1 Peter 2:11-12 - Repenting Warriors, Working Witnesses
September 29, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 2:11–2:12
[Text: 1 Peter 2:11-12] “Repenting Warriors, Working Witnesses”
[Read 1 Peter 2:11-12 and Pray]
Up in the mountains of our state, I had the pleasure of knowing Rene Schmidt. He was eighty when I met him, a muscular eighty year old who still hiked through the mountains with his dogs each day. But that’s who he was, always a man of action. In his youth, Rene’ Schmidt was one of the first warriors to jump out of a plane and into combat, leaping from a perfectly good airplane in the early-morning dark of June 6, 1944 – D-Day. Rene’s parachute barely slowed his descent as he fell with a gun, 100 pounds of gear, and a “cricket” into Normandy to fight the German army. The cricket wasn’t a bug, it was a little box that clicked. In the inky dark of the night, it was the way to tell friend from foe. When Rene came upon someone that night, he couldn’t see a uniform or trust an accent to tell if the person in front of him was an enemy. So, he clicked his cricket. If one click was met with two clicks, then he had a friend in the fight. If one click was met with silence, he had met his enemy.
It was a long night, Rene told me. As he joined his brothers and fought on - taking this crossroads, then that bridge – they opening the way for the Allied soldiers landing on the beach to push inland. Together, they fought against a determined enemy, but an enemy they could recognize by uniform, voice and the absence of a cricket.
This passage reminds us that we, too, are engaged in combat, a war waged closer to home than the fields of France. But our determined enemy can’t be known by a different uniform or language or signaling clicks because the enemy is in us. It is under our skin and speaks the language of our own hearts.
Peter, in v. 11, names our enemy – “the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” He’s not talking about some outside force. Elsewhere, the Scriptures make it clear that we do have enemies outside of ourselves – this fallen World and the Devil are enemies, indeed. But the focus of Peter’s concern here is “the flesh.”
When the Bible uses the phrase “the flesh” it sometimes is simply talking about our physical selves. And it doesn’t call our physical selves evil. After all, God created us as physical beings and said before the Fall, that we were “very good” (Gen. 1:31). But in some contexts, we understand that “the flesh” is talking about something in us that is radically opposed to God; “the flesh” is often held in contrast to “the Spirit” (meaning the Holy Spirit). “The Flesh,” then, is our sin nature, that deep-running rebellion against God that touches every aspect of who we are – from our wills to our wants.
Peter doesn’t speak at length about “the flesh” in this passage, so let’s get a little help understanding what he’s talking about from Paul. Paul, like Peter, understood the power of the flesh. In Romans 7:14ff. Paul writes,
“For we know that the law is spiritual [that is, of the Spirit], but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Paul is writing as a believer here, one who understands his deep rebellion against God and has turned from it and set all his hope in Jesus. But even after he has been rescued and restored to God in Jesus (which he talks about in the chapters before and after this one) – even after being saved Paul struggles against the sin that lives within him.
If you struggle with the reality that you often do what you don’t want to do – whether it’s sexual sin or over-eating, domineering over your family or rage or any of the other ways we are curved inward on ourselves – if you are a struggler who recognizes that your own heart is prone to wander from the Lord, then you’re beginning to recognize the enemy and you’re beginning to understand what is at stake.
Peter understands that to continue running after “the passions of the flesh” is destructive. It does harm to us individually. But he also understands how destructive it is to our witness in this world when believers run after these things. If we embrace all the desires the world embraces, what does that tell others about the God we’ve been called to serve? Is the Living God the same as the god of this world? Are His desires the same as the world’s? Are the things he calls lovely the same things this world finds so alluring?
So, there are two things to which this passage calls us. We are called to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” and to “(k)eep (our) conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Each have reasons attached to them and we’ll talk about them in just a moment. But first, I want us to note that each of these are forward looking commands.
So, no matter what you’ve done in the past – no matter how many times you’ve given into the “passions of the flesh” or failed to keep your conduct honorable in front of a watching world – no matter what you’ve done in the past you and I must do what every believer has had to do; repent and believe the Gospel. It is only as we confess our failure and weakness and run to Jesus as our Savior that we will be newly strengthened for the fight. It is only as we see in Jesus a better Savior than the alluring passions of the flesh that we will be able to keep our conduct in this world honorable.
And even in your grief over past failure there is a point of light, because it is, in fact, easy to run after the passions of the flesh. It’s the most natural thing in the world for a human to do. But if you recognize disobedience in your life and it grieves you, if you recognize the enemy at work in you and would turn from it to God in faith, then take hope. Hope – because if God is not at work, then we do not want to fight. In many ways, the war really only begins when God begins to rescue us from the flesh and turn us toward Christ through faith. And once the war begins, we have the assurance of our God – the Divine Warrior – that He will fight for and keep His people.
So, remember that before Peter gives these forward looking commands we’re about to dig into, he gives us the Gospel. Before he calls us to obedience, he tell us about forgiveness and living hope and future grace that comes by faith in Jesus, won by his death and resurrection.
Where we were once under the control of the flesh – our sin natures killing us and we ourselves embracing our enemy – through Christ God has claimed us as His people. Pay attention to what precedes this passage and you and I will find the motivation and the power to fight. And we’ll find the grace we need for when we fail. Before we get into the calling to war and to witness, listen again to who Peter says you are by faith in Christ;
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
This good news is the foundation of what Peter calls us to do. Because God has made us His own, you and I are called to war and to witness. You can hear it in the way Peter prefaces the call to abstain from the passions of the flesh. He says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles…” (v.11).
Peter calls believers “Beloved” as a sign of love for his fellow Christians. So, this isn’t the speech of some authoritarian kill-joy. It’s the loving words of an elder of the church who understands the destructiveness of sin. After all, Peter himself had nearly been destroyed by his own “passion” to preserve his life when he’d denied Christ three times. But Christ had prayed for Peter and Christ had died for Peter and Christ had restored Peter lovingly and gently. You and I can take hope that Christ will deal with us in the same way.
Peter urges believers to abstain from the passions of the flesh because we are “sojourners and exiles.” Like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who lived in the land God had promised to them, but lived there in tents because it was not yet theirs, believers live in this world as strangers. The new heavens and the new earth will be our home – this place, when it is made new, will be your home – but it is not yet your home. So, in faith we live here as strangers and exiles, citizens of another, heavenly country – the people of God living in Babylon until the world is made new.
Beneath this language of sojourning and exile are the promises Peter has already touched on earlier in his letter. He calls us back to remember the imperishable, undefiled and unfading inheritance that belongs to Christians and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1:3-4). He calls us back to “set (our) hope fully on the grace that will be brought to (us) at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:13) so that you and I will live today in light of what is ours in Christ.
So, when Peter then call us to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” he’s pulling us away from that which would kill us while reminding us of the living hope we have in Christ. He’s pulling us away from the sin that destroys and pushing us toward the promises of God.
Because no matter what the passions of the flesh promise, they will never deliver. They can only destroy. And to run after them whole-heartedly – never grieving, never repenting – can only lead to the destruction of the soul. The word for “soul” here is not just talking about your spiritual self. It’s a word that encompasses your whole self.
So, the sexual sin that promises escape or intimacy can only harm healthy sexuality, can only harm a marriage, can only harm a future marriage. The anger that comes when we don’t get our way can never make a situation right – such anger cannot bring about the righteousness of God (James 1:20). The food that promises comfort, the drink that promises relief, the money that promises security, the emotional revenge that promises satisfaction and the clothes that promise acceptance can never actually deliver on what they promise. On the contrary, those things can only do us harm, because they are waging war against our whole persons.
So when those temptations come, the thing that will help you abstain from the passions of the flesh are the better promises of God. What you have in Christ is better than those things, better than what those things promise, too. In Christ you are the people of God, His own possession – there is no better intimacy than that. In Christ is your righteousness, your relief, your comfort, your acceptance. Take hold of those promises when temptations come and may they sustain you in the fight – because it will absolutely be a fight. (Pause.)
As we war against the flesh for the sake of our souls, we need to be mindful that the war affects other, too. That’s why Peter calls us to “(k)eep (our) conduct among the Gentiles honorable.”
Now, the majority of Peter’s audience in the letter were Gentiles, ethnically speaking. But remember who Peter says they have become in Christ; in Christ believers are the new people of God – the new and true Israel. So, the “Gentiles” in view here are unbelievers, those outside of the faith. Peter’s call, then, is to keep our conduct among unbelievers honorable, especially in the face of a culture that doesn’t understand believers.
The early church wasn’t understood at all. The Roman culture was utterly confused by Christians and leveled all sorts of accusations of evil against them. As believers talked about the Lord’s Supper, eating the body and drinking the blood of their God, they were charged with cannibalism. When they greeted one another with a holy kiss, calling one another “brother” and “sister” even as husband and wife, they were charged with incest. As they rejected the Roman pantheon of gods for the One True God, they were called atheists and branded as the reasons for natural disasters. Because they believed in the equality of every believer, they were charges as social revolutionaries who were upsetting the established order.
But as Christians kept their conduct honorable – simple faithfulness in areas like sexuality and money and parenting – all of the accusations were shown to be lies. More than that, unbelieving husbands who were legally free to kill their wives or children were confronted with Christian men who loved their wives as Christ loved the Church and welcomed abandoned children into their family as equals with their own.
When these early Christians followed the example of Christ and fought to be faithful even though they suffered for it, the watching world began to recognize that these were the people of God, just like the Roman centurion who saw the way Christ suffered and died – praying for the forgiveness of those crucifying him – was led to confess Jesus as the Son of God (Mark 15:39).
That is the hope Peter concludes with in v. 12. Our fight against the flesh and our pursuit of honorable, faithful works in the ordinary things of life has a purpose – to silence accusations and to confront a watching world with the glory of God in the hopes that God will draw them to Himself just as He has drawn us. This is what Jesus meant when he said, ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 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.” (Matthew 5:14-16) God has made you His people so that you might live as His people, following His ways, so that through you He might draw more and more people to Himself and be seen and worshipped as the glorious God He is.
All this leads to some practical questions for us. First, how well do you know yourself? What are the passions of the flesh that are most alluring to you? If something just popped into your head, then I have another question to ask you. How is Jesus a better Savior than that thing? What promise is it making to you and what has it actually delivered? And what promise does Christ make to you that He has and will deliver on? These can be difficult questions to answer on your own. So who can help you ask and answer them? You have elders here and brothers and sisters who are willing to fight with you and preach the Gospel to you when you fail.
Second, what does it mean for us to keep our conduct among unbelievers honorable today?
Well, for one thing it means that believers need to be present in their community, visible and engaged with those outside the church. The call here isn’t, however, to a specific evangelism program or to door-to-door witnessing. This is a call to faithfulness in the ordinary. Faithfulness to Christ in your grocery shopping. Honorable conduct toward the bank teller who messed up your deposit. Praying for those who make you suffer. Showing the worthiness and beauty of Jesus in your painting and teaching and parenting and marriage and plumbing and doctoring and salesmanship. Listen, we’re not talking about perfection in these things and we’re certainly not talking about putting on a mask of perfection in these areas. What we’re talking about is faithfulness and living so as to honor the God who has made us His own.
So, when we’re talking about faithfulness in these areas we’re also talking about repentance when we blow it. A willingness to be seen as a screw up who trusts in Jesus; to say that what we’ve done is displeasing to God and then go back to our belief in our faithful Savior is part of biblical faithfulness. And it is one of the greatest witnesses to unbelievers that there is something different about us. Visible repentance and faith is powerful in the hands of God.
So, fight against the flesh. Abstain from the passions of the flesh that would do you grievous harm. Live as a repenting warrior and a working witness to the glory of God. But remember the Gospel that says this; for the one whose faith is in Jesus, the issue is no longer about victory or defeat. In Christ you are already more than a conqueror. By faith in Jesus you have already died to sin and are alive to God. Christ has already won the victory for his people. Our part now is to live in obedience to the one who ransomed us for Himself.
That’s how Rene Schmidt lived – not perfectly, mind you – but God used that warrior to be a witness to Christ. When Rene came home from the war, he left one battlefield for another because some neighbors shared the Gospel with him – the victory of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And as Rene began to recognize the enemy (not needing the cricket to tell you that it was his own flesh) and would tell you of his weakness in the fight, still his hope was in Christ. And he wanted the world to know the God who’d rescued him.
So, this old warrior and his wife opened their home and began a gathering known as the Greenhouse – the place where the seed of the Gospel was planted in Bible studies and new believers began to bloom. Housewives and businessmen and old hippies alike watched this husband love his wife and watched them follow the Lord in the ordinary things of life. And as they saw Rene they began to see past him to the God who was at work through Rene. And hundreds of them came to the Lord through that old warrior’s witness.
No matter what you’ve done, no matter what yesterday looked like (or last night or this morning), the mercies of God are new today and right now. Today is the day to be a repenting warrior against the flesh, believing that you have better promises in Christ. Today is the day to live in front of this world – your corner of it anyway – in a way that honors Christ in the ordinary things. Today is the day to continue embracing Christ by faith and remember who we are in him – the new people of God; guarded by the Divine Warrior Himself (1:5).
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”