“… for he who suffers in the flesh ceases to sin.” … These words are well known to us, but do we understand what they mean for our daily life?
What does it mean to suffer in the flesh?
“Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. 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: 1-2.
From the above, three things become apparent:
That we ourselves must suffer in the flesh in order to be freed from sin. It is not written here that Christ suffered in our place.
That only through suffering in the flesh can we be done with sin.
That it is really possible – to be freed from sin and begin to do God’s will.
Christ suffered in the flesh.
When Peter writes that “Christ suffered flesh for us,” he is not referring to the physical suffering of Jesus. Since it is clear that physical suffering alone cannot lead us to deliverance from sin. This is evidenced by the numerous examples that we see in the world around us, throughout the history of mankind.
No, Christ suffered in the flesh, when He came in the likeness of a man, taking on Himself the same flesh and blood as in children, He was tempted in everything like us, but He did not sin! (Phil. 2: 7; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 4:15.) It was in this human flesh and blood that He obeyed until His death. And He learned this obedience through suffering. (Phil. 2: 8; Heb. 5: 8.)
We find evidence of this suffering when we see how He cried out to His Father with fervent cries and prayers, and how drops of sweat flowed down His face like drops of blood, such a desperate struggle was His struggle when He was in temptation. (Luke 22: 41-44; Heb. 5: 7.) However, despite all this, His desire as He went through all this suffering was: “Father … not my will, but Thine be done.” And for that to happen, Jesus had to go through a lot of struggle and suffering. And as a result, He overcame His own will, so that the will of His Father could be done on earth as it was in heaven. (Matt. 6:10.)
“Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, my God.’”” Heb. 10: 7.
Also: “Thy will be done!”
Now it is our turn to suffer in the flesh.
Now it is our turn to suffer in the flesh to end with sin. Jesus speaks about this very clearly, explaining who can become His disciple (follower): ““Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Luke 9: 23-24. (Luke 14: 26-27.)
We meet this suffering during temptations, when we have the same thoughts that were in Christ: “not my will, but Thine be done,” but we see that our flesh does not want to give up its lusts and cravings. (James 1:14; Gal. 5:24.) Then, like Jesus, we must cry for help. We, too, have to go through this suffering, learn obedience (when we suffer in the flesh).
The most incredible thing about this is that Jesus went through the same things, but did not sin. He knows and understands the temptations and suffering we face. And so He can help us when we are tempted. (Hebrews 2: 17-18.) “Therefore let us come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace for timely help.” Heb. 4:16.
The help we receive is the power of the Holy Spirit, which allows us to deny ourselves and take up our cross, which in practice means simply saying “No!” in every temptation, over and over, until the temptation is overcome. “No” to our own will, over and over again, “no” to the lusts of the flesh. When we reject these lusts, it causes us suffering. This is what is meant by the expression “suffer in the flesh.”
When we, without shirking, faithfully resist in every temptation, then step by step we are freed from sin in this particular area of our life.
Results that suffering in the flesh gives.
The glorious result of suffering in the flesh will be what is written at the end of this verse. We no longer need to live according to our lusts, but we can live according to the will of God. We no longer fulfill the desires of the flesh, but walk in the Spirit, which leads us to the will of God, to the fruits of the Spirit that become our nature. We grow in love, joy, peace, longsuffering, goodness, mercy, faith, meekness, self-control. (Gal. 5: 16-25.) We are freed from sin and become divine! (2 Peter 1: 4.) We become disciples, followers of Jesus. He wants us to become His brothers!
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters...” Heb. 2: 10-11.
O thanks to this promise and joyous hope, we can say with the apostles:
“For our short-term light suffering produces eternal glory in immeasurable abundance, when we look not at the visible, but at the invisible: for the visible is temporary, and the invisible is eternal.” 2 Corinth. 4: 17-18.
“Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom. 8: 17-18.
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 1 Peter 4: 12-13.