Arm Yourselves with the Faith to Suffer for the Sake of Christ and his Kingdom(1 Peter 3:18-22)

by FBCMagnolia

In this passage, Peter emphasizes that believers are blessed by God if they suffer for doing what is right (3:13-17).  The sufferings of believers’ leads Peter to the topic of Christ’s suffering.  The suffering of Christ was the pathway to glory and the means by which He triumphed over evil powers.  Peter implied that the same pattern is true in the life of believers.  Our suffering is the prelude to eschatological glory.  But in the interval between suffering and glory believers must prepare themselves to suffer and to make a clean break with sin.  They will be rewarded in the last day if they do so.  Finally, they are to live daily in light of the eschatological hope, which means that they must pursue a life devoted to prayer, vigilance, and ministering to others.

In verses 13-17, believers are to be full of confidence and refrain from fear because of the promise of their eschatological inheritance.  In our passage today we see that God wants to answer the question, Why it is sometimes God’s will for us to suffer for doing what is right?  Verse 18 starts answering this question by first pointing us to Jesus.  Our Lord suffered; therefore, we will follow him in suffering.  The first great encouragement to prepare ourselves for suffering for doing what is right is that this is what happened to Jesus the greatest, most loving, caring, truthful, holy man, that ever lived.  (Piper, 1994)

Naturally, someone might ask, “Why would anyone become a Christian if what you could offer them was that things in this world would probably go worse for them and that their lives would be at risk?”  The answer is that the greatest human needs are not to live long on the earth and be comfortable.  The biggest human needs are how to have our sins forgiven and overcome our separation from God and live forever with happiness in his presence instead of living forever in misery in hell.  That is ten thousand times more important than living long on the earth and being comfortable for a zillionth percentage of your existence.

This is what the death of Jesus accomplishes.  Verse 18: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God.”  Notice four things.

First, Christ died “for sins.”  This is what separates me from God.  This is my biggest need.  These are my biggest enemy—not Satan. Isaiah 59:2, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.”  This is vastly more terrifying than suffering for righteousness’ sake—suffering the wrath of God because my sins have not been forgiven.  But Jesus died “for sins.”  This is the greatest thing in the world.  I do not have to die in my sins. There is forgiveness.  This is why people would believe on Jesus even if it cost them their lives.

Second, Christ died “the just for the unjust.”  His death was by substitution.  He took my place.  He stood under the wrath and penalty that I deserved and bore it for me.  His death was utterly innocent.  It was all for others’ sins, and not his own.

I like to look at it like this: It is like being in a courtroom and you are on trial and you know that you are guilty and you know that you are before a just and holy judge.  Satan the prosecutor gets up and rips you telling the judge all that you have done wrong in your life and accuses you of even the good that you have done was out of the wrong motivations.  You are at your lowest because you know that you are guilty because Romans 3 tells us that there is no one righteous, not one.  All looks dark for you.

But then, Jesus stands up on your behalf and he doesn’t say a word.  He approaches the seat of the Holy judge and reaches out his two nail pierced hands and points to the hole in his side and the crown of thorns.  And the judge rules INNOCENT, not because he is unjust, not because you deserve it, but because the punishment has been paid for.  Now here is the good news.  God the holy and just judge is not mad that he had to let you off, he is not like well I have to because the penalty is paid for.  No, he is the one that provided a way for you to be able to come to him and have fellowship with him because he loves you.  We could have never had come to the father unless he had prepared a way for us to be able to stand blameless in front of him.

Third, Christ died “once for all”—that is, his death was final and all-sufficient to accomplish the forgiveness of all who believe on him.  He does not have to ever offer another sacrifice.  It was finished.  It was all that was necessary to take away the guilt of my sins.  The debt is paid in full.

Fourth, All of this brings me to God. “Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that he might bring us to God.”

In verses 19-20, we get Jesus Christ’s proclamation of victory and judgment over the evil angels.  We read about just how evil these spirits were in Genesis 6 verses 1 through 8.

[Increasing Corruption on Earth]

[6:1] When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, [2] the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. [3] Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” [4] The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

            [5] The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. [6] And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. [7] So the LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.” [8] But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.

Here in this passage we see history at its most corrupt time in history, God reminds us of a time when it was tragically bad to show us that He is powerful enough to handle any circumstance.  The demons of Noah’s day were running riot through the earth, filling the world with their wicked, vile, anti-God activity, including sexual sin.  The world had become so corrupt that God looked down on the earth and only saw one man that he was pleased in, and that man was Noah.

The world was so corrupt that even 120 years of Noah’s preaching, while the ark was being built, could not convince any of the human race beyond the eight people in Noah’s family to believe in God.  Therefore, God bound these demons permanently in the abyss until their final sentencing.  The point of the passage, then, is not that Christ descended into hell, but that he delivered a message to these evil angels.  The message that Christ proclaimed is almost certainly one of triumph, after having been “put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”. (Schreiner, 2003)

We can apply this strange passage to our lives by realizing that we too are foreigners on this earth, a small community beset by opponents who mistreated them.  They should not be discouraged by the smallness of their numbers but must remember that God now extends his patience to all, but the day of judgment is coming in which their opponents will be ashamed and they will be vindicated.  Hence, the appeal to Noah and God’s patience reminds them to persevere.  If God preserved Noah when he stood in opposition to the whole world, he will also save his people, even though they are now being persecuted.  (Schreiner, 2003)

In verse 21, a comparison is drawn between salvation in the ark and baptism.  In both instances, believers are saved through the waters of judgment, since baptism portrays salvation through judgment.  The mere mechanical act of baptism does not save, for Peter explicitly says, “not as a removal of dirt from the body,” meaning that the passing of water over the body does not cleanse anyone.

Baptism saves you because it represents inward faith, as evidenced by one’s appeal to God for the forgiveness of one’s sins (for a good conscience).  Furthermore, baptism “saves” only insofar as it is grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Baptism is a visual representation of the fact that Christians are clothed with Christ (cf. Gal. 3:27), and in union with Christ they share his victory over sin.

For example, baptism is like my wedding band.  It is an outward sign of a commitment that I have made.  If I were to take off my wedding band then that would not make me any less married, but if I never wear my wedding band then you have to wonder about my level of commitment to my marriage.

So the question can be asked, what does suffering have to do with Baptism?  Why is this short explanation of Baptism surrounded by a passage on Suffering?  Basically, Peter shows us that Baptism is there to strengthen us for suffering with Christ.  So how does this happen?

Like this: When we have come through the water of baptism, we have passed through death and judgment.  We have been buried with Christ and we have risen with him.  We have passed from death to life.  Judgment is past.  The suffering we are experiencing cannot be the condemnation of God.  That has already been experienced for us by Christ.  We have received that by faith and we have expressed our faith by baptism.  It stands as a constant reminder that the worst suffering has been averted.  Christ took it for us.  We will never have to come into judgment.  There is now no condemnation.  We have already died that death in Christ and been raised in him.  Therefore, our present suffering is not the wrath of God but the loving discipline of our Father and the preparation for glory.

Now in verse 22, Peter realizes how confusing the past couple of verses could have been, so he reminds us of the main point of the passage.  The central truth of vv. 18–22 is that Christ has triumphed over his enemies.  He is now ascended to the right hand of God, and all angels and demonic powers are subjected to him since he is Lord and Christ.  Christians can therefore rejoice in their sufferings, knowing that Christ has triumphed.

So the main point of these verses is to help us get ready to suffer with Jesus for doing what is right, not for doing what is wrong.  For all the puzzling things in these verses we must not forget this main point—Peter’s intention in this text is to help us arm ourselves with the faith to suffer for the sake of Christ and his kingdom. (Piper, 1994)

Therefore, as believers we have no need to fear that suffering is the last word, for we share the same destiny as our Lord, who is similar to Noah.  We are a small-embattled minority in a hostile world, but we can be sure that, like Noah, our future is secure when the judgment comes.  The basis of our assurance is our baptism, for in baptism we have appealed to God to give us a good conscience of the basis of the crucified (v.18) and risen (v.21) work of the Lord Jesus Christ. (Schreiner, 2003)

In conclusion let us sum up 5 ways that this passage prepares us for suffering.

1. Remember That Christ Suffered (v.17-18).

2. Christ Has Triumphed and Brought Us Safe to God (v.18)

3. Remember the Days of Noah (v. 19-20)

4. Know the Meaning of Baptism (v. 21)

5. 5. Look to Christ at God’s Right Hand, Ruling over All (v. 22)