(1 Pet. 4:1) Can Christians gain sinless perfection?

CLAIM: Peter writes, “Because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1). Does Peter really believe that Christians can reach a state of sinless perfection?

RESPONSE: The Bible teaches that none of us will reach a state of sinless perfection this side of eternity. John writes, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8). James writes, “For we all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2), referring to Christian believers. Paul speaks of the flesh and Spirit battling one another in the life of the Christian (Gal. 5:17), and he himself experienced this personal struggle with sin (Rom. 7:17). For this reason, two interpretations have been offered for this passage:

OPTION #1: This could refer to the suffering of Christ himself.

The context of this passage refers to Christ dying “once for all” (1 Pet. 3:18). Under this view, this passage should read in this way: “Christ has suffered in the flesh… because He who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (1 Pet. 4:1). Of course, there were no capital letters in the Greek language, so Peter could be referring to Christ here. Moreover, the footnote renders this “suffered death.” Note too that the pronoun (“he”) is singular—not plural (unlike the ESV “whoever”).

Some interpreters object that this would imply that Jesus was a sinner (“ceased from sin”). However, this doesn’t refer to Jesus sinning, but Jesus paying for sin (“Christ also died once for all” v.18). Since believers are identified with Christ’s finished work (Rom. 6:5), our sin nature has been made powerless in our new identity (Rom. 6:6).

Other interpreters argue that this does not fit with verse 2, which refers to the ongoing life for the believer—not Jesus.

OPTION #2: This could refer to suffering as a means of growth.

When Peter writes that a Christian has “ceased” from sin, this could refer to the way in which suffering can grow us spiritually. In this way, Peter isn’t speaking absolutely about ceasing from sin; instead, he is referring to experientially as we grow with Christ.

Under this view, “suffering in the flesh” refers to suffering for the will of God. Earlier Peter wrote, “It is better… that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong” (1 Pet. 3:17). This would imply that suffering in the flesh refers to choosing against succumbing to persecution. In that moment, we are ceasing from sin.

Conclusion

We hold that this second option is more likely.