Choice or Consequences
Ever have trouble making decisions? Or have you ever made a decision quickly, thought you were right, only to have it blow up in your face?
Happened to me back in the summer. Kathy and I were ready for vacation. We were going to the National Association Meeting in Oklahoma City. Since driving there would take us through Arkansas, guess what we did. That’s right! We drove! (The reason for those of you who don’t know is that my grandson and my daughter live in Arkansas, so any excuse to get to see them is good enough for us.)
Now, in case you haven’t driven it lately, its a good long way to Oklahoma City. Since Kathy and I were not having to purchase airline tickets, we decided to splurge and rent a car for a couple of weeks. Being frugal (my wife has another name for it, but this is my message!). Being frugal, I got the car on Price line. I found a deal. I could rent a luxury car for less than $200 per week. I jumped on it. But I didn’t read the fine print.
You see, when we got to the counter to pick our car, on the way out of town, they told us about the “additional driver” charge. That’s right, they charged us another $10 a day to add my wife as a driver, and, since I’m notorious for falling asleep behind the wheel, doing all the driving myself was not an option. All of a sudden my “great deal” went down the tubes.
Then, of course, they asked me if I wanted to add insurance. I hesitated. I knew that if something happened, I’d be up the creek. But they were already into me for over $600 for the two weeks. I just couldn’t bring myself to pay more. So I made the choice: I turned down their insurance.
Well, you know what that meant, don’t you? I was on pins and needles! I knew that if I had any kind of an accident, this rental company would stick it to me. I was being so careful. Everytime I backed out of somewhere, I looked behind me twice. I looked both ways twice before I pllued through and intersection. I was doing great, or at least I thought I was. But then I stopped at McDonalds for a cup of coffee. I looked behind me, saw nothing, and backed out. All of a sudden there was that sickening thud. I couldn’t believe it. A guy had been backing out of another slot at the exact same time as me and, in a kind of freak circumstance, we collided. My heart sank. After I had been so careful, I still had an accident. Running through my mind was one thought. “You should have taken the insurance.” Believe me, I’m still paying for my choice.
Everyone of you know what I’m talking about because it doesn’t take you very long to learn this undeniable fact of life: Choices have consequences. Some of you are in the process right now of choosing a husband or a wife. I say to you, Choose carefully! Your choice will change your future. Some of you are deciding what college to attend. Choose carefully! Your choice will change your future. Some of you are about to sign up for another credit card, or sign on the dotted line for that new card! Ooo! Choose carefully! Your choice will change your future!
Now we all understand the importance of making good choices in those areas (whether we come to that understanding before or after we make a mistake), but we never stop to think about the importance of our choices when it come to God. Well, if that’s the case with you, the Apostle Peter would take exception to your world view. O yes! He has something to say about a very specific choice that every one of us has to make. He says in 1 Pet 4:1: Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. In v 1, Peter commands us to “arm ourselves with the same mind” (that Christ had). What mind was that?
He describes it in v 2. There he sets up a contrast of options. Option number one is living “in the flesh for the lusts of men.” In other words, just doing whatever feels good to you or satisfies your desire. Option number two is living “for the will of God.” Now the mind we are to adopt is the mind of Christ who, when faced with a choice between His own comfort and doing God’s will, set His face like flint, the Bible says, to go to the cross. He made a choice, and that choice had consequences. It cost Him his life. He suffered. But it brought us life—eternal life!
Now, Peter says that we are to “arm” ourselves with the same insight and mindset. That is, we are to prepare ourselves for suffering by adopting the mind of Christ. We are to choose to do God’s will, even if it means suffering.
Now that call to choose divides this group. There are those of us here who know of this choice, but we are trying to avoid it. We’ve seen others who sold out to God and suffered. We’ve seen the movie about Jim Elliott who died at the hands of the Auca Indians. We’ve seen friends of our who went into ministry and have struggled to put food on the table. We’re trying to be disciples on the cheap, avoiding the stark choice between what we want and what God calls us to.
Others of us aren’t avoiding the choice, we’ve already chosen. Our attitude is, “Preach all you want to about me doing God’s will. Get red in the face; tell your stories, make your points, but the result will be the same: When this service is over, I’m walking out of here in control of my life. I refuse to give up control.
Well if you’re avoiding or even if you’re dead set against the choice of God’s Will this morning, will you at least listen to this message? I want to give you four consequences that come when you choose to follow God’s will. Who knows? You may just find that when the Holy Spirit drives home the truth of the words of 1 Pet 4:1-6 to your heart, you may even come to desire obedience.
So, what does it mean when you decide to follow God’s will for your life? What are the consequences of that choice? Well, in the first place:
DIV 1: IF YOU CHOOSE GOD’S WILL, YOU WILL BE HURT
Well, there you go! Isn’t that a great way to start? If you choose God’s will and not your own lusts, it will be painful. Now, I’d like to sugar coat it, but I can’t. That’s what it says. 4:1 says, Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. Translation? If you choose God’s will, you will be hurt. Expect it! Wrap your mind around it! Brace yourself for it! Arm your mind with that truth.
And immediately I can hear the reaction: “Hey preacher, thanks, but no thanks. Why should I sign up for that?” Well, I can understand your skepticism, but I want you to focus on more than the pain part of the equation. The great truth behind the surface principle is that you, a mere mortal, get to participate in the powerful plan of God that He is activating in this world. You get to matter. There is an unseen hand mixing all the circumstances together to achieve your personal good and God’s ultimate glory. Life lived in that context is more than seeking this comfort or that new experience. It is lived for ultimate glory.
John Piper wrote of this:
Life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next and then finally to heaven. Life is a winding and troubled road. Switchback after switchback. And the point of biblical stories like Joseph and Job and Esther and Ruth is to help us feel in our bones (not just know in our heads) that God is for us in all these strange turns. God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good and for the glory of Jesus Christ.
So Christian, what will it be. You going to spend your Christian existence tip-toeing through life trying not to make enough noise for Satan to focus on you? You going to try to just slip through till you die living a comfortable life now hoping to have your cake in the here and now, then eat it in eternity. It doesn’t work that. Lives that count are lived all out, full bore for God. Lives that count are decisive. Lives that count are lived by men and women who have counted the cost and sold out. They have armed themselves with a mind set that says, whatever the cost, I’m going to do the Will of God and they are ready for whatever that means.
And men and women like that have discovered something else. They’ve discovered that, as they have begun to exercise that choice in their lives, Christ Himself has been with them and has strengthened them and has provided for them every step along the way. Yes, they may have suffered and they may have not been able to see where their next step would take them, but they have, in that process, had such sweet communion with Him that, having come this far, they’d never go back.
Josef Tson was a pastor in Romania before the fall of the Communists. He was outspoken in his stand for God. He talks about the realization he had, before he took his stand, that doing what God was calling him to do would mean suffering, and, perhaps, even death. On one occasion he was arrested and interrogated. The interrogator was quite nasty with him and the session became unbearable for Josef. Through the long arduous, frightening time, Josef’s courage waned. He was left very discouraged and wanting to quit. He talks about how, after that terrible session, the Lord met with Him and helped him to understand what was going on and that He was in control.
The next week, the interrogation began again, but everything was different. Tson says: "At one point [the interrogator] stopped and said, 'Mr. Tson, who visited you this weekend? I have in front of me a different person than the one who left here. Somebody came and changed you completely. I have to know who came and visited you.' Jesus visited me and made me ready for the battle again,' said Tson.
You see, when I do the will of God, it will hurt. Somehow, in some way, I will feel the denial of my flesh and the accepting of the ridicule of this world. But I need to prepare for that. I need to arm myself with the same mind that Jesus had because, as I do that, I will find Him right there, strengthening me in every battle, and, by His power, I can face any hurt.
And that really is a good thing because, if I choose His will, I will be hurt. But also,
DIV 2: IF YOU DO GOD’S WILL, YOU WILL BE FREED!
There’s one undeniable fact of warfare. If you’re fighting in a battle, you’d better be really clear about who’s side you’re on. If you can’t make up your mind, and you get caught in “no man’s land,” you’ll be shot by both sides.
Christian, you and I are in a deadly, eternal war. Satan and his minions are out to destroy you and anyone else who carries the name of Christ. You need to be clear about the struggle you’re in and about where your loyalties lie. I find, in my experience, that very often Christians are fuzzy on this. They claim to know Jesus, but they aren’t sold out to Him. Consequently, they’re living in absolute defeat. They are in spiritual no-man’s land. They are being defeated by every sin and habit that comes along because they’ve never really declared their allegiance.
If that’s you, this morning, these first two verses of 1 Peter 4 deserve your attention. Peter says, Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. V 1 especially intrigues me. He says that “he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. These verses really give us 3 succinct truths about the freedom that obedience to God’s will brings.
First freedom is guaranteed through the cross. He writes, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin. When Christ went to the cross and suffered in His flesh for our sin, He made it possible, through His suffering, for us to be set free. Christ, through His sacrifice made our freedom possible.
Second, not only is freedom guaranteed through the cross, but freedom is experienced through surrender. V.2 says, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. Jesus set us the example of surrender. Repeatedly, throughout His ministry He had to embrace His calling, even though it meant persecution. Heb 5:8 tells us that even though He was the Son of God, He learned obedience by the things that He suffered. Jesus was constantly choosing to obey God and suffer the consequences.
And as we follow His example of surrender, day by day, decision by decision, we begin to experience that freedom. That’s the third principle: freedom is experienced over time. That’s what v 3 says: For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. As we walk in obedience, the Holy Spirit begins to set us free from those things and our desires even begin to change.
See, if you’re here today and you don’t know the Lord, I want you to know that you are in bondage. I know you may not be aware of it. You may feel pretty good about yourself. The Bible, however, calls you a slave. Jesus said in John 8:34, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. It can show up in a lot of ways. It may surface in pornography; or in drugs. It may lash out in your temper, or raise it’s head in your eating habits. If you don’t know the Lord, today, you are a slave. I know that because I know Satan. He loves to enslave us. The only way to break free of this is not to adopt some more New Years resolution or make promises. The only way to freedom is through surrender.
It’s the same for you if you’re a believer. The way to freedom is through surrender.
I know it because I’ve experienced spiritual no-man’s land personally. I know what it’s like to be bound in a habit I could not get control of. I still remember the days of my rebellion against God’s will for my life. Closely aligned with that rebellion was a twin addiction that I struggled with. I could not get complete victory. I would have it for a while, but then would come a moment of weakness or some strong temptation and I would fall. Now part of the problem was my own weakness, but the cause of that weakness was more than just my flesh. It was my lack of surrender.
It’s interesting, though. When I finally surrendered to God’s call on my life, I began to really get victory over those sins that had beset me. Now, I’m not even close to perfect. But I tell you, victory is only possible when you as a believer get out of spiritual “no man’s land” and sell out to the Will of God.
And may I just tell you that if for no other reason than the freedom it brings, selling out to the will of God is worth it just for the freedom that it brings. So Christian, let me ask you: Are you free? If not, I can tell you what part of the problem is: In many cases bondage is empowered by rebellion and when you really decide to follow Christ, freedom will follow. If you genuinely do God’s will, you will be hurt and you will be freed. But, third
DIV 3: IF YOU DO GOD’S WILL, YOU WILL BE EFFECTIVE
We live in a world that largely ignores the church. It’s not that we are not winning the world’s allegiance, we aren’t even, in many cases, capturing their attention. That’s why I so love these verses. Peter says in v 3: For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles—when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. 4 In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.
These verses tell us that the church of Peter’s day could not be ignored. At the beginning of v4 it says that they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation. Simply put, they know that, whenever it was time to party, you used to get the drunkest; now you won’t even drink. They know that, whenever you used to have any opportunity for sexual immorality, you were all over it; now you refrain. They know that, whenever you had a chance to make money by being dishonest, you were the first one to sign up, but now you refuse. And your new lifestyle has them scratching their heads. They can’t figure it out.
And somehow, in Peter’s day, they were even threatened by it. One commentator wrote:
The exclusivity of the Christians’ religion—their arrogant refusal to take part in, or to consider valid, the worship of any God but their own—deeply wounded public sensibilities. Such an unnatural and ungrateful attitude to the gods even branded them as “atheists.” Moreover, it was highly dangerous for even one segment of the community to slight the gods, whose wrath was ever to be feared. Civic peace, the success of agriculture, and freedom from earthquake or flood were regularly attributed to the benevolence of the gods
You could sum it up like this: Peter’s readers had the world’s attention, and when you and I sell out to the will of God and begin to live that out in our world, we’ll have their attention too.
But not only does this passage say that those who sell out to God have the world’s attention, it also says that, if you sell out, you’ll have their accusation. V 4 says that they speak evil of you.
And I know that you might be thinking, “Well, if I get their attention, but its only a negative thing, how is that good? How can that make me effective?” Well, there’s a parallel passage to this over in the book of Philippians 1:28. There Paul is addressing the same subject and encouraging the Philippian Christians to be willing to stand strong in persecution and he says that when we are persecuted (we should not be) in any way terrified by (our) adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. What Paul is saying here is that our very persecution and suffering becomes a proof to those who refuse to believe that God is Who He says He is and that they, by their rejection of our witness, are worthy of the judgment coming to them. To us, our persecution tells us that we are on the right track and simply identifying with the suffering that Christ endured.
You can sum it up like this: If we demonstrate our commitment to Christ through full surrender and the world accepts our witness, we win because they are saved. If we demonstrate our commitment to Christ through full surrender and the world rejects and persecutes us, we still win and our suffering will testify against them. Either way, we win and we are effective at communicating the gospel and the glory of God. Note this: EFFECTIVENESS IS NOT FOUND IN THE RESPONSE OF THE WORLD; EFFECTIVENESS IS FOUND IN THE FAITHFUL WITNESS OF THE BELIEVER!
Author Henri Nouwen tells the story of a family he knew in Paraguay.
The father was a doctor who courageously spoke out against the terrible human rights abuses of military regime which was in power. As you can imagine, the two-bit dictator of this impoverished country took issue with this offense. Local police took their revenge on the doctor by arresting his teenage son and torturing him until he died. The people of the town were enraged. They urged the father to turn the boy's funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another way. At the funeral, the father displayed his son's body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.
That’s what God did on Calvary. The cross that held Jesus' body, naked and marked with scars, exposed all the violence and injustice of this world. At once, the cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, a God of sacrificial love.
And that is the example that is set by our own suffering. We, by being willing to arm ourselves with Christ’s mind and put His will above our own, demonstrate to the world it’s own violence and injustice and God’s sacrificial love. You see that makes us effective, whether they accept the message or not.
This sounds so unlike the church, doesn’t it? We really are having so little impact because, quite frankly, we just are not sold out. In his book UnChristian, David Kinnaman says “84 percent of people surveyed say they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15 percent thought the lifestyles of those Christ followers were significantly different from the norm. That gap speaks volumes.” We’re ineffective not because no one wants to “pray the prayer.” We are ineffective because we are not surrendered to the will of God for our lives.
Hey, Christian, effectiveness is a function of obedience. When I obey God, things happen! Just consider Naaman. He showed up at Elisha’s door and was so insulted by being told to go and dip in the muddy Jordan river that he almost refused to obey. After all, obedience didn’t make sense to him. But when he went and obeyed, he was healed. It’s the same way for us. Obeying God’s will is what makes us effective in ministry.
And Peter takes it one step further. You see, if you do God’s will not only will you be hurt; not only will you be freed; not only will you be effective. You will, ultimately
DIV 4 (IF YOU DO GOD’S WILL, YOU WILL) BE VINDICATED
You see, ultimately the choice between God’s will and your own is a choice between destinies. When the lights are turned out on this world, and our life melts into eternity, the one who does the will of God, the Bible says, abides forever! There is final vindication for those who know Christ.
Vv 5-6 speak of this vindication in a couple of ways. First, if you are one of those who persecute and antagonize believers, you will be judged. V5 says that They (that is those who trouble and hurt believers) will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. At the Great White Throne Judgment, God the Father will judge every false accusation, every slight, every attack, and every person who inflicted pain on a believer. You could state it like this: IF THEY PERSECUTE AND REJECT, THEY LOSE! Believers will be vindicated because persecutors will be judged.
But there’s another side to the coin. V 6 goes on to say For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. This verse has caused some confusion in interpretation, some teaching that when it says that the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that people who have died apart from Christ (that is the “dead”) will have another opportunity to receive Christ after they die.
The rest of scripture will not support that conclusion, and it is not even supported by this text. Actually Peter is trying, with this verse, to answer an objection that many pagans had to Christianity. One commentator writes:
Accountability after death was not widely taught in the pagan world. With such an assumption, a pagan critic could reasonably question what good the gospel is, since it seems so restrictive of behavior in this life, and then the believer dies like everyone else. (Do you get the picture? The question would go something like this: “You don’t drink, you don’t fool around sexually, then you die just like anyone else. What’s the point of your faith? He said that because the pagan believed that gods only judged you in this life. Hey, make Zeus mad, he might make your child die, but he really couldn’t touch you after death.) Peter, however, teaches that because people will be judged even after physical death, contrary to the pagan expectation, the gospel message of forgiveness and judgment that has been preached to those who are now dead—whether they became believers or not—is still efficacious. Death does not invalidate either the promises or the warnings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter’s claim not only would warn the unbeliever but would also encourage Christians concerning believers who may have passed on. Peter reassures his readers that the effectiveness of the gospel continues after physical death to be the basis for God’s judgment, and therefore a decision to live for Christ in this life is truly the right decision, even when it contradicts the world’s opinion.
Simply put: If you are a believer who is following Christ, and have become obedient to His gospel, that faith will carry you through this life and will assure you of reward in the future. You might sum it up like this: IF YOU FOLLOW CHRIST AND STAND, YOU WIN!
Which simply means that how it turns out now really isn’t what matters, is it. Ultimately, the Christ follower will be vindicated.
So where does that leave us? What do these truths lead us to? Well, in the first place, you must understand that doing the Will of God is not optional for the believer. Not really. Now I know that you get to make your decision about it and that you have a free will, but I do not believe that you can exercise that freedom of will and refuse to obey God and, long term, really be considered His child.
I say that because of the Word of God. Jesus said that the one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is not worthy of Him. Doing the Will of God really isn’t optional for the Christian. Our problem is that we have, for too long, tried to make it that way. And because we have done that we have the sick, anemic ineffective church we have today. If I reject the Will of God, I have chosen my flesh over him and that will always lead to destruction. The will of God is not optional.
But neither is it convenient. And again, this is what we want it to be. We want God’s will to somehow melt into ours so that we don’t have to deny ourselves, we don’t have to pick up any cross, and we get to follow the dictates of our own desires. But following God’s will never has been, nor will it ever be convenient.
O, but listen! Following His will is fulfilling. It is the thing you’ve been wanting, if you really belong to Christ. You may be afraid of it; you may be avoiding the pain of it; you may even hate the thoughts of it, but, if you’re genuinely saved, there’s a part of you that longs to do it!
So, may I ask you a couple of diagnostic questions? First, do you know what God’s will is for you? Do you know what He wants in your life, even in a general sense? And here’s the second question: Are you doing it?