Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Current Study: First Peter
Today’s Topic: Suffering Destroys Sin
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 4:1 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.
I love the word therefore. It perks up my mind to make a connection between what has previously been said and what is about to be said. It is the one word which more than any other helps me to keep things in context. That’s because it is the word that helps me fulfill my insatiable need to understand cause and effect.
Cause and effect is the relationship between two things when one thing makes something else happen. For example, if we eat too much food and do not exercise, we gain weight. Eating food without exercising is the “cause;” weight gain is the “effect.” I just wish that my understanding of that would start to change me. Which brings up another cause and effect – my choice to ignore the eventual effect for the immediate enjoyment of the food is the real problem.
It is that same attitude of choosing the immediate enjoyment of sin regardless of the long-term effect that is being addressed by Peter as he begins chapter four. He starts with the word therefore, so he is connecting an effect with a previous cause. The previous cause is that Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh and was raised in the Spirit in victory over the flesh. The effect is to be that we can experience the same thing and be done with sin.
Wouldn’t it be great to be done with sin? Peter seems to be telling us that we can be. But the big question that comes to my mind is this – If I can be done with sin, then why do I still sin? Other questions also arise. If being done with sin is the result of suffering, then why have I not suffered enough to be done with sin? What kind of suffering is he referring to? These are all legitimate questions, and they can be answered, with one contingency – that we understand that our personal choice is the real issue. None of what I’m about to teach will be of any value to anyone who hasn’t already or is will to now take responsibility for their own choices. It is not anyone else’s fault for the effects you are experiencing. Your choices are the cause.
Peter H. Davids, in his book More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, helps us to understand how to interpret this passage about being done with sin. There are five different explanations of this passage.
- 1. First, it might refer only to Christ (the “he” is Christ and no one else).
- 2. Second, it may refer to a Christian’s identification with Christ at his or her conversion-initiation (especially baptism). That is, when one identifies with Christ’s death, sin has no more power over that person (Rom 6:1-12; 1 Jn 5:18-19).
- 3. Third, it may mean that when a Christian decides to suffer for Christ, that believer has chosen decisively to break with sin and its compromises.
- 4. Fourth, it may mean that when Christians suffer, they break the power of sin over their life.
- 5. Finally, it may mean that when Christians die, they will be freed from sin as Christ was.
Let’s look at some facts we already know. Unlike Paul, when Peter talks about sin it is never in the abstract, but always in reference to concrete, identifiable actions of sin. That makes options 2 and 3 not viable. Peter knows that the power and penalty of sin have been removed from the Christian’s life at the moment of his salvation, but he is talking about the presence of sin in our lives in specific forms.
We also know that Peter is not talking in his letter about martyrdom as the only means of deliverance from the presence of sin. The suffering to which he refers is social in nature, not legal. That makes option 5 out.
Of the remaining two, both are probably in Peter’s mind. As a result of His victory over sin on the cross, confirmed by God in Christ’s resurrection, He is done with sin forever. But what we must understand is that the same resurrection power that was exerted in Christ to conquer death now lives in us to conquer sin as well. What is missing in our lives is our willingness and choice to suffer for Christ so that we might experience the victory of Christ.
The law of cause and effect is at play here. According to God, the originator of cause and effect, whatever a man sows is what he reaps. Plant corn; harvest corn. Scatter seeds of selfishness; harvest loneliness. Choose sin; harvest discipline, correction, and judgment. But the flip side of the cause and effect coin is also true. Choose suffering for Christ; harvest victory over sin. God’s law of cause and effect for the Christian is this – choose to set aside any and all immediate gratification of the flesh and suffer the loss of the pleasures of this world, and He will give you victory over any and all sin.
Peter Davids is helpful again when he writes, “if Christ is really the one they are following, their great example, then suffering will separate them more and more from sinful acts, making them increasingly invested in heaven, until they come to that point when they die like Christ, and, like him, are totally finished with sin and all its effects in this world.”
“We may in fact still be sinning because we have not chosen to suffer and thereby are not done with sin. Perhaps when we come to the point of choice, we choose compromise and then wonder why we cannot overcome temptation. On the other hand, we may still be sinning because we have not suffered enough. While we have chosen Christ and are against sin and are making good progress in the battle, we have not yet died. We may be longing for a perfection that will only be ours in resurrection, not that very real maturity that is possible in this world.”
The choice is yours. Do you believe that the resurrected life of Jesus lives in you, and that the power of His resurrection to conquer sin is yours today? Or have you become convinced in your mind that we must suffer with sin in this life until we are finally taken to glory? I do not proclaim sinless perfection in this life. We will still sin. But why are we satisfied with that? It’s because we have chosen, even though we may be in denial of that choice, to enjoy the pleasures of sin, claiming that the grace of God will cover us. What a cheap grace that is! The grace of God brings us the life of Christ in all of His glorious victory. Let us not cheapen what He has done by choosing to gratify the desires of the flesh while claiming the victory He offers.