Ever wander through an aquarium and wondered what the fish thought of you? More and more of our lives, even our private thoughts and desires, are on display for all to see. Makes me feel sometimes like a fish in an aquarium. For followers of Jesus this is nothing new. Peter reminded his readers that folks are watching to see if our faith is real.
Welcome to the 11th article in our Walk Through 1st Peter series. If you are just joining us, the previous installments can be found at Lambchow.com. Peter’s letter turns at this point from foundational encouragement to a series of “do this” type of statements. He has demonstrated the inflow of God’s grace and now turns to its outflow from our lives.
Peter begins, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, NASB95)
Aliens and strangers
Have you visited another place or another country where you were the outsider? Everything is different. The foods, the habits, the expectations, the clothes, the language are all outside of what is familiar. With this simple phrase, aliens and strangers, Peter is reminding his readers that they belong to another kingdom and the world around them should seem strange at times.
I wonder sometimes though if we haven’t been fighting the wrong war. For thirty years or so, Christians have engaged in a culture war in the United States. Seeing the decline of morals, and the advance of sin and self-centeredness we turned to politics, media, and the pocketbook to reverse the flood. I think that we are reaping a bitter harvest from that ill-fated war. The intentions were noble and the cause just but somewhere along the way we forgot that we are just aliens and strangers, ambassadors of another kingdom.
We do have a war to fight. Peter instructs his readers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” So what are fleshly lusts and how do they wage war?
When we see the word “lust” our thoughts almost always turn to sexual desires and passions. However, our lives are composed of many basic desires which can cross the line into fleshly lust. Consider our need to eat and drink, our need for safety, our desire for purpose and significance, our search for pleasure and love, and our hope for a peace filled happy life. All of these are good but can cross the line from their God-designed purpose towards self-centered fulfillment and sin.
So when does eating a slice of cherry pie go from being good to being lust? Isn’t it when our attitude changes from thankfulness to deserving it? Or when we feel jealousy and hoard the whole pie. Maybe when we’re diabetic and the sweet treat would be harmful, but we eat it anyway. Paul wrote, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, NASB95) But that slice of pie tempts us, it looks inviting and smells divine. We can imagine the taste. We just have to have it.
Peter says that fleshly lust wars against our soul. Desire and passion consume us. We can’t see anything else, nothing else matters. It’s not easy to turn away from our desires, passions, and lust. Giving in removes the conflict for a time. Sinning feels good or no one would do it. But then we encounter the wounds and scars of our own making. Peter uses a broad term to describe the battlefield of lust and sin. There may be physical consequences, but the real damage is to our personality, self-image, feelings, our reputation, how we see the world and others, and how we view God. In other words, the battlefield is our own soul.
The scars from the battle with our desires go beyond the consequences we experience but also affects our witness. People, even those we would consider our hateful enemies, do watch us. Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.” (In this instance Gentile means unbelievers.)
This is one of those cases where what we do matters more than what we say. Our words and arguments may not win the day. Not because they are faulty or even poorly said but because it is counter to what people want to hear and believe. But our actions, as the old saying goes, do speak louder than words.
At some point in time, God gives everyone a choice to surrender to Him or to go their own way. Peter calls it the day of visitation. Will our actions and choices help them choose to surrender to Jesus or give them a reason to turn away? Peter is not saying that we go along to get along, but that our choices should consistently model Christ to the unbelievers in our world.
Giving in to our fleshly desires is a conscious choice. Keeping our behavior excellent towards all, especially those who don’t yet believe, or that slander and mock, or even persecute followers of Jesus is also a choice.
Perhaps this seems like a huge burden that you can’t lift. We can’t. I know that I can’t – believe me, I tried. It’s why Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit and why we take intentional steps towards Christ each and every day. Jesus himself said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30, NASB95)