SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE

When one of my friends went to Acapulco, Mexico on a vacation with his wife, Jim and Doreen had just arrived and parked at the beach. While Doreen grabbed her book to read, Jim raced off to the water to body surf. He was having a great time with the 5-foot waves crashing upon him, but he noticed two things. First, nobody else was around him and secondly, the waves were taking him further out into the ocean. But he told himself, ‘But I can swim back. I can handle this.’ Eventually, he could not touch the bottom and noticed that the waves were now 6-8 feet high and so he decided to start swimming back. But no matter how hard he swam he was still being drawn further from shore.

He realized, ‘I am in big trouble, I cannot swim back!’ At that moment two things went through his mind. One, I am going to die, and secondly, Doreen is going to kill me as we just got here and I’m going to ruin her vacation. So, he started yelling for help, but remembered that there was no one around him. Tiring, he panicked momentarily, but then decided, ‘I’ll just float on my back to catch my breath.’ He told me, ‘What I had not noticed in my enthusiasm to hit the water was that there were huge towers where lifeguards were posted. Fortunately, one of those lifeguards noticed what was happening to me and took his surfboard and swam up to me.’

Jim was so weak he could not even get on the board without the help of the lifeguard. The lifeguard began swimming laterally before heading back to the beach because he was caught in a riptide. Once they were on the beach, the lifeguard asked Jim if he was okay and would he mind signing his name in a book that listed all the rescues on the beach. Jim told me, ‘The first thing I noticed was beside the names were the ages of all the rescued, and they were all around my own age. When I finally got back to where Doreen was stationed on the beach, I noticed that the place where I went into the water were huge boards that were 12 feet wide and 5 feet high that had danger warnings, and the area that I had went swimming had a riptide and was off limits.’

As he reflected upon his experience, he shared with me that this is often what we do as Christians. We ignore God’s warnings from his word, and think, ‘I can handle this. I am having a great time.’ But then it gets beyond us. Sin is like that; it has a power to destroy us. Whenever we disobey God’s word, the power of sin begins to gain control over our lives unless we come to the realization that we are in trouble and need help. We can easily drown in our sin. 

Living in this earthly world has always posed great dangers to the believers. The Christian life is like swimming against the tide. One of the dangers is the very strong tide or current that flows against the purposes and will of God. Strong tides are designed to pull us out and then down into the bottom of the ocean. We need to identify the threat and swim laterally or in accordance with God’s will in order to find safety.

In the first three chapters of 1 Peter, you will discover a consistent call to live a holy life as well as a challenge to be prepared to suffer injustices and hostilities as believers. Peter has been talking about Christ suffering as an example for us to walk in his footsteps.

…a person who suffers shows that he has given up those things against which his suffering is a protest. In other words, by suffering Christ showed his opposition to sinful living. Therefore, persecuted Christians must follow his example and say a firm no to their temptations.[i]

Here in the first six verses of chapter four we find two important keys to living a life that will help us swim against the tide of the sinful nature and worldliness that assaults us.

THE FIRST KEY TO SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE IS OUR COMMITMENT TO THE GOSPEL

What does it mean to really devote ourselves to being a follower of Jesus? What does it mean to live for him so that we will not drown by the tides flowing in a culture that is taking people to destruction?

A. It begins with the right attitude both toward God and our former sinful lifestyle.

One of the important elements that we often overlook in our current Christian contexts is the need for genuine repentance. The Greek word, metanoia, is a change of mind. Oxford English Dictionary states that it

is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. …In repenting one makes a complete change of direction toward God.[ii]

It is a 180-degree turn. When we read the New Testament we see the call from John the Baptist, Jesus and all the apostles to repent. They are consistent on this crucial ingredient that to be a follower of God, one must repent from sins and believe or trust in Christ. Apart from repentance there is no salvation.

We never fully appreciate what Christ has rescued us from until we end up struggling against the pressures of society, our own sinful tendencies and the power of demonic forces in our world. Once we have endured some of those pressures, we realize how dangerous they really are. Here in our text, Peter is challenging us to embrace the right attitude regarding the spiritual battle that we are facing. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin (1 Peter 4:1).”

What does it mean to be done with sin? I agree with the primary scholar of the KJV translation Lancelot Andrewes who said:

To cease from sin, I say, understanding by sin, not from sin altogether – that is a higher perfection than this life will bear, but as the Apostle expounded himself in the very next words (Romans 6:13), that is, the dominion of sin to cease. …To die to the dominion of sin – that by the grace of God we may, and that we must account for.[iii]

What Andrewes is stating is not that we never sin, for that is impossible; but that we do not allow sin to have dominion over our lives. We are no longer controlled by sin. When we choose to suffer rather than partake of the world’s pleasure, we are protesting sin. Howard Marshall points out: “…by suffering Christ showed his opposition to sinful living.” [iv]

Karen Jobes suggests what this idea is of ceasing from sin as a result of unjust suffering is “that those who suffer unjustly because of their faith in Christ have demonstrated that they are willing to be through, or done with sin by choosing obedience, even if it means suffering.” [v]

So, what does it mean for us to ‘arm ourselves with the same attitude that Jesus had by being prepared to suffer? Howard Marshall explains:

The phrase arm yourselves brings out the force of the Greek, which conveys the metaphor of going out to battle after putting on armor. If we put on or adopt the same frame of mind as Jesus had, we shall find that we have protected ourselves against the attacks of temptation.[vi]

It means that we are prepared to suffer rather than give in to temptation. The apostle Paul also speaks of the spiritual life as a battle. We are called to be soldiers in Christ’s army. Paul explains that like a soldier dressed for warfare, so the believer needs to put on the whole armor of God. Paul points out that the real battle that we are engaged in is not against people, but against the spiritual forces of darkness.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.[vii]

This battle, as we have seen earlier, is not just against our former sinful nature that ruled over us, but also against the strategies of demonic hosts that are designed to tempt us and lead us back into the bondage of sin. Peter now begins to instruct us how we should live as Christians. Peter describes two very different types of lifestyles. What Peter explains is the second thing that reveals our commitment or devotion to God and his wonderful message of salvation. It is demonstrated by how we live.

B. We now begin to live for the will of God.

Where once we lived for our sinful natures and desires to be gratified, we now live to do what pleases God, even if we suffer as a result of doing what is right. If you are doing what is right, you are not doing what is wrong. We now have a new purpose and motivation for living. “As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God (1 Peter 4:2).”   Here we see that we choose to embrace God’s will. Lancelot Andrewes explains how to go about living according to the will of God.

And then live we according to Him, when His will is our law, His word our rule, His Son’s life is our example, His Spirit rather than our own soul the guide of our actions.[viii]

What is he saying? That which is guiding and motivating our lives is the life of God as revealed to us both by God’s Word and the power of His Spirit at work within our lives. The apostle Paul reflects this same challenge here as Peter that we should transform our minds or arm our minds, to experience a new way of thinking that will lead to a new way of living. Paul in the book of Romans challenges the believers to make a choice between two world views.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.[ix]

We either embrace the value system of our society or we are at war with God’s value system. We have a choice. If we choose God’s values, we must expect to be persecuted and judged by the society around us. Earlier in the letter, Peter pointed out that part of God’s will is resisting those sinful passions that wage war against our own soul.

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.[x]

We do the will of God when we ‘keep [our] conduct… honorable’ by doing ‘good deeds.’ This, of course, will require us to be countercultural. We will always be swimming against the current of today’s moral tide. We are to be known for doing good. And as we have seen in this letter, the supreme mark of goodness is our submission to difficult and ungodly people in authority.[xi]

C. The third thing that reflects our devotion to God is that we stop living our lives addicted by sinful desires.

We leave sinful desires behind and start living with a compelling new purpose. Peter challenges us to stop living as we used to live. “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery; lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idiolatry (1 Peter 4:3).” This is just a sample list of vices. What Peter is saying is that we no longer allow sin to dominate our lives but are now surrendered to God to allow the work of God’s Spirit to transform our lives.

Karen Jobes writes about what was transpiring in the Roman world of the 1st Century to illustrate the challenges the earlier believers were faced with.

The pleasures from which Christian of the first century typically abstained were the popular forms of Roman entertainment: the theater with its risqué performances, the chariot races, and the gladiatorial fights with their blood and gore. Christian lifestyle also condemned the ‘pleasures’ of an indulgent temper, sex outside of marriage, drinking, slander, lying, covetousness, and theft (Coldwell 1939:61). These attitudes toward contemporary Roman customs and morals, combined with the Christians’ refusal to burn incense to the emperor – a gesture of civic gratitude intended to assure the well-being of the empire – earned Christians the reputation of being haters of humanity and traitors to the Roman way of life.[xii]

Can we not see the direction we are headed in as our society is restructuring its moral values? We see a growing hostility brewing toward those who disdain the sinful direction we are moving in. We are being perceived as haters of humanity or intolerant.

Karen Jobes also explains a parallel to the first century with our own.

Few in the polytheistic first century cared if Christians wanted to worship Jesus, but it was highly offensive for the apostles to label other religions as idolatrous and inconsistent with the true worship of God. In our pluralistic age of globalization, issues of multicultural pluralism are creating an ethos similar to that of the polytheism Peter faced: everything spiritual seems acceptable except the exclusive claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ.[xiii]

This is the point in which the charge of Christian intolerance is being leveled.

Peter explains that people who do not know Christ live according to their sinful nature. Our self-centeredness must be dethroned in order to allow Christ to be at the center and heart of our lives. People who do not know Christ as a loving Lord do not understand a person who quits living like they once did and now starts living for God, with a whole new set of values and desires. In the next verse, Peter states that they are surprised by our lack of excitement over what we previously lived for. Here the idea is that they previously had lived like the Gentiles (ethne), or non-covenant people, which the NIV translates as pagans. This contrasts with living as covenant people who are doing the will of God. We are either doing the will of non-covenant people or we are doing the will of God. The apostle Paul also states that this is what motives people in their actions.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.

All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.[xiv]

THE SECOND KEY TO SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE IS EMBRACING THE COST OF THE GOSPEL

One of the aspects of embracing the good news of Jesus and experiencing his saving love is the misunderstanding and suffering that comes as a result from people who feel threatened by this message. Here we see not only the suffering of addressing the sinful nature but also the attacks from those who do not understand.

A. Misunderstanding and maligning that often comes from non-believers.

“They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you (1 Peter 4:4).”

Now we gain some insight into why some people become hostile and even persecute believers. They feel threatened because their sinful lifestyle is exposed as being in rebellion to their Creator. Peter explains that we need to understand that all people will account for their lifestyles. “But they will have to give an account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5).”

B. Entrusting ourselves in our suffering for righteousness’s sake to God as Judge and vindicator over all humanity.

Our response to persecution is that we entrust ourselves to God. We need to remember that this kind of suffering is because we are doing what is right and not what is wrong. This mocking and abuse in believers’ lives is a result of their Christian faith. Peter is explaining that those who heap abuse will have to give an account of that behavior when God judges all humanity. There is a judgment coming even though there are many today who believe that once a person dies that is the final and ultimate reality.

Therefore, the claim of 4:5 is that there is a judgment of God coming and that being dead does not excuse one from having to give an account for what was done before death.[xv]

This is consistent of what we know of the nature of God as being a God of justice. If there was no judgment to come, we could not in all good conscience make a claim for absolute justice. There are so many unjust conditions in this earthly life that could only be rectified in the next. Paul points out in his defense of the reality of the resurrection, that if there is no resurrection that we ought to be pitied. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).” Why? Because we will have suffered many things in vain. But Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 15, that everything about our created world speaks for the validity of the resurrection. From sowing crops and reaping a harvest. We see continued evidence in our world of how things die only to be born again like seeds eventually producing new life.

C. One of the purposes of preaching the gospel is in order to help humanity prepare for the Judgment.

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.[xvi]

First Peter 4:6 begins ‘for this reason,’ that is, for the reason that there is a judgment coming, the gospel was preached to the dead, meaning to those who are now dead (but who heard the gospel while living, as the Today’s New International Version makes clear). The whole point of evangelism is to prepare people for the day they must give an account of themselves to their Judge. Physical death does not exempt those who reject the gospel in this life from judgment, nor does it render the gospel ineffective for those who committed themselves to it when they heard it in this life.[xvii]

Since judgment is coming it is wisdom for us to live for God, and yes, even suffering for doing what is right. It is folly to give way and allow sin dominion over us both as it destroys our earthly life from all that God designed for us to become. We also need to be aware that each of us will one day give an account of our lives before Him in the day of future judgment.

Peter then states this exhortation or challenge in 1 Peter 4:7, pointing to the reality of the brevity of our lives and how we ought to live considering this coming judgment: “The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray (1 Peter 4:7).”

What began in our text today as having the right attitude regarding temptation and sin and the need to arm our minds to resist now concludes here with the exhortation to be ‘alert and sober minded’ in order to be in communion with our Lord, in prayer. How are we living? Are we being pulled out in the riptide? Are we in danger of drowning by the pull and strength of allowing sin to have dominion over our lives?

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[i]     I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1991), 133.

[ii]     Oxford English Dictionary.

[iii]    Lancelot Andrewes, Sermons, 203; as quoted by Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter, Second Edition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), 210.

[iv]    I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 133.

[v]     Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 265.

[vi]    I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, 132.

[vii]   Ephesians 6:11-12, The New international Version of the Bible, 2011.

[viii]   Lancelot Andrewes, Sermons, 203.

[ix]    Romans 12:1-2.

[x]     1 Peter 2:11-12.

[xi]    David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 130.

[xii]   Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 262.

[xiii]   Ibid, 267.

[xiv] Ephesians 2:1-3.

[xv]   Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 272.

[xvi]   1 Peter 4:6.

[xvii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 272-73.

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