One of the clearest emphases of the New Testament is that Christians live their lives by faith. This is clear from the many passages that remind us that we are justified by faith alone (for example, Gal. 2:15–16). However, though our justification comes immediately when we first believe, the life of faith does not end there. Rather, we live our entire lives by faith (v. 20).
Because of sin, our faith may be weak at times. When we face persecution and discrimination, we may doubt the promises of God. Yet we should not doubt, for as Peter reminds us, we who believe have the living hope of salvation. This hope is indestructible, founded on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and guarded by God Himself (1 Peter 1:1–12). We receive it because by faith we have been united to Christ and are incorporated into God’s people Israel (2:4–10).
Our baptism is a visible sign and seal that we have identified with Christ in His death, and thus also with Him in His life (3:18–22).
Our union with Christ requires that we live lives of holy love, submitting to the God-ordained authorities (1:13–2:3; 2:11–3:7). As we do this, we will often suffer (3:8–17), but we must not fear our persecutors. Instead, like Christ, we must be so committed to the will of God that we would rather suffer than do evil, thus showing that we are truly in Christ and have decisively broken with sin (4:1–2).
Today’s passage reminds us that all those who suffer for doing God’s will shall be vindicated at the last day. We have already seen that unrepentant humanity will be condemned at the final judgment (vv. 3–5). Verse 6 tells us that because of this coming judgment, the Gospel was preached also to the dead so that though judged in the flesh, they might live in the Spirit. The word dead here refers to Christians who once were alive. It might seem that their deaths have invalidated the promises of God to vindicate His servants. Yet God’s promises still hold true. Dead believers are still alive, dwelling with God and waiting for the final judgment. At the judgment, those who did God’s will by putting their faith in Christ will be vindicated before all flesh, but those who did not shall suffer eternal punishment.
The suffering and death of many in the early church caused many of the first Christians to wonder if God would be true to His promise to vindicate His people. However, today’s passage shows that God will reward those who fear Him — although not fully until the new heavens and the new earth. Therefore, we should never fear death. If you fear death and persecution, remember that you will be vindicated. Today, ask the Lord to make you place your hope in Him fully.