July 19, 2020
Steven Lee (North Campus) | 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. 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.—1 Peter 2:11–12
Global Partner, Lynda Oatley, serves children in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She has been battling cancer and recently let us know that her chemotherapy has not been effective. She has no more treatment options. She is choosing to remain with her Brazilian family with whatever time she has left. She’s not coming “home” to America but staying in Brazil. Why? Because she knows that neither Brazil nor America is truly her “home.” Her true and lasting citizenship is heaven, and it is there that she will be more alive than ever.
This is the perspective and attitude that Peter wants from his readers as they face outside pressure and attacks on their faith. Let your identity and true citizenship show in how you live. Don’t respond to the outside pressure and hostility like a cornered animal—fight or flight. Peter knows that is a very real temptation for his readers as they face slander and persecution.
The first temptation is to give up on their faith, compromise their faith, or perhaps privatize their faith. They might be tempted to abandon Christ, or at least assimilate to their society and be a closeted Christian. They might say, “We’re trying to follow Jesus, to do the right thing, and yet we’re still being accused of evil and wrongdoing.” The temptation is to stop swimming against the current, and just go with the cultural current down river.
The second temptation is to fight back. They might say, “If you’re going to attack and slander me, then get ready for a fight!” The instinct is to attack when under attack, to lash out when maligned, or to fight fire with fire. Two can play that game. The temptation is to go on the offensive against one’s enemies.
Both temptations would fall short of how God calls believers to live. Peter’s main theme in this letter is this: “As elect exiles, stand firm in the truth grace of God” (cf. 1 Peter 1:1; 5:12). Not run away, not fight back, but stand firm. Be steadfast. Persevere. Be immovable, upheld by the true grace of God.
Peter’s main point in our passage is that citizens of heaven live—through killing passions and honorable conduct—in order to display the glory of God so that some might be saved. True believers live not for earthly vindication or temporary acceptance, but with an eternal perspective.
Peter’s aim is for Christians to live rightly in a pagan society as faithful witnesses of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. You have a new and distinct identity in Christ, so we live as visitors and not long-term residents.
Here in 1 Peter 2:11 we have a significant shift in the letter. In the first section of the letter (1 Peter 1:3–2:10), Peter has reminded his readers of their identity as God’s people and given them reassurance. In this middle section (2:11–4:11), we have a shift from identity to behavior or conduct. It answers the question, “How are we to live rightly in a pagan society?” In coming weeks we’ll look at (1) submitting to pagan authorities, (2) submitting as servants, (3) living as Christian wives and husbands, and (4) how to suffer unjustly. Peter calls his readers to a counter-cultural and Christ-conformed way of living.
Peter outlines two main things they ought to know and practice.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.—1 Peter 2:11
Peter continues to reiterate how the believer’s identity informs and makes an impact on how they live. He opens this section by calling them “beloved” or “dear friends.” Though you are estranged from society, you are the beloved of God and loved by Peter.
Peter reminds them they are sojourners and exiles. We looked that this last week quite a bit. They have dual passports, but they are mainly temporary residents of this earthly country, because they are primarily heavenly citizens. The language of “sojourner” likely echoes Genesis 23:4.
In Genesis 23:4, Abraham attempts to buy a burial plot to bury his wife Sarah, because he is a foreigner. He says, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; give me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” While Abraham was a literal sojourner and foreigner, Peter is again reorienting his readers to understand that they are Christ-first people, a heaven-bound population and a holy nation, along with all those who have been chosen by God: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles.
This idea of sojourner or exile remind us we will experience constant partial alienation while on earth. This is not our true home! We need that reminder again and again, because it’s so easy to lay down roots and to think this is where we’ll have our best life now. Don’t believe it for a second. This is like camping—living in a tent, battling the heat and mosquitos—as we await our heavenly dwelling place.
Our missionaries and global partners instinctively understand this much better than us. They are always between cultures, always in temporary housing, always borrowing until they pass it along to the next owner, because their ultimate and lasting home in not here on earth. On Wednesday night, I was talking with global partners who serve in north-central Africa, in a rural area, in a majority Muslim country. It’s very apparent they are aliens and foreigners. The wife was sharing how she and her teen girls all wear head coverings and scarves to cover even their face. It’s a constant reminder, this is not our “home country.”
These passions of the flesh could be seen as broadly as all sinful desires and actions. These “passions” or strong desires, characterize the sinful inclinations that reside within each one of us. Just the very mention of this should be comforting to believers. Why? Because even though you have a completely new identity and purpose, you will still battle against sinful desires. They do not just go away. Instead, believers are to abstain from them.
This is also a rebuke to our modern age of “just do what feels good” or “just go with your feelings.” We live in an age of instant gratification—if I want something, Amazon can get it to me in 2 days, or perhaps even within the hour. We have Amazon Prime Now which feeds our desires and cravings. Peter admits that believers have passions, longings, and desires, but they are not to indulge them, but to abstain and flee from them.
Now, what “passions of the flesh” then are in view?
The word passions conveys desire, longing, and craving. It’s the same word used in 1 Peter 1:14 and 1 Peter 4:2–3.
Chapter 4 goes on to say they are surprised when you don’t join them in debauchery, and they malign you. This is the same picture we get here.
These passions characterize their former way of life before Christ. They include sinful desires in general, but especially the types of things that even pagans and unbelievers would recognize as being bad for society, such as sexual immorality, drunkenness, and lawlessness, and unrestrained carnal desires. These are still seen as bad both within the church and in most parts of society. Peter is calling them to abstain from these sinful passions of the flesh and instead to walk and live in the Spirit. Why? Because they “wage ware against their souls.”
While these desires might look tempting in the moment, they will inflict damage upon our souls. It will cause believers to be weak and ineffective, diminishing our ability to see, know, and love God.
Pastor Ben mentioned how glowworms illustrate this point. In New Zealand and Australia, the larvae (or maggot) of the fungus gnat are carnivores. They emit a glowing light to attract insects that get caught in a snare of sticky threads, who become dinner. This light that they emit, in the darkness of pitch-black caves, much like how a firefly glows with this beautiful blue hue, irresistible to flying bugs, even as it leads them to their death. This is the image of the war that is being waged for our souls. Sin calls out with a beautiful voice and a brilliant blue hue, and tells us it will feel good, advance your career, it will be satisfying, it will be worth it, or that no one will know. But it’s never worth it, and it leads to death.
Application: War Raging for Your Soul
How do we apply this first exhortation to abstain from passions that wage a war against our soul? Even this morning, there is a war being fought for your mind, heart, and soul. Your spiritual health hangs in the balance. We must beware of indulging in the passions of the flesh rather than abstaining from them. What does this war look like? Here are a few ways that sinful passions wage war against our soul:
When it comes to passions of the flesh, yes we abstain, but we must fight fire with fire. We need to overcome these sinful desires and passions with a greater more satisfying power. It is what Thomas Chalmers calls the “explosive power of new affections.” What’s the best way to stop gorging on candy, chips, and junk food? Not just sheer willpower and starvation. But eat a good, well-balanced, real-food, protein-rich diet. Fill yourself with a new and better affection. It’s what Matthew 13:44 says,
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
This is precisely why Peter devoted so much ink to developing his readers’ new identity rooted in their new birth. You’ve been given new joys that expel old and insufficient longings and desires. John Piper writes, “The root power of sin is severed by the power of a superior pleasure. The bondage to sin is broken by a stronger attraction—a more compelling joy.”
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.—1 Peter 2:12
We go from a negative exhortation (don’t do or abstain) now to a positive exhortation (conduct yourselves honorably). There are three parts to this verse.
The conduct or behavior that Peter has in view is likely what he just reference before: to abstain from the passions of the flesh. Peter’s readers were not to retaliate when under attack, or to shrink back in fear. Instead they’re called to persist and continue in conducting themselves in a way that even the pagans would recognize as virtuous by their own standards. It couldn’t be all the values of the society or culture, but certainly there would be some that would overlap, such that Christians could keep their identity and live honorably in a pagan society.
I imagine that Peter has in mind what comes later in 1 Peter:
Christians are to show the society and culture around them that they are honest, just, self-controlled, compassionate, kind, gentle, and loving to serve as evidence of their transformed life and faith. Again, this goes back to the call for holy living in 1 Peter 1:15–16. A Christian’s holiness is to reveal and convey the character of our Father in heaven.
Despite their good conduct and behavior, Christians will still be spoken against as evildoers. This is a hard word for some of you. You are tempted to be people pleasers and to seek acceptance. The very thought of someone not liking you brings you anxiety. You’re tempted to accommodate and shift in order to be accepted. Peter reminds us that we do not live for the approval of this world, society, or culture. We are aliens, sojourners, and exiles.
There will be suspicion and hostility because they don’t live and approve of the ways of the world. This may be been honoring the social norms or the typical gods of the community. This is increasingly true of believers today. There are a wide range of issues where we may be spoken of us as evildoers. And we are to stand firm, as elect exiles, in the true grace of God. Some of those issues might be the following:
Some of those issues will garner applause and others vitriol. Nonetheless, believers are called to mainly live as citizens of heaven, seeking to honor Christ above all else. Peter wants believers to maintain their Christ-honoring conduct—that even a pagan society might recognize—so that they will see these good deeds and glorify God.
Unbelievers ought to be able to see the good works of believers that permeate every dimension of life: honesty, respect, kindness, gentleness, love, compassion, and so forth. They might not like what we believe, but in a way, they ought to respect it if we are being fully consistent with Christ’s commands. This is likely an allusion to Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16,
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Our lives are to shine forth and give glory to God. The big question is what does the phrase “and glorify God on the day of visitation” mean? There are two options.
I believe it is the former, where unbelieving pagans get saved. The verb “glorify” here is used 61 times in the New Testament and doesn’t speak of unbelievers who are forced to unwillingly glorify God. Revelation 16:9 says so explicitly, “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” Judgment comes, and people double down in their hatred of God.
Peter gives us a similar passage. First Peter 3:1–2 says that unbelieving husbands might be won without a word by the conduct of their wives so that they would be saved:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.
Peter’s point is that some unbelievers will be saved when they see the good and honorable conduct of believers. Some of will repent and be saved, and as a result of their salvation, glorify God.
This “day of visitation” is speaking of the day of divine judgment when Christ returns. On that day there will be consummated salvation for his people and judgment for those who reject him. This “day of visitation” shows up in Isaiah 10:3 in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX). It reads, “What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth?” (Isaiah 10:3). This Isaiah passage looks toward a day of judgment and punishment.
So while I think the main thrust of Peter’s teaching is that some unbelievers will slander you, and as they see your good deeds, come to faith in Christ, there is also another element where no matter whether those who persecute you ultimately come to faith or not, you will be vindicated. Believers are always vindicated by Christ. Those who persecute believers unjustly will either see our good deeds and come to faith in Christ, having their sins paid for by Jesus, or they will be judged by God and receive a just punishment for their actions.
Conclusion & Closing
The day of visitation is coming. Judgment will come for us all. This will be a day of great rejoicing for all those who are in Christ. But if you’re not prepared for this day of judgment, let me call you to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a war for your soul this morning. Satan would like you to fall asleep, close your heart, convince you this is complete nonsense, or convince you that you’re OK with a few good works to show on that final day. Do not be deceived. Only those who are born again to a living hope in Jesus Christ will be saved. Surrender to Jesus, repent of your sins, and entrust yourself to Christ.
I began this sermon this morning by talking about Global Partner Lynda Oatley, and that’s where I want to end. I texted Brad Nelson, our Pastor for Global Outreach Strategic Short-Term Ministry, about whether I could share those details about her. He called her, and here’s what he wrote to me:
I just got off the phone with Lynda Oatley, our global partner in Brazil. She went there years ago to work with street kids! Currently she is bed ridden. She is able to get up and take a shower once in a while. She is hungry and thirsty all the time but has not eaten or drunk anything for over a week. The tumors are so big in her abdomen that she can't eat or drink but the hunger is there all the time. The acid in her stomach gives her a heartburn sensation. She is always nauseous! She is thankful she is not in a lot of pain. She told me she hungers and thirsts more for Jesus than delicious food or drink that she is continually craving. Her system is not able to keep the fluids moving in her body so her feet swell up all the time and are very large which makes it hard for her to walk. She told me she thinks she will be gone in a week or so. But she is happy in the Lord and ready to be with him. She says, “If Jesus is taking me home my job here must be done!”
She, in pain and suffering, has not lost sight of her identity and purpose. She knows that her true and lasting home is to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though she is literally starving to death, she is hungry for more of Jesus. Though her body wastes away, she is being renewed day by day to look more and more like her Savior. And I imagine as she dies—those street children she ministers to in Brazil—will see and glorify God for her life, and they too will know and love Jesus. O may God help us to have this same eternal perspective.
Main Point: Citizens of heaven live—through killing passions and honorable conduct—in order to display the glory of God so that some might be saved.
Intro Question: Do we feel “at home” here in America? Why or why not?
Praise God for being deserving of honor, glory, praise, and worship because of what his Son Jesus Christ has accomplished on the cross for sinners, and praise God for your new identity in him. Confess your sinful “passions of the flesh” that are waging war against your soul. Repent of those sins. Thank God for the forgiveness that is available in Jesus, and that Jesus calls us elect and watches over our souls. Ask God for help in abstaining from these passions of the flesh, ask him for greater satisfaction in Christ, and ask for help to live so others will see and glorify God through salvation.