“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God. Let the time that is past suffice for doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild debauchery, and they abuse you, but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (I Peter 4: 1-5)
“Arm yourselves with the same thought,” the Apostle Peter commands those to whom he writes, those who must live their Christian life in the midst of ridicule, temptation, and persecution. Here is a weapon for that fight, he says: the realization and constant memory that “Christ has suffered in the flesh”, and its corollary that “whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God.”
But just what does this mean? I must confess that as I thought about this throughout the week I was probably a little mistaken. I thought he was saying something akin to what he said in chapter one, that suffering both for Christ and as Christ did can be a purifying fire that burns away the dross of sin and leaves only a pure, shining commitment to him. As James wrote: “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Certainly this is true, and realizing it is indeed another important weapon in our arsenal. However, this does not seem to be the primary point Peter is making here. Helped by several excellent commentaries which pointed me to the context of the passage (Peter has just been talking about baptism and prior to that about the death of Christ on our behalf – “For Christ also died for sins, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” ), I came to realize that what Peter is actually saying is exactly what Paul was saying in Romans 6:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ were baptized into his death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father , we too might walk in newness of life.”
What Paul is saying is that we must never think that Jesus died and rose only to forgive our sins, but also to break sin’s dominion and sway over us and to empower us to live the new life of God; that is “to live no longer by human passions but by the will of God.” It is not just that Christ has died for us (“suffered in the flesh”) , but that all we who have been incorporated into Christ by faith and baptism have died with him. And as he died to sin, so have we who, with him, have “suffered in the flesh” (his flesh). I have no doubt William Barclay can explain this better than I:
“Now the great New Testament picture of baptism is in Romans 6. In that chapter Paul says that the experience of baptism is like being buried with Christ in death and raised with him in newness of life. We think that is what Peter is thinking of here. He has spoken of baptism and now he says, “He who in baptism has shared the sufferings and death of Christ, is risen to such newness of life with him that sin has no more dominion over him….In that act of baptism he is identified with Christ; he shares his sufferings and even his death; and he shares his risen life and power, and is, therefore, victor over sin. When that has happened, a man has said goodbye to his former way of life. The rule of pleasure, pride, and passion is over, and the rule of God has begun.”(Barclay, I Peter, p248)
In other words, when we come to faith and are baptized something really happens to us. We are not just forgiven and sent on our way to try to do better. Rather, we are truly freed from the grip of sin and empowered to live the life to which we are called. This, of course, is not to say that in the face of long habit within and allure or coercion without that it will be easy. It is not to say that we will not on many occasions fail. Rather, it is to say that failure is not final and success is sure if we but persevere and continually surrender ourselves to God’s grace.
This, then, is the weapon with which Peter would arm us: the knowledge that because we have actually died with Christ and been raised with him, we are ultimately and truly “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” We are never to shy away from the life set before us or bow in resignation to the belief that we are doomed to live as we have always lived. No! We indeed are forgiven, but we are far more than that. Listen to Paul one more time:
“But if we have died with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6: 8-11)
“But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:57)
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.