cravings; one just gives in. There is no exercise of the will in the sense of weighing alternatives and positively choosing what seems to be the best; one is just carried along by the current of self-gratification; the restraints are simply released.

Living for the will of God, however, is a matter of exercising one's own will. It takes a conscientious decision, and strong-minded action. To go with the flow of the river of cravings requires only letting go of any resistance; to go against the current requires resolve and strength.

Now, Peter does not go into a description of the will of God, but he does describe these evil human desires in verse three. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. A clearer rendering would be "doing what the pagans are inclined to do." This is their way of life. What else would they do?

Note the common element of these different sins: debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, and carousing. They are all the throwing off of restraints of whatever kind - sex, drink, food, partying. You may have noticed that I omitted detestable idolatry. Probably what Peter is indicating is that these practices were often taking place under the rubric of religion. Many of these "feasts" took place in temples and as part of religious festivals. The best places to find prostitutes in many Greek and Roman cities were the local temples where they performed their brand of religious rites. Peter may also be referring to the occult rites of the many secret religions as well.

It appears that many of the Christians were converted Gentiles who had fit in well with their neighbors. Accordingly, the neighbors are a bit surprise when their drinking and partying buddies are no longer available. 4 They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you.

We are getting a clearer picture of the troubles the Christians are under in 1 Peter. Remember, the context of Peter's letter is that the Christians are facing trials in the communities in which they live. They are being mistreated and one way we had noted was slander. We had reviewed before how the Christians were the radicals in their society, because they adhered to an upstart religion that was foreign to the acceptable religious practices of their communities. The Christians were accused of immoral practices in their religion. Why would that happen? Why would people slander a religion that practiced love and integrity? Why would people believe the slander? The reason is simple: you want to believe the worse about someone who has personally offended you. And these neighbors have been offended.

How? They've been rejected, or at least that's how they would perceive the matter. "Our friends used to not have trouble with the parties and the sex and the drinking. What's the problem now? Do these Christians think they are above these things? Do they think these things are now bad? If so, do they now look down on us? Do they think we are bad?" You can see how the thinking would continue. "They aren't so good themselves. I've heard they eat human flesh and drink blood. I've heard they have their own orgies with their free love. They are just self-righteous hypocrites who don't want us having a good time."

Do you understand better Peter's injunction to Christians to go out of their way to show blessing and to be submissive to authority? You see how important it is for Christians to speak with gentleness and respect? The very nature of who Christians are and the life they are called to live is an indictment against their neighbors' behavior, and their neighbors don't like it.

And they especially would have been offended if they had read Peter's letter. "Flood of dissipation! That's what's wrong with Christians. All we are doing is having some fun. So we get drunk. We are not doing anybody any harm. We are still good citizens. You don't like the way we enjoy sex? Do your own thing; we're not judging you with your hang-ups." As that wise sage Bart Simpson would say, "Don't have a cow, man. It's only fun."

We will come back to this discussion, but let's continue with Peter's thought. He's speaking to Christians, not nonChristians, and he is helping them get on with their Christian life. His discourse has gone like this. The mistreatment you are receiving is mostly due to the life you have chosen to live in Christ. Christ died for you to be rid of sin. You, of course, are now living for Christ and not for sin. Your new life offends your neighbors, who in response are going to do what they can to offend you. That's going to happen. Quoting 2 Timothy 3:12: everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. It goes with the territory.

Don't be disconcerted by the remarks of your neighbors. Don't worry if judgments are made against you. The judgment of the one true judge is what matters, and we will all someday appear before that judge. Verse five: But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.

We want it to be made known that we are not being treated fairly. We are being slandered. We are trying to live good lives and are being made to look bad by the very people who live "in dissipation." Peter might agreed with Bart's assessment here: "Don't have a cow. Everyone will have to give an account to him who is ready to render judgment. Justice will be carried out."

And note two quick things about this judgment. The Judge is ready. We are the ones who are not ready. We don't know the judgment date; he does and it will most likely come when we least expect it. Secondly, this is the Judge of the living and the dead. People on earth can only judge us and punish us while we live our present lives; this judge will judge and punish or reward in the eternal after-life. All accounts will be settled for eternity.

Then Peter adds one more thought. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. The gospel was preached so that we might believe and have life. As Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26 and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25,26).

The gospel has been preached through the ages, so that even those who are now dead in the flesh may have eternal life through the Holy Spirit. The gospel has been preached before Christ's coming and after; for the gospel is the message that God will save those who cast their hope on the redemption that he will provide. Those with ears to hear before Christ looked with faith to the coming of that redemption; those with ears to hear after Christ now look back with faith to the redemption that has come.

The gospel was preached for the purpose of giving life. It was proclaimed that we would receive reward, not punishment. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned… (John 3.16-18a).


I said we would go back to the discussion about the sins that were presented and the attitude of those who are engaged in them. Remember the common trait of the sins? They all have to do basically with self-indulgence. They are not relational. Back in 2:1 Peter had listed relational sins - malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. Anyone, Christian or nonChristian, would agree that those are bad attitudes and practices. But in this second group of "sins," the nonChristians would take issue with the Christian perspective. Some would say these activities are not bad and enjoying them is not a vice. People are just having a good time. Maybe these activities are not healthy, but they are not sinful or mean-spirited. All that the people are wanting to do is have a good time for awhile.

Some would even contend that these activities are good. Sex is to be enjoyed; alcohol and drugs are meant to be enjoyed; they are natural stimulants. The problem with Christians is that they are too uptight. They cannot enjoy the natural pleasures of life.

We've touched on this subject before. We Christians can easily contend that it is we who can take true joy in what God intended to be the natural pleasures of life. Because we practice restraint and follow the parameters given by God, we can enjoy pleasures more fully.

What I want to consider now is the objection that our partying neighbors would have to Peter's evaluation of their conduct. I know people who enjoy drinking parties, getting drunk, getting high on drugs, and having sex with whomever, but I don't know anyone who believes that they have plunged into a flood of dissipation. What they would say is that they are exercising their freedom to have fun. They are not hurting anyone, and, besides, they do have some limits. They can tell you of others who go a lot further than they. They, after all, have a good heart.

But, what is a good heart? You don't have to be mean-spirited to be hurtful or harmful. What you say to others and do to others while you are drunk or high generally is not something that shows love, that builds them up, that they can look back on as being a blessing to them. More often than not, parties and activities in which "anything goes" end up with people having been humiliated, disgraced and violated. At best, the carousers look back to such times with laughs, but not with joy. They don't look back with whoever they were with and say, "That's when I understood what a beautiful person you are." "That's when I saw your kindness, your tenderness." "I felt so special the way you treated me when you were drunk and when you let your lust take over."

The "party" person, again defends his action, saying, "All I wanted was to have fun." That's the problem. "All he wants" is what he wants. His heart is guided by the motive to get what he wants without concern for the good of others. There are limits, of course. He may be limited by the desire to avoid trouble and the minor concern not to hurt others, but again that reveals the sin of his heart. The good heart does not act according to limits. It doesn't ask itself what can it do without hurting others. It asks what it can do to bless others. Its idea of fun is what blesses others. The parties of those with good hearts are the kind where people do look back with joy. They look back at the laughter and the fun activities and say, "You were great to be with." "You made me feel good about myself." "I learned then what a good friend you were."

Now, what do you do with these pagan neighbors of yours? Be careful to avoid two extremes. One is to become as much like your neighbors so that you fit in. What is likely to happen is that you will become like them. This is especially true if your friends are likeable people, which they probably are since you are friends with them. The other extreme is to shun them. All you are doing then is removing yourself as a witness to them and making them feel justified in their poor opinion of you.

Just do this: love them all the more. Try all the more to be a blessing to them, to speak with gentleness and respect. Do they slander you? So what? God, the true judge of every heart knows you. Do they rebuff your friendship? Don't take it personally. You make them feel awkward by your faith and lifestyle. It happens to every faithful Christian.

Don't worry about justice. That will come. What matters is that your neighbors know Christ; that they know him as Savior before they must know him as Judge. God has put you into their lives for a reason; hopefully that reason is that through you their defenses may be broken down and they open up to the beauty and truth of the gospel. Their fleshly desires have dimmed their hearts and minds so that they confuse base fun with pure joy; they've linked hypocrisy with faith, and righteousness with arrogance. You, as their neighbor, their friend, are the Christian God has given to them to show the real truth and beauty of the gospel.

This is living for the will of God.

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