1 Peter: Lesson 10: The Good Conscience God Gives Us


In 1 Peter 3:16, Peter mentions Christians “having a good conscience” but doesn’t tell us how this came to be—but he will.  Next, he writes: “It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”  Verse 18 then follows as a continuation of 17, starting with “because also” (Greek, hoti kai).  Why is it better to suffer for doing good than evil?  It’s because Christ also suffered …

What Christ Did

Read 1 Peter 3:18a

  • What did Christ’s suffering for “doing good” involve?
  • Who is doing what to whom in this verse?

“for sins”: peri hamartion.  Both the Septuagint (Leviticus 5:6-7; 6:23; Ezekiel 43:21) and the New Testament (Romans 8:3; Hebrews 5:3, 10:26; 1 John 2:2, 4:10) uses this term for a sin offering.  Unlike the Old-Covenant sacrifices, however, Christ’s suffering for sin does not need to be repeated (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 26, 28; 10:10-14).

“that he might bring us to God”:  Greek, prosago, “to procure access.”  Christ the innocent, righteous One bears the sins of an unrighteous humanity, providing us access into the presence of God.  The Septuagint uses this word to refer to the animals being brought in for sacrifice (Exodus 29:10, Leviticus 1:2).  Access to God comes through sacrifice, the sacrifice of Jesus.  This provides hope for the suffering Christian, to whom Peter writes, and is also a model for the Christian life.

Excursus: “Once for All”

What God does, whether someone believes or not

Romans 3:23-24: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 5:18-19:

So then, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression [the Fall into sin], so also through one righteous act [the salvation Jesus accomplished for us] there is justification and life for all people.  For just as through one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  [Note: “the many” is a Hebrew idiom meaning “all people.”]

2 Corinthians 5:19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

This “message of reconciliation” is the Gospel.  It brings to us the truth that God is reconciled to us (all people), that He does not count the world’s trespasses against itself, in other words, forgives the sins of all people.  The message of reconciliation is an established fact whether anyone believes it or not.

How personal faith ties into this

The prerequisite of being saved is that one’s salvation is already true before he believes.  Though someone can believe in something that is not true, something that isn’t true doesn’t benefit anyone.  Only when one believes is what is already true does his faith do him any good.  

God declares the whole world righteous because of Jesus’ saving death and resurrection.  God does this despite and apart from anyone’s faith.  Still, what Jesus did for one’s salvation needs to be delivered and applied to the individual.  Through the “means of grace,” God the Holy Spirit delivers and bestows what Jesus achieved to the individual, working and strengthening faith, one’s trust in Christ. 

Romans 4:5: “To the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”

Ephesians 2:1, 5:

As for you, you were once dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and its spiritual ruler….  Although we were dead in transgressions, God made us alive with Christ.  You are saved by grace!

Colossians 2:11-13:

In [Christ] also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.  This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

  • In this passage, how does God “make us alive” and forgive “us all our trespasses,” applying the universal work of Christ to the individual?

2 Corinthians 5:19: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”

  • How does the last part of this passage describe how God’s reconciling the world in Christ comes to the individual?


Read 1 Peter 3:18b-20

being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”: Peter uses the Greek words of contrast: men and de.  The normal way we say this in English is “on the one hand” and then “on the other.”  “On the one hand, he was put to death in the flesh; on the other, he was made alive in the Spirit.”  Both halves of the contrast speak of something done to Jesus, not something He did: being crucified to death, being raised by the Spirit. 

The New Testament uses the verb for “made alive” (zoopoietheis) to refer to the resurrection of Jesus (such as John 5:21; Romans 4:17, 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Colossians 2:13).  In its 10 uses in the New Testament, God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit is always the subject for zoopoietheis.  In this passage, this “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit, who raised Jesus from the dead. 

Earlier, Peter encouraged Christians to follow in Jesus’ footsteps (2:21).  Now we learn Christ’s death opens the way for Christians to follow Him through death into the presence of God the Father.

  • Looking at 1 Peter 3:17-18, if a Christian were to suffer death for doing good, who or what will not have the final word?  Why?

“in which”: This refers to the Holy Spirit.  What happens next is by the risen Lord now “alive in the Spirit.”

  • After Jesus was “made alive” (raised from the dead) in the Spirit, what did He do?
  • So, if this proclamation to the spirits in prison is after He rose from death, what does the context imply about the content of His proclamation?
  • What is the wordplay between “Spirit” and “spirits”?

Who are These “Spirits in Prison”?

By word usage

  1. When we look at how Scripture uses the word “spirit” (pneuma), rarely do we find it used for humans, dead or alive, unless qualified as such (Hebrew 12:23).
  2. Scripture never uses “prison” (phylake) to describe where humans go after they die.  If Peter is doing so, this would be the only case.
  3. The New Testament almost always uses “spirits” to refer to supernatural beings (Hebrews 1:14; 12:9; Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6), including evil ones (Mark 1:23, 26, 27; 3:11; 5:2, 8).  Both Jude and 2 Peter refer to these “spirits” here as disobedient angels (Jude 6, 2 Peter 2:4).

What Peter expected his Jewish Christian readership to know

First Enoch is a Jewish text attributed to Enoch (Genesis 5:21-24), though collated by others much later.  Enoch is one of two people Scripture mentions as ascending into heaven without first dying on earth (Genesis 5:24).  The “watchers of the Great Holy One” (the unfallen angels serving God in heaven) sent him a mission to speak a word of judgment to fallen angels.  

1 Enoch 12:3-5, 13:1-2

The watchers [angels] of the Great Holy One [God] called me, Enoch the scribe, and said to me, “Enoch, righteous scribe, go and tell the watchers of heaven—who deserted the highest heaven, the sanctuary of their eternal station, and defiled themselves with women….  

You have caused great corruption on the earth.  You will have no peace or forgiveness….  A severe sentence has gone out against you, to bind you.  You will find no relief or petition because of the unrighteous deeds you revealed, and because of every act of blasphemy, unrighteousness, and sin that you revealed to the sons of Adam.”

Here’s what Genesis 6:4-5 (LXX) reports:

Now there were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them.  Those were the mighty men of old, men of renown.  Then the Lord God saw man’s wickedness, that it was great in the earth, and every intent of the thoughts within his heart was only evil continually.

“The sons of God” refers to fallen angels, not humans, “the sons of Adam.”  First Enoch describes how fallen angels came to earth and fathered an evil generation of giants.  From these sexual unions also came evil spirits:

Evil spirits proceeded from their bodies because they came into being from humans and the holy watchers were the beginning of their origin.  Evil spirits they will be on the earth, and evil spirits they will be called….  The spirits of the giants will lead astray, afflict, destroy, do battle, and bruise on the earth and cause grief….  Thus they will make desolate until the day of the great conclusion, until the great age is consummated, until everything is concluded.”   [1 Enoch 15:9, 11; 16:1]

For this reason, “the thoughts within [a person’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:4), which brings about the judgment of the flood.  These evil spirits are imprisoned until final judgment. 

“God’s patience … in the days of Noah” is Him withholding judgment between the sin of these fallen angels, which produced these evil spirits, and the flood—120 years (Genesis 6:3).  God waited 120 years to save a few, eight people through water (3:20b).  The “spirits in prison” refer first to the spirits produced by the union of fallen angels and human women and to the fallen angels themselves.

This is the background of 1 Peter 3:18-21.  The message Christ preached is the Word of finality first announced to these fallen angels by Enoch and the flood.  Christ’s defeat of death on the cross is a proclamation of their defeat, for He triumphed over all evil in both the spirit and the human worlds.

How Christ Delivers What He Did for Us

Now, if God was patient enough to save eight people, He will, no doubt, act to save others.  So, we now see if Peter will go where the text implies.

Read 1 Peter 3:21

  • “Baptism, which corresponds to this”; what is the “this” to which Peter refers?
  • Through “this,” what does God do?

“from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience”: Peter wrote “flesh,” which ties back to Jesus dying in the flesh.  Also, the ESV slightly rearranges the sequence.  Thus, baptism is “not the removal of dirt from the flesh but the appeal of a good conscience into God.”  The preposition “into” in Greek (eis) shows movement from one thing into another.  So, baptism is not an appeal for a good conscience.  No, baptism brings someone into, unites him, to God because of the clean conscience it gives him.  Paul speaks of this in Romans 6:3-5:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

  • If baptism doesn’t remove dirt from the flesh, what does it remove?

Read 1 Peter 3:22

  • Who are the “angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to” Christ?  (Hint: think to whom Christ earlier preached.)
  • How does this let us know that what Peter writes about God saving us through baptism is real?

The Fancy Footwork of Peter’s Writing

In the ornateness of Asiatic Greek, Peter uses a series of passives participles (verbs ending in “ing”) to tell how Jesus procured our access to God.  What “pops out” in the Greek is when Peter doesn’t use the passive participles.  This has a rhetorical purpose: Everything taking place during the passive participles is to serve the section that isn’t filled with passive participles.  

Here, we have what Peter wrote, in stilted English so we can understand what he is emphasizing 

Link to the next Lesson.