Think back to when you were twelve years old. What was life like for you then? Was that an easy time of life for you, or was that season of life more on the awkward side? I know for me personally, that was a challenging year of my life. I was in a new school. I was trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to carry myself when I interacted with others. I was easily impressionable and many of my personal influences were not very good. The things I valued were, for the most part, unhealthy.
Over the next few years, things changed. The context that I lived in didn't change, but the people and the values that I allowed to influence me did. By God's grace, He put people in my life that had the desire to honor Him. Some of my greatest influences during the second half of my teen years were people who were just a few years older than me and they blessed me with a highly visible picture of what it meant to trust in and follow Christ.
During that season, I remember drawing a line in my life. I had an extremely strong desire to no longer live according to the faithless, worldly mindset I had welcomed into my life for far too long. I wanted to move beyond that manner of living and experience what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Christ because I became convinced that that's exactly what God wanted for me.
And when we look at the content of 1 Peter 4:1-6, we can see that that's exactly what the Lord desires for all of us. He invites us to draw a line in our lives and to move forward as His family, instead of drifting backward into the mess He rescued us out of. So how can that be done?
1. Learn to value the will of God for your life
Suffering is a theme that is mentioned repeatedly in the book of 1 Peter. Peter speaks about the suffering Christ experienced, and he also speaks about the suffering those who trust in Jesus must be willing to experience as well. In these opening verses, he draws our minds back to the suffering Christ experienced during His earthly ministry, and he encourages us to begin adopting the perspective or manner of thinking that Christ displayed during those experiences.
One of the keys to understanding Christ's mission and ministry is to understand His nature. By nature, Jesus is divine. He is God who took on flesh. He never sinned or violated His holy nature. But even though He never sinned, He was treated by the religious leaders and the government of the day as if He had. Yet He was willing to endure that suffering rather than react in a sinful way to the expectations of the people who opposed Him.
We're invited to do the same thing. If your desire is to follow Christ in the midst of this fallen world, you need to recognize that there will be times when you will be tempted or attacked. But you aren't defenseless. We're told in this passage to arm ourselves with something as if we're going off to battle.
This Scripture encourages us to arm ourselves with the same manner of thinking Jesus utilized. What is this manner of thinking?
The manner of thinking or attitude that Jesus displayed was the willingness to suffer for doing the right thing. Practically speaking, this feeds our ability to say "No" to sin and temptation. If we aren't willing to suffer for doing the right things, we'll take whatever the path of least resistance is in any given situation. We'll compromise our integrity so as not to make waves. We'll go along with the crowd so as to avoid criticism, and we'll justify the presence of all kinds of wickedness in our lives because we won't want to suffer the social, relational, or monetary costs that come from taking a firm stand.
But God's will for you is that you don't live the bulk of your life succumbing to the allure of worldly passions. Many Christians spend a lot of time trying to figure out God's will for their life. Usually those questions center around who to marry, what job to take, where to live, and whether it's more practical to drive an SUV or a minivan. I'm not saying there isn't value in those questions, but when it comes to discerning God's will, it's often more fruitful to focus on whether or not you're approaching life with the attitude of Christ. It's often more fruitful to be clear about whether or not you're still spending your life primarily pursuing the passions of the sinful nature.
When we learn to value what God values, and we begin to faithfully live in accordance with the clear teaching of His word, it's amazing to see just how clear the other decisions we need to make start to become. God's will seems fuzzy when we're consumed with worldly passions. His will becomes much clearer when we're approaching life with the mindset of Christ.
2. Stop wasting your life on foolish things
It amazes me just how quickly time goes by. A year used to seem like a long time to me. Now, I feel like a year goes by in less time than it takes me to make coffee. As I have become more conscious of how quickly time seems to be going by, I find myself becoming more conscious of how I'm choosing to spend the time I have. I'm learning what to say "Yes" to, and what to say "No" to, realizing that every time I agree to do something or be somewhere, I'm, by default, saying "No" to something else.
Every evening when I'm driving home, I drive past something that seems sad to me. Because I don't know the person involved, I realize that there could be more to the story than I'm aware of, but near one of the traffic lights on my route home, there's a bench. Without fail, every time I drive past that bench, the same man is sitting on it. He stands out to me because, regardless of the weather, he's always wearing sandals with socks. I see him every day, no matter what time I drive past that bench. Not long ago, I saw him walk across the street. It surprised me, but I can't help but think to myself, "Is sitting on that bench the primary way you're choosing to spend your life?" I guess it's better than sitting in front of a TV forever, but time feels too short to just sit and stare when your body and mind is capable of doing more.
Peter was trying to stir up the people of the early church to take action so they didn't waste the time they had been blessed with. Specifically, he encouraged them not to waste their lives on the vain activities those who are without Christ tend to chase after. Peter lists examples of drunkenness, sexual immorality, and the idolatry of giving anything in this world a place of greater prominence in your life than Christ. He encourages the church not to waste their lives craving or seeking after these things because they aren't God's will for His people.
But what happens if you choose to take a different route when everyone around you is pursuing the passions of this world? People take note of your behavior. In fact, it might actually surprise them, or possibly offend them. And in response, you might be on the receiving end of some unkind ridicule or critique. How do you feel when that happens? Is that something you're willing to accept? Can you live with being maligned if you choose to walk with Christ when those around you are going in the opposite direction?
Can I suggest something that I find supremely helpful in moments like that? I find it quite helpful to take a moment to remember who I really am. My identity and your identity is not tied to the critical opinions of others. In Christ, we find security. No matter what anyone says about me, I know I can be secure in that relationship. Through faith in Christ, I will always be a child of God. The world may criticize me, but He calls me blessed. The world may malign me, but He says I'm righteous. The world may slander me, but He says I'm forgiven. If our greatest sense of hope is in this world, then we'll find the hurtful critiques of this world devastating. But if our true hope is in Christ, we'll be able to see through those critiques, and beyond slander as we glimpse the kind of future He holds in store for those who trust in Him.
3. Live as someone who doesn't have to fear the day when you stand before God
When I was the director of a Christian Summer camp, I used to sit down with my staff members, twice each Summer, to give them an evaluation. The new staff used to dread those meetings because they worried about what they were going to be like. My guess is that they thought they were going to be severely criticized or reprimanded for small mistakes, and those "what if" scenarios kept torturing their minds. Most evaluations went fine. Some did not.
Accountability is a good thing. We make better decisions when we know we're going to have to be transparent and accountable for what we decide. And the truth is that there will be a day when we will stand before God and give an account for our lives. We'll give an account for what we've done with the time, relationships, and resources He has blessed us with. All our secret sins will be laid bare and brought out into the open.
We can approach that day one of two ways. We can pretend like that day isn't going to come (or isn't real), or we can get a lawyer.
Jesus is our Advocate. Jesus is our Lawyer. Jesus speaks on our behalf. We have sinned, but He has paid the penalty for the sin we've committed. Jesus came to this earth, not to condemn us, but to redeem us. He came here to pay for our mistakes. He offers us forgiveness through faith in Him. And if we accept the payment for sin He has made on our behalf, we will be shown grace and mercy, not condemnation, when we stand before God to be judged.
Peter says that this is the message that was preached to Christians who had died prior to the writing of this letter, and it's also the message that we're being told as we read these words. Through Jesus, we can live as people who don't need to fear the coming day when we stand before Him.
The Lord challenges us to give up the old passions that used to govern our minds, and begin to value His will for our lives. Instead of living for foolishness, we're called to live an accountable life in Christ, empowered by His strength and directed by His Spirit.
© John Stange, 2017