1 Peter 4:1-6

1 Peter 4:1‑6  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Here, as in chap. 2:24, our apostle urges death to sins in its practical reality. It is not (as the apostle Paul, in Rom. 6 and elsewhere, teaches) the Christian privilege of having died with Christ to sin, but the duty which flows from His death as a fact in the spiritual realm; that we should no longer serve sin but walk as righteous men after Christ's example. Both speak to the same end.
“Since Christ then suffered [for us1] in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind; because he that suffered in flesh hath ceased from sin, no longer to live the rest of time in flesh to men's lusts but to God's will. For the past time [is] sufficient to have wrought out [or, purposed] the will 2 of the Gentiles, walking as ye had done in lasciviousness, lusts, wine-bibbings, revels, carousings, and unhallowed idolatries; wherein they think it strange that ye run not with [them] into the same excess of profligacy, speaking injuriously, who shall render account to him that is ready to judge living and dead. For to this end was the gospel preached to dead men also, that they might be judged according to men in flesh, and live according to God in spirit” (iv. 1-6).
To Messiah, the greatest of all sufferers, the apostle turns the hearts of his brethren. It was all the more impressive that of Him it had been verified to perfection, and in the cross above all. For till the veil was taken from the heart of the righteous remnant, the Jew saw nothing but triumph and glory for Him, as well as for His people. And what a large part of Holy Writ bore witness to it! Yet His death was the simplest, plainest, and the most irrefragable proof, that unbelief had hidden from their eyes the divine testimony to His suffering throughout the Ο.T., Law, Psalms, and Prophets. Risen from the dead He opened the understanding of His disciples to understand the scriptures and thus to judge their own dark one sidedness. As He said to two of them on the resurrection day, “O senseless and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets spoke! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? “Long before His crucifixion He had told His disciples of the Son of man being in His day as the lightning shines from under heaven to under heaven to the surprise of a guilty world; “but first he must suffer many things and be rejected of this generation” (Luke 17:24, 2524For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. 25But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. (Luke 17:24‑25)).
There was revealed an unequaled Sufferer, not Job, not Joseph, not Moses, nor David, nor Jeremiah, nor any other of the prophets; but all these perhaps in some stage foreshadowing the suffering One to come. But all this is infinitely short of the wondrous truth of the cross. For He, the Holy One of God who knew no sin, was made sin for us, and suffered, not for righteousness as saints might and did, but from God for our sins, as He alone could. And hence, when rejected of the people, betrayed by one apostle, denied by another, forsaken by all we may say, God forsook Him, as His own lips declared. So it must be if sin was to be adequately judged, and a perfect ground laid in His death to reconcile the foulest sinner to God, cleansing him from every sin by His blood. As the apostle testified to His blood in 1:18-21, so does he now to the practical power of His suffering to give power against sin: “Arm yourselves with the same mind.” Never had He pleased Himself, though in Him was no sin. Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God. Such was His life in every detail; it was a pure meal-offering, a holy oblation, to God His Father, whose glory He sought in the least thing as in the greatest, and in the humblest, truest, and deepest of all ways—in obedience. And so it was in that with which nothing can compare, in His atoning death, where God had all His nature glorified even as to sin, and made Him sin for us that we might become His righteousness in Christ.
Great, and varied, and infinite are the results of His suffering; yet here the apostle speaks, not of its being the efficacious means of bringing us to God as blameless and spotless as Himself, but of its practical power against sin day by day. “Since Christ then suffered in flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind.” Christ never yielded, but suffered being tempted; holy Himself, He kept sin outside. He had no sin in the human nature which He took. But how were we to be met who had it within and were guilty without? He died for us, yea for our sins; He was forsaken of God that this judgment might be complete; and in this judgment the apostle Paul adds that God condemned the root of all, sin in the flesh, in Him a sacrifice for sin, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to flesh but according to Spirit.
Peter here draws from Christ for the Christian the great abstract principle, “because he that suffered in flesh hath ceased from sin, no longer to live the rest of time in flesh to men's lusts but to God's will.” Allowing all the difference between the Savior and the saved, this truly applies to His followers. When we sin, it is our own will that is active to His dishonor. One suffers in refusing to sin; one judges and hates and thwarts the will of flesh, and suffers, but does not sin. If by grace our mind is set on God's will at all cost, sin does not enter. It is suffering in flesh, and therein is separation from sin. And this is the simple normal state of the Christian with the heart resting on Him that went down below all depths for him. When the heart loses sight of Him, one shirks suffering, and the will asserts fleshly activity, and actual sin follows. But we are sanctified by the Spirit to the obedience of Jesus, no less than to the sprinkling of His blood. We are left here to do the will of God, now that we are Christ's.
There is another consideration the apostle sets before us, and truly humbling it is. “For the past time is sufficient to have wrought out the purpose [or, will] of the Gentiles, walking as ye have done in lasciviousness, lusts, wine-bibbings, revels, carousings, and unhallowed idolatries; wherein they think it strange that ye run not together into the same excess of profligacy, speaking injuriously; who shall render account to him that is ready to judge living and dead” (3-5).
There is no doubt that these wicked ways were characteristic of the Gentiles, not of the Jews; but those of the dispersion, living among the heathen, were apt to be corrupted by their environment. Like their fathers of old, the descendants, especially outside the sharp supervision of Palestinian eyes, were too easily drawn into gross lusts and passions, and thence, with a bad conscience shutting out God and His judgment, adopted unhallowed idolatries, such as amulets, charms, and the like. This is what the apostle charges as a fact in former days, on those who now bore the Lord's name. It was natural for the heathen so to live; it was shocking that such of them as owned Jehovah had so walked: they now knew that they were no better than others. The apostle, while exhorting to consistency with that holy name, reminds the saints that their Gentile neighbors counted it strange that they did not run the same common race of impure and selfish indulgence, so generally linked with idolatrous customs. Instead of approving the change, they indulged injurious imputations, as the world still does in its form of Christendom. In this they but follow the prince of the world, who is a liar and murderer, the marked contrast of Him who is the Truth and the Life-giver, to whom they “shall render account.” But he puts it with all impressive force, when He is described here as “having it in readiness to judge quick and dead.” Can any believer name a single visible event that hinders His coming?
It is indeed a certain, solemn, yet simple truth, that the Lord Jesus Christ is ordained, or determinately appointed, to this office by God. As Peter preached at Caesarea, Paul at Athens declared that God now enjoins men that they shall all everywhere repent, because He has set a day in which He will judge the inhabited earth by the appointed Man, having as pledge to all afforded His raising Him from the dead. To the believer Peter taught in chapter 1: 21 that His resurrection is to give him faith and hope toward God, delivered from all fear of judgment. To unbelievers, Paul at the Areopagus preached it to be God's assurance that the day hastens when Christ will judge living men as well as dead: the first when He comes in His kingdom, the second just before He gives it up for the eternal state (Rev. 20). For it is the same Who bore our sins in His body on the tree that is now raised from the dead; because God was glorified in that sacrifice of Himself for the putting away of sin, Who is the fore-runner for us entered into that within the veil; as He will come to receive us to Himself, that where He is, there we may be also.
But He is ready to judge, not those even now associated with Him, but “living and dead” who disbelieved and despised Him. He brings salvation to those, judgment to these. How the word of God sweeps away, not doubt only, but delay “My lord delayeth” is the heart's language of mere professors. How sad that believers should plead excuses for the unbelief which our Lord stigmatizes! True hearts love His appearing and would rather hasten the day, solemn as it is.
It is His judging that is linked with verse 6, and helps to rid it of the difficulties with which superstition loads and darkens it. “For to this end the glad tidings went to dead persons also, that they might be judged according to men in flesh, and live according to God in spirit.” From the hour that man fell by sin under death and judgment, God had in His grace a gospel to shelter and give life according to God; which is therefore in the last book of scripture called “an everlasting gospel.” To this clung faith from the first; and it was added to and cleared gradually throughout the O.T. till the death, resurrection, and glory of Christ gave it fullness. And those who now dead heard it in the course of ages had their responsibility so much the more increased. If they abode in their sins through unbelief, they will be judged by the coming Lord according to men in flesh. Grace exempts from that sorrowful condition by the faith of the glad tidings, and life is in Christ for all who believe, who therefore live to God in spirit. For Christ gives life no less than pardon. Those who feel their need of God's grace do also submit to the humbling sense that they deserve judgment. Thus it is that repentance and faith ever go together.
We may add that the passage similarly mistaken in chap. 3:19, 20 does not speak of “glad tidings” like this, and has thus another bearing. It was simply Noah's proclaiming the coming deluge as “a preacher of righteousness” and affected those who perished for their disobedience and are kept for judgment. But we hear of “glad tidings” here; and therefore as the context proves, it applies to all in the past who have heard the gospel. This if refused left them in their natural state as men in flesh, fallen men, to be judged; while those who by grace heard the good news that was sent live according to God in spirit by virtue of that word which quickens by the faith of Christ, and produces the good fruit proper to that life practically. Any one acquainted with the language must own the strict accuracy with which the apostle Peter, certainly not a man of letters or learning, was led to the precisely accurate κηρύσσω and κήρωξ on the one hand, and to the appropriate εὐαγγεμίξω on the other.