“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (I Peter 4:1).
As Peter begins what we understand to be chapter four of his epistle, he again introduces a conclusion by the use of the word “therefore.” I Peter 4:1 also includes a cause and effect structure. The idea is that since Christ has demonstrated a particular behavior, we are in response to demonstrate a corresponding behavior. Let’s look and see what Peter has to say.
The behavior Jesus Christ demonstrated is that he suffered in the flesh. Jesus experienced suffering (πάσχω; pascho) in an active, complete and, by the cross, in a way unique to Him and only Him. His suffering on our behalf secured eternal salvation for the elect of God (Ephesians 1:3-10). Jesus knew the pain of physical persecution while also bearing the sins of many thereby receiving God’s righteous wrath (Romans 1:18).
In light of this truth, God commands believers to arm themselves. To arm (ὁπλίζω; hoplizo) means to personally prepare yourself and be ready. Ready for what? Suffering! Suffering for the Christian faith. Suffering for Jesus Christ (John 15:18-19).
Preparation for suffering for Christ begins with our thinking (ἔννοια; ennoia), which is not just knowledge but also our attitude. Suffering, as we have said several times in this series, is never easy. However, it we have the right biblical attitude, we can not only survive the suffering we face for Jesus but also we can thrive by striving to bring Him glory as we trust Him every step of the journey.
Peter then makes a statement that has solicited many interpretations. What does the apostle mean when he writes, “For whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.” The word cease (παύω; pauo) means to stop some activity or behavior. Is Peter teaching sinless perfection while the believer is on this earth because they suffer for Christ? I John 1:8-10 teaches otherwise. So, what does Peter mean?
Some interpret it to mean the character building effects of suffering. Or it may mean that all those in union with Christ in His suffering and death are considered not to be sinful since Christ has died for their sin and taken its penalty ( I Peter 2:24; 3:18; Romans 6:7).
However, in light of what Peter wrote in I Peter 2:24, we believe that what he means is that believers are no longer living for sin but rather increasingly living for righteousness. We have ceased to have sin be our desire to fulfill but rather we seek to be holy in all we do.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “The passage speaks of the believers’ desire not to sin because of their real identification with Christ, which gives them power and motivation to not sin. The bent of believers’ lives should be toward a progressive ceasing from sin.”
How is your progress in becoming less and less sinful and more and more holy? I know, sometimes it seems to be one step forward and two steps back. Many days it may appear that you are making no progress at all. Take heart! You are growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Let us pray for one another as we do.
Soli deo Gloria!