This week marks the second week of Lent. Lent is the time of year when we as Christians devote ourselves in prayer and self-control in order to prepare our hearts for the celebration of Easter. Lent is not just about giving something up or keeping traditions; Lent is first and foremost about the gospel making its way deeper into our lives. Lent is 40 days because Christ prepared himself for ministry 40 days in the wilderness and we prepare ourselves for 40 days for the great celebration of Jesus Christ rising from the dead to defeat our sins.
Lent prepares us to celebrate the wonder and promise of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Jesus trampled down sin and death, defeating the Devil (Heb. 2:14-15). After a season of depravation, highlighting the grim reality of our broken creation, Jesus’ resurrection floods our grief with life and light. In other words, Lent prepares us to join the disciples in their joy and bewilderment on that strange morning long ago (Mt. 28:8; Mk. 16:8; Lk. 24:12). Our Easter worship is a dress rehearsal for our Lord Jesus’ return when he comes to unite heaven and earth, making all things new (Eph. 1:10; Rev. 21:1-8).
So the question might be asked, why would we intentionally cause ourselves to suffer by giving up something for lent, when sometimes what we are giving up is something God created for good? The answers lies in Luke 9:23: And Jesus said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. See whether or not we celebrate lent is unimportant, but the daily pattern of giving up some things we feel like doing is immensely important for the disciples of Jesus Christ.
You see that the importance of self-control is essential in living the Christian life. In Galatians 5:23 we see that if you are a true Christian that we will know you by the fruits of the Spirit and one of those fruits is self-control. In Titus 1:8 we see that if you desire to be a leader in the church that you must be known for your self-control.
In 1 Corinthians 9:25, we see that Paul compares our self-control with that of an athlete. Every athlete exercises self-control. Paul had very little trust in the desires his body threw at him daily. In verse 27, he says that I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
This is normal, daily, Christian warfare. Only saints delight in the law of God at their depths. This is because they know that God’s law is not there to be a burden to them but to be a marker for how we are to get the most joy out of life. It is kind of like the game of baseball.
If there were no rules in baseball, it would be total chaos, with people running around with bats and throwing balls. However, we have rules to get the most joy out of the game of baseball, just like we have commandments to get the most joy out of life.
Now is this shocking to you all that God uses illustrations of athletes and warriors in his word to us to describe how he wants us to live our lives? What images come to your mind when you think of what it looks like to be a Christian? Do images of warriors, wrestlers, runners, and boxers cross your mind? They should because that is the image that God uses in His Word to describe the life of a believer. We should be preparing to suffer like Christ as a warrior prepares for battle, as a wrestler prepares for a match, as a boxer prepares for a fight, and as a runner prepares for a marathon.
God uses these images in the Bible to describe the life of a believer because He wants to remind us that fulfilling the Great Commission is not a passive effort. Christianity is not a spectator sport. It is something in which we become totally involved. And we know this to be true, we do not become better at basketball by sitting on the sidelines watching the game, we get better by training and participating.
Passivity is one of the main enemies of biblical masculinity and it is most obvious where it is needed most. It is a pattern of waiting on the sidelines until you are specifically asked to step in. Even worse than that, it can be a pattern of trying to duck out of responsibilities or to run away from challenges. Men who think conflict should be avoided, or who refuse to engage with those who would harm the body of Christ or their family, not only model passivity but also fail in their responsibilities as protectors. If our sinful desires are allowed to run wild, then it will ultimately destroy human lives, not only yours, but also those around you. (Stinson & Dumas, 2011)
Therefore, let us look at God’s Word to gain insight on how we should use Lent as a tool to help us live a life of self-control. Our main text for today comes from 1 Peter 4:1-6. In this passage, we see that since Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh, so will believers. Therefore, we should prepare ourselves to suffer, for the decision to suffer indicates that we have ceased to let sin have power over us. Let us use Lent as a tool to do what this passage encourages us to do… to become more like Christ.
(Verse 1) Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,
Here in verse 1, we get the main point of the passage. We are to arm ourselves with the intention to suffer. The term arm yourselves has military connotations, and is in other passages as well, for example Ephesians 6:11-17.
 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,
This passage is calling us to arm ourselves with the attitude that suffering is unavoidable. Like soldiers preparing for battle, we believers should prepare ourselves for suffering. And that is why we study a passage like this and a book like first Peter, in order to prepare you all for suffering. It would be easy for me to turn to a book like Deuteronomy and give you all the promises that God gives. However, I want to prepare you for when your life gets hard.
If you have a false theology that believes that if you will have just enough faith or do the right things that God will make you healthy and wealthy then you will fall when hardships come. I want to prepare you all to be able to not only handle persecution, but to glorify God amidst suffering in persecution in order to fulfill the Great Commission. Your efforts to bring good news of everlasting life will be met with joy in some and anger with others and I want you all to be prepared for when it comes. Just like how a solider is prepared.
Again in verse 1 we see that “He who has suffered” refers to believers and relates back to the command to prepare themselves for suffering. Peter explained why they should prepare themselves to suffer, seeing the commitment to suffer as evidence that they have broken with a life of sin.
The point is not that believers who suffer have attained sinless perfection, as if they do not sin at all after suffering. What Peter is stressing is that those who commit themselves to suffer, those who willingly endure scorn and mockery for their faith, show that they have won the battle over sin. They have broken with sin because they have ceased to participate in the lawless activities of unbelievers and endured the criticisms that have come from such a decision. The commitment to suffer reveals a passion for a new way of life, a life that is not yet perfect but remarkably different from the lives of unbelievers in the Greco-Roman world and today living for Christ will also be remarkably different in our culture as well. (Schreiner, 2003)
However, it is important to point out that God did not call us to spiritual warfare and then dropped us off at the battlefield unequipped. No, we were already in a spiritual war for our souls and when we repented of our sins and accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord, Savior, and Treasure, he equips us with invincible weapons to subdue the flesh. These weapons are God’s Word and the Holy Spirit working inside of us.
This is one my main frustrations with my brothers and sisters and Christ, many do not understand the power that has been given to them. They complain and worry and stress, just like the rest of the world sometimes. Do you not know that if you are truly a believer that you have the presence of God living inside of you and his Word speaking to you through the Bible? So if you have an important decision, stop looking for a sign and start looking for a verse. If you are struggling with temptation, stop trying to defeat it out of your own willpower, and start focusing your affections to the one that is all powerful. Take courage that the God of all creation, the God of the universe that has created the billions of stars, sends his presence to you and he promises good for you because he Loves you.
And how do we know that he loves us? Because he sent only son into this world to die for your sins. While you were still enemies of God, he died for you. God loves you so much that it looks like he hates his only begotten son. So if God did the hardest thing to adopt you into his heavenly family, what is a light bill or a deadly disease?
Therefore, in this passage we see that although we will still sin after becoming a Christian, we are longer controlled by them, the battle has been won. Jesus Christ sets us free from the bondage of sin. Therefore persecution for being a believer is a sign that you have broken free from our flesh and what the world desires and have full confidence in Jesus Christ as your Lord, Savior, and Treasure.
(Verse 2) so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
In verse 2, we see that Christians should arm themselves with the intention to suffer, so that they live the remainder of their lives in carrying out God’s will instead of fulfilling the human lusts that dominated their lives before conversion. Jesus Christ did not come to this earth to help satisfy your already given desires, but to give you new ones. Jesus did not come to be useful in the fulfillment of your desires, but to change your desires into God glorifying ones. Believers are summoned to suffer in the sense that they are called to do God’s will and to turn away from a life of sin.
In other words, choose suffering for righteousness because if you do not, you will choose sin. But if you do choose suffering, you will prove that your bondage to sin has been broken. When you suffer for what is right, it is a sign that you have renounced sinful human desires and embraced the will of God as a higher value. (Piper, 1994)
To overcome the desires of flesh we must fight fire with fire. We fight fire with fire by replacing one passionate desire with another one. Therefore, when we feel temptation coming then we quickly turn towards our burning passion to display God’s glory and to relish in his eternal worth and satisfaction. We do this by not just preferring righteousness, but pursuing it. John Owen confirmed this when he said, “be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”
The imagery of fire is appropriate here because we know that fire contained in a fireplace or a fire pit can be both beautiful and serve a function. However, when fire is not contained it can wreck and destroy anything in its path as we see every year with forest fires out west.
ILLUSTRATION OF FIGHTING FIRE WITH FIRE
Fight Fire with Fire! Conquer your physical addictions with spiritual addictions. No other way will bear long-term fruit. Drive the demon of gluttony out the front door and seven more will come in the back, unless you fill your house with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was full from the start and no demon ever had a toehold in his marvelous life of discipline. (Piper, 1984)
We live out this verse by demonstrating to everyone that we are no longer slaves to our fleshly desires, but slaves to the almighty God. We will all be slaves to something, we will either be slaves to our flesh, that leaves us craving for more, or we will be slaves to God, who promises to fulfill us when we hunger and thirst after him. I encourage you to submit to the good master, rather than the one that tries to get as much as possible out of you.
For an extreme example take a drug addict, what happens when you become a slave to drugs? You want more drugs. And then you build a tolerance and have to take even more drugs to get the same high that got you addicted in the first place. Drugs promise to make you feel better, but what they actually do is wage war against your body demanding more and more from you, until your body finally collapses.
On the other hand, what does Christ promise for those that seek after Him in Matthew 5 verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus promises that instead of being an empty hole like sin, that we will be satisfied. In other words, the more we hunger and thirst for the true living God, the more satisfied we will become. So Why would God make us satisfied instead of wanting us to seek more and more after him like a drug? Because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
(Verse 3) For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.
In verse 3, we see a list of what it will look like for you to be serving your flesh rather than God. We also see that your past sinning is enough. So whether you are a 8 year old child and have very little to repent of or more likely a 50,60,70 year old that has had decades of sinning to repent of, your past sinning is enough, you can stop now. Let this be the moment that you are set free from the bondage of sin.
(Verse 4) With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you;
And that same list in verse 3 is also a list of the darkness that will try to persecute you. In verse 4, we see that those people that practice these things will insult you. They will try to make you look like a fool. Of course our unsaved neighbors will not understand why we abandon the seemingly fun sins that they still commit, but one day they will be judged for them. They will not understand that we have been given new passions.
ILLUSTRATION OF WHY THE WORLD WONT UNDERSTAND
That we no longer settle for the short-term pleasures of the flesh, but long for the eternal joy that comes from being a follower of Christ. It is better to embrace suffering like Jesus did, if it is God’s will, than to choose to go back to sin just because your friends mock you.
(Verse 5) but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.
In verse 5, we see that the main point of this verse is that believers should not succumb to the temptation to renounce their faith so they can enjoy the praise of society. Such approval is short-lived, and those who mistreat believers now will be judged in the future.
See our enemies are not the only ones that will be judged though. We all will be judged. 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.
(Verse 6) For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.
The point of verse 6 is to encourage us that even though there is a judgment coming beyond the grave, and even though all of us die, nevertheless those who hear and believe the Gospel will live in the spirit according to the will of God.
So why would anyone persecute of insult someone that is trying to do good? There are different reasons, a few of the main ones is because darkness hates light. Someone that is in darkness hates when light is brought in because it reveals what they are doing is wrong.
Another reason is because misery enjoys company. They would rather pressure you into doing wrong with them because it makes them feel less convicted. And the final reason is because living a Christian life will call you to live a different life that is counter cultural. And because you are different, people will look at you with a great deal of suspicion.
One of the reasons that Peter was writing this letter was to encourage believers that were being mocked by Romans. These non-believers were saying, “Ha, you say that you have such good news. You say that you escape judgment. You say your God is great and saves you and gives you joy. Well, all we have got to say is: you are missing a lot of parties and you die like everybody else. So if you die and go to the worms, and we die and go to the worms, we say, Eat, Drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.”
Did the Romans have a point? Do people today say or at least act the same way? However, we know that the Gospel was not preached to dead Christians in vain. The reason the Gospel was preached to those who have died is so that even though it looks like they have been judged like everybody else, they have not. They are alive in the spirit. They are with the Lord. And the sufferings that they experienced here are not worthy to be compared to the glory that has been revealed to them. (Piper, 1994)
Therefore, we can summarize this passage into 5 pieces:
1. Verse 1: Christ, the one we love and follow suffered.
2. Verses 2: When we suffer, we make a clean break with sin.
3. Verses 3-4: Any amount of past sinning is sufficient. It is enough.
4. Verse 5: Our enemies will be brought to justice.
5. Verse 6: We who embrace the Gospel will triumph over death.
So in closing, Why does the Bible encourage us to be self-controlled as athletes and warriors? Simple: Greater Joy. Every athlete exercises self-control to win a prize, every solider exercises self-control to win the battle, we Christians exercise self-control to get not only the most joy out of this life, but the next. Therefore, let us use this season of Lent to make ourselves more disciplined for the glory of the Lord and to heighten our joy for Easter.