That Christ has suffered to give us rest from sin and new life in him is a vital piece of our Christian armor. It is the unbreakable “helmet of salvation” that wards off Satan’s fiery missiles, especially guilt and fear (Eph. 6:17; 1 Thess. 5:8). When the evil one assails and temptations trouble, we hold up before his crushed skull that Jesus Christ has lived and died for us. He has born our condemnation, delivered us from despair, and opened heaven to us. Peter writes these things so that we might give ourselves to thinking and living as redeemed men and women in our Lord Jesus. This is the way we make progress in overcoming sin and possessing a living hope to share with the world of dead sinners. When tempted, we must consider that Christ has been tempted in every way as we have been and “saves to the uttermost those that come unto God by him, for he ever lives to make intercession for us” (Heb. 7:25). When our hearts tremble under the attacks of the world and Satan, like Stephen we look up to heaven and behold our Savior; he has overcome the world (John 16:33). We have good cheer in him, because “greater is he who is you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We have been crucified with Christ (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 2:20); we live because he rose again. That we are to be armed with this understanding – of God, self, and the world – powerfully reminds us of our neediness and of our Savior’s sufficiency. He is all our life and holiness, strength and hope in the world, which is at war with God.
We cannot be Christians and avoid this war. Many would like to make their peace with the world, or make the world less worldly in order to be more at home in it. We see this in everything from the levity of modern preaching and toleration of perversity to the rarity of church discipline and happy-go-lucky piety. Let us rejects these offerings of easy peace (Jer. 6:14; 8:11-12). The Lord cures us not by pretending sin is not so bad but by probing deeply into our wound, plunging the cross into our old man of sin, and then arming us to the teeth for combat. Every child of God feels this war within him. He wants to do good, but he does evil (Rom. 7:21; Gal. 5:17). Living in a corrupt society oppresses us, encourages retreat and silence, and tempts us to compromise. Defeats we have known; despair we have felt. Encouragement is required to pick up the sword and put on the helmet, to cry to the Lord for help, to resist sin and sow unto righteousness. Peter gives us four encouragements to be faithful. He speaks with a sobriety that is far removed from today’s motivational speakers: feel better, fix this, smile more, take yourself less seriously. Our warfare is unto the death. Our churches, families, and societies are bleeding from the jugular. Nothing but substantial, heavenly motivation will spur us on to faithfulness, to arm ourselves with Christ’s sufferings, to labor for his truth and kingdom.
He begins with a painful reminder: our past (v. 3). Consider how you used to live: doing the will of the Gentiles. In verse two it was “lusts,” now it is “will,” implying a determined opposition to God’s will. The mention of debauched drinking parties, various lusts, and “abominable idolatries” has one purpose: to humble us to repentance. We wasted enough of our lives on these things before we were believers. We must forsake these old ways; Christ has suffered for us. To return to them, even to dabble in them a little – which many of us have done due to weakness or the hope we could win our old party friends to Christ – takes up the sword that slew the Savior. This way of life was wholly opposed to the will of God (v. 2); it was a life of self-willed pleasure, doing what we wanted when we wanted. This is as true of the baser sins as of the way unbelievers worship God. They live as they please; they follow their corrupt hearts. But Christ has made all things new; if we are in him, we are a “new creation.” Peter is not making the obviously false claim that every unbeliever participates in all this filth, but the root of corruption is in each one of us. Collectively, we are guilty of them all; individually, we are capable of any of them. It is compelling that Peter sees the whole fallen mass of humanity as vitally connected and sharing a common guilt before God. We ought to feel our vileness deeply: both our individual sins and our participation in the rebellion of the human race. It is because men do not feel their sinfulness that they do not run to Christ. Even children of believers who have been mercifully preserved from exposure to these sins have ample occasion in these verses to examine their hearts. Are you thankful for being preserved? Or do you itch to taste a little of them, to participate in a way of life from which the Lord Jesus has preemptively rescued you by allowing you to hear the gospel from your earliest days?
The point here is that sin ought to shock us. The rebellion with which we provoked God to his face ought to humble us in the dust – and to think: he had mercy upon us anyway, when we were dead in sins (Eph. 2:4)! While the Holy Spirit does not bring up the past to paralyze us with guilt or swamp us with hopelessness, we should never forget how the Lord has marvelously, undeservedly delivered us. We must never wish to return to our filth: not even to taste. Indeed, past sins ought to fill us with such revulsion that our life becomes nothing but a forsaking of them, rejoicing in mercy, and the pursuit of righteousness (Ps. 25:7). That time was enough. It ought to be more than enough that our Lord Jesus has taken all our sins upon himself, suffered our curse, and applied the power of his sufferings and death to us. The desire of our heart is forever defined by his love, his sacrifice, and his presence in us. “Forgetting those things that are behind” (Phil. 3:14) means that Christ has suffered for them; we must forsake them: even the guilt of them, for we are cleansed by his blood. He obeyed and hoped in God from his youth so that we might be cleansed from our filthy past. As God’s word dwells in us, his strength enables us to forsake our past sins; even their bitter memory can be replaced with overwhelming thankfulness for grace. Let their lingering memory be a goad to holiness. All our time now must be dedicated to doing God’s will: in the light of Christ’s sufferings and life for us at God’s right hand.
Peter’s second encouragement to faithful Christian living is the world’s response to the new life we have in Christ: shock and slander (v. 4). Keep in mind that the world is filled with blind men, dead in their trespasses and sins. Sin is normal among them. As Christian influence wanes or God gives a nation over to a reprobate mind, even shocking sin becomes normal, praised as liberation. The world cannot understand those who forsake the filth in which it wallows. It is surprised and shocked at the change, even insulted. You can almost hear their response at hearing “no” to their invitations: “What’s the harm? Everybody’s doing it. You are not bad if you do these things. They are fun. What are we working for if not to have a few escapades while we are still young and attractive? You take religion far too seriously. Are you judging me?” The world lauds “being different;” it detests differences based upon religious convictions. It is a small step from this to slander and condemnation against those who raise the moral flag. A darkened conscience has no love for light, just as Satan hates those rescued from his clutches, dead men made alive in Christ. A glimmer of light is repulsive, feared, hated.
How could the world’s shock and slander be a motivation to faithfulness? Consider how many believers have fallen into sin simply because they could not bear to be thought strange, different, not part of the crowd. Many a young person has given up purity just to be accepted by his peers. A Christian businessman did not want to rock the boat or be the odd man out, so he goes along with a little dishonesty or to the debauched party with his associates while on a trip. We often cave when the slightest pressure is applied – just to fit in with expectations, to be liked, to be included. Is not the praise of men one of the most abominable idolatries that tempts us? But let harsh words, accusations, or ridicule be added, and we are sorely tempted to give them up rather than to bear our Savior’s reproach. The most common persecution is not organized, widespread, public burning of Christians. This would be far easier to endure than the raised eyebrows or ridicule that meet our refusal to go along with sin. Knowing that we shall face such things is one of the strongest motivations to arm ourselves with the sufferings of Christ. We will wilt under the pressure unless the cross of Christ is always before us, unless we feel it our highest honor to suffer for his name. Shall we demand an easier lot than his? Shall he deliver us from hell only for us to be embarrassed by his cross? Armed with Christ’s sufferings, we shall “rejoice when we are counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). Be embarrassed by them, hold them loosely, and the world will learn our price: glad to include us, relieved that we are more like them than like Jesus.
The pressures we face as Christians in and from the world, though light in comparison to the weight of glory to follow, seem heavy now. Standing for righteousness is often a lonely business. When will the Lord Jesus come and make things right? We are weary of being the oddball, disliked, the butt of jokes and public ridicule, sly comments and jabs behind our back. We endure by “seeing him who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27). And seeing him, we adore and fear him, conscious that we shall soon stand before him and give an account (Rom. 14:10). This is the reason Peter draws our thoughts to God the Judge (v. 5), and by implication to Jesus Christ, to whom the Father has committed all judgment (John 5:22,24). This would certainly include the final day of judgment, when the sheep will be separated from the goats, the wheat from the tares (Acts 10:42; 2 Tim. 4:1). “Ready,” however, implies that God in Christ is always judging, always ready to judge. This is because he shall soon appear. It is because we shall soon stand before him. However long we live, however long until the final judgment, we are to live in constant expectation and readiness for his coming (Matt. 24:42). When we feel alone in the midst of the battle, we are not alone. God is there; his eyes behold the sons of men (Ps. 11:4). He is actively, constantly, ever-presently testing the hearts of men. This is a wondrous motivation to faithfulness. God is always present, ready to judge, even to avenge the sufferings of his people. His judgments do not always take the form our worldly hearts imagine, but we have his word. “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5). Did he not judge – then and there – for Noah against his ridiculers, Samson against the Philistines, the three Hebrew children and Daniel against their tormentors, David against Saul? “I have remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord, and have comforted myself” (Ps. 119:52). To survive as a Christian in the world, we must live consciously before God, the Judge of all.
This means that we must live as David did: “I have kept thy precepts and thy testimonies: for all my ways are before thee” (Ps. 119:168). How differently we would think of sin if we were more persuaded that Jesus Christ is personally present with us at all times by his Spirit! How indifferent we would be to the world’s bad opinion of us if we revered his opinion, if we were more conscious of his indwelling presence, that however the world is shocked at us and slanders us for godliness, he is pleased with us. He is watching. He is discriminating between his people and the world. To dabble with sin – to curse or covet, watch or listen to filth, go along with unbelievers to fit in, refuse to maintain God’s antithesis between light and darkness, holiness and sin – is to spit at his present Majesty and to offend his Spirit. No wonder Paul tells us, after giving examples of sins we must forsake and godliness we must practice, not to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). He does not speak of the Spirit as somewhere in the heavens, far removed from us, but close: in us, bound to us, dwelling and working in us, sustaining our union with Jesus Christ, interceding for us. Never forget, child of God, that God is ever ready to judge the living and the dead: all men. He has given you his suffering-Servant, his eternal word, his unbreakable covenant. Let the world ridicule and think you strange. Commit your soul to God. Live before his face, aware of his presence, at all times. The world may seem to have it all its own way, but this is a short-lived thrill, a deadly delusion. It is irresponsible and dangerous – in the light of creation and redemption, Christ’s sufferings and reign – to do your own will, to live as you please. God knows the secrets of your heart – now (Ps. 44:21). You are accountable to him; you will be held eternally accountable. The day of judgment will be your hour of doom unless you are armed with Christ’s sufferings and commit your soul to him. The Judge stands at the door (Jam. 5:9).
Unbelievers live as if they are not accountable to God. The delusion must not be shattered. They deny and blaspheme, ridicule sincere believers and delight to see them fall. They tolerate no reminders of the tombs in which they live: cut off from God, naked and alone before his eye without any hiding place or defense. This was us. We were dead. If we are alive in Christ, we can take no credit for this. It was God’s mercy that made us alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4). He came and preached the gospel to us. Though we were dead, his word made us alive (John 5:25). This seems to be the main point of the first half of verse six. The gospel of Jesus Christ brought us out of the tomb and released us from our chains of sin and misery. It may seem odd for Peter to make the preaching of the gospel to the spiritually dead, for that is how the phrase should be taken, as a motivation to faithfulness. But think where we would be had God not opened our ears to hear the silver trumpet proclaiming liberty to the captives. Think how awful, how indescribably terrifying it would be to hear the final trumpet announcing the return of the Judge had not God subdued our hearts now: humbled us now; given us faith now; made us his children now. It is true that believing and especially living the gospel brings us into the heat of battle. Men judge us according to their fleshly standards (v. 6). They condemn us. Even if they are not overtly hostile, they think us strange, deceived, a bit mad. But we live toward God in spirit. The gospel makes a very deep rift in this world. All men are not the same. There are two kinds of men: dead and alive. The dead ones give the living ones a hard time. They abuse us for our love to the Savior who is so precious to us, a gospel we hold more dear than our lives, Scriptures that are better to us than all the treasures in the world. If we live this gospel, if we take up the banner of the suffering Son of God, we must expect hardship as his good soldiers. But we are alive. Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). His destiny is ours, both death unto sin and new life unto God. We yield ourselves and commit our souls to him for safekeeping (Rom. 6:13; 1 Pet. 2:21). All the injuries, sufferings, and hardships we go through because we love him who loved us will be crowned with glory and honor. The King himself will serve us (Matt. 12:37).
Peter learned this the hard way. He thought the gospel was going to be a badge of worldly honor, a free pass from suffering, a sweeping judgment that would right all wrongs. The Lord taught him otherwise; the cross did. He beheld the sufferings of Jesus Christ. His pride was shattered. Being a disciple would mean bearing the cross, self-denial, even suffering. He armed his mind with Christ’s sufferings. The man of pride became the man of humility, the coward the bold preacher, the self-reliant the Christ-depending. It was s jolting experience for him. He wept bitterly. We still feel his tears in this letter. He knew that those earliest believers would go through great difficulties for the gospel. Satan had enflamed the whole world against them. There would be only one way for them to endure – for us to endure. We must keep the cross and sufferings of our Savior constantly before us. There we find forgiveness and righteousness, joy and peace. There we find strength to bear the world’s ridicule and slander. There we find the most compelling motivation of all to speak God’s truth. The gospel raises dead men to new life. It changes persecutors into allies, enemies into disciples, perverts into a kingdom of priests, those who deeply regret their past into those who face the future with living hope and new life.