I like to tell people, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters; it is the size of the fight in the dog.” In competitive sports, what determines the outcome is never one’s physical makeup. It is always the determination that lies within that makes the difference. You could be the scrawniest fellow on the court, or the puniest mite on the field, but if your heart and mind are determined to overcome, then there is a good chance that you will.
I say this because what is true in sports (or in dog fights, for that matter) is also true when it comes to our faith. The book of first Peter is about suffering. And as we have looked at these passages of sacred texted, we’ve come to remember that we in a rivalry with the world. And in this rivalry we are often outmatched. I might say that most of the time the opposition we face is much greater in size and force.
Yet no matter how great the antagonism of our peers may be or how intense pressure from civil authorities may get, we must always remember that it is not the size of the dog in the fight. It is the size of the fight in the dog.
You will notice in our passage that Peter speaks to this effect. In the first verse he says, “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” He uses military language here. Soldiers going to war arm themselves with weaponry before they engage. But Peter says, it is not swords or guns that we take up. We are to arm ourselves with the right frame of mind. It is what is in our hearts that really matters.
Peter says that we are to equip ourselves with the same resolution Christ had when he walked this earth. Christ would not turn to the right or to the left. It did not matter how great the onslaught was, He was determined to serve his Heavenly Father all his days.
And this is what we are to do. We must be resolute in following Christ, no matter the opposition we may face.
And Peter says we can have this sort of resolution because we know Christ as our Sovereign, our Savior, and our Judge.
I had us start today by backing up to chapter three. I needed to do that because verse 17 contains a very important point. It is subtle, but poignant. It tells us that Christ is our sovereign.
I. Because Christ is our sovereign [3:17]
It says, “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
I want you to take note of those words, “If it be God’s will.” With these words Peter reminds us that our God sovereignly governs all things. He reminds us that He determines the course of history.
And that’s important for us to remember: Nothing in this world happens by chance; not even our oppression. Everything that happens happens because God wills it. He ordains it. He plans it. He chooses to have things pan out in a certain way.
And from these words we understand that God’s providential care of you even includes the evil acts of men. You need to know that our persecutors can do nothing to us, unless God permits it. They can do nothing to us, until God gives the say so. Yet, even as they carry out their cruel plans against us—even if they should put the sword to our throats, God is not absent. He is sovereignty acting in the best interests of His glory and His church.
I love this little line because it just puts everything into perspective. It reminds us that though things might seem crazy all around us—even if things seem to be out of our control, God is still in control. And recognizing this is key to maintaining a strong resolve in the face of those dire circumstances.
This has certainly always been the case. Knowing that there is a God in heaven who imposes his will on creation has always been what makes men bold. This was certainly the case for the early American founder Patrick Henry. In his famous speech, Give me Liberty or Give me Death, Patrick Henry sought to rouse the magistrates of Virginia. He called them to engage the tyranny of the King of England. Amidst that speech he invoked the providential workings of God. He said, “Besides, we will not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us.”
What gave Patrick Henry the confidence to oppose his foes? What throttled Virginia’s resolve to stand firm in her liberty? It was the knowledge that God was a sovereign God.
If this be true for the work of nations, how much more will it be true for the church of God. The Lord has his eyes upon all the affairs of the world. But it is his church that he has that particular affection for. And if persecution comes to you, you must understand that it is only because God has permitted it.
You can take comfort in that, just as our Lord Jesus did. Peter here is simply echoing what Jesus himself said on the last night of his life. You may remember that on that sorrow filled night Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he was overcome by the thoughts of pain that were to torment him through the night and into the next day. He was so overcome that the blood vessels broke causing his skin to seep blood. In that extremity of soul he prayed ever so intensely, “Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet not my will, but thy will be done.”
Christ’s only comfort in those moments was the sovereign will of his heavenly father. The only thing that he took solace in was that His Father had so ordered this course of events. And with the recollection of the finer points of God’s decree, He could get up off his knees and face that rabble who came to arrest him.
And that is your comfort too my friends. Let the truth of our God’s eternal rule be that which gives you the same sort of resolve. May you have the mind of Christ because you know him as your sovereign.
But not only do you know him as sovereign, you also know him as Savior. And this should help you too in your time of oppression.
II. Because Christ is our savior [4:1-3]
When we think about Christ saving us from sin, it should move us to be more courageous. It should give us more fortitude to face our opposition and stand strong in the faith. Peter recognizes this too. For in the first part of chapter 4 he reminds that Christ is your Savior. He is the one who saves you from sin’s penalty, power, and presence.
In verse one we see him reminding us once again of Christ’s atonement. He says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” We’re pointed again to the fact that Christ went to the cross. He dealt with the penalty that was due to us for sin in his own body.
This is a theme Peter just can’t get away from. We talked about it last week when we looked at verse 18, where Peter said, “Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” We’ll talk about it again towards the end of chapter 4.
Peter just can’t get away from this topic. And we shouldn’t, really. It should be that consuming topic for us. When we remember the cross, our hearts should swell with gratitude. When we see Christ dying for us, we should be moved to do the same for him.
But Christ not only saves us from sin’s penalty, he also saves us from sin’s power.
Look at that first verse again. It goes on to say, “Whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.”
What is Peter saying here? He’s talking about the power sin had over us prior to our faith in Christ. Sin used to be the governing force of our lives. It dominated us. It was what directed our lives. But things have been different since we came to faith in Christ. Sin is no longer what governs our lives. Its power has been broken. The Holy Spirit came in and overthrown sin and He took the throne of our hearts. So we no longer are governed by the sinful nature, but by Christ.
I spoke with my prison students about this just this week. I told them to imagine a country that has a cruel tyrant as its leader. Imagine a country like North Korea with a dictator like Kim Jong Il or his son. Now you’ve been commissioned to go in and take him out. You get him lined up in your scope and you pull the trigger. As soon as you do, he goes down. At that moment the country is a free country. It is no longer dominated by the tyrant any longer. It is under a different rule.
It might take a while for the country to shape up. There are no doubt a lot of devoted communists who are still out there. But a definite change has taken place. The country no longer is under the oppressive forces of communism. It is freed from it and a new life has begun.
The same is true for us as Christians. We have ceased from sin in that it is no longer the ruler of our lives. Christ has come in and taken him out. And though it will be a long time until all the vestiges of sin are cleaned up, there has been a definitive break. We now live for Christ.
That’s why Peter can say what he does in verse 3. Look at it. It says, “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, etc.”
Peter’s just elaborating on the fact that Christ is our savior. Just as Jesus saves us from sin’s penalty and power, so too does he saves us from its presence.
Peter essentially tells you to look back over your life. Think about all the time you wasted in sin before you met Jesus. Now he says, “Isn’t that enough? Doesn’t that disgust you?”
Some of you have the privilege of never having known a day that Christ was not your savior. That is wonderful! But some of us don’t have that privilege. Some of us look back and remember that there was a time where we were not in Christ. And there is a portion of our life that was wasted. Sin filled our lives. Its presence was everywhere.
I know that when I get caught in those thoughts, I get a little saddened. I regret that I did the things that I did. I get frustrated that I lived that way and talked that way.
Thankfully Christ has saved us from continuing down that path. At some point Christ came along and started taking us in a new direction. Praise God for that. Praise God that he saved us from that life of sin.
But there you have it. Peter summarizes the saving work of Christ in 3 verses. And as he points you to what Christ has done on your behalf, he essentially points out what you need to do. If Christ has saved you from sin, how can you turn your back on him? When we remember that he gave his life to save us from the bondage of sin, it ought to fuel our fire for him.
The old hymn should always ring true: Onward Christian soldier, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.
But we march on for Christ, not just because he is our savior and our sovereign, but because he is our judge too.
III. Because Christ is our judge [4:4-6]
That’s what Peter gets at in verses 4-6. Look at verse 4 with me. It says, “With respect to this [i.e. your former sins] they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.”
One of the things that will keep us resolute in our walk with Christ is the fact that one day men and women will have to give an account of their lives to Christ. One day we will all have to stand before the judgment bar of Christ. And on that day those who have not looked to Christ as Savior will meet him as their Judge. At that moment they will be held accountable for their actions. They will hear the clacking of the gavel as Jesus announces their sentence.
This is why we have no desire to waffle on the issue. We don’t want to join in those wicked ways or go back to our old way of living because we don’t want to be the ones who are found cast into hell. It is much better to suffer here a little while for believing in Christ than to suffer for all eternity for not having believed in him.
A while back I worked at a factory. It was an assembly position, and I was in charge of putting a certain product together. Once I put the components on the plate, I would wire them together. But you know, there were times when I wanted to take short cuts. Maybe it was late on a Friday afternoon when I really wanted to get out of there. I might have had a stripped bolt or perhaps a wire might not be in as tightly as it should. Whatever it was, I would be tempted to just do a sloppy job. But I rarely ever did that. I don’t think that I purposefully did so, anyway. I always tried to make sure that I did the job right. That’s because I knew that my work would always be checked. Before it could be shipped, the quality control guy had to perform a test on it. If sloppy work was submitted to him, then it would be judged a failure and sent back.
That’s sort of what Peter is talking about. The only difference is that after Christ judges, there are no second chances. But that is why we must remain resolute in our faith despite opposition. We know that there is going to be someone at the end who will look over our deeds and render his decision about them.
Verse 6 re-emphasizes the point made in verse 5. It reminds us that we do not have to face the Judge like this because Christ has taken the judgment for us. He starts by saying, “This is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead.” He’s talking about Christians who had recently passed away. They heard the gospel preached to them, but they have since died. He says, “Though they’ve been judged in the flesh the way people are (again, though they’ve died), they will live in the spirit the way God does.” That is to say, they will live eternally with Christ because of that gospel. As we said earlier, their judgment has already passed.
So he comforts us again with yet another reminder of the saving work of Christ. But here it is to be understood that Christ is a judge. He will not let sins just slip past. Either they must be judged in the cross or they must be judged in the sinner himself. And since he will judge men on the last day, we find every reason to maintain our course.
I might add here that this is also an invitation to you to embrace Christ as your savior if you have not done so. The gospel is that Christ is the Savior of sinners, and you do not have to face judgment if you receive him. I understand that it might not be an easy thing to do. You might suffer for it. But, as Peter says, it is better to suffer here on earth for a little while, than to do so in the life to come.
During the Huganot persecutions in Southern France, a young girl was imprisoned in the tower at Aigues Mortes. She could have been released any day, simply by renouncing her faith, which through many years she refused to do. It was discovered later that she had chiseled into the stone of her prison the word “Resistez!”
The determination that this girl evidenced exemplifies what Peter calls us to. What was chiseled upon that wall was chiseled upon her heart as well. She would not give up on her Savior. She was resolute in tenaciously clinging to her Sovereign Lord. No matter what the earthly judges threatened, no matter how tempting the thought of freedom was, she feared the Judge of all the earth more.
May it be that we are armed with the same mind. May we resist the world and endure our sufferings for the sake of Christ.
Miller, Donald G., On This Rock: A Commentary on 1 Peter. Pickwick Publications (Allison Park, PA 1993).
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.