1 Peter 4:1-6 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, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
This sermon is the second of two on this passage. In these few verses, Peter’s main thrust was to call his readers to take up arms for the spiritual war to which they’d been called. “Arm yourselves” is his battle cry.
Last week we considered the reality and nature of, and world’s response to, this war. The reality is that in this life, a part of the very essence of being a Christian is being at war. The nature of the war is that it is one against the desires of our flesh; against anything that competes for our joy in and allegiance to God as King. And while the war is against our flesh and the spiritual forces that seek to use it to destroy us (not against the unbelievers around us), the unbelievers around us, Peter wrote, are likely to make our struggle more difficult.
This week, then, we are going to consider Peter’s teaching and commands on two more aspects of this war: (1) one of the weapons God has given us for it and (2) the possible outcomes of it.
All of this means that we must ask ourselves a very important question: Do I believe the gospel is true and good enough to fully engage in the war to which it calls me? Or, do I truly believe that there is a God who is infinitely glorious and has called me to fight to be like his Son? Or, do I truly believe that there is no hardship that may come my way in this war that can compare to the inheritance that awaits me as I fight in faith? If your answer to these questions is “yes,” then I think you’ll find this text exceedingly helpful for the war before you.
Let’s pray, then, thanking God for graciously revealing all of this to us and for securing our victory in it through the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE WEAPON OF WAR
Again, the constant war that Christians face, Peter wrote, is the internal war between remaining faithful to our true King and kingdom and defecting back to our old king and kingdom. Having been convinced that the Christian life is a life of constant warring, and having come to understand a bit of the nature of the war, Peter’s readers must have been wondering what weapons God had fashioned for them. They were to fight, but with what? Peter wrote that they were to arm themselves, but what were they to arm themselves with?
In this passage Peter mentions one weapon in particular. The specific piece of armament he calls God’s people to take up, is a proper perspective; which is to say, the perspective of Jesus. Peter commanded his readers to arm themselves “with the same way of thinking” as that of Christ (v.1). If we are to be victorious in our war against our flesh, we must learn to think like Jesus. We simply cannot wage a successful campaign against our flesh if our minds have not been renewed.
Throughout this letter Peter listed numerous truths that make up the mind of Jesus. In this passage in particular he lists two more. Before we get to those, however, I want to address two concerns you might have: (1) this sounds like an awfully weak weapon, and (2) if there is a perspective that leads to victory, there must also be a perspective that leads to defeat.
Thinking sounds like an awfully weak weapon.
If I told you that N. Korea was about to launch all of its weapons at us, but that you needn’t worry because we are in possession of a weapon that is certain to defend and defeat them, you might be encouraged. If I told you, however, that our weapon was our perspective—our minds, our understanding—your heart would likely (and rightly) falter. A certain way of thinking would be of little help as missiles screamed our way.
If, last week, I did a good job in describing the nature of the war for which Peter calls his readers to arm themselves—the fierce, constant, spiritual battle—you know that the power against us in that war and the consequences of defeat are far greater and more serious than anything any earthly weapon could do to us.
Therefore, if our perspective does not offer sufficient protection from or power to defeat a lesser enemy (a foreign missile strike), why would we think it has power to defeat the far greater one (our sinful flesh)?
Let me offer two simple answers. First, it is because God has designed different tools to accomplish different purposes. As powerful as a nuclear reactor is in one sense (it is able to split atoms and power cities), it is utterly useless to accomplish something as simple as opening a jar of peanut butter. Conversely, as weak as water is in one sense (even a baby can lift and move and direct it), it is powerful enough to shape granite and sustain life. God has created the world in such a way as to give different things shocking power to accomplish one purpose while being nearly useless to accomplish another. That’s the case when it comes to thinking like Jesus. It isn’t very effective at stopping a missile. But it is more than sufficient, by God’s design, to kill the desires of our flesh.
The second reason our Christ-like perspective is powerful enough to defeat our sin, but not a missile, is one we’ll consider later; namely, because victory and defeat are defined differently in the two different wars. Indeed, while the destruction of our bodies is the definition of a military defeat, for all who have the mind of Christ, death is only victory. Again, we’ll consider that more in a bit.
Let me give you a really quick example before moving on. When I was young we didn’t have a lot of money so many of my playthings were not quite right. For instance, the first motorcycle I ever got was really old, heavy and big. Consequently, it took a long time before I felt comfortable on it. I rode slowly and stayed close to home. I was afraid to crash. One day, however, while I was riding it at a friend’s house, I did dump the bike. I remember my immediate reaction being one of significant fear. As the seconds past, however, and I realized that it was really no big deal, I picked up my bike and was never nervous again. From that point on, I couldn’t wait to ride the bike all over.
What changed? The bike didn’t shrink. I didn’t grow. My skill level was the same. The terrain was the same. The only thing that changed was my perspective; my way of thinking. But that’s all that needed to change. In coming to realize there was nothing to fear I was able to ride in an entirely new way.
The power of sin is just like that. It makes promises that seem desirable, but in reality only lead to death. Likewise, sin blinds us to the goodness and rightness of God’s promises. When our minds become like Jesus’ sin doesn’t change, only our appetite for it does. Having the mind of Christ is more than powerful enough to kill sin.
The perspective that leads to defeat.
And that leads us to the second issue I want to address before getting to the makeup of the mind of Christ with which Peter calls us to arm ourselves. The second issue, once again, is the type of mind that dishonors God and leads to defeat. So far, Peter has mentioned several such mind-sets. I mention these here because they are a significant part of what we are at war against. These are the thoughts of our old selves, the thoughts of traitors, the thoughts that must be put to death or they will lead to death. (I’ve previously preached on each of these. Please go back and look at them for a fuller explanation of their meaning and significance.)
- A mind conformed to the passions of former ignorance (1:14; 4:2).
- A mind believing that anything perishable can save (1:18, 23; 3:21).
- A mind set on malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander (2:1).
- A mind that rejects Jesus as the living stone (2:4).
- A mind determined to disobey the word (2:8).
- A mind that believes grace is meant to be used as a cover-up for evil (2:16).
- A mind that believes obedience to God-given authority is tied to the worthiness of the authority (2:18, 20; 3:1).
- A mind that deceives when deceived, reviles when reviled, threatens when made to suffer (2:22-23), and repays evil for evil (3:9).
- A mind focused on external adornment (3:3).
- A mind that fears and is troubled by frightening things (3:6, 14).
- A mind that fails to honor weaker vessels (3:7).
- A mind unprepared to make a defense of the gospel (3:15).
- A mind that fails to recognize suffering as a tool of God for the growth of his people and the furthering of his kingdom (1 Peter).
To think these ways, Peter wrote, leads to death. They fuel our sinful flesh instead of killing it, thus allowing it to kill us. To have these things in mind is to have the same mind as the world, and to have the same mind as the world leads to eternal defeat. Check yourselves for them, and where you find them, make war!
The mind of Jesus—our weapon of victory!
Now that we know (1) that the mind of Christ is sufficient to defeat our sinful flesh and (2) the kind of mind that leads to its defeat, we’re brought back to the question of what, specifically, constitutes the way of thinking that leads to victory. That is, with what thoughts of Jesus must we arm ourselves if we are to defeat the passions of our former ignorance?
Let me ask this same question in a different—more practical—way: If you are struggling with anger, lust, despair, anxiousness, addiction, greed, hate, gossip, jealousy, coveting, etc. what of the mind of Jesus must you take up to defeat them (not just internalize them, but mortify them)?
And now let me ask it in a more Petrine way: What thinking of Jesus is sufficient to help us stop living (v.3) in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, and lawless idolatry? Or, ultimately in this letter, what manner of Christ-like thought is able to kill our desire to give up faithfulness as our persecution grows because of it?
Up to this point in the letter Peter had spent a decent amount of text pointing his readers to five perspectives Jesus maintained throughout his persecution: he (1) continued to hope in God throughout his suffering—even to death, (2) feared nothing and no one when he was made to suffer, (3) walked in holiness even in times of greatest suffering, (4) loved those around him during his suffering (even those who were the cause of it), and (5) remembered that God was only and always working good through his suffering (ultimately the glory of God in the salvation of all his people).
As we’ve already seen, we must cultivate this manner of thinking. We must fight for this Christ-like perspective, for the glory of God and the sanctification of our souls. We must truly believe that living a life of persecution-inducing faithfulness is the only life worth living. We must have the mind of Christ which sees that according to God’s design, suffering is a sanctifying window into our souls and an amplifier on our gospel ministry. We must believe with all of our hearts that to live is Christ and to die is gain.
When we arm ourselves with this way of thinking, the same mind as Jesus, God will mortify, kill, defeat, the passions of our flesh that seek to draw us back into the kingdom of sin and death. All of that is how “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh” relates to “arm yourselves with the same way of thinking” (v.1).
There’s more, though. Throughout the rest of this passage Peter mentioned two more critical aspects of the mind of Jesus with which God’s people are to arm themselves:
First, we must come to understand that living entirely for the will of God is our aim. That’s the main point of v.2, “so as to life for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” When this is our mindset, as the hymn goes, the things of earth will grow strangely dim. Once we see God’s will as it truly is, as Jesus sees it—life and light and truth and joy—all that once held us captive and controlled our affections and actions will be seen for what it is—counterfeit and hollow.
And second, we must also come to understand, Peter wrote, that all other kings and kingdoms, however enticing they might initially be to us, are ultimately empty and deadly. That’s what Peter, in v.5, meant by, “[Those who persecute you] will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” Citizens of all other kings and kingdoms will make grand (though empty) promises, but will ultimately be judged guilty and punished eternally. Being of this mind, the mind of Jesus, leaves no room for treason. When we know what awaits the faithful and the faithless, there really is no room for disobedience to live in us.
Wielding the weapon.
To kill our sinful passions we need to have the mind of Christ—particularly as it relates to suffering and persecution. But what does that mean in real life? There are two crucial things to understand if we are to wield this weapon effectively. First, we must actually pick it up and fight with it. We must fight against the sinful desires that wage war against us. We must fight with earnestness and ferocity.
Colossians 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die…
The simple fact is: if we do not fight, if we do not properly arm ourselves and wage war, we will die. The current of the world leads to death. We will not lounge our way into holiness.
The second thing to understand is that, by grace through faith, God’s people are united with Jesus and empowered by the Spirit such that we will fight and we will win.
1 Peter 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
Romans 8:13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Too many in the Church have attempted to make the fight against our lingering human passions an either or situation. Either we are responsible or God is. Either our arming ourselves is necessary for defeating our flesh or Christ accomplished it entirely for us. Grace, the simple fact is this: the bible does not allow for such a dichotomy. Both are always, simultaneously true for Christians.
Perhaps the clearest verse on the mingling of our responsibility and God’s sovereignty is Philippians 2:12-13, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” You, Christian, work out your salvation. Fight to remain faithful to Jesus. Your salvation really does depend on it. And do so in the full knowledge that your ability to do so has already been worked out by the Father, through the death of his Son, for the Trinity’s pleasure.
We must fight, therefore, with fierce determination, using every weapon God has placed at our disposal. But we must do it in the power that the Spirit provides and in the knowledge that Christ’s suffering secured our victory over our fleshly desires. Both are always, concurrently true.
On a practical level, then, When treasonous thoughts come into our heads, when we are tempted toward sin of any kind, it is not general concepts that will defend us and defeat our lusts. It is the immediate recollection of some specific aspect of the mind of Christ. For instance, as temptation comes our way, we must arm ourselves with the mind of Christ which knows and believes that (1 Corinthians 10:13) “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” That is, when we face temptation we must begin to fight it with the knowledge that we need not give in.
If our specific temptation is toward sexual immorality or impurity or covetousness, the only way to kill those passions of the flesh is to actively take up the mind of Jesus as it relates to their true nature. (Ephesians 5:5) “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Kids, what of the mind of Christ will you arm yourselves with when you are tempted to disobey your parents of be mean to your siblings?
Older saints, what specific manner of Christ-like thinking will you arm yourselves with as you face the temptation to put your hope in doctors or medicine or health or your retirement savings?
Single saints, what promises of God in Jesus will you take up when you’re tempted to define yourselves by your singleness or loneliness or idolatry of marriage?
Moms, what truth from God’s word will you call to mind when you’re tempted to believe that giving yourselves to raising your kinds in the gospel is inferior to any calling?
Outside-of-the-home workers, what passages will you cling to as you’re tempted to make an idol of your work?
Again, then, we must understand that properly wielding this weapon means that our fight is necessary for our salvation. We cannot simply sit back and hope our temptation away. We cannot simply recall general principles. We must recall specific ways of Jesus’ thinking. And we must also realize that to be a Christian is to fight in the certain knowledge of victory because of Christ’s certain victory. “For,” again, “if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Finally, then, let’s close then by considering the outcome of this war; the result of successfully or unsuccessfully taking up the armament of the mind of Jesus.
THE OUTCOME OF WAR
If we fail to do this, if we fail to take up the armament of the thinking of Jesus against the passions of our flesh, they will kill us and we will, as we already saw, “give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (v.5). That is, if having laid down (or never picked up) our arms, we are overtaken by our sinful desires and declare allegiance to them rather than God, God will judge us guilty of treason and we will be made to suffer the everlasting consequences.
On the other hand, however, all who are truly in Jesus will take up arms, we will increasingly have the mind of Jesus, and we will, as Peter says, “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” And the end result of that is that we will “live in the spirit the way God does.”
In this life that means a constant battle. But it also means certain transformation into Christ’s likeness. In this life that means steady opposition and persecution. But it also means that we “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (2:9). In this life that means always swimming against the current. But it also means “silencing ignorant and foolish people” (2:15), winning the disobedient (3:1), “obtaining a blessing” (3:9), and experiencing the growing pleasure of God.
Ultimately, however, successfully taking up arms against our flesh means obtaining “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1:4). It means a receiving a “salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5). It means “that the tested genuineness of your faith …[will] result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:7). It means rejoicing “and being glad when [the glory of Jesus] is revealed” (4:13). And it means that at “the proper time [God will] exalt you” (5:6) as you enter into everlasting, unhindered fellowship with him.
All to the glory of God, in the power of the Spirit, and through the precious blood of Jesus. Amen.