Warren Wiersbe wrote of Native American chiefs and warriors who met in 1805 at Buffalo Creek, New York, to hear a minister from the Boston Missionary Society present the gospel. In response, Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs, responded: “Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said.”
This illustration is not about race relations. It is about gospel influence. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “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.” We proclaim the excellencies of our heavenly Father with our lips and our lives. We must practice what we preach.
This is the pastoral concern of our text. Peter wrote to local churches in Asia Minor. They needed to know how to live for Christ in a hostile society that would soon persecute them for their faith. Yet Peter wants the church to reach the unbelieving society, not just resist it. Evangelism is not a central theme of 1 Peter. It is an undercurrent that flows throughout the letter. The church should be living advertisements of the difference Jesus makes.
1 Peter 2:11-12 is a bridge that transitions to the second major section of the letter.
- 1 Peter 1:1-2:10 is about the Christian’s salvation.
- 1 Peter 2:11-3:12 is about the Christian’s submission.
In this section, Peter instructs these elect exiles to submit to the civil authorities that will soon persecute them. He will instruct household servants to be submissive to their masters, even if they are harsh. He will instruct believing wives to submit to their husbands, even if they disobey the word. First, in this pivotal passage, Peter urges his readers to bring their own sinful desires under submission and conduct themselves in a way that glorifies God. This passage teaches Christian living in a hostile world. The Christian life is the sanctified life. 1 Peter 2:11-12 teaches us how to live as Christians in private and public.
Living with Holiness in Private.
Verse 11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Consider the tone of this appeal. It is a loving tone. Peter addresses his readers as “Beloved.” This is the first time Peter uses this term. He uses it seven more times in his two epistles. Here is the bond we share in Christ. Peter had not met his readers in person. Yet he loved them. Moreover, the Lord loved them. It is also an urgent tone. Peter says, “I urge you.” Holiness is not a secondary issue in the Christian life. It is a matter of utmost importance.
- Who urges you to be holy?
- How do you cultivate holiness?
Embrace Kingdom Citizenship. Before Peter calls the church to holiness, he states the grounds of his appeal. We are “sojourners and exiles.” “Sojourners” means to live beside the house. It is to live in a place that is not your home. “Exiles” is synonymous with “sojourners.” It is to be a resident alien in a foreign land. These terms describe the spiritual and social condition of Peter’s readers. They were the redeemed people of God in Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.”
We are in the world, but not of the world. Philippians 3:20 says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Christians have dual citizenship. We are citizens of nations of the earth and the kingdom of heaven. Dual citizenship is not equal citizenship. Our allegiance to Christ supersedes our allegiance to a country. This world is not our home.
- We worship heaven’s king.
- We obey heaven’s laws.
- We serve heaven’s agenda.
- We proclaim heaven’s message.
- We seek heaven’s reward.
To live on earth as citizens of heaven will result in alienation. We do not withdraw from society or shun lost people. But we do not subscribe to the false value system of the world. 1 Peter 4:4 says, “With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” But we live for the approval of Christ, not man. Galatians 6:14 says, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Practice Inward Purity. Verse 11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh.”“Abstain” means to hold yourself away from something. It is renunciation, not mere rejection. Holiness is not cultivated by seeing how close you can get to temptation without sinning. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Abstain from every form of evil.” Peter says, “Abstain from the passions of the flesh.” It is a command in a grammatical emphasis that denotes continual action or habitual activity.
This is not “Let go and let God” sanctification. By the Spirit’s enabling help, we can and must abstain from sinful desires. “Passions” is a neutral term for strong desire. Any desire that is corrupted by the “flesh”– unredeemed human nature. Our bodies are not sinful. Our flesh is. Iniquity can turn legitimate desires into sinful cravings. It is more than sensual or sexual desires. It is a passion for anything contrary to the will of God. You do not have to be dominated by the passions of the flesh. You can abstain from sinful desires.
Many promote behavioral abstinence. True godliness works from the inside out. Behavior changes when desires change. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The springwill not be pure if the source is not pure. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Resist Spiritual Attacks. Verse 11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Feel the tension between “flesh” and “soul.”
The flesh represents our relationship to sin. The soul represents our relationship to God. 1 Peter 1:9 says the outcome of our faith is the salvation of our souls. But remaining sin wars against our souls. Peter does not say the passions of the flesh wage war for your soul. If your heart belongs to Christ, your soul belongs to God. But fleshly passions wage war against your soul. We have three enemies of the soul:
- The devil is our infernal enemy.
- The world is our external enemy.
- The flesh is our internal enemy.
Peter is not talking about the world or the devil here. Here is talking about the civil war within us. The flesh is a playground for the unbeliever. It is a battleground for the believer. The flesh presents sinful desires to you as innocent, harmless, and pleasurable. In reality, the flesh is waging war against your soul. Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
This is not a hand-to-hand fight. It is a prolonged military campaign. You cannot claim victory because you prevail in a specific battle. There will be many battles to fight. Do not confuse a cease-fire with a peace treaty. Galatians 5:16-17 says, “But I say, walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”
Live with Honor in Public.
Verse 11 is the negative aspect of sanctification. Verse 12 is the positive aspect of sanctification. Likewise, verse 12 transitions from our private life to our public life. We are to abstain from the passions of the flesh for our own soul’s sake. We are to conduct ourselves honorably for the good of others and the glory of God.
The Practice of Honorable Conduct. Godliness is about more than what you refrain from doing. It is about your habitual conduct. Sanctification involves fulling weeds and planting flowers. Verse 12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Christian conduct is a key theme of this letter. 1 Peter 1:15 says, “Be holy in all your conduct.” 1 Peter 3:1-2 says the respectful and pure conduct of believing wives can win their disobedient husbands without a word. 1 Peter 3:16 says good conduct in Christ will put to shame those who revile us.
Peter says our conduct among the Gentiles should be honorable. “Gentiles” should be read spiritually, not ethnically. As verse 9 describes believers in language the Old Testament reserves for Israel, this verse describes unbelievers as the surrounding nations. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” But the church should not be a holy huddlethat segregates Christians from cultural engagement. We impact society by infiltration, not isolation.
Matthew 5:14-16 calls us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Unsalty salt or dark lightis worthless. Likewise, gospel usefulness requires we stand up and stand out. The church should not avoid political debate, cultural issues, or social justice. But the church should show up as the church. Verse 12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable.” Honorable conduct is good conduct. Two Greek words are translated “good” in the New Testament; one is good in essence; the other is good in appearance. The latter term is used here. It is that which is good and shows itself to be good.
Peter does not tell Christians to live in a way that other Christians merely affirm. He tells us to live in a way that is affirmed by the non-Christian culture. In common grace, noble, beautiful, virtuous behavior is acknowledged by those who do not acknowledge God. But we should try to reach the world by living on the world’s terms. We should live in such a godly way that ungodly people recognize something different about us but cannot attribute it to us. Acts 11:26 says, “And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.” The disciples did not call themselves Christians. And it was not a compliment. It was an indictment that accused the disciples of acting like Jesus. Revival won’t come until we start acting like Jesus!
The Purpose of Honorable Conduct. Verse 12 says, “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.” We should practice honorable conduct because of what unbelievers say and see.
What Unbelievers Say. Verse 12 says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers.” Here is why it is futile to live for the applause of the world. Even if your conduct is honorable, the world will still speak against you. In the coming chapters, Peter will address the suffering of the saints. Here he warns that persecution is verbal before it is physical. The world will call honorable people “evildoers.” The term is only used by Peter, except once. In John 18:30, the religious leaders told Caiaphas they brought Jesus to him because he was an evildoer.
Matthew 5:11 says, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” This was the reality of the Christians to whom Peter wrote. They were even called “atheists” because they did not practice emperor worship. We are living through a rapid cultural shift in which the church is slandered as evildoers. A lot of Christians these days emphasize speaking truth to power. In most instances, they only speak the truth the power agrees with. We are more concerned about being on the right side of history than the right side of eternity. Who is willing to apologetically proclaim the truth of Christ without fear of being canceled?
What Unbelievers See. Plato was told about a man who slandered him. He replied, “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.” This is the evangelistic strategy Peter commends. The world may call you an evildoer. Do not defend yourself, argue your case, or shout them down. Let them “see your good deeds.” The verb “see” is to careful and critical observation over time. “Good deeds” are not outreach events. It is a life of doing good to unbelieving friends, relatives, neighbors, classmates, and coworkers. 1 Peter 3:1-2 says, “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.”
Let them see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. The day of visitation may refer to judgment or salvation. In the Old Testament, the term typically refers to divine judgment. But Luke 1:78associates it with the tender mercy of God. Luke 19:44 warns of the consequences of not repenting and believing in the time of visitation. There will be a final day of visitation. However, before the Lord visits in judgment, he visits in mercy. An honorable life of good deeds can be the platform upon which lost people hear the gospel, repent of their sin, and trust in Christ. Matthew 5:16 says, “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.”
You are writing a gospel, a chapter a day. By the deeds that you do and the words that you say. Men read what you write, whether faithless or true, Hey, what is the gospel according to you?