Real faith leads to real change. When a person shares his or her testimony, we should listen for correct belief. To be a Christian, a person must believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died and rose again for our salvation. A person must believe that we are saved by the grace of God alone through faith in Christ alone. But in a Christian school, especially at the middle school level, I have found that most students will affirm theses gospel truths with their lips. What I listen for in a testimony, however, is the change of the student’s heart and life. I listen for evidence of repentance and growth in faith. A legit Christian testimony will show sorrow and regret over past sin and a desire to become like Jesus. Someone who has truly been been born again by the Holy Spirit has received God’s holy hatred for sin as well as His enduring love for what is good and pure.
This inner and outer change is what Peter is talking about in today’s passage. For the true believer, the time of selfish, sinful wandering has passed. Such a person now lives like one who knows that God will one day judge his or her life. This person now lives with what the Bible calls the “fear of the Lord,” which is a reverence for God that leads to humble, holy living. A real Christian is a person who is striving hard to put to death his or her old sinful thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors and to instead learn to do God’s will as revealed in the Bible. This work of spiritual change and growth is certainly done by the power of the Holy Spirit; we cannot be sanctified on our own. But if the Lord is really in our lives, we will see the change, and others will, too. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 reminds us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
The Text (1 Peter 4:1-6)
1 Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles–when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. 5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Background and Observations
• When Peter says in the beginning of verse 1 that Jesus lived in “the flesh,” he is talking about Christ’s human nature; He became fully God and fully man when He was born of the virgin Mary so that He could then suffer and die for our sins. But the references to “the flesh” at the end of verse 1 and in the middle of verse 2 are talking about our sinful nature, which as Christians we desire to put to death so that we can be alive in our spirits toward the things of God.
• Not all or even most Christians are guilty of all of the sins that Peter describes in verse 3. For instance, I would hope that none of our middle school students have attended (or ever will attend) wild drinking parties. But what Peter is doing here is giving specific examples of specific sins that were common in the Roman Empire in which his Christian audience lived. Some of his readers of this letter were guilty of these sins, and he is telling them that it is time for them to leave that empty lifestyle behind as they walk in their new lives in Christ. For us, the application is that whatever sinful patterns of thinking and doing dominated our lives before Christ, we should now turn from them as we instead follow Christ and His ways.
• The point about the gospel having been “preached also to those who are dead” is either talking about the gospel being preached to lost people who were spiritually dead before salvation or Christians who are now physically dead while their spirits or souls are alive in heaven. As I said in the last post (“The Conscience Cleanser”), nothing in the context of 1 Peter or the rest of the Bible points to dead people having the opportunity to hear the gospel, repent, believe, and be saved. The chance to be saved by Christ is only available while a person is alive on this earth.
Questions to Think About
1. What evidence of spiritual change and growth have you seen in your life since becoming a Christian? What has God been doing in your life so far this school year?
2. Would any adults or friends in your life say that they have seen change and growth in you? Who knows you well enough to be able to tell you what they see in your walk with God? That might be a good question to ask a Christian mentor like a parent, teacher, small group leader, or youth pastor.
3. How should the promise of a coming judgment by God in verse 5 affect the way that we pray for and treat our lost friends, family members, neighbors, and teammates?