Defeating Sin Through Suffering
1 Peter 4:1-5
There is way too much in this passage to grasp it all in one reading. But here is what we shall consider so far. Peter tells us that those who suffer in the flesh have ceased from sin. Now, it is obvious by considering the previous context (1 Peter 3:13-22) that Peter means that those who suffer in the flesh are those who have been baptized into the sufferings of Christ. He is not saying that asceticism, self-imposed suffering, makes us holy. Paul also makes this clear in Colossians 2. No, Peter is saying that when we suffer with Christ in the way that Christ suffered, the power of sin is broken. Or, as one commentary put it, the “nerve center of sin is cut.” Jesus defeated sin by suffering, and we share in His victory when we suffer with Him as we suffer like Him.
How does this work? I think it works like this. When Adam sinned, he twisted the human psyche in upon itself. Man became terminally self-centered. When Jesus suffered for sins, and these were sins that He did not commit, He pulled the human psyche back out of itself and re-oriented properly the human soul in love toward God and others. This is why suffering in solidarity with Christ is so important. Our suffering apart from Christ has no redemptive power. But when suffer with Christ, we share in His new humanity born into the world in the incarnation and poured out into the world through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
When we suffer, we suffer in solidarity with Christ, the church and all creation. When we suffer injustice righteously, we break the power of injustice by breaking the power of sin that creates injustice, first in ourselves, and then, in others. We suffer in solidarity with Christ when we are baptized into His death. We suffer with the church when share in the universal sufferings of the “brotherhood.” We suffer with creation when we intercede for the world and bear the sufferings of the world mediatorially. We must suffer in solidarity.
Defeating sin through suffering with Christ happens on two levels, the objective and the subjective. We suffer with Christ and cease from sin in the objective sense through baptism. In baptism, we die, we are buried, and we rise to walk in the newness of life. This is an objective, legal, forensic defeat of sin that occurs by faith. We must simply trust in God that this is done in Christ. But then we must live out the victory that is won in Christ and defeat sin subjectively through suffering wrong right. This means that we must look at how Christ suffered and imitate Him.
Peter describes the sufferings of Christ in great detail and shows how He turned the human soul back out toward God and others like a dislocated shoulder is put back in place with much pain, but to much subsequent satisfaction.
How did Jesus suffer? Look at 1 Peter 2:19-25.
19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.
First of all, suffering righteously is “a gracious thing.” Righteous suffering communicates grace. Not because God is sadistic, or even masochistic, but rather because the human heart is turned in upon itself and cannot be healed until it is willing to love God and others more than it loves self. And the purest test of real love is a willingness to be falsely accused in order to serve others, to lay down your life and share in the painful love of God that is willing to surrender self to a higher good. God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. Do we love that way?
20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.
Suffering brings “credit” to us. But what credit do we receive when we are punished for our sins? None. But when we suffer for doing good, then the grace that defeats sin kicks in. This means that our “credit” is not human merit but grace that flows out of our faithful solidarity with Christ. Our only credit is His grace. And yet, why is sin defeated when we suffer? How does gracious suffering defeat sin? Because sin flows out of an inverted heart that is turned in upon itself in radical selfishness. When we suffer for a cause greater than ourselves, then our inverted soul is turned back out in righteousness and the power of sin is broken. Then, we not only partake of His grace, but we become mediators of His grace.
21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
We have been called to suffer. This is probably surprising to most Christians, who think they have been called to prosper. And they have, no doubt, but only after they have suffered a while, as Peter says in chapter 5. Christ suffered for us, which makes our suffering effectual. To suffer apart from faith in the sufferings of Christ is to suffer without meaning. But to suffer for wrong right in Christ is to suffer redemptively. When we suffer in solidarity with Christ, we embody His sufferings in the world and mediate His mercy to all. We multiply Christ to the world.
Christ left us an example of how we should suffer. We should look at the steps that He took in suffering and trace those steps together.
22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.
First of all, Jesus did not sin. It is impossible to break the power of sin by suffering for sin. The only way to break the power of sin is to suffer without sin for the sins of others. This means that we must suffer unfairly in order to suffer redemptively. Moreover, Jesus’ suffering was not self-inflicted. We cannot crucify ourselves, and neither can we decide what our suffering will be. Neither mere punishment nor religious asceticism will bring victory over sin. It is only when we suffer unjustly that the power of sin is broken in our life, for then, and only then, are we forced to submit to injustice in such a way that our righteous response breaks the power of injustice. Injustice can only triumph over us when we respond to it with violence. “They that live by the sword shall die by the sword.” But when we respond with love, then the power of injustice is broken. This is the meaning and method of the Cross.
Jesus did not sin, but neither was there any deceit found in His mouth. There is something about keeping our tongue right that breaks the power of sin. More on that below.
23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
When Jesus was reviled, He did not return the cursing. When He suffered, He did not respond with threats. This is how sin was defeated. Jesus kept control of His tongue. It is amazing to me that merely by cursing with His tongue, Jesus would have lost His power over the enemy. Sin would have never been defeated if Jesus simply would have given vent to His anger through speech. This is a powerful lesson for all of us. We lose the battle with sin in our speech. We cannot cease from sin until we cease from speaking. Suffering not only requires solidarity, but it requires silence.
The key to suffering righteously is to be silent when suffering and refuse to speak out against our enemies. (Again, I do not mean to limit the power of responsible, official justice. But the reason that civil authorities can judge righteously and punish wrongdoers is because they are not acting out a personal vendetta.) Our silence breaks the power of the enemy when we refuse to utter threats and hurl insults. Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and a man that can bridle his tongue can bridle his whole body. The power of sin is broken with the mouth. What we say and what we do not say determines our victory. It is all about blessing and cursing.
There is something about offering prayers of mercy for our tormentors that creates a wall of protection against them and keeps them from controlling our spirit. If they can make us speak, then they can make us sin. If they can make us strike back with words, then they have control over our spirit. When they provoke us to angry speech, they pull us into their mud pit verbal tug-of-war. But if we refuse to speak, then we refuse to give them control over our mind and spirit. “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” When we speak, we engage the heart. The heart comes gushing out of the mouth. When we refuse to answer again when we are accused, then we refuse to surrender control of our heart to our enemies, and our spirit remains in the control of God. Our appeal can be only to God. Prayer is the only resort of those who suffer unjustly.
Conversation is communication. When we speak, we commune. When we engage our enemies in a verbal war, we enter into a spiritual duel with them that intertwines our spirit with theirs. Hug a pig, and you get muddy. Their bitter spirit is communicated into ours, and we become like them because we joined with them in dialogue. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” When we refuse to answer again when we are falsely accused, we refuse to give our enemies the upper hand. And this is not a sullen pouting that seeks to hurt a loved one by giving them the silent treatment. No, this is silence in the face of false accusation. When we refuse to speak, we suffer the pain that restores the dislocated soul.
Moreover, Jesus maintained His self-control and self-denial by a determination to “entrust Himself to Him who judges justly.” This is the root of the problem. Adam and Eve took judgment out of God’s hands and sought to create their own reality by making their own judgment call. However, because they were created in the image of God, when they perverted judgment by creating their own unlawful reality, they created injustice in the world. Injustice is judgment that defies the law of God and defaces the image of God in human existence. This injustice came out of an autonomous human will. This autonomy is sin. Sin is the attempt of man to make his own rules and be his own god. Thus, the only way that we can be restored and break the power of sin and injustice is to surrender ourselves back to God. And the only way to restore our position of submission to God and reorient the soul back toward God and allow His holiness to flow through us and fulfill our true humanity in the image of God is to suffer unjustly in a loving way, and thus, allow love to break the power of sin and death that reigns in the inverted human soul.
Sin is a trust issue. Satan convinced Adam and Eve to distrust God and trust the lies of the adversary. Thus, suffering with Christ restores proper trust in God. Jesus was able to endure the Cross because He trusted Himself to God who judges justly. In other words, we will never restore justice to the world until we put judgment back in the hands of God and allow God to settle the injustice in the world through His righteous law. We must refuse to take matters into our own hands and settle private vengeance upon our enemies. Of course, again, we are not speaking of institutional judgment, for then we could not govern our family, civil and social affairs. No, we speak of private vengeance.
So, Jesus remained silent because he trusted in God who judges justly.
24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
Jesus was able to suffer righteously because He knew that His suffering was for us. And this gets to the heart of the matter of how suffering breaks the power of sin: suffering reorients us away from self to God and others. We trust in God that He judges justly, and we see our suffering as substitutional, intercessional and mediatorial. We should understand that when we suffer unjustly, we are suffering to save others. Our suffering becomes the gateway of redemption and healing into the lives of others. Just as Jesus died that others might live, so we suffer that others might be saved. Jesus suffered that “we might die to sin and live to righteousness,” and when we suffer with Him, we do so that others “might die to sin and live to righteousness.”
We are healed by the wounds of Jesus, and others are healed by our wounds. First, others are healed by the fact that we are able to minister to them because we have experienced what they experience. We can be “touched by the feelings of their infirmities.” But there is more to it than that. Second, we also bring healing to the world because we defeat the power of injustice by putting judgment back in the the hands of God. When the Civil Rights marchers of the 1960’s marched in non-violent resistance to the Powers, God intervened. When they left justice in the hands of God, God took it in His hands and broke the Powers of oppression. We do the same when we suffer righteously. Our suffering calls God to intervene on our behalf, for He will always respond to those who trust in Him. If we take matters into our own hands, then God’s justice is frustrated and hindered. When we take matters into our own hands, we repeat the sin of Adam. Moreover, when we take justice into our hands, our justice is always skewed by our ignorance and self-interest. But God knows all things, including human hearts, and thus, when He judges, the Judge of the earth gets it right. And, again: I am not talking about official, civil justice. God has given power to the Powers (Romans 13).
So, we heal the wounds of the world by suffering in solidarity with Christ and the world. When we suffer righteously, we break the power of sin. When we suffer righteously, we cease from sin.
25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Are you struggling with sin? Have you strayed away from God again and again? Then, you must submit yourself to suffer with Christ. There are countless ways that God brings suffering into our lives ranging from minor inconveniences to major tragedies. How we respond to the problems of life determines how we overcome in all of life. When we respond with angry words and bitter speech, then we perpetuate the power of sin in our life. When we respond with prayer and praise, thanksgiving and testimony, then we begin the process of releasing the power of Christ’s suffering into our life. Stop complaining! Stop murmuring! Stop whining! Stop cursing! Start giving thanks, and when God has trained you to speak righteously in the little things, then He will be able to take you through times of unjust suffering that will break forever the power of sin in your life. If you want God to give you victory, then you must start practicing the imitation of Christ in the small, daily injustices. Like being cut off in traffic, or passed over for a promotion at work. The little injustices are trial runs for the big stuff when God shall count you worthy to suffer for His name, and you shall truly defeat the power of sin as you live out Christ’s sufferings on the cross of your own self-denial.