Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same understanding—because the one who suffers in the flesh is finished with sin—in order to live the remaining time in the flesh no longer for human desires, but for God’s will. For there has already been enough time spent in doing what the Gentiles choose to do: carrying on in unrestrained behavior, evil desires, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and lawless idolatry. They are surprised that you don’t join them in the same flood of wild living—and they slander you. They will give an account to the one who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was also preached to those who are now dead, so that, although they might be judged in the flesh according to human standards, they might live in the spirit according to God’s standards.1 Peter 4:1—6
There is a story of a cathedral—possibly mythical—that has three gates. Over one gate there is an inscription in marble under a beautiful flower bouquet that says, “The things that please are temporary.” Over the second gate, there is a cross with this inscription: “The things that disturb us are temporary.” However, over the central gate, there is a big inscription saying, “Eternal are the important ones.” Living for the eternal, most important things is what we mean by living now with eternity in mind—and to live for the will of God. Today we’re thinking about living for the will of God. And when I say living for the will of God, I mean not only living in the way that God calls and invites me to live in the present, but living now with eternity in mind—living not only for the present but also in light of our eternal future.
1 Peter 4, again, says that Christians do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. He’s contrasting two ways of living. On the one hand, people can live . . . their earthly lives for evil human desires; on the other hand, people can live instead for the will of God. In verse 3 Peter says to his readers: For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. That sounds as though their lives before Christ were far from exemplary—however, all of this would have been not only acceptable in their culture but even expected.
So, two things are going on here. One, Peter says they need to put sinful behaviour behind them. Coming to faith in Christ involves a radical change in how we live. Two, this means they will stand out like sore thumbs because this sinful behaviour often went hand in hand with public religious practices in their pagan culture.
Put simply: Living for the will of God means being done with sin. Not that we stop struggling with sin or even stop sinning altogether, but we do stop making it our way of life.
J. Kirk Johnston, in his book Why Christians Sin, writes: “Some have said that Christians who consciously sin have lost their focus on the future. These Christians have forgotten that God will reward in heaven only those who have lived faithfully for Him here on earth (1 Cor. 9:24). Christians who fail to keep eternity in mind often sin in the here and now.” And, actually, let me suggest that rather than see this as having to live according to a list of “don’t,” instead see living for the will of God as a way of flourishing according to God’s design, according to the purpose for which he made us.
Think of sin not only as avoiding something wrong that we want, but as something which actually does us and others great harm. Living for the will of God becomes about loving God, ourselves, and those around us.
What does it mean to be done with sin? How have you had to wrestle with “evil human desires” in your own life? Do Christians in our community face pressure to do things that are wrong in order to fit in? How does living for the will of God lead to human flourishing?
Daniel Webster once said, “My greatest thought is my accountability to God.” That’s quite a thought! I daresay not many think like this these days. There are lots of things to talk about when it comes to accountability. But I want us to focus on what we see in a verse like Romans 14:12, where it says that each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Even for those of us who are Christians, this is a sobering verse. Or it should be!
Look at what Peter says in verse 5 of our main passage: But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. Here he’s referring to pagans who malign and mistreat believers: They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But he says this to encourage believers to live for God’s will—so that they will be confident when God does come to judge the living and the dead. That, like Jesus, they will experience vindication.
Let’s put it this way: Living for the will of God means being accountable to God. So why is this important? Because living for the will of God means not only living for today. How we live now matters when it comes to our eternal future.
Listen to Hebrews 10:26—27: If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Like it or not, judgement is coming.
Richard J. Krejcir writes in an article: “The bottom line is: accountability is letting Christ drive! Accountability becomes the map to keep us moving on His road to His destination; if we throw away the map, then we go in the wrong direction; we will never get to the destination, and perhaps, even crash. It begins when we stop to ask for directions, His Directions!”
Now, Peter continues to say: For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. This sounds strange. What does he mean?
When he talks about the gospel having been preached to those who are now dead, he’s talking about believers who have already died. You see, many among the first generation of believers thought the return of Jesus was going to occur in their lifetime. So they were trying to understand what would happen to their fellow Christians who died before Jesus came back. And Peter’s saying that since they had received the gospel, though they have physically died, they will experience eternal life and resurrection.
Listen to Paul’s speech in Acts 17:31: For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead. God judges the living and the dead through Jesus Christ. Our obedience is putting our faith in what Jesus has done in obedience to the Father. We’re accountable to God for our lives—and especially for how we have responded to the good news of Jesus. For indeed, trusting in and following Jesus is ultimately what it means to live for the will of God.
Do you consider yourself accountable to God for your life? What difference does that make in the present?Do you think of God as judge? How can we face such a judge?How do we practice accountability before God in the here and now? In what way does the coming judgment motivate us?
I haven’t watched The Simpsons since university, but I remember one episode where Homer puts something in the microwave and complains, “Ten seconds?!? Can’t anything go faster?” You’ve probably heard the phrase, “instant gratification.” This refers to a need to have our desires satisfied as quickly as possible. And we live in a world where people can have instant gratification in many ways.
But Christians are called to what we might call “deferred gratification.” It means realizing that much of what passes for pleasure and fulfillment in this world is only temporary. Our real joy—our greatest pleasure—is one we have to wait for patiently. Our sermon series is called “Living Now with Eternity in Mind.” So, while we live in the present, we don’t live only for the present. This means not giving into what might make us feel better now in order to receive even greater joy later. It also means putting up with situations and circumstances that are difficult. Christians need patience. And to be patient, we need hope.
So, living for the will of God requires hopeful patience. This was certainly true for Peter’s original readers. They would have to faithfully persevere in the present precisely because of their hope for the future in Christ. And we do the same. Think about what Paul says in Romans 8:24—25: For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
And the hope is this: of a life that is not only free from suffering, but a life that completely satisfies our deepest, most fundamental longings because we will be in the presence of God in the new creation forever.
C.S. Lewis writes: “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” And we have this hope because of Jesus Christ, who, as we might remember from last week’s passage, was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
What is something in this life for which you’ve had to wait patiently? How does our hope in Christ make it possible to persevere patiently in difficult times? Why is the Christian attitude of patient hope different from how others might think? Are there times when you can share your hope in Christ with other people?
So: Living for the will of God means being done with sin. There’s a change that happens when we follow Jesus. We don’t live like anyone else. Living for the will of God means being accountable to God. We belong to him. And we will be judged for how we have lived and responded to the good news. Living for the will of God requires hopeful patience. Jesus will return and make all things finally and fully new. In the meantime, we need grace to persevere in our faith. In the end, living for the will of God is only possible for us because of the power of God made available to us through the Holy Spirit. And in the end, we should live for the will of God not out of a sense of obligation but of love. By living for the will of God we worship the One who has redeemed us through Jesus.