April 19, 2020
Some of you have heard this statement, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” The idea is every time a Christian’s blood is spilled, it becomes the seed by which more and more believe the Gospel. What is interesting is the context of the statement. Of course, it’s not in the Bible. It was written by Tertullian, an early church father of the late second and early third centuries who lived in Carthage, North Africa. Often called the Father of Western Theology, he was actually the first to refer to the Father, Son and Spirit as the Trinity. Well, he lived during the height of state-sponsored Roman persecution against this new faith called Christianity. Persecution had gone beyond ridicule. Christians were being arrested and at times, put to death, martyred for their faith.
Some other church fathers, like Polycarp, Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, had already suffered martyrdom. It’s interesting – our English word martyr comes from the Greek word, martus – which means witness. The connection, witness to the Christian faith and you may become a martyr. You’ll remember when we studied Hebrews the author said to his readers, you have not yet suffered to the point of shedding blood. The implication was, they would. Of course, that came under the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero, during whose persecutions, Peter and Paul were put to death.
Under Nero, Christians were arrested, some dipped in a flammable material and burned alive. Others were sewn into animal skins and thrown to wild beasts in the arena, or simply cast in with a hungry pride of lions – to the delight of the spectators. The stories are many, and gruesome. Of course, Jesus said such persecution would come – if they persecuted Me, they will persecute you.
Well, back to Tertullian. He was a prolific writer. But this particular statement about the blood of the martyrs being the seed of the church was not written to Christians. He was writing an apologetic – a defense of the Christian faith – to the governing authorities – the very ones carrying out the persecutions. In the midst of it, he says, you keep killing Christians, and it’s not working. Don’t you understand, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church? For every Christian you kill, many more spring up in their place.
And that statement, again not found in the Bible, is true. It can be borne out in countries across our world, to the present day. How does that work? Kill Christians, and more become Christians? I would suggest, God ordained it so. A couple examples: Evangelical Christian missionaries first went to Vietnam in 1911, actually led by Robert Jaffray of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Others followed, and soon there were over 100 missionaries in the country. But the growth of the church was slow. Then, during the Vietnam War of the 60s, Christian missionaries had to flee for their lives. Several didn’t survive, and became martyrs. As I understand it, there were only about one hundred thousand or so Christians in the country at that time. Of course, you know the communist north outlasted the war, and Vietnam is now a communist country, with very oppressive religious laws. World Magazine writes:
“With the Fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, the new Communist government kicked out foreign missionaries [those who were left], commandeered Christian schools and hospitals, and closed churches. Some Vietnamese pastors fearfully fled the country on U.S. military planes, leaving their flocks without shepherds.”
In fact, you may be interested to know, we have many Vietnamese people – many of whom are believers – in our own state of North Carolina. Without citing their entire history, fast-forward to the present, where under communist oppression and control, it is estimated there are over one and a half million evangelical Christians in Vietnam. What happened? The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. Persecution and opposition caused the church to grow. Franklin Graham was able to hold a crusade there three years ago, to a crowd of over ten thousand.
The same could be said of China – another communist country. They have desperately tried to stop the spread of Christianity through the years – to include closing underground churches, arresting and imprisoning pastors, martyring some. But current estimates place the number of Christians in China at one hundred million – more Christians than in the United States. That story could be told over and over in nations across the world. As I understand it, there is a Christian revival happening in Iran – where converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death. You see, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.
Can I suggest that Christianity does not spread without the witness of God’s people. It’s the way God planned it. I know, I’ve heard about dreams people are having around the world about Jesus – but even then, someone must tell them the gospel. Jesus said, as He was ready to ascend to heaven, in Matthew 28, “Go, and make disciples of all nations,” and in Acts 1, “you shall be My witnesses (marturos)… to the ends of the earth.” Paul said, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of [or about] Christ.” The gospel must be proclaimed.
So, share your faith, but know this: it will cost you, as it cost Jesus. This has been Peter’s instruction and encouragement to his readers facing persecution because of their faith. Three weeks ago, we saw Peter wrote in I Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered [by dying] once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.” Peter then went on to talk about what Jesus dying in our place accomplished – namely, making us just, and bringing us to God. Remember, that’s the greatest benefit of believing the gospel. We get God. But that cost the suffering, and death of God’s own Son. And it may brings ours, too. Bringing us to our text today in our continuing study of I Peter. Chapter 4, verses 1-6 say this.
Peter told us in the last chapter, it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right. For, Christ also suffered by dying for sins. Then Peter took the very important aside to talk about what Christ’s suffering accomplished. Now, he returns to his thought of us suffering, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered,” so should you. It’s another great text that has some confusing parts, but it’s a little easier than last time. It should become clear as we make our way through. Here’s the outline:
- Choose Suffering, Not Sin (1-2)
- Choose Abuse, Not Sin (3-4)
- Choose the Spirit, Not the Flesh (5-6)
All of that because, and he sums it up, judgment is coming – and you will be proven right in denying sin, choosing abuse, and following Christ. You will be vindicated. It will be worth it. Look at verses 1 and 2 with me – choose suffering, not sin. Therefore, in light of Christ’s suffering unto death, since Christ has suffered in the flesh – meaning, since Christ suffered while in the flesh on earth, if you’re wanting to follow in His steps, arm yourselves with the same purpose. The purpose or attitude of suffering while you yourself are still alive, in the flesh. In other words, get ready, if you choose Christ, you choose suffering. It’s a package deal.
Now, the words arm yourselves also is a common metaphor in the NT to speak of going into battle. Most of you are familiar with Ephesians 6 where Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God. Not so we can fight each other or even unbelievers. He’s not telling us to go into battle against unbelievers who persecute us – remember, we’re supposed to live beautiful lives in front of them so they will be attracted to the gospel. But nonetheless, we will be attacked. So arm yourselves with this same purpose – the ESV has it, arm yourselves with the same kind of thinking. What thinking? Christ’s thinking, who knew when He came, He would suffer – and He would die for sinners. You do the same. You choose Jesus, you choose suffering. Be ready.
Arm yourselves with the same purpose or thinking. Put it on like a piece of armor – you are going to suffer for the cause of Christ. So do that. Be prepared – get yourselves into the right frame of mind. Later he’ll say, don’t be surprised when it comes. Listen, the more I teach the Scripture, the more I see suffering is the way of life for believers, and the prosperity gospel is totally opposed to the Scripture. The way of the gospel is not health, wealth and prosperity. It is the way of suffering – just as Jesus suffered. Now again, we may suffer like Jesus as we follow in His steps, but we don’t accomplish what He did. His suffering was substitutionary – in our place for our sin. His suffering purchased our salvation. We suffer because:
- The world will not like our way of life. We’ll see that in a moment.
- They will not like the consequent condemnation of their way of life. When you live a good life, it will expose their not good life. Darkness does not like light.
- They will not like the gospel, because it exposes their sin.
- They will not like the death of Christ on a cross – that seems like foolishness to them.
I could go on – the point is, we suffer at the hands of unbelievers because they just don’t get it – further, they don’t like it. But they are not the enemy. We live beautiful lives so some will get it, and believe. And that’s my invitation to some of you. You don’t get everything, because Paul said the cross is foolishness to those who don’t yet believe. Maybe you don’t understand everything right now. But you know enough – that is, the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for sinners. If you give your life to Him because of what He did for you, you will receive His Holy Spirit. And then you can begin to understand more and more glorious truth.
Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, we set our purpose to do the same, because…he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. That’s confusing. Who is the he, here? Is it Jesus? Some say so. But you say, wait, Jesus didn’t have to cease from sin, He never sinned, and you’d be right. The answer given is, now that He has died for our sin, He is done with dealing with sin. He died once for all, and now is seated at the right hand of the Father. True. That could be, but it doesn’t really fit the flow of the argument.
Rather, Peter is encouraging us to suffer like Jesus did, after all, the one who suffers like Jesus has ceased from or is through with sin, so as to live the rest of time, or from now on in the flesh – while alive in this body, no longer pursuing the lusts of people, but rather, the will of God. And so, to be clear, I just invited you to believe – and now I’m saying, if you choose to believe, then you are also saying no to sin. You say, but sin is fun. Maybe – for awhile. But you know the damage it causes. Besides, judgment is coming. He’ll talk about that in a moment.
But how can it be said that we are done with, or have ceased from sin? Very simply it means the pursuit of, or the character of pursuing sin, is no longer part of our lives. You see, the Christian, by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus is saying – by the power of the Holy Spirit, I am done with sin. I will pursue Jesus.
Now, Peter is not saying, as some have said, that we can reach some state of sinless perfection. That we can actually get to the point where we have ceased from sinning in this body of flesh. No, that won’t happen until one of two things happen. Either we die and are done with this body and receive new, resurrected bodies – no longer dealing with the fall and our sinfulness. Or, when Christ comes back, we who are alive and remain at the coming of Christ will be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. And this corruption – that is, this corrupted body, will put on a new body of incorruption. We will be like Jesus in purity because we will see Him just as He is. And we will be pure as He is pure. Then.
But, while we won’t reach a state of sinless perfection, we can say, we are done with sin as the character of our lives. We no longer pursue it – in fact, we fight against it – proving ourselves to be followers of Jesus. And so, we spend the rest of our lives here, not pursuing the desires or lusts of the flesh, as was our former way of life. Rather, we pursue the will of God, which is holiness. And you say, but what if I don’t pursue holiness as a way of life? What if the pursuit of sin continues to be my lifestyle? I said yes to Jesus, but I like my sin. Then I would gently say, examine yourself, to determine if you are truly in the faith. The follower of Jesus abhors sin, and is deeply grieved when he or she falls into it. We are to be done with sin.
Bringing us to our second point – choose abuse, not sin. Or I could say it like this – by saying no to sin, you are saying yes to abuse. You see, Peter goes on in verse 3 to give us a vice list – those things which used to characterize our lives, but no longer. In fact, he rather sarcastically says, the time past is sufficient for you to have lived like Gentiles, or unbelievers. You’re done with that, now – times up.
No, there’s a fine but important theological side point I’d like to make here. In the OT, all people were divided into two categories – Jews and Gentiles – or better said, God’s chosen people and those not. Followers of the true God, and those not.
Here, Peter uses that same division, only incredibly, he includes all believers in Jesus as the people of God. Ethnicity does not matter. You don’t have to be a Jew to be God’s chosen people. Even as a Gentile, you can be a believer – one of God’s own. This is incredible. The point is, the world is still divided: between those who belong to God as believers, and those who don’t. But the good news is, you can become part of the people of God – not by physical birth, but by spiritual birth. You can be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light – through faith in Jesus.
Well, Peter basically says, you’ve had enough time to live like a sinner. You’re been redeemed from that empty way of life. Remember in chapter 1, he said, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in ignorance.” You know better now – be holy, as God your Father is holy.
And so he gives us this vice list, describing how we used to live – and how in fact unbelievers now live. He lists six vices – three of which have to do with sexual sin, two have to do with drinking, and one with idolatry. But they probably all go together.
Sexual sin was prevalent at that time, and socially and religiously accepted, as it is in our day. Peter lists them as sensuality, lusts and carousing. Sensuality speaks of all kinds of sexual sin – illicit sexual activity. Premarital, extramarital, and the like. Prevalent, who thinks that’s wrong?
Lusts speak of wanting sexually that which is not yours to have. This speaks loudly to our culture, indeed our world, and its sinful draw toward pornography. Pornography is a plague worse than COVID, infecting our world and trapping people into spiritual death – which is much worse than physical death. I’ve had more people through my office than I’d care to admit who have been infected by this sin.
You see, pornography is readily available and largely anonymous – till you get caught. And we justify it by saying, it’s virtual – no one really gets hurt. And yet, Jesus said, the one who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery in his heart. You need to understand pornography violates the marriage covenant. Further, you need to understand how pornography destroys your relationship with your spouse through virtual unfaithfulness. I camp on that for moment because it is a scourge in our world. It deserves as much attention or more than a virus – because its death is eternal.
Carousing could be translated orgies – it speaks of parties involving sexual sin. Which is why I suggested these go together – such carousing often happened in the presence of excessive drinking or drinking parties, and interestingly, in the name of religion. See how it goes together? Sexual, drunken idolatry and call it worship.
This idolatry is abominable by its object and its practice. It is worship in the most sinful of ways, and it is worship of false gods. But, we don’t do that anymore. And what is the result? Verse 4 – in all this, they, that is unbelievers still engaged in sin, are surprised that you don’t run with them into the same excess of dissipation – into the same sinful vices. You used to – what’s wrong with you now? Many of you have faced that. Being saved from a sinful lifestyle, those still in it want you to join with them. What, you found Jesus now and can’t fun anymore? Holier than thou, are you? Talk about social distancing. And so they begin to malign you – make fun of you – ridicule you. And it’s a short trip to persecution.
So what do we do? Obviously, we don’t give in – we don’t start sinning again to be accepted. You see, Jesus and the new life we’ve found in Him is far more important – infinitely more valuable. Jesus is our greatest treasure – we find our greatest joy in Him. And so, the old way of life is dead to us now. While the flesh is sometimes drawn to it, we see it for what is – ultimately destructive. So we say no. But then, we’ll be maligned. Ridiculed. Opposed.
True. Which brings us to our last point – we choose the Spirit over the flesh – because judgment is coming. Those are hard words. Peter uses them as both a warning and encouragement to us. The warning goes like this – don’t be drawn back into your life of sin, demonstrating you don’t Jesus. Stay faithful. Stay committed.
They will malign you, but they will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. That’s a phrase used to speak of God’s universal judgment. Whether God the Father or God the Son is judge – judgment is coming. Death will not save you. All, those living when the end comes, and those having died, will face judgment. There is coming an accounting for all.
Revelation makes it clear there are two resurrections – the first for those who have died in Christ. The second for those who died without Christ. Often called the Great White Throne Judgment, those without Christ will stand before God, there is no escaping. The books will opened – books containing works, like those just listed in the passage. Your sin will be laid bare.
Only those whose names are found in the Lamb’s Book of life – written by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus, will escape. Christ’s work of redemption on the cross will be found applied to our account. Those who have not believed and continued in sin will face eternal condemnation.
Verse 6 as we close – another challenging verse at first glance. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead. That’s confusing. Peter simply means – listen, the gospel was preached to people while they were in the flesh – still living. Why? So they could believe the good news, choose Jesus and eternal life, say no to sin, and escape the coming judgment. Because people will be judged for their time in the flesh. So the gospel was preached so they could live in the Spirit.
You see, it’s likely the non-Christians were saying, You guys believe the gospel. You commit to one God. You no longer live for the gratification of the flesh. You suffer all kinds of abuses. And then you die. What good is that? Verse 6 says, don’t be dismayed that believers have died. They may be judged as losers in the flesh – while they were alive. But they will live at the resurrection according to the Spirit.
It’s really not that challenging. He’s not saying the gospel is preached to now dead people – it was preached to them while in the flesh, so they could live, while condemned in the flesh, by the Spirit in the future at the resurrection. And I’m preaching that same gospel to you now. Live by the Spirit according to the will of God. Don’t give into the flesh. Doing so results in eternal condemnation. Living by the Spirit according to the will of God may cost you now, but the end result is, eternal life with God. So, arm yourself for this purpose – even though it will cost you like it did Jesus – but it is eternally worthy it.