Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. (1 Peter 4: 1-3)

Again Peter’s words are puzzling. If we take them at face value, we may come up with some strange doctrines. If we suffer, do we become our own saviour? We must once again read them in conjunction with the rest of Scripture to get his meaning.

First of all, what was the purpose of Christ’s suffering? Jesus suffered in His body – as a perfect, sinless human being because He had to be our substitute in every way. His suffering and death as God’s sacrificial lamb atoned for sin, took sin away and brought about cleansing of the heart and conscience for those who believe in Him. He suffered in obedience to the will of His Father, without retaliation or threats, entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.

The theme of Peter’s letter is suffering, especially in the context of the cruel and unjust persecution of believers. How were they to respond to injustice? Peter’s message to them was – take it on the chin, just as Jesus did. Why should they? What good would it do them to be sitting ducks for every person who had it in for them for whatever reason? What benefit would it be to them?

Peter’s response: It’s about your attitude. Paul spoke about attitude as well. His words to the Philippian church were – have the same attitude as Jesus had (Phil. 2:5-9). He gave up all His rights as God to come to earth as a human being. He humbled Himself from being God to becoming a man, a slave and a condemned criminal. You can’t go any lower than that! Why did He do it? Because the Father required it of Him if He was to be the Saviour of the world.

Suffering for doing the right thing has a purging effect. Jesus said that persecution for His sake is a reason to rejoice, firstly because of our identity with Him and secondly because we are in good company (Matt. 5: 11, 12). The prophets of old suffered persecution and even death for proclaiming God’s word to His rebellious people. Persecution for Jesus’s sake sets people apart as belonging to Him. Who would be willing to lay down his life if he was not convinced of the truth?

One does not indulge in every form of wickedness and, at the same time, live in the conviction that Jesus is Lord. It just does not work that way. People are persecuted because their righteous lives are a threat to the wicked. Ungodly people hate godly people because godly lives show up the wickedness of the wicked. Their response is not to change but to get rid of the one whose good behaviour offends them. Religious people did that to Jesus and they will do it to anyone whose godly life offends them.

Peter’s counsel was: Don’t stop living a godly life because it gets you into trouble. Be like Jesus. He trusted His Father for justice and did God’s will anyway. If you take up that attitude, you won’t want to fulfil the evil desires that would pull you away from God. The people around you indulge every whim; they live to satisfy every lust, but your focus must be on doing God’s will. That’s the evidence of your true sonship.

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2: 15-17)

To sum up then, the way Jesus lived and died is an example for us to follow. No matter what people did to Him, He trusted the Father and lived to do His will. His suffering did not destroy Him. On the contrary, it brought about our salvation. In the same way, if we suffer for our faith in Jesus, it will not destroy us. It will help to purge us from living sinful lives because we cannot experience persecution for our faith in Christ and live to satisfy our evil desires at the same time.

Our suffering does not take away our sin. Jesus’s suffering did that for us. However, it does take away our desire to sin because our hearts are set on living for Jesus and not for ourselves.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Luella Campbell

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