As I read 1 Peter, I came once again to this passage.
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. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (4:3-6)
In this past I have always read this as meaning the gospel was preached to both the physically living and the physically dead. It didn't make much sense to me that way, but I never thought to question my initial reading from years ago, and I've never spent much time on this passage anyway. The middle part of chapter one has seized my attention, however, so I decided to read the entire book in one sitting.
When I came to the above passage it struck me: is it really talking about the physically dead? What good does the gospel do them? I realized in context of this passage, and the larger NT (and probably even OT) narrative I think it's talking about the spiritually dead.
We all once were dead if we are not still dead now.
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in spirit the way God does. (1 Peter 4:6, em)
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world... (Eph 2:1-2)
...Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be the God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!... (Rom 7:24-25)
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; (Rom 8:6)
Salvation is truly amazing. As my former youth pastor once said, "When we accept Jesus, it's not adding Jesus to an already busy life; it's a whole new life!" But its more than that. Before you were dead, yet physically going through the motions of life. Now you're really alive.
I stand with Cassie Bernall who wrote in her journal a few days before she was shot to death for believing in God:
So whatever it takes I will be the one who lives in the fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead.
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