1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Before we get to the mind of this passage, let’s consider its heart. Peter loves the people to whom he is writing. He is not primarily their theology professor. He is not primarily their disciplinarian. He is not primarily their chaperone. And he is not primarily their indifferent tutor. He is primarily their loving shepherd.
It can be so easy to go about doing the things God has called us to do in fulfilling the mission he’s called us to fulfill without the heart he’s called us to have. Above all, Grace Church, we are called to be people of love. We are to love God above all things, and our neighbors as ourselves. All of the Law and Prophets are summed up in these two things. All of the Church’s Great Commission is summed up in these two things. And, therefore, all that we do must be driven by these two things. We must be people whose primary disposition is love. It was Peter’s primary disposition toward his readers and so he addressed them as “beloved” (ones who are loved).
In love, Peter’s entire letter was meant to help God’s people honor God in times of various trials. And in love, Peter meant to communicate three specific things about God-honoring suffering in our passage for this morning (two this week and one next). First, he intended to remind his beloved readers of the fact that everything they were called to do flowed (not out of the circumstances around them, but) out of who they were in Jesus. Second, because of who they were in Jesus, Peter specifically charged them (again) to be holy. And third, Peter needed his readers to realize that living holy lives consistent with their identities in Christ was an important aspect of their ministry to unbelievers.
Simply, Peter’s main message in this passage is this: People of God, beloved, because of who you are in Christ, be holy as a ministry to unbelievers, and in so doing you will glorify God in your suffering (and the unbelievers may too). As his readers came to understand and apply these things in their suffering (or comfort) they would honor God. Let’s pray now that we too would receive these loving words of Peter and honor God.
BECAUSE OF WHO YOU ARE
It’s interesting to me to listen to people talk about themselves. It is particularly interesting to hear how people identify or define themselves. For some their identity is tied to their job. Have you ever noticed how, when asked about their career, people rarely say things like “I do electrical work” or “As an attorney, I get paid to provide people with legal advice” or “I work in the food industry” or “People pay me to take photographs of their important events”? What do they say instead? They say, “I am an electrician” or “I am a lawyer” or “I am a waiter/waitress” or “I am a photographer.” They define themselves by their work.
Other people define themselves by their hobbies (“I am a runner” or “a fisherman” or “a bible study leader”). Still others define themselves by their health history (“I am a cancer survivor”). Some people define themselves by their alma mater (“I am a Gopher”). Many define themselves by their most important relationships (“I am a mother”). Increasingly, in our culture, people want to be identified by their sexual preferences or gender identities.
My point isn’t that these things are irrelevant. Indeed, they give us important clues about how people see themselves, and in that sense they really do help define people.
Instead, however, my point is that none of these things are what ultimately define us. No one’s true identity is found in their job or hobby or health or university or human relationships or sexuality or gender. Instead, the core of who we are is defined by our relationship with Jesus Christ. Apart from faith in him (regardless of how rich or educated or pretty or active or talented or whatever we are) we are sinners. We are spiritually dead. We are God’s enemies. That is, apart from union with Jesus people are defined by their own lack of righteousness and the divine condemnation that it produces.
On the other hand, through faith in Jesus (regardless of how clean or relatively good or useful or regular at church we are) we are united with Jesus and are therein saints, holy ones. We are alive. We are God’s children and friends. That is, Christians are identified by Christ’s righteousness and the salvation it produces.
Peter says a good deal about who his readers are because of their union with Jesus. I’ve already given a good deal of attention to this. As such, I just want to say two quick things about our identity in Jesus. First, again, all of God’s commands and all of Peter’s urgings (v.11) are based on it. As Christians we are never told to do something that is inconsistent with our true identity. Where we find commands in Scripture, we’ve found a description of our identity in Christ.
The second thing that I want to draw your attention to concerning our identity in Jesus is this: in the immediate context of 1 Peter 2:11-12 there is both a positive and negative aspect of the Christian’s identity that drives Peter’s commands.
Positively, because of their union with Jesus, Peter has just declared his readers (and all of God’s people) to be holy, set apart by God for his own purposes and blessing. Specifically, Peter has just declared his readers to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession (1 Peter 2:9). These things cannot not be so. They are who we are in Jesus. And they provide an important basis for God-honoring behavior at all times, especially in times of suffering.
And negatively, because of their union with Jesus, Peter declares his readers to be sojourners and exiles (1 Peter 2:11). These things too cannot not be so. They are who we are in Jesus until Jesus returns. And they too provide an important basis for God-honoring behavior and a clear explanation for suffering.
Grace, once again, the fact that God’s commands to his people all flow from who we are in Jesus is an absolutely crucial point to understand. If God were to command you to fly to the moon without making you an astronaut, at best you’d be frustrated. If God were to command you to write the world’s greatest symphony without making you a musician, at best you’d be overwhelmed. If God were to command you to dunk a basketball without making you an athlete, at best you’d be embarrassed. And if God were to command you to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (which, as we will see in a moment, he does) without making you “a royal priesthood…[and] a people for his own possession,” at best you’d fall on your face. And if God were to command you to “keep your conduct among the gentiles honorable” (which, again, as we will see next week, he does) as exiles and sojourners, without making you “a chosen race…[and] a holy nation,” at best you’d fail miserably.
God doesn’t make all of his people astronauts or musicians or athletes, and so commands to go to the moon or compose music or play above the rim wouldn’t make sense for most of us. On the other hand, God does make all of his people into a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, and therefore obeying commands like abstaining from sinful passions and having a ministry among unbelievers make complete sense. They are what we do because of who we are in Jesus.
Grace, don’t be quick to move past this point. It has implications for every Christian who has felt overwhelmed when opening their bible. It has implications for every Christian who has felt helpless when trying to share their faith with a non-Christian. It has implications for every Christian who has thrown up their hands in surrender at another unsuccessful attempt to kill a particular sin. It has implications for every Christian who has felt that their attempts to love well have been utterly futile.
The ultimate implication is this: though you may stumble and fall many times, if your faith in Christ is genuine, you will ultimately succeed at obeying every command of God because of what Jesus has done for you and who you are in him. We keep going not because practice makes perfect, but because Jesus is perfect and we have been united with him. Therefore, as we look now at the first of the two particular commands of Peter in this passage know that our ability to obey it is as certain as our union with Christ.
Again, rooted in who they are in Jesus, to honor God in their suffering, Peter has already called his beloved to set their minds apart for action, be sober minded, and hope fully in grace (1:13). He’s called them to stop conforming to the passions of their former ignorance (1:15). He’s called them to fear God alone in their exile (1:17). He’s called them to purify their souls by obedience to the truth (1:22). And he’s called them to love other Christians (1:22) by putting away all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander toward them (2:1-3).
In our passage for this morning, still rooted in who they are in Jesus, Peter gives two additional commands to his readers as they seek to honor God in their exile: 1) abstain from the passions of their flesh (this week), and 2) keep their conduct among the gentiles honorable (next week).
Again, Peter’s first command is to abstain from the passions of the flesh. This is where we’ll spend the rest of our time this morning.
1 Peter 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh…
This means exactly what you think it means. Instead of desiring God and the things of heaven, we are born desiring sin and the things of this world. But Peter tells his readers, because of who you are in Jesus, those desires are no longer consistent with who you are. Therefore, stop entertaining those passions in your mind and certainly stop acting them out with our lives. They killed you and they will keep killing you if you keep giving into them without repentance. You only desire them for things they cannot provide (lasting satisfaction and joy), and they only provide things you don’t really desire (death and destruction). Abstain from them!
Grace, abstain from them! This is not theoretical. This is not a spiritual saying. This is not meant to be apprehended only in our minds. As Children of God, we must actually abstain from the passions of our flesh.
But Grace, Peter also knows that this is a hard command to obey. God is not unaware of what we experience. He is not indifferent to the struggles we face as we fight to live in the righteousness that is already ours in Jesus.
Therefore, as a further means of helping his readers, under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, Peter not only gives the command to abstain from the passions of the flesh, he also gives the reasons behind it. The larger reason for it is that giving in to the passions of the flesh is inconsistent with who they are in Jesus. But before we look at Peter’s specific reason, let’s consider for a minute the power for obedience that comes from understanding the reasoning behind good commands.
Kids, your parents have the right, given to them by God, to command you to clean your room. Because God gave your parents authority over you, they don’t need to explain the reasoning behind their commands. When they tell you to clean your room it is right for you to do it and wrong for you not to.
And yet, kids, what usually happens when your parents tell you to clean your room? As everyone knows, children told to clean their room inevitably recoil at least a bit. Their natural desire is to get toys out and play with them, not put toys away and be still. To tell a child to stop playing therefore typically results in at least a small battle.
What happens, though, if your parents tell you to clean your room because you’re about to go on a surprise vacation and they don’t want you to have to worry about cleaning it when you get back? That makes a huge difference in your mind and heart, doesn’t it? Now you’re not only willing to clean, you’re pretty eager to clean. There’s great power for obedience when you know that the reason behind the command is your blessing.
The same things are true with God and his commands. He is under no obligation to give the reasons behind his commands. We ought to obey God simply because he told us to. However, because he loves us, and is committed to helping us obey, He always gives reasons for his commands. Generally, God has told his people that the reason for all his commands is his glory and our good (Romans 8:28). We never have to worry that a command of God will bring harm to our souls. We never have to worry that God’s commands to his people will lead to anything other than eternal blessing. We know that obedience to every command of God leads to greater satisfaction than any disobedience. There is great power for obedience in this knowledge.
Sometimes, however, as we all know, general reasons aren’t as powerful for obedience as specific reasons. Again, God is under no obligation to give specific reasons for his specific commands, but because he loves us he often does. And in the case of this command (to abstain from the passions of the flesh) he does.
Q. What is the specific reason for Peter’s charge?
A. Fleshly passions wage war against our souls.
1 Peter 2:11-12 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
It’s one thing to know that we should avoid fleshly passions because God said so or because it brings God glory or because it’s for our good (all of which are entirely sufficient). It’s another thing to know about the hidden war our fleshly passion wages on our souls.
Grace, if we could see the invisible, spiritual battle going on around us and inside us, we’d likely be shocked and alarmed. The bible could not be any more clear about the reality of this war. Because we cannot see it though, we like to pretend it isn’t going on. Make no mistake, though they have been crucified with Christ, the passions of our flesh have not yet been fully disarmed. Until Christ’s return they mean to continue making war against our souls and so we must make war against them. All who are in Christ are assured of ultimate victory, but the primary proof of the fact that we are in Christ is in our successful war on our sin.
How do we do this? How do we wage war on our flesh which has waged war on our souls? I want to close by giving you six steps to kill sin.
- Cry out to God for help. You and I need help to see our sin. We need help to hate our sin. We need help to pick up our weapons of war. We need help to keep fighting even when we don’t immediately win. We need God’s help for every aspect of the war Peter calls us to wage. If we do not recognize this, we will be killed. Therefore, we begin obeying Peter’s command to kill the passions of the flesh by crying out to God. He will help. He has helped. And that leads to the next point.
- Remember the gospel. The good news of this war, which makes it truly unique, is that its outcome is certain. It has already been won by God for the people of God. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross guaranteed that all who trust in him will be victorious in him. As you fight your fleshly passions and win and lose, and lose and win, always fight in the knowledge that in the end your victory is secured by the blood of Jesus.
- Trace the passions of your flesh back as far as you can go. Hopefully you already know this, but you and I don’t talk harshly (for instance) because we are harsh talkers. Our harsh talk goes much deeper. All of our sinful behaviors are like fruit on a tree. Fruit comes from branches, which come from larger branches, which come from a trunk, which comes from roots. If we focus primarily on our harsh talking, we allow the branch that produced it live and produce other bad fruit. Similarly if we focus primarily on the branch that produced it, we will miss the larger branch that has other branches growing off of it…and so on.To truly wage war on our fleshly passions, we need to go as far back as we can, find the lies at their source, and take a sharp ax to them and burn them in a blazing fire. Which leads to the next point.
- Apply the most specific promise of God you can to the root of your fleshly passion. We love things that are opposed to God or contrary to the excellencies of God (1 Peter 2:9) only because we have believed lies about them. The war waged by the passions of our flesh is one of deceit and blindness. Our worldly passions’ main weapon is to make the things of earth look more satisfying than God. We only ever give into the passions of our flesh because they seem more excellent than God. Specific passions at their root tell specific lies which need to be named and replaced. God’s Word is where we find the Truth and promises of God.Gossip promises the attention of others, but God’s word promises that gossip ruins. Theft promises the things we prize without having to work for them, but God’s word promises that coveting kills our souls. Pornography promises satisfaction, but God’s word promises that the sexually immoral will not enter the kingdom of heaven. The more specific the promise, the greater strength to kill.
- Do all of this in the context of the people of God. You were never meant to make war on your sin by yourself. Many, many of the bible’s sin-killing passages are corporate by nature. Confess your sins to one another. Bear one another’s burdens. Build one another up. Speak the truth in love to one another. Pray for one another. Forgive one another. All of these sin-fighting commands (and more) are corporate and essential to successfully making war on our sin. Fight sin alongside the people of God.
- Don’t confuse internalization with mortification. Finally, there is a difference between internalizing sin and killing it, between stuffing our fleshly passions down and mortifying them. It’s not a bad thing to take a Tylenol for a cancer-produced headache, but if that’s all you do the cancer will likely kill you (even if it does so without a headache). Similarly, canceling your internet service may keep you from looking at things you shouldn’t (and that’s a good thing), but it is not the same as killing the fleshly passion that caused your desire for it in the first place. If there’s one thing I’ve seen over and over with regard to sin fighting is that it can be a lot like wack-a-mole. If all you do is knock your sin down, it will certainly show up again somewhere else.
You might stop the sin of drunkenness but if you don’t kill it root it will show up again in gambling. You might stop the sin of adultery but if you don’t kill its root it will show up again in pornography. You might stop the sin of worldly spending, but if you don’t kill its root it will show up again in over eating or obsessing over exercise. We are called to kill the passions of our flesh, not just knock them down.
Cry out to God for help, remember the gospel, trace the passions of your flesh back as far as you can go, apply the most specific promise of God you can to the root of your fleshly passions, do this in the context of the people of God, and don’t confuse internalization with mortification. And all of this because of what Christ has already done for us and who we are in him.
If you are a guest this morning, please hear this: the heart of the good news of the Christian faith is that we are not saved by our good works, or by stopping our bad works. No one in this room will become acceptable to God because they successfully applied these six steps to their lives. No matter how hard we try we will fail, at least occasionally. Instead, the good news of Christianity is that though we cannot do it on our own, Jesus already did it for us. He has, by faith, made us new. The obedience Peter urges his readers toward in this passage is not the cause of their salvation, it’s the result of it. And so it is for us today.
Again, Grace, Peter’s point thus far (in v.11) is that since his readers have been united with Jesus by faith, they must make war on the passions of their flesh because the passions of their flesh have declared war against their very souls. When we do this well, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we glorify God and, as we will see next week, shine a light to the watching, unbelieving world, that they too might glorify God on the day of visitation.