This article on 1 Peter 4:1 is about the fruit of suffering, and the relation of suffering and sin.

Source: Clarion, 1985. 2 pages.

1 Peter 4:1 – The Fruit of Suffering

… for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin …

1 Peter 4:1

In his exhortation to his fellow believers to follow the example of the Lord Jesus in suffering, the apostle Peter uses rather forceful language, and seems to imply that sin has all but disappeared in the Christian life. Knowing how this conflicts with our own, everyday experience, we might wonder what these words mean. Why does Peter say things this way? And how does suffering result in sin's defeat?

It is both the kind and the extent of the sufferings in question that condition the apostle's choice of these words. In regard to the first, he is obviously speaking of unjust suffering, that is, political or economic suffering unjustly imposed on the believers because of their hope in the Gospel. In regard to the extent, the context also makes clear that this unjust suffering often persisted to the end, that is, to death itself. In other words, these early battles of the Christians were not simply struggles waged on account of sickness or their own sins. They were called to endure unmerited suffering and that with unrelenting force. It was a great battle, and they had to contend with a forceful enemy!

Now the language of the apostle is meant to give them courage, hope, and perseverance in their trials. Precisely the nature of the sufferings they had to endure make Peter refer back to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus. He also suffered unjustly; He also suffered to the end. His sufferings paralleled their own, and in many ways they found themselves enduring the same treatment that He had to undergo.

However, the apostle does not overlook that the sufferings of the Lord Jesus were of an entirely different order than the sufferings of the believers of his day. Christ suffered the burden of God's eternal wrath, being utterly forsaken by Him. At that moment, Satan received his hour, and death saw its chance. Heaven and hell were locked in battle for our salvation. But the Lord Jesus was faithful to the end, and so defeated sin's power, 1 Peter 3:18. His death was also sin's death, His defeat was also Satan's defeat. For death exhausted its power in its onslaught against Him.

Now the believers have the blessings of this victory to accompany them in all their trials. Christ suffered alone; His disciples and followers never suffer alone. Through the victory of the cross, they may count on the Spirit of Christ to bear them up, and grant them every help and strength in the day of trial. In fact, through sufferings, the Holy Spirit seals and confirms the blessings of the Gospel in the hearts of God's children. Through sufferings, sin is defeated more and more.

Here is comfort, in every trial and temptation. In the light of the hedonistic spirit of the day, many believers saw suffering and persecution as the worst misfortune, and at best an unpleasant burden to carry. But Peter's words call us to transform our thoughts: suffering is hardly a burden; it is a blessing through which we may see sin's power defeated, and our lives drawn closer in the service of God. Through suffering we are confirmed in faith, and assured that Christ has bought us with His precious blood, and now gives us all His blessings and gifts.

Thus, one may say that the first focus of Peter's words is not on our experience. Indeed, even in the worst sufferings, one cannot be conscious of many sins and shortcomings. The first focus of his words is on Christ in heaven, who freely imparts justification and life to those who cling to Him in faith and who cancels all sin before God's throne, so that the one suffering for His sake has truly "ceased from sin." For in Christ the old nature loses its power, and no longer has dominion in our hearts, Romans 6:14. In Christ, the new nature rises up to deeds of love and obedience, so that one may endure all things patiently for the sake of the Master.

At the same time, one ought not to disregard all reference to what we may experience in this life. Suffering brings changes. Suffering for Christ changes the thoughts and direction of our hearts. Suffering breaks down the passion of sin. Suffering drives the soul to seek after God. In all these things, Peter's words find greater meaning, also for those who must suffer in justice today. And as long as the world endures, persecution will remain the lot of the church.

To be sure, this does not mean that all sin ceases in this life. On the contrary, sin still clings closely, even in our final hour. But suffering brings changes – changes for the better. Sinking into a bed of pain can and does open up ever greater vistas of a new tomorrow when all the groaning in travail will pass, all tears and crying will be no more, and we will live in the presence of full joy – fully free from sin, for all time. For he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin.

Add new comment

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.