By Christian Townson
One question often used to dispute the existence and legitimacy of God is, “why would a good God allow suffering?” This applies not only to humanity but even to Jesus Christ himself. Opponents of the gospel find themselves disgusted at the idea that God would subject His son to suffer when Jesus did nothing wrong.
Here’s the thing- it should grieve us that Jesus had to die for our sin. It should hurt us that Jesus had to suffer a criminal’s death, hang on a cross for hours to let the blood run down his body and his lungs gasp for air.
But it also shows us how great our sin is and how much greater a Savior he was and is.
1 Peter 3:17-18 says, “For it is better to suffer for doing good if that should be God’s will than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”
Right before these verses, Peter has told the readers that suffering for the sake of righteousness will be worth it. 1 Peter seeks to encourage dispersed Christians, both Jews, and Gentiles, to endure persecution and suffering under the assurance of knowing that they are children of the one true God. They must be ready to give a reason for their hope and live with gentleness and respect to their adversaries.
Verse 17 tells us it is better to suffer for doing good than doing evil. It is better to suffer than give in to the culture and bend to the world’s desires. If it is God’s will for us to suffer, then Peter explains that we should not only experience suffering but embrace it.
Verse 18 shows us the What, Who, Why, and How of the Gospel.
What: Jesus Suffered Once for Sins
This is the what of the Gospel. Jesus Christ, the Triune Son of God, took on flesh and became fully God, fully man. He lived a life that many people lived, but unlike everyone else, he did not sin. He grew and called people to follow him. He told others to repent and believe in the good news that they could come to God and be reconciled.
In his ministry, Jesus was wrongfully convicted of blasphemy and condemned to die on a cross. Jesus died, but he rose again three days later. He suffered once for sins. This is his singular suffering. Jesus no longer needs to atone for the sins of Christians. He did this on the cross and in his death.
Who: The Righteous for the Unrighteous
Peters draws a dichotomy between the righteous and the unrighteous. In other words, he shows the difference between Jesus Christ and us. Jesus was the only righteous man. It was only through his divinity that he lived a perfect life. On the other hand, we all possess sinful natures and commit sin. We are the unrighteous. Jesus suffered once for sins for us. Jesus died so that we might live in him.
Why: That He Might Bring Us To God
Why did Jesus do it? It was so that we could be brought back to God. In the beginning, mankind possessed a perfect relationship with God. There was no brokenness, no separation. When humanity committed the original sin, it created a spiritual death that only Jesus could resurrect. Jesus died so that we could be brought back to God as new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is only through his suffering, death, and resurrection that Jesus could bring us to God.
How: Putting Death to Flesh and Being Made Alive in the Spirit
How can we be brought to God? Through the death to our flesh and the risen life in the Holy Spirit. In John 3:5, Jesus explains to the religious teacher Nicodemus that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
Jesus conquered death and its penalty of sin through his resurrection. As “the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus paved the way for the Holy Spirit to make us “dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (John 14:6; Romans 6:11).
We are brought to God through the death of the flesh to our sinful nature and through being made alive in the Holy Spirit. When we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, God changes our hearts. We still live in this physical realm, but our souls transfer from enslavement to sin to one in Christ.
Jesus’ death and suffering were necessary because our sin was so great. The penalty for sin had to be paid, so Jesus suffered on the cross once and for all. The good news is that Jesus resurrected his life and now reigns in Heaven.
If you have not placed your faith and trust in Jesus, his suffering and death mean nothing for you, but this does not mean it cannot. If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in everything he did, you will be saved!
If you have, then rejoice in this reality and proclaim it to others so they can know of Jesus’ once and for all death that brings us to God.