"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, 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." (1 Peter 4:1-2)Peter has already discussed many different forms of suffering as well as different reasons for suffering. Here he introduces us to one more, the suffering of the flesh. In saying that Jesus suffered in the flesh, Peter is referring to Christ's death, but not only the moment of His death, but the whole process leading up to, and culminating in, His death. His suffering was a long drawn out processes that ended on the cross; it was more than a moment; it took time. In the same way Peter is calling us to suffer in the flesh, not a suffering that leads to our physical death, but a suffering that leads to our death to this life and our old way of living. This suffering we are called to is not to a moment of dying to the world, but a process of bring death between the world and our lives; it takes time. Peter is calling us to choose a path and to purpose our lives to bring death to some things in our lives that through death we might experience new life in other areas of our lives. This is the same process which Paul calls us to when he said, "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." (Colossians 3:5 NKJV)
The promise of Peter is that, if we will thus suffer in the flesh then, once death to sin has been achieved, we will be free from sin never to have to repeat its cycle again. Paul puts the promise this way, "for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live." (Romans 8:13) Death is the ultimate remedy to sin. For example, say that I am hopelessly addicted to chocolate and I can never pass a candy counter without buying chocolate. Then imagine one day I die and, there I am laying in my casket, and you come up to offer me chocolate. No matter how hard you try, you will never tempt me to take another bite of chocolate for I am dead to chocolate. It is possible to suffer such in the flesh as to achieve death to sin and thus freedom from it and its temptations. If we purpose with our mind to deny our flesh, to reject its temptations and desires, to consistently put out its cries over the things it lusts for, then eventually we will put those desires to death and enjoy the promise that Peter makes, a promise of being free from sin. However, such resistance may take more than a moment. Like Jesus it may be a process of suffering, but death to sin brings freedom. Paul reminds us, "he who has died is freed from sin."(Romans 6:7)
"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. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." (1 Peter 4:3-5)
King Solomon said, "There is an appointed time for everything and there is a time for every event under heaven." (Ecclesiastics 3:1) and some may ask, "when is the time for sinning?" Peter responds that the time for sinning is the past. Enough time has been given for sinning, now is the time for righteousness; now is the time to put to death the sins of the flesh that we might live free from sin and might live lives of righteousness. However, we must not be surprised if the world still tries to keep its claims on our lives. Perhaps some of our strongest ties with the world that must be broken are the ties to our former friends. God does not expect us to break all ties and relationships with those in the world, but we must break ties with those who seek to bring us back to the world; those who malign us for our new found faith and seek to renew us to our old familiar sins lets we should no longer be just like them. This is why Peter said we had to arm ourselves with this purpose. The putting to death of the flesh is not easy, even Jesus wrestled with this when His sweat became as great drops of blood and He prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39) This death may be hard, yet it is a death we must execute on the sins of the flesh that we might walk in freedom and newness of life, even if it means separating ourselves from relationships and attachments that tie us to the world and its sin.
"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." (1 Peter 4:6)
For what purpose? For the purpose of freedom from sin and for the attainment of new life in Christ. We will all die and our bodies will all share in the punishment of the sin handed down to us from Adam, yet our Spirits may still live through Jesus and the will of God. This Gospel was preached to their generation and was preached to those who had previously died and awaited judgement in Hades, and it has continued to be preached by those who believe even down to us today. It is our choice what we will chose to do with that message. Will be believe and respond in obedience to that message? Or will we disbelieve and reject it and share in the judgment that awaits this world and those who lived in it? The choice is ours.