Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. – 1 Peter 5:8-9
I don’t know why I feel like I have to persistently and consistently say this about what Peter says, but I’ll say it again. This is not pretend. This passage isn’t some metaphorical description describing the bad part of us that fights the good part of us. It’s far more substantial than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other. The passage is about our inner struggle, sure, but it’s about how a real, free, sentient, devious, and powerful spiritual being wants to devour us and our inner life.
Peter tells us to be watchful of the devil at the end of his letter. He tells as at the end not as an afterthought but as an explanation of much of what Peter says in the preceding portion of the letter. Why does Peter spend so much time exhorting obedience, clarifying truth of being God’s people, and encouraging perseverance? Because the devil is trying to lead into disobedience, distort truth, and discourage enduring. He is a promoter of suffering and sin in the lives of believers in Messiah Jesus.
I don’t know why, but people, including myself, sometimes like to dismiss this. It usually goes something like this, “Yeah, Satan is a bad being who is trying to hurt me, but it is my sinfulness that is the real problem.” I like that line of thinking because it fosters personal responsibility for one’s actions. And let’s do that. Let’s acknowledge our guilt and accountability for our choices. But we should probably heed Peter’s warning too. Let’s not ignore the lion about to devour us.
If we were in the jungle and knew there was a lion hiding in the brush waiting for any moment we look away so he can to pounce on us and devour us, we would be watchful. And in the spiritual realm, that is what is true. That’s how watchful we need to be, not of sin in us, but of the devil outside of us. Really, this warning of St. Peter is nothing new. And it shouldn’t be anything surprising. The serpent been trying to destroy God’s people since Genesis 3 and he has been roaring and prowling ever since.
Peter also tells us that God has dominion forever and ever, meaning that God is the reigning king and the devil is not. Jesus has already won and defeated Satan in a death blow that has sealed his fate. But just because Jesus wins doesn’t mean that you can’t lose. God doesn’t infringe upon our freedom to lose the battle. But victory is assured if we simply do what Peter tells us, be watchful, resist, and stand firm in faith.
Why is this relevant for me and my stuck friends? Part of the reason that we are stuck or sometimes get stuck is because we are ignoring the lion. We live as if the problems of our sins and addictions are found solely within us, completely ignorant of the inimical deceiver and devourer we are told to be watchful of. Sometimes the problem is on the outside of us, and the only way to deal with a temptation is to deal directly with the external source itself. Unawareness is foolish.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. – 1 Peter 4:13
That really doesn’t sound like fantastic advice at first glance. Or even at second glance. Rejoice when you hurt like Jesus hurt. You know what? I’d rather just not hurt like that. Or I’d rather you tell me how much nicer it is to suffer when you are in Christ because God pretty much takes it all away. Or God makes you really happy even in your pain. Or, at the least, the pain is at least alleviated when you follow Jesus. Peter doesn’t really have happy promises from God about suffering.
However, he does have good news about suffering. The good news is that through Christ, our suffering can have deep meaning. If we suffer while doing what is good and right and in line with who Jesus is, then our suffering will be for our good. It is a credit to us. There can be joy in it. We get to share in what Jesus did, finding comfort in his leadership in the toughest of circumstances and further understanding of his love. We get to connect ourselves with the Messiah and his same way of thinking to, through suffering in the body, cease from sin (1 P. 4:1).
We are also warned frequently in 1 Peter about the absolute pointlessness of suffering for doing evil. Suffering like Jesus brings meaning, but suffering apart from him, in relationship and in action, has no meaning. You just hurt. And there’s no more to it. It’s not full of joy. There’s no character building because you’re suffering without persevering. There’s not the sense of intimacy with Christ by experiencing with Him some of the suffering He experienced. There isn’t the closeness of spirit. It’s just pain. Empty pain. And when the pain is over, you have nothing to show for it.
I have suffered both ways. Not that there is a dichotomy between them, but if there is a spectrum where suffering for and while doing good is at one end and suffering for doing evil is at the other, then I have suffered on both ends of the spectrum. Both started the same, with pain and difficulty and deep overwhelming suffering that I had no control over. But they did not end the same. When I suffered well, my character was built, my pride was lessened, my heart softened, my resolve stiffened, my love overflowed, my faith grew, my hope was strong, and my joy lost its limits. It was one of the best seasons of my life. When I let my suffering drive me to evil, well, the opposite happened. And it sucked. I don’t even want to talk about how much it sucked. It was the worst season of my life.
So… why do I feel like this concept can help us get unstuck? Because man (and woman), there is a life of incredible meaning out there that transcends circumstances. There is rejoicing in sorrows available. There is more intimacy in all of our relationships available to us. But we won’t experience it unless we live according to God’s will and put away the passions of the flesh. Everything in life, no matter how terrible, can have substantive meaning and build the kingdom of God or everything in life can be pointless and destructive. I guess that’s the crux of it for me. Maybe it has some weight for you too.
As of late, St. Peter has reminded me of a few lessons that I’d like to share. I want us to be reminded together by some of the insight our brother has for those on the verge of transformation. I hope these messages become a hopeful, encouraging, exhortative, freeing, and empowering for those of us who have been about to reach the crest of the hill for a long time, but can’t quite seem to get there. May these simple insights by a fellow struggler and fellow follower aid you as you journey toward transformation into the character of Christ.
Peter tells us: “live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 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.” (1 Peter 4:2-3)
That’s the message I have for you. The time that has already gone by, that which is behind us, that time was enough time to engage in sinful behavior that those of the world want to engage in. That’s enough time living as ungodly sinners. You’ve had enough of sin. You’ve had your fill of these sorts of behaviors in the time past when that was what you did. You have drunk deeply enough of ungodly passions and devilish desires. The past suffices for that behavior. The sin of your past is adequate.
To those who have ears to hear, you already know this truth. You already know where your sin has gotten you. Your pastime of sin has given you enough experience of it. You know its adrenaline rush. You know its promises of fulfillment. You know its draw of independence. You know the pull of the wondrous unknown of completely shameless and self-centered living. And you know the letdown. And you know it empties rather than fills. And you know that sort of independent freedom is a form of brutal slavery. And you know that shameless self-centeredness leaves you in a very small world that you can only escape by feeling shame and focusing on the forgiveness of your Savior. The past is sufficient. The sin of your past is sufficient. The time in the past that you have spent living in the way of destruction and godlessness is enough time. The past is enough, and you don’t have to live in it any longer.
“Live for the rest of time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” This is the beautiful alternative. No longer stuck in this small world of twisted human desire, the world of our past, we can live in this ginormous beautiful world of the will of God. For those who have eyes to see, you can visualize an approximation of this illustrious kingdom and you see that this is the world you want to live in. This is the way you want to live in. This is the world you want to help create. This is the transformation of character you want, one that is fitting for this kingdom. And you want to be a man or woman exemplifying this sort of kingdom character from now until the end of time.
So back to our simple message. The sin of our past is enough. The way we used to live in is enough. And this way is not consistent with this new kingdom. You know this. The way of our past will keep us from reaching the summit of the hill on our journey toward transformation. I know you’ve had enough of sin’s empty, deceptive promises. You know you’ve had enough of that bullshit. Let the sin of the past suffice. Leave it where it belongs, back there in the past, that for the rest of time you might live for the will of God.