July 19, 2020

The War for the Soul and the Glory of God

Jason Meyer (Downtown 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 


This morning we start a new section in the letter of 1 Peter, and so I want to make sure we are on the same page with the previous section so that you will be ready for this new section.

Remember that the theme of the letter is stand firm in the true grace of God as elect exiles (1:1; 5:12).

1 Peter 1:1–2
We are elect exiles because God chose us, the Spirit set us apart to obey Jesus and be sprinkled with his blood as his new covenant people. 

1 Peter 1:3–2:10
Praise be to God that he saved us and made us his people because of his great mercy (he caused us to be born again so that we have indestructible hope, inexpressible joy, incomparable privilege of being his people).

Therefore, we respond as his children by hoping fully, being holy, fearing our Father in this time of exile, loving one another, and longing for the pure milk of the Word.

We proclaim his excellencies now because of his great mercy he called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Now we start a new section, and we are returning to the theme of standing in the true grace of God as elect exiles. But how do heaven’s citizens and earth’s exiles stand firm in this fallen world? Peter is going to walk us through how Christians should respond to challenging situations as we are called to submit in three spheres: political (2:13–17), social (2:18–25), and family (3:1–7). But before we talk about those challenging circumstances, consider two guiding principles he gives us for how we live in any earthly sphere. Specifically, there are two realities that rise to the top as guiding principles: (1) the war for the soul (v. 11) and the glory of God (v. 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.

Main Point
Citizens of heaven live in a distinctive way that puts on display the battle for the soul and the greatness of God.

1) The War for the Soul

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

A) You Are No Longer Home (1 Peter 2:11a)
“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles

B) Abstaining Like Exiles (1 Peter 2:11b)
“to abstain from the passions of the flesh”

C) The War for the Soul (1 Peter 2:11c)
“which wage war against your soul”

A) You Are No Longer Home (1 Peter 2:11a)

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles.

If someone is an exile from another land, they may have customs and practices that the locals find different (perhaps negatively—strange and odd—or positively —unique and fascinating). But it would not be surprising if they look differently and live differently.

Peter says the same thing here. Heaven’s citizens are going to live differently than the world’s citizens. The unique aspect here is that this change has been very sudden. People used to look like everyone else and then they suddenly changed—they switched their citizenship and suddenly started living differently. 

It is important to see that positional sanctification leads to progressive sanctification. You live like an exile after you become an exile. You do not become a citizen of heaven by living like it until you become one. You live like it only after you become one.

B) Abstaining Like Exiles (1 Peter 2:11b)

… To abstain from the passions of the flesh.

In the world (viewed as a foreign land), there are pleasures to be picked that God has forbidden. Therefore, there will be a clash of cultures because the kingdom of God has a certain moral culture and the kingdoms of this world have a different one. Therefore, there will be times when the world says, “indulge” and God says “abstain.”

The Jews throughout history had experienced these things as part of the old covenant both culturally and morally. Culturally (abstain from pork) or morally (abstain from sex outside of marriage).

The apostle Peter writes to the church composed of Jews and Gentiles in the new covenant. Thankfully, the new covenant changed the first type of abstention (that is why I call bacon “victory meat”), but not the second. There are many examples where the world’s ethic says, “indulge” and the church says, “abstain” (i.e., sex outside of marriage, drunkenness, etc.). The apostle Paul uses the word abstain in a command with reference to sexual morality (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5).

 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.

Now Peter goes further in giving a rationale for why God says, “abstain,” even when the world says, “indulge.”

C) The War for the Soul (1 Peter 2:11c)

… Which wage war against your soul.

Peter’s warning here is easy to see. He is giving the rationale for abstaining. It is not hard to understand. It is like God saying, “Don’t pick those berries.” When we ask “why?” He says, “because they are poisonous—they will kill you.” 

Your flesh has desires to pick pleasures from places forbidden by God. Your flesh has passions or desires for things God forbids. These things that are enticing to your flesh are actually trying to kill you. They have declared war on your soul. You were in darkness. Now you are in the light, but there is darkness that remains inside you and darkness all around you, and it wants you—the darkness is trying to extinguish the light. Light and darkness are always at war.

I fear here that many people could miss what Peter is saying because they think he is talking about two paths (Christian and non-Christian) instead of three. There are two ways to live like you are lost and one way to live as a Christian.

Application: The False Paths of Legalism and License

License believes that the way to find real blessing in life is outside of God and his will. You need to go outside of the commandments and then take those pleasures for yourself. What is better? The life (pleasures) that are ripe for the picking outside of God and his will.

Both of these responses embrace sinful, worldly passions. The problem is that most people only think in terms of one direction: license. But legalism also embraces worldly passions. Listen to what constitutes “the world and its desires” in John 2:15–17.

 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 

What are the desires of the world? (1) desires of the flesh, (2) desires of the eyes, and (3) pride of life. The desires of the flesh refers to the desire to do. The desires of the eyes is the desire to have. The pride of life is the desire to be. 

Both legalism and license are agreed in one central blasphemy: God is not good and benevolent. License says that God is not good and he does not have good for us. Our joy is found in going outside of the will of God as expressed in God’s commands.

But legalism does the same thing in a slightly different way. Legalism also says that God is not good and benevolent and gracious. He does not bountifully pour out grace on us. We have to earn it. We work for it like a wage. We need to pry blessings out of his hand because he is so stingy.

Both of these paths (legalism and license) are dead ends that had their origin in the original temptation and sin. Satan’s temptation asked Adam & Eve to believe that God was not good and benevolent. He was holding back. He did not want them to be fully happy. He was keeping things from them that they needed to take for themselves.

One type of living (license) says this: These things are better.

Why are they better? Answer: God and his will are killjoys. I can do better outside of his will. (I would rather have these things—superior satisfaction). In this system of living, there is the idea of conquest and self-satisfaction (sexual conquest, business success, career goals, possessions, fame).

Another type of living (legalism) says this: I am better.

Why am I better? Answer: My superior willpower as seen in my ability to resist worldly pleasures. This system of living does not at all talk about the invitation to be satisfied in the Lord and taste his goodness and delight in his marvelous light.

The Christian way to live (Christian hedonism) says this: God is better.

Why is he better? His steadfast love is better than life. The life he gives is better than death. He is light and his marvelous light is better than darkness. He satisfies fully and forever whereas the world only satisfies in a partial and passing way.

Isn’t this the whole meaning of the word abstain? You abstain from something in order to feast on something better. That is the whole point of the Christian life and what makes it different than the two false paths of the flesh. The Christian says …

Whom have in heaven but you and earth has nothing that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.—Psalm 73:25 

First Peter 2:12 is going to lay out that third way.

2) The Glory of God

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.

A) The Christian Code of Conduct: Beautiful Behavior (v. 12a)
B) The World’s Initial Response: Verbal Persecution (v. 12b)
C) The Final Result: You Will Be Vindicated on the Day of Visitation (v. 12c)

A) The Christian Code of Conduct: Beautiful Behavior

keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” (v. 12a)

Verse 12 looks like it stands on its own as a command “keep your conduct,” but this translation hides the fact that it is a participle. I think it could be better translated, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh…by keeping or maintaining your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” In other words, the word gets the feel of a command (imperatival sense) from its connection to the main verb. 

Peter calls believers to a certain code of conduct as they abstain. In other words, abstaining will mean not indulging in some things, but it will mean feasting somewhere else (like on God!). That is why Peter’s command is not merely a moral code. We saw earlier that legalists and Pharisees and people of other religions can be very moral in terms of abstaining from certain things. Instead Peter calls them to a kalos code of conduct. This is a unique word. It does not merely mean “moral;” it is a word for beauty. He is talking about conduct that is morally beautiful. Isn’t that the thing about light? It isn’t just warm. It isn’t just bright. The way it shines in the darkness is beautiful, dazzling, radiant. Peter is calling them to beautiful behavior. 

It is so helpful when we think of what the standard is. There are things that are more beautiful than others and there are actions that are more moral than others. All of these things presuppose a standard of beauty and a standard of morality. Christians believe that God is the standard of what is good and what is true and what is beautiful. Peter is calling Christians to behavior that reflects the moral beauty of God. Holiness is not a boring thing; it is a beautiful thing. That is why the Bible talks about the splendor of God’s holiness. For example, when you tell a lie that saves your skin and gets someone else in trouble, that is not just wrong, but ugly. But where do you get that standard? If you accept one common narrative in our culture, there is no standard. It is just survival of the fittest. Deception is a virtue in nature. Ambush is how many apex predators kill their prey.

But if God is the standard, then it makes perfect sense. God not only does not tell a lie; he cannot lie. He is truth. Everything that he says and does is truth. He cannot act contrary to his character. When Peter calls us to be holy as God is holy, he is showing us the standard and telling us to let others see God through reflecting his moral beauty and goodness.

B) The World's Initial Response: Verbal Persecution

So that when they speak of you as evildoers” (v. 12b)

There is a tragic irony at work here. The Christian code of conduct is what God calls “good,” but the world calls “evil.” It should be no surprise that a world that rejects God and his will would also reject what he calls good. The surprise is how the world enforces that rebellious standard. The world has its own system of judgment and Christians are targeted as evildoers. Obviously, the world’s verdict and God’s verdict are at odds when it comes to his people. 

Perhaps it would help to see a couple of passages that highlight this verbal persecution or judgment (slander, maligning, speaking evil against).

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.—1 Peter 3:14–17

Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 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.—1 Peter 4:1–5

Notice our earlier observation. It is not as if people suddenly move into the neighborhood from a foreign country. Local people might expect them to be different. Some of the locals have suddenly changed. You used to look like them and live like them and talk like them and suddenly it was like you completely changed your citizenship and your culture. You did. 

That is why it important to remember that the church is a chosen race and has now become a minority culture. The world constitutes a majority culture, a certain way of thinking and living. The church is now marginalized as a minority culture— we think and live and talk in a different way.

C) The Final Result: The Glory of God and Vindication on the Day of Visitation

They may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (v. 12c) 

Let’s start with the phrase “the day of visitation” (v. 12). When does God visit unbelievers so that they stop maligning the light and start calling attention to it in a way that says God is great and glorious and beautiful? Commentators typically debate two different positions. 

  1. Conversion
    Some say the day of visitation is conversion (spiritual visitation). God visits their souls and changes them so that suddenly they pass from darkness to light as Christians. They can now see that what they used to call evil and ugly is good and beautiful. They glorify God because God has opened their eyes and they see his beauty and excellence. 
  1. The Second Coming
    Others say that the day of visitation is the Day of the Lord and the final judgment (physical visitation). Jesus returns bodily and comes to vindicate his people and judge his enemies. His enemies will glorify God in the sense that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. God will be shown to be glorious when he judges them and vindicates himself and his will and his worth and his people.

When I come up against two different interpretations, I usually do not say, “Both.” But this text is one of the rare exceptions for me because I think Peter uses this language with intentional double-meaning.

Let’s start with the language of God visiting people. Can it be a reference to conversion? Listen for example to Acts 15.

After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.—Acts 15:13–14

The visitation in view here is when Peter preached the gospel in the household of Cornelius, the Spirit moved mightily and they embraced the gospel and were added to the church (Acts 11). The book of Exodus spoke of visitation in a similar sense to refer to God’s deliverance for his people. As Moses led the people out of Egypt it says, “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here” (Exodus 13:19).

This way of reaching “visitation” definitely fits the argument of the rest of the letter. Peter highlights that beautiful behavior can have a converting impact. It is what he will say in chapter 3 where an unbelieving husband can be won without a word by observing the beautiful behavior of his believing wife. The same word used in verse 12 for conduct (ἀναστροφή) appears two more times in the passage (3:1, 2). It is also true that when people are converted, their response is to glorify God (cf. Acts 13:48).

But I do not think that “visitation” as conversion exhausts the intended meaning Peter has here. There are many biblical examples where God’s visitation is a reference to God coming in judgment. Peter draws upon Isaiah numerous times throughout the letter and the only place this phrase shows up exactly in the Old Testament is in Isaiah 10:3 (LXX).

     What will you do on the day of punishment,
     (LXX – visitation)
          in the ruin that will come from afar?
     To whom will you flee for help,
          and where will you leave your wealth? 

There is similar occurrence later as a reference to judgment (Isaiah 29:5–6). 

      And in an instant, suddenly,
           you will be visited by the Lord of hosts
     with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
          with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring

Peter refers to this devouring fire later in chapter 4. Christians glorify God by bearing the name of Christ even when they are judged as evildoers. But God will reverse this judgment in the final judgment. Peter even links these two judgments together as all part of God’s plan for judgment. The verbal barrage coming upon God’s people from the world is actually part of God’s plan. The fire of judgment falls upon the household of God first. His plan is not to harm them but to refine them. It is a refining fire, not a destroying fire. But the final judgment is a great reversal. When it falls upon unbelievers, it will vindicate Christians and destroy non-Christians (1 Peter 4:16–19). The word for glorify is the same word in both texts (2:12; 4:16). Peter says that his glory will be revealed at the second coming (4:13). Jesus used similar language in speaking about the judgment coming upon the Jews “because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41–44). Jesus is talking about a judgment coming upon them because they failed to recognize that God had visited them in the flesh (Jesus as God incarnate).

My sense is that Peter wants to arm believers with both possibilities so that they know they lives of obedience really do matter and will result in God’s glory. Live as exiles because God may use it to open someone else’s eyes like he opened your eyes, so that they stop blaspheming God and slandering you and start praising God and joining you. Or God will vindicate you in the end when Christ splits the skies and your faith becomes sight. God will reverse the judgment against you when his glory is revealed, and unbelievers will be forced to declare that God is glorious even in their destruction. 

The point here is that there is a way of living that says, “These things are great,” “I am great,” or “God is great.” It is what Jesus means in Matthew 5:16. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” The Christian code of conduct is to live for God’s glory. We have an entirely different orientation and mindset when it comes to how we live. We live for his glory. 

Conclusion: Snake Story

I don’t know why, but I grew up loving snake stories and shark stories. So I read recently another snake story that really caught my attention. A woman had a huge python. One day, the python that was refused to eat. And this lasted some time. The snake did not seem to be in pain. In fact, the snake was much more affectionate with her than normal.

So the woman went to the vet. The vet asks about the snake’s behavior. Has the snake been more snuggly and affectionate than normal? The woman said, “Well, yes, actually.” Has the snake been stretching out next to you? The woman said, “Yes. How did you know that?!” The vet said, “I am sorry to say that this is what normally happens when a snake is preparing for a large meal. He is sizing you up and making sure he has enough room to eat you.”

Sin has declared war on you—it is crouching at the door and it desires to have you. Make war. Get that snake out of your house. Do whatever you need to do.

Sanctification is a worship war. Think about whatever sin temptation you face right now. Sin promises pleasure. Sin is what happens when you are not satisfied in God. So you become susceptible to all kinds of false promises. Worship says, “Isn’t this great and marvelous.” False worship got you into this problem and only true worship can get you out. Obedience says, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than _____.” God has given you not just the promise of superior pleasure in him, but he’s given the promise of superior power to obey him. And don’t forget about how the Lord views you. Even though others may speak evil of you, don’t forget the word Peter uses right at the beginning of verse 11: Beloved. Your identity is one of being deeply loved by the Lord.

Now Lord I would be yours alone and live so all might see, the strength to follow your commands could never come from me. O Father use my ransomed life, in anyway you choose, and let my song forever be, my only boast is you. Hallelujah, all I have is Christ. Hallelujah, Jesus is my life!

Sermon Discussion Questions


  1. The War for the Soul (1 Peter 2:11)
  • You Are No Longer Home (verse 11a)
  •  Abstaining Like Exiles (verse 11b) 
  • The War for the Soul (verse 11c)
  1. The Glory of God (1 Peter 2:12) 
  • The Christian Code of Conduct: Beautiful Behavior (verse 12a)
  • The World’s Initial Response: Verbal Persecution (verse 12b)
  • The Final Result: You Will Be Vindicated on the Day of Visitation (verse 12c)

Main Point: Citizens of heaven live in a distinctive way that puts on display the battle for the soul and the greatness of God

Discussion Questions

  • Describe what it means to be a “sojourner and exile” in verse 11. How did they become sojourners and exiles?
  • Why does Peter say “abstain from the passions of the flesh” as sojourners and exiles? In other words, what is unique about exiles that cause them to be different from the people around them?
  • What reason does Peter give for why they should abstain? In other words, what will happen if they do not abstain?
  • Describe the Christian code of conduct. What does Peter mean by having “honorable” conduct?
  • Why are believers being slandered as evildoers if they are doing what is good?
  • What does the “day of visitation” mean – that is, does it refer to God visiting unbelievers at conversion or final judgment?

Application Questions

  • Do you live like someone who is not at home in this world? In what ways is your life distinct from non-Christians, and in what ways is it like those around you?
  • Have you reckoned with the fact that sin has declared war on you and is trying to kill you? Are there areas in your life in which you have made peace with sin? What are some practical things you can do to do war with sin?
  • What truths landed on you in this message that you need to share with others in your life? How can you share these truths? Devote it to prayer!

Prayer Focus
Pray for a grace to live in a way that puts the greatness of God on display.

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