What’s an Exile to Do? Arm Yourself as Christ Did

Posted by R. Fowler White

In 1 Pet 3:18-22, Peter told us about Christ’s victory proclamation and specifically about the victories that are ours in His death, resurrection, ascension, and session at the Father’s right hand. With those victories in view, Peter calls on us to share his confidence that, even while we suffer unjustly, we’ll keep dying to sin and living for God (4:1-2; 2:21). But how does that dying to sin and living for God come about? In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle lays out the details.

To keep us dying to sin and living for God, Peter starts with a general exhortation: since … Christ suffered [for righteousness] in the flesh, arm yourselves [for suffering] as He did (4:1-2). The Apostle picks up the thread he put aside in 3:14-16. While telling us earlier how to handle anti-Christian foes, he had admonished us to be truly fearless despite unjust suffering (3:14, 17), to defend our hope in Christ (3:15), and, even when we’re defamed, to respond confidently, respectfully, and conscientiously to our accusers and thus expose their shamelessness (3:15-16). Resuming these themes in 4:1ff., Peter declares that since Christ is the supreme example of how God gives victory to all who suffer for righteousness, and we’re being conformed to Christ’s image, arm yourselves for suffering as He did. As you live righteously and suffer unjustly, adopt Christ’s way of thinking (4:1a). His attitude was summarized in the saying that whoever has suffered in the flesh has finished with sin. Christ’s suffering for righteousness throughout His earthly life showed that He was done with sin, indeed without sin. So, as Jesus prepared Himself by arming Himself with the right mindset, Peter calls us to arm ourselves with that same mindset. Here then is the content of the Christian’s attitude (4:1b-2): those who suffer for righteousness show that they have made a life-defining break with sin. In our case (not Christ’s), we’ve been converted from our old life of indulging sinful human passions (4:2a). We’ve been converted to our new life of fulfilling God’s will (4:2b). Those united to Christ have new affections to live new lives, not to please self with its sinful appetites but to please God. The Christian confesses, “I’m done with sin. I’ve set my mind on the things of God, not on the things of self.” So, Peter says, arm yourselves with Christ’s attitude, that is, with a resolve to suffer for doing God’s will and not to keep sinning.

What incentives do we have, however, to arm ourselves as Christ did? In 4.3-6, the Apostle gives us three motivations. First, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re done with the past (4:3). As the New Israel, we’ve cut ties with our Gentile past. It’s all behind us. We’re done with lives of license. We’re done living to satisfy our body’s appetites, engaging in self-destructive and even violent activities, throwing off self-control and moral restraint—all this is just lawless idolatry (cf. Phil 3:19). We’re done indulging vices that have wormed their way into our family celebrations, office parties, and national holidays. The past was more than enough time for that immoral nonsense. We’re done with all that, and it gives us motivation to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Second, we’re to arm ourselves because we’re now treated like outsiders anyway (4:4). Our former fellow partiers are surprised by our choices. It puzzles them that we don’t just dive into the same flood of debauchery as we once did. We’ve dropped out of our former lifestyle. Now we’re different. Now we’re even offensive to them, and they malign us. They’re now actually outraged that we no longer live for the weekend, that we’re effectively dead to the world. Now we’re too different, so they treat us like the outsiders we’ve become. In that light, we need to arm ourselves as Christ did.

Peter cites a third incentive to arm ourselves: in the future we’ll all give an account to God (4:5-6). Our non-Christian pals are surprised and offended that we don’t join them in taking advantage of their “insider” status. They miss the point: those on the inside today won’t have the last word tomorrow. Not even death will have the last word either. The Divine Judge will, and His word will be the last word over the dead as well as the living (4:5). You see, some of the dead will believe the gospel and will be judged by “insiders” as having wasted their lives in this world. From God’s viewpoint, however, those dead will have lived their lives in this world in the Spirit, and they will live again in the world to come in the Spirit (4:6). And that, dear friends, is motivation to arm ourselves in this world just as Christ did.

In 1 Pet 4:1-6, the Apostle assigns determinative importance to our attitude as exiles, specifically to our attitude toward suffering for righteousness. He challenges us: have we armed ourselves for suffering as Christ did? Peter knew that our attitude in life, in the church’s life, is on display in seasons and moments of testing and even crisis. Those times show what preparations we’ve made—or not made. It’s a lesson impressed on Peter on the night of Jesus’ betrayal. Before that night, particularly before Peter warmed himself at that courtyard fire (Mark 14:54), he had not armed himself. And he fell apart. Christ restored him, however, and despite those shameful moments, Peter armed himself thereafter with Christ’s way of thinking. As exiles in this world, our life, in God’s providence, is made up of moments and seasons of testing and even crisis. To make sure that we keep dying to sin and living for God during our life as exiles, then, we must be sure to arm ourselves as Christ did.