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Squaring Off with the Other Side
Motivation through Opposition–1 Peter 4:4-6
A lot of athletic competition is actually a mind game. A friend of mine had an unusual habit–when he got nervous before a wrestling match, he would always yawn . . . big yawns. He used this to his advantage, since it was a little un-nerving for his opponent to try to stare him down while he was yawning at them. Yawn, you don’t intimidate me–I am bored with you.
I remember playing some park tackle football in my 20’s. A bunch of white guys from our church would go play a bunch of Mexican gang guys, and we’d always try to stare them down before the game, and they’d just stand there with blank faces as if to say, “You have no power over us.” They were rough games with a lot of penalties never called. And the biggest hit I have ever experienced in my life–you know that phrase, “he had his bell rung”? I heard the bell! But the most important part of the game was mental–we could not give an inch. We had to believe we could win, we had to stay focused no matter how much they pounded us or we were going to get creamed, because these guys were good.
This is what Peter is telling his readers in 1 Peter 4. Turn there and take your outline. The Bible says we’re in a spiritual battle–all who live godly are going to suffer and be persecuted, and genuine Christians are called to be soldiers who stay on duty or they will get creamed.
Read with me what Peter says in verses 1 to 3, “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, 2 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. 3 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, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.”
The main punch in verses 1 to 6 is “arm yourselves”. Christians are to be ready for battle, a battle to the death. Now that we are in Christ, we have been delivered from the penalty of sin and from the power of sin. And the good news is if we die, we will be freed from the presence of sin. But for now, we don’t have to live like the lost, who live by their own desires–we can live by the will of God found in His Word. And as those who have been rescued by Christ, we have already spent enough time living like the lost, who give themselves to sin. Arm yourselves with the knowledge that you are free from judgment for sin and free from slavery to sin. And if we die for our faith, we are freed from the presence of sin forever.
But Peter is not done. The apostle says arm yourselves against the reaction of the lost to your lifestyle transformation. Read with me verses 4 to 6, the verses we study today, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; 5 but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 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.”
In verses 4 to 6 we are still in the middle of the movie called Arm Yourself, and as the movie moves toward its conclusion, the writer, God through Peter describes how the family of God will square off against their old fallen family. Children of God who used to be children of Satan are often mistreated by their old family and old master. They look at you as if you are a traitor. When that conflict heats up, when God’s children are attacked, tortured or killed by Satan’s children, Peter gives three more actions necessary to arm yourself in verses 4 to 6. Arm yourself–be prepared for . . .
#1 Their reaction against your genuine Christian lifestyle: surprise
Verse 4, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.” Christian, you have changed–you are not what you used to be. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”
All true Christians have not merely prayed a prayer, made a decision, attend church occasionally, or say nice things about Jesus—no, all genuine believers have been transformed. They have a new heart, new mind, new passion, new motives, and new priorities. Your Christianity is not a matter of convenience and options, but your faith is a matter of life and commitment to Christ.
Church attendance, prayer, the Word, fellowship, and service are not matters you try to fit into your busy life, but a commitment to church, prayer, the Word, fellowship and to service are evidence of new, transformed heart priorities. You pursue and everything else in your life fits around those. You say, “Chris, that is not true of me,” then something is seriously wrong with you.
Do not compare yourselves to other Christians, because the Christian community is filled with phony make-believers who claim to know Christ, but are only living for themselves. Compare yourself to God’s Word and see if you genuinely have a transformed, born again heart that is committed to Christ. Read Titus 3:3 to 5, “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us.”
You look the same, have a similar personality, you have many of the same mannerisms, but you have changed, you are made new, you’ve been made alive from the dead, your blind eyes can now see, now instead of pleasing yourself, you want to please Christ. You used to love sin and hate obedience, and now you hate sin and love obedience. You used to live only for yourself and what you enjoy, but now you live for Christ and what He enjoys. You don’t live for your sin, your comfort, your convenience, but now you live for His glory, His service, and His purposes. When you are saved, you are radically changed.
So when those of your old family, living out their sinful practices, catch up with you, they are verse 4, surprised. Surprised is a colorful Greek word describing shock and astonishment. It is a word you might use to say things like, “I have never seen that before, that’s new, where did that come from?” Surprised was used two ways–first to entertain a stranger, and second to act like a stranger. And Peter says–your old, lost friends are surprised because it seems to them you’re a stranger. You’re shockingly different than you once were–and you are. Do you realize how different you are?
Traveling overseas is a great reminder of how different you are in a cultural sense, especially when you go somewhere they don’t speak English. When I travel, I work really hard not to be the ugly American, and try not to have my habits, my personality or my regular behavior become offensive, but I have often failed. In the Philippines, my shoes were dull black and not shiny black, and it made some of my foreign friends think I didn’t respect them. In Portugal, I laughed too loud in public (I do that here too). In France, well–just NOT being from France is offensive. In Russia, I whistled a hymn and offended some brothers, plus I set my Bible down in the wrong manner.
Traveling is a great reminder of just how different you are. But you should also experience that same reaction with those you used to know when you were unsaved. What are your old, lost friends surprised about? Two things . . .
First Surprised you don’t sin with them anymore
To some degree, your old lost friends should be shocked at just how different you are–it’s as if you are a stranger. Not because you are rude, or religious, or act weird, but your old pagan friends should be astonished at the change they see in you, you who used to be their previous companions in sin.
Look at verse 4 again, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation.” That phrase, “run with them into the same excesses” explains the cause of their shock. Why are they astonished at you? You no longer run with them as you formerly did. You no longer hang out in the same manner. Oh sure, you hang out, but you don’t sin with them anymore. Oh you love them a ton, but you don’t party with them anymore. You mix, but don’t join–write that down. They are shocked because you used to be the biggest sinner, and the drunken party animal. But now, you care for them but do not participate in their sin anymore.
I reconnected with a very close friend named Mike from Jr high and high school during my first year of college–I was totally excited to see him. We gave each other manly hugs, and he launched into just how great his life was now that he had decided he would never attend his dead church again. A totally good-looking dude, he told me how he got a boat and was partying with different gals every weekend at some local lake. And he could not wait for me to join him this weekend, took my number and told me he’d call Friday when he firmed up the details.
Then he asked the fatal question–what’s new with you? I carefully shared with him how Christ had saved me, forgiven me, given me new life, filled my life with amazing joy and love and purpose. That I was not following a religion but a person, and how I thought I might be set apart to serve Him in ministry. Mike never called–it was the last time I ever heard from him.
Verse 4, “No longer run with them” is literally running with them picturing the lost person chasing after their sin, going after the sins listed in verse 3. And these Christians are no longer (notice verse 4) running with them in those sinful practices. These Christians no longer visited the public temples to worship false gods by getting drunk, having sex with a temple prostitute, or participating in an orgy in the name of that god, thinking that the euphoria of that experience was actual worship. These Christians no longer worshiped Caesar as a god, which was a form of expressing civic loyalty to Rome, nor honored their household gods who were supposed to protect them.
Everyone did this–unbelievers were literally stampeding toward this kind of pleasure-seeking, which was all approved and affirmed by their society. But these Christians now were out-of-step and no longer were running in sync–they no longer tried to dance with society’s boy band. Students never forget (adults too)–there is power in picking the right companions. It does matter who you hang out with, who you consider friends. It is crucial you embrace the importance of your companions. It does matter who your crew is. Read 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”
Don’t be fooled–who you spend time with is a spiritual issue. Your best friends announce to everyone where your heart is really at. You may have too many friends and too many commitments. You may have the wrong friends and too little commitment. But your friendships will shape your walk with Christ powerfully. These Christians no longer ran with their old friends as they went to go sin and it shocked those old friends.
And don’t paint the wrong picture–these believers were not sitting alone, sad, rejected while everyone else was having fun. No, these believers were enjoying Christ and each other with a heart saturated with joy and experiencing more life than they had ever experienced at their old sin-filled gatherings. These Christians didn’t buy the lie that it is more fun to sin. Yes, there was pleasure in the moment, but the guilt, shame, condemnation, hurt, and pain sin caused them and others always follow, and these Christians were not deceived. They knew Christ gives an abundant life and His ways are best.
Just look at casino commercials–they show people happy, alive, fun, filled with joy at the slots. But actually go to a casino and the people at the slots look lifeless, joyless, no fellowship and they always appear on fire, since they are always smoking–its coin, pull, drag . . . what a drag. Now remember, smoking will not send you to hell–it won’t. It just makes you smell like you’ve been there.
Look at verse 4, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation.” These unbelievers are shocked you no longer pursue the excesses of sin. Excess is used only here in the New Testament, and it means a damaging flood. Are you getting it? Peter is saying, “They are shocked you no longer pursue their damaging tsunami of sin.”
You no longer pursue a flood of the same sins everyone is doing. You no longer walk on the wild side–no longer are born to be bad. You’re no longer bad to the bone and doing everything to prove it. These unbelievers are part of the sinful tsunami of destruction, but their old Christian buds are now standing on high, secure ground.
Peter calls this sin dissipation, or in the ESV, debauchery. It is used in two other places in the New Testament helping you understand what Peter means. Dissipation is connected to drunkenness in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit.” And the Greek word translated dissipation here is also used to describe the loose, reckless living of the prodigal son in Luke 15:13, “The younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living” (ESV reckless living).
These unbelievers pursued a wasteful, destructive life of sin. And it shook them that their old friends, who were now godly believers wouldn’t sin with them anymore. How did they react? They didn’t say, “Oh, I am so glad that Christ works for you. No . . .
Second They were convicted, so they maligned you
Verse 4, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.” These non-Christians were so astonished their now-believing friends would not pursue sin with them anymore, they verbally–attacked them, made them look bad and spread lies about them. Never forget Christian–your freedom exposes their slavery. Your goodness highlights their evil. Your new nature spotlights their old nature. Your sight makes them see their blindness. Your sanctification exposes their sin, and your fullness shows them their emptiness.
They are convicted. They hate having their sin exposed–hate it. So to screen their sin and deny their guilt, they malign you (verse 4). That is to speak reproachfully, to calumniate, to injure a reputation, to defame someone, or to revile them. It comes from the same Greek word where we get blaspheme. These non-believers were so mad at their old, now Christian friends who would not party with them any longer, they blasphemed them. They vilified their old drinking buddies who were now on the wagon. They attacked their character and spread lies about them. They speculated to others about their disloyalty to the emperor, since they no longer considered the emperor god or lord. They gossiped about their weird, cannibalistic traditions, where they routinely drank blood and ate a body in communion. And of course they made fun of the one they loved, this Jewish leader who died the despised death of a criminal on a cross.
Non-Christians will attack Christ through you. They will turn virtue into vice. They will accuse you of being loony for giving 10% of your income to your church for God’s purposes. They will report you for lovingly and calmly spanking your children. They will try to build up your low self-image when you answer their question, “How are you?” with “Better than I deserve.” They will laugh at you for waiting until marriage before having sex. They will insult you when you don’t talk dirty about a pretty girl. At work and at school, they will try to pull you down into their gossip, thievery, deception and meanness.
So arm yourselves–be ready for the lost to react to your lifestyle which pursues the Savior, not sin. Arm yourself–watch out for their reaction to your non-participation with their sinful thinking and sick choices. But make certain you temper your reactions to the lost. Arm yourselves by . . .
#2 Never forget their eternal danger–they will answer for their lifestyle
Verse 5, “But they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” As Peter prepares his readers to be blasphemed for their Christ-like lifestyle, the Holy Spirit moves Peter to talk about judgment. They will be shocked by your non-sinning ways and act hurt, so they’ll attack you, even possibly get you into trouble with the authorities, potentially arrested, tortured and even killed. But God says they are accountable, and they will be judged. There will be no escape, they will face Jesus and (literally give back) be held accountable for all their sins, including those against you.
Every one of you will be judged for your sin–each one. Some of you already have a stand-in, a substitute. God the Son took your place–Christ suffered for your sin instead of you. Jesus paid the wages of sin for you. Jesus experienced hell on the cross for all your sins instead of you. Christ bore God’s judgment for your sin fully on the cross. The rest of you will take God’s judgment for your sin upon yourself forever in eternal torment in hell, never to be spared, never to escape, never to find relief, forever in flames with no hope. The only escape is now, not later–and it is found in Christ.
You must exchange all that you are for all that He is. Turn to Him in repentance and faith. Give your life away to Him to find life now and forever. Turn from your sin and rely on Christ completely and totally—respond. Listen, you are not good enough to please God or worship Him. You have to be perfect to please God, and you have to be perfect in order to be with Him forever in heaven, and you are not perfect. You can’t be perfect. You will never be–ever, not even close. You may be better than some people, but you are not perfect. Your sin must be taken care of, and only Christ paid the price. Only God could be perfect and only a man could take our place, so perfect God became a man in the person of Christ, then paid the price for the sins of His children on the cross.
Hey churchgoer–turn to Christ today. It doesn’t matter if you prayed a prayer once–true Christians follow Christ, obey Christ, serve Christ and give all to Christ. True Christians faithfully attend Church, not occasionally. Genuine Christians generously and faithfully give their money to Christ’s purposes, not merely a $20 bill when they have some extra. Real believers serve Christ faithfully in ministry in the church, and true Christians share about Christ to those who are lost.
Jesus is not a ticket to get out of hell—“I picked Jesus, so now I am safe and can do what I want.” No, Jesus is a life preserver–if you don’t rely on Him totally as a way of life, you are going to drown–you give up your life and embrace His work on the cross for you, His death for your sin and His resurrection to a totally new life–why? Because if you don’t or they don’t, then . . .
First They will have to answer to Christ as their judge
Verse 5 “But they will give account to Him who is ready to judge.” This pictures a court scene where people will face a judge. Peter says those non-Christians who maligned you are guilty. They will not escape judgment unless they turn to Christ. Look at verse 5 and you’ll see this judgment is personal, soon and certain.
1 PERSONAL–verse 5, “But they will give account to Him.” To Him–you are going to face Christ, and Christ will see right through you. You will face someone who knows your thoughts and motives–He will see into your desires and intentions. This is the all-knowing God. You say, “Chris, I have done good things.” But with what motives? “I’ve stayed faithful to my spouse.” But what did you desire in your heart? “I have said nice things.” But have you also expressed hate?
God looks at your works and sees filthy rags, because if He wasn’t empowering your works, they couldn’t be good. God must be in you and working through you to actually do good works. Plus, If you malign Christians you will face a personal judge.
2 SOON—verse 5, “They will give account to Him who is ready to judge.” Ready to judge is continued readiness–there is nothing more God has to do. The gavel is up and ready to fall, pronouncing “guilty” for your rebellion now, and eternity in hell forever, very soon. Have you come to the realization that you are going to die? The statistics are staggering–100% of people die. The only exception is if you are in Christ and He returns. Hebrews says it this way. Read Hebrews 9:27, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”
You die once, then you are judged–you will answer for your life. It’s not “once you’re dead, you’re dead” or, all of existence stops or, you come back as a kangaroo because you like bouncing or, you put on wings and become an angel or, you turn into a ghost. No, when you die your body goes into the ground and your spirit faces Christ, and you will answer for your sin. If your sin was punished on the cross by the death of Christ, then you will live forever with Christ in eternal bliss. But if your sin was not placed on Christ by faith in Him, then you will be punished forever in hell in eternal torment. Are you ready? It is coming soon–and it will go like this.
Read Revelation 20:11 to 15, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Judgment is personal, soon and it is certain.
3 CERTAIN—verse 5, “They will give account to Him who is ready to judge.” This is not Jesus, the Lamb of God who died for you any longer. This is the King, the Lion, the Judge who will demand justice. God is not messing around–the word judge means to separate, distinguish, and discriminate between good and evil. Christ will know, and all it will take is one sin to separate you from God forever.
Read as James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.” Just one wrong step, one wrong word, one sinful thought, one hurtful action and you have missed the mark and cannot be saved unless you depend on Christ to save you. But judgment is certain–in fact so certain, Peter adds this.
Second They will have to answer, whether they are living or dead
Verse 5, “But they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” No one is getting out of it, whether they are alive or dead. Some Christians were wondering, what about those non-Christians who tortured and killed our brethren, but now they’ve died–did they get out of it? So Peter says, they will be judged too. All the living are judged, and all the dead will be judged as well. No one escapes, no one is excused, no one slips out the side door.
At Disneyland there are escape doors for those who change their minds and don’t want their body hurled around on Space Mountain–you can get out of it, just slip out the door. But not when facing Christ–He will see your life, your sin, your motives, desires, secrets, imagination and thoughts. And if you are not in Christ, you will be condemned by the judge. No one escapes, living or dead. So if anyone dies before the coming of the judge or not, you will be judged.
So Peter is saying, no matter what a non-Christian does to you, arm yourself with the truth that they will be judged. Those without Christ are all amassing wrath against themselves, and those in Christ are all amassing reward. There will be justice given to those who have been unjust to you. You have won, and eternally you are secure–they have lost, and eternally they are condemned unless they turn to Christ. So don’t be afraid of them–pray for them, share with them, even those who torture you, show them Christ. Why? Because what they face is a million times worse than whatever they can do to you. This is exactly what Peter says to us now in verse 6–arm yourself by . . .
#3 Remembering your greatest blessing–you have been rescued by the Gospel
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.” Hey Christian, if those without Christ die, they will face judgment and eternal torment in hell. But if you die, you are freed from sin and you escape final judgment and enter eternal triumph in heaven. Remember, if you are a Christian, this life on earth is the only hell you will experience. But if you are a non-Christian, this life on earth is the only heaven you will experience.
Look at verse 6 and see what Peter is saying to his readers. There are three different views taken to interpret this verse, but the best one is the one which honors a normal view of the text. The Gospel, which is the good news of salvation only in Christ has for this purpose been preached (that means announced) even to those who are dead (referring to those who have believed the Gospel, but now have died by the time Peter wrote this letter). The NIV translation emphasizes this understanding when it says, “For this is the reason the gospel was preached to those who are now dead.”
Peter just said in verse 5 that those who died without Christ will not escape judgment, and now he says in verse 6, those who died in Christ will not miss out on heaven forever. Some of the Christians Peter writes to were friends and family members to believers who were martyrs who had died for following Christ. And these readers were worried about what that meant for these Christians eternally? So look at what Peter says in verse 6–even though some of the dead believers were judged in the flesh as men–they died in their bodies as men die–they were physically put to death. Yet they are made triumphantly alive, verse 6, “in the spirit according to the will of God.” The Greek verb tense is really sweet here. These Christians were killed once, judged once on the cross with Christ–but they will live continually forever, alive to God forever. You may live eighty years, but eternity is forever.
And this is all according to His will–the phrase “according to” expresses His rule. This was God’s decision that they die (were killed), but also God’s decision they live forever with Him in eternal joy. Some Christians back in Peter’s day were thinking this way–have you ever thought this way? They were thinking, “Hey, if Christians can die unjustly at the hands of wicked men just like anyone else, then what is the advantage of being a Christian, especially if Christians are being singled out for persecution, torture and death?”
The answer lies in your internal transformation. You Christians are not the same people as you were. You’ve been made totally new, born again, transformed internally, delivered from condemnation for sin and slavery to sin now. The answer lies in your substitute. You Christians are no longer judged for your sin, but your sin was judged on Christ on your behalf. He was your substitute–He took the hell you deserved for your sin upon Himself on the cross. He made you 100% ready for heaven, 100% forgiven, pure white, no guilt and no condemnation now or forever.
And the answer lies in your eternity–you are no longer destined for hell with the rest of humanity, lost in their pleasures and religion. You alone have been freed from hell and now have a home in heaven with Christ forever. And all of this was made possible by the beginning of verse 6. The Gospel, which is the good news that perfect God became a man, lived thirty years, ministered for three, and then willingly and lovingly offered Himself as a payment for the sins of His children on the cross. He died, was buried then rose from the dead. And if He is drawing you to Himself, respond today, turn from your sin in repentance, rely on Him in faith today. The worst thing that can happen to you is not your death, it is your eternal death. And there is only one way to escape it—Christ.