The Memory that Shun's Sin, Pt. 2
We are in an ongoing study of 1 Peter. We find ourselves tonight in chapter 4 looking for the second time at verses 1 through 6 and discussing the subject that is on Peter's heart, namely, "A memory that shuns sin.
John Owen, the great Puritan whom I have been reading, it seems, quite frequently in recent weeks, said this, "Sin in the believer is a burden which afflicts him, rather than a pleasure which delights him."
Every true believer lives in a tremendous battle between the desire of the unredeemed flesh and the compulsions of the new man, the new nature. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, we love the law of God. Like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, we battle the law or the principle of sin. And though there is something deep within us planted there by God Himself in the marvelous miracle of regeneration, there is a new life principle that longs for what is right and what is true and what is good and what is honorable and noble and holy and pure. There is also that unredeemed flesh in which that newness is incarcerated...thus the battle.
And the question that we ask as we look at this text tonight is how are we to deal with that warfare? How are we to face the reality of that conflict and know the path of victory?
Let me suggest to you that one factor that is very important is to have a three-fold perspective with regard to sin. First of all, we must have a forward look, we must have a sort of future orientation, in that we are doing what Jesus said, watching and praying lest we enter into temptation...to do what the Apostle Paul said, walking circumspectly, to be on the alert knowing that ahead of us at any moment one breath away is some formidable temptation. And so there must be a sense in which we live in anticipation, we live in watchfulness, we live in alertness.
But then there is not only a future dimension to our perspective but there must be a present dimension as well. We must not only be anticipating, we must be dealing with what is presently here. We must hate what is evil. We must cling to what is good. As Paul said, we must put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make...in the present tense...no provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts. And so, sensing what is imminent on the future, living in what is real in the present will help us in dealing with sin.
But there's one other look and that is the look which Peter really focuses on in his text and that is a backward look. There has to be a view of the past as well. And I believe anyone who is to deal with sin must have a good memory. Peter is going to help us to understand what we need to remember, as we view the text. So let's begin at verse 1. "Therefore since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. And in all this they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation and they malign you. But they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead, for the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God."
Now remember that Peter is writing to Christians who are experiencing suffering, Christians who are experiencing rejection, Christians who are undergoing direct persecution. And as he has on a number of occasions spoken about the difficulty of a godly person in an ungodly situation, he has come to emphasize at the end of chapter 3 the very strong point that in the greatest of suffering there may be the greatest triumph. It is clear when you study 1 Peter that suffering is the backdrop. And there's a sense in which the culmination to viewing suffering comes in that third chapter verses 18 to 22 with the understanding that the greatest suffering may lead to the greatest triumph. And the example of that is none other than Jesus Christ. And you'll remember our study of Christ which pointed out as we went through that passage that Jesus at the hour of His greatest difficulty, at the hour of His highest pain, severest persecution, namely the hour of His death, was winning the greatest victory the world has ever known. And Peter's point is, no matter how difficult the hostility, no matter how severe the persecution, understand that what may be the most difficult time may as well be the most triumphant time.
There was Christ being murdered on a cross and through that very death He was triumphing over sin, He was triumphing over Satan, He was triumphing over demons, He was triumphing over death, He was triumphing over hell, He was triumphing, as it were, even over the judgment of God. And in the end He was highly exalted by God Himself. And verse 22 says, "He was set at the right hand of God after everything was made subject to Him."
So, Christian, suffering can be triumphant. On the basis of that, we come to verse 1. "Therefore since there is great triumph in suffering, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." Peter says Christ suffered in the flesh triumphantly, you do the same. You can have the victory that parallels in some ways the victory of Christ.
Now what specifically does he have in mind? Let me remind you. When he says Christ has suffered in the flesh he means Christ died. He's talking there about crucifixion, as noted back in verse 18, Christ also died. Some manuscripts there say suffered, we assume that the interchange does intend to point out one, the death; and one, the suffering associated with it; but both go together, obviously. When in verse 1 of chapter 4 it says Christ has suffered, it is implied in that that He died. It is a synonym here for death. He says then arm yourselves with the same ennoia, arm yourselves with the same idea, the same purpose, the same principle, the same thought. And what thought is that and what idea and what purpose? "That you are willing to die for righteousness' sake because you know you may triumph in it."
Now, if you are armed against persecution with a willingness to die, if you are willing to do what Jesus said in Matthew 10:38 and 39 and Matthew 16, take up your cross and follow Him, which implies a willingness to die also, if you are willing to die for the cause of Christ, then you have armed yourself with the same idea that Christ had when He died, for He died for the joy that was set before Him, He knew what it would accomplish, He understood the triumph in it, and so must you. And what is that triumph? Look at the end of verse 1, "Because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin." That's one aspect of it. We noted in our last study some of the discussion regarding that phrase and I shared with you the conclusion that I have out of this text that what he is talking about there is very simple. What he is saying is if they kill you, you will cease from sin. The phrase "suffered in the flesh" again at the end of verse 1 means the same as it meant in the beginning of verse 1, and it has to do with the death of Christ, it has to do with death. What he is saying is if you die you cease from sin.
The point is this, the worst that your persecutors can do to you is kill you and if they kill you, the battle is over. Does that sound inviting? It should. That's the idea. And if you're armed with that idea, you will not recant, you'll have courage and boldness and confidence and strength in the midst of any trial, any difficulty, any persecution, any threat.
And then that kind of attitude will produce the attitude of verse 2, "So as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men." That's the key. If you are willing to die knowing you shall cease from sin, then you have just taken away the greatest weapon that the enemies have against you and that is the threat of death. And if that's no threat for you, then that's no weapon for them. And if you understand that the goal of your life is to cease from sin and all death can do is bring that goal to a reality, if you do understand that that is the goal of your life, then you will live the rest of your life in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men. In other words, Peter is saying once you arm yourself with the reality that you're goal is to be free from sin, it will defuse the threat of death and it will control the way you live your life. You are to live your life shunning sin, no longer driven by fleshly desire, never compromising because death could only be deliverance from sin and so what threat could make you compromise? This then becomes a very important stimulus to generate the shunning of sin.
Now, Peter then begins to explore this concept of remembering. And I want to just take you through this just simply, we went through two points of the outline and I'm just briefly condensing this. Remember this, first of all, Peter will give us several points, remember what sin did to Jesus Christ, verse 1. It killed Him. If we are going to deal with sin and if we are going to have victory over sin, we're going to have to hate sin. Part of hating sin is to understand what sin does. No greater illustration of what sin does then to look at what it did to Christ...Christ suffered, Christ died, as verse 18 of chapter 3 says.
Secondly in our last study we noted that you must have a good memory about what sin did to Christ and, secondly, a good memory about what sin has done to Christians. Second part of verse 1, it kills them, too. Not only does it kill them from time to time, there are martyrs, those who have died for the cause of Christ, but it causes them, note this, to battle all their life long until they die. The implication of the end of verse 1 is that the only way to cease from sin is to die. We ought to hate sin because it kills Christ, we ought to hate sin because it keeps believers from being what God has intended them to be, perfect, holy, Christlike, free from sin. It restrains us from being what we ought to be. It makes us do what we don't want to do and not do what we want to do, it creates a terrible warfare. It provides for us a certain kind of bondage from which we can never be fully liberated. And that is why we cry out for the redemption of our body in Romans chapter 8.
Now thirdly, and this is where we really pick up our study tonight, we must remember if we're going to shun sin not only what it did t Christ and what it has done to Christians but what it has done to God. And this only by implication but I think it's a point that needs to be made. Verse 2 says that the believer is to live the rest of the time in the flesh, no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God.
And here we want to remember what sin does to God. What it does to God is violate His...what?...His will. That's the implication. Peter calls us to realize that we are to do God's will for the rest of our time in the flesh because prior to our salvation, obviously, we did everything but the will of God. He contrasts living for the lusts of men and living for the will of God, one or the other. Peter is simply saying by way of reminder that we have to look back and understand that sin violates the will of God. And when we live in sin, when we follow the lusts of men, we violate the will of God.
The Bible is full of many exhortations to this matter of obedience and I would just draw you to a few that are quite familiar to you. Matthew chapter 7 tells us this in verse 24 that "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them may be compared to a wise man who built his house upon the rock and the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and burst against that house and yet it did not fall because it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act upon them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and burst against that house and it fell and great was its fall."
That whole thing can be summed up by saying that judgment will come in the end and it will come on those who did not do the will of God. Back in verse 21 Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." This then is an exhortation to the obedience of the will of God.
In Matthew chapter 28 we are all reminded of the fact that in the great commission Jesus said we are to teach them to observe all that I commanded you. That's part and parcel of making disciples is to bring men into obedience to the commandments which express the will of God.
You remember well, perhaps from your childhood, memorizing Romans 12:2, listen to it. "Do not be conformed to this world, be transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."
In Ephesians chapter 5 and verse 7 the Scripture says that we are not to be partakers with those who are deceivers upon whom the wrath of God comes who are called the sons of disobedience. In Ephesians 6:6 it says that we are to be slaves of Christ doing the will of God from the heart.
I love Colossians 4:12, it speaks of Epaphras who was always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God. And so it goes and goes and goes through the New Testament...the call to obedience.
Sin, on the other hand, starting with Lucifer and his fall, is an expression of disobedience, a refusal to do the will of God. Sin is rebellion, the Scripture says. Sin is hostility against God.
Now, beloved, this is a simple point that I make and just those Scriptures to remind you of how importance obedience is. But this is a simple point. The point is this, how can we sin when we understand that it violates the will of God? God who has been so gracious to us, God who has been so loving and merciful and kind, how can we live...to put it in Peter's words...the rest of our time in the lusts of men rather than the will of God?
We can't...we can't. If you desire to shun sin in your life, you must have a backward look, you must understand what sin did to Christ, it killed Him, it is a despicable, hateful thing. You must understand what it has done to Christians, it has retarded them and prevented them from being all that they should and could be apart from it. You must remember what it does to God, it violates His holy will. There's a sense in which it strikes a blow in His blessed face. It rebels against Him. See it for what it is.
In Jeremiah chapter 22 and verse 21 and Jeremiah 35:14 it says, "I have spoken to you again and again yet you have not listened to Me." That's the essence of sin, rebellion.
Fourthly, I believe Peter suggests to us here that if we are to shun sin we must remember what sin has done to lost humanity. Not only what it has done to Christ, what it has done to Christians in retarding them from being what they could be, not only what it has done to God but what it has done to lost humanity. And this is the heart of verses 3 through 5 to which I draw your attention.
What you have in verses 3, 4 and 5 is a rather graphic and tragic description of the devastating effects of sin on mankind that should provide your memory with plenty of reason to shun sin. He says, "You ought to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men but for the will of God because the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the pagans...or the Gentiles, or the nations." In other words, you've already had enough time, you've already had sufficient opportunity to live in sin, why drag it on any longer? And he here refers to your pre-conversion life, to the time before you came to know Christ. And he says your pre-Christian experience of sin is sufficient. The sense of the word, by the way, "sufficient," the sense of that word is actually more than sufficient, the sense of it is more than enough. You've already had more than enough of that kind of life. You have carried out the desire of the Gentiles to an extent that you don't need to do it any longer.
By the way, the desire here is boulomai, which seems to have the idea of a desire that is a purpose. It's a purposed desire. And when you were unsaved and when you were without God and without Christ, your heart purposed to fulfill your evil desire. It is what Peter calls in chapter 1:18 a futile way of life. You've already spent more than enough time on that, enough time to have worked it out, to have produced, to have accomplished the pagan lifestyle to its limit, now leave it alone.
So remember what it did to lost humanity by remembering what you were like before you were converted. And the rest of this time, do God's will. You had enough of that.
Now Peter doesn't even stop with that injunction, rather he remembers with them and gets a little more specific. Note again in verse 3, he describes that former lifestyle as having pursued a course. The verb means to conduct one's life. That's it's idea. You conducted your life along this course. Moving along the course of sin, as it were, to the hypnotic beat of a diabolical drummer, it is the devil that calls the cadence for the solemn downward march into sin and you were doing it and that's enough. Look to your past, isn't it enough? There are many of you here tonight who look to your past and say it was enough, more than enough.
Let's look at it a little more closely. What was it like? Six words describe it. You pursued a course of sensuality, aisolgaia(???), the word is used to describe the spirit which knows no restraint, the spirit which dares to sin any sin, unbridled, unrestrained, vice. In fact, the old word is debauchery and that word meant an excessive indulgence in sensual pleasure. He's saying that's the way it was. Before you came to Christ in your lost condition you lived in unchecked lawlessness, open outrages against God, you flaunted your vice. And certainly that's true in the culture in which we live which would have to be defined as a pornography culture.
The second word he uses is very closely associated with the first, he uses the word lusts, passion. It means evil desire. It is to be driven by the animal instinct, to be driven by passion, it is mindless indulgence in pleasures that passion pursues. Then he uses another word, drunkenness. This word literally means wine bubbling up and speaks of intoxication, habitual drunkenness could well speak of the inebriation that comes from drugs as well.
The fourth word he uses is translated carousals, komos. It really refers to a wild party...a wild orgy. The term was used in extrabiblical literature to refer to a band of drunken wildly acting people who were staggering and swaying and swaggering and singing their way through the streets causing racket and havoc, the wildness, public drunkenness. And by the way, it was usually associated with the worship of false gods, the cults of the ancient time like the worship of Dionysius or Bacchus.
And then he adds a word that is very similar, drinking parties, potos, drinking bouts...just drinking for the sake of drinking and becoming drunk. And then he adds abominable idolatries, the worship of idols that is an abomination to God.
Now there, dear friends, is a characterization of an unregenerate person and not everybody, of course, is not as bad as they might be. But this is pretty typically the lifestyle of an unregenerate person in our culture and was in the time of Peter as well. He said you did enough of that, enough loose, vile, debauched living, enough being driven by passion, enough drunkenness, enough wild parties, enough drinking bouts, enough abominable idolatries of worshiping the false gods, enough. From now on do not live that way, remember what you lived like, remember what sin did to you. Remember the pain of your sensuality and your lust, your drunkenness, your carousals, the pain of your drinking parties and abominable idolatries.
The interesting thing about all of that is it was packaged up and tied up in a ribbon called religion in ancient times. It was justified as a form of worship to a deity.
Then in verse 4 Peter adds, and it's most interesting, "And in all this they're surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation and they malign you." Boy, is that ever true. They're surprised when you say my life has changed, I don't do that anymore. They're surprised, they're shocked when your life is different. That's normal for them. It's so much a way of life that when you don't live that way you're surprised. The verb means to be astonished, shocked. And it includes the idea of taking an offense. They resent you. Why? They resent you because you don't run with them into the same excess of dissipation.
You see, first of all, when they see you transformed and you're not living your life that way anymore, it's a matter of wonder to them. It's a matter of surprise. J.B. Nichols writes, "The licentious bound by habits they cannot break, inflamed by lusts they cannot extinguish, gravitated downward by a power they cannot by themselves resist are astonished at the complete change in the lives of those believers whose whole aim in life is now the will of God." And as M.B. Welch wrote many years ago in that lovely poem, "But the master comes and the foolish crowd never can quite understand the worth of the soul and the change that's wrought by the touch of the Master's hand." They don't understand it and it bothers them greatly and heaps guilt upon their heads that you don't run with them. You no longer do what they do. You are not continuing, literally, to run with them, emphasizing that once you did and now they're offended that you don't.
That little phrase "into the same excess of dissipation" is a very vivid phrase. The picture is of a large crowd running together in a mad, wild race, a plunge, a melee. William Kelley says, "A euphoric stampede of pleasure seekers racing." The term "excess" used only here means primarily the confluence of waters. It has the idea of waters coming together to flow. Some suggest it has the idea of a cistern, others suggest the idea of refuse pouring into a cesspool. And he pictures preconversion life as this wild, mad race of lustful, drunken, pleasure-seeking, passionate idolaters who are running like some mucky waters into a cesspool of dissipation. Dissipation means the state of evil in which a person thinks about nothing but evil...doesn't think about health, doesn't think about money, doesn't think about reputation, doesn't think about character, only indulging passion. There is such a burning passion in sin that people are mindlessly pursuing their passion, irresistibly compulsively rushing into the cesspool in dissipation, they are attracted to it. And Peter says that is hardly a spa for a Christian...hardly the place for you...remember how it was, remember how it was.
And he says they malign you, blasphemeo, they blaspheme you to defame, to attack someone's reputation, to slander them, they speak evil of you because you're no longer running into the same cesspool that they're running into. Again, Kelley says, "There's plenty of evidence from pagan as well as Christian sources that it was precisely the reluctance of Christians to participate in the routine of contemporary life, particularly conventionally accepted amusements, civic ceremonies and any function involving contact with idolatry or what they considered immorality that caused them to be hated, despised and themselves suspected of illicit practices," end quote. It was that very reason that made people hate them.
Lost humanity is an ugly bunch. They malign Christians. They despise Christians. They run like mucky waters into a cesspool of dissipation, that is an ugly picture. And what Peter is saying is...Remember that you used to run with them, you used to run into that same sexually perverted, drunk, idolatrous, mad cesspool of dissipation. And you were saved out of it and you became the object of their bitter acrimony. And are you now going to indulge in the sins that you did in the past? It would be better to be righteous and to suffer triumphantly than to go into that cesspool.
And then he adds a note in verse 5, "But they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." That verb "they shall give account" means to pay back, they'll be paid back. In fact, people who do that, who live like that and who cast aspersions on Christians and who malign believers are amassing a debt to God that they will spend all eternity paying back. They'll be required to pay. This verb is a bookkeeping term. God has it on His books. And they're going to pay. Scripture describes that payment. You read Matthew chapter 18 verse 23 and following, you read Revelation chapter 20 verses 11 to 15, there is coming a time when they will pay. And they will give account to the one who is ready to judge when they stand at the Great White Throne Judgment.
He says this, "The one who judges will judge the living and the dead." The living...those presently alive in Peter's time, the dead...those already dead, they're going to all be judged, all of them. As Romans 3:19 says, Paul writes that every mouth be gagged and no one will have a defense, they will not escape judgment. They will be struck dumb before a holy God, before the judgment throne, without defense, without an advocate, without an excuse. And they will be judged. In fact, the severity of their judgment is perhaps as graphically described in 2 Thessalonians as anywhere, "For after all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus; and these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction." Their day will come.
One note, in chapter 4 and verse 5, the word "Him", they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge. Who is the judge? Who is the one identified as Him? We could say, on the one hand, it is God. First Peter 1:17, "If you address as Father the one who impartially judges," that refers to God. But if we read John 5:22 to 27 it tells us there that all judgment has been committed to Jesus Christ. And so we believe that God will judge them, but God will judge them through the agency of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ to whom He has committed all judgment.
What has sin done to the unsaved? It has made their life debauched. It has plunged them into a filthy vile cesspool of dissipation. And it has made them the enemies of the people of God. It has thus made them the enemies of God Himself, the enemies of Christ and the objects of an eternal damning judgment. I think what Peter has on his heart is to remind us to say look at that and don't you forget it. It should help you shun sin. It should help you be willing to suffer for righteousness' sake joyfully.
So, shunning sin requires a good memory, a good memory of what sin has done to Christ, it killed Him. What sin has done to Christians, it keeps us from being what we could be because the only way we can cease from sin is to die, we are so bound in the flesh. To look again and see what it has done to God, it has offended Him greatly for sin is rebellion against His will. And look and see what it has done to the lost, it has made them filthy and vile and set them for damnation.
Finally, Peter has one more magnificent remembrance in helping us to shun sin and gladly be willing to suffer for righteousness sake and it is this, remember, fifthly, what God promised you in overcoming sin...remember what God promised you in overcoming sin. Look at verse 6, "For the gospel has for this purpose been preached, even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men they may live in the spirit according to the will of God." This is a simple and profound verse. For the gospel has been preached means the saving message of Jesus Christ. Even to those who are dead, simply means those who are now dead. He has in mind some believers who heard the gospel and are now dead, some of them perhaps had been martyred, maybe some in the association of those to whom this letter was sent had died for their faith in Christ. And so the whole overarching idea here is that the believer under persecution, under unjust treatment, under punishment and even death, even death, should be willing to suffer knowing there is triumph because though he may die in the flesh as a man, he will live in the spirit according to the will of God.
What Peter is saying is that God has promised you that through death you'll overcome sin. So he reminds his readers the gospel was preached to those now dead for this purpose, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, literally put to death for their faith in Christ, they will live in the spirit according to God. And so he takes us back to where we started, all death can do is bring you into everlasting life in the presence of God.
You see, it's a parallel to all that we've been learning at the end of chapter 3 verse 18, Christ died but He didn't stay dead, He was made alive in the spirit. His body was dead, His spirit was alive, same point here. They may kill your body but your spirit will be alive and you will enter into the promise of eternal life.
So shunning sin in the face of great threats, in the face of persecution and even death is possible, noble, righteous, it is commanded and one way to assist in that overcoming is to remember and to remember what sin did to Christ, what it does to Christians, what it does to God, what it does to the lost. And then remember what God has promised you in the future. No matter what they do to us, we can be victorious.
I guess Jesus said much the same thing when He said, "Fear not those who destroy the body but fear the one who destroys both soul and body in hell." Beloved, we all as those who have come to Christ, battle sin. And this has been a somewhat careful and perhaps even technical presentation, I don't want you to lose touch with the impact. But we all battle sin and what gives you victory is not some mystical apprehension, not some esoteric perception, but simply focusing on the damage and the devastation of sin. If we can ever see it for what it is we're going to hate it as God hates it. To see what it did to Christ, to see what it does to God, to see how it cripples believers, devastates their lives, their marriages, their families, retards them from being what God wants them to be. And understanding how it leads the whole human race into a cesspool of dissipation and ultimately judgment should make us hate sin. And then when you flip that over and compare the other side, that God has promised us that in the end no matter what they do to us we will live in the spirit unto God forever, there should be no pressure from this ungodly world that can make us fall to their standard of living, not even the threat of life.
Well, may God help us to be faithful battlers, warriors against this enemy. Let's bow in a word of prayer.
Father, we're reminded that in the very next verse in this passage Peter talks about how important it is to be involved in fervent prayer. Father, may we realize that even when we have cultivated the memory and when we understand the terrible, terrible effects of sin we still must pray and depend on You as the resource for victory in our lives. Father, make us holy, righteous, pure, continue to move us along to the image of Christ which is both our goal and our destiny and we'll give You thanks and praise in His dear name. Amen.