In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Three truths that help us overcome the power of the flesh.
Peter, the most famous fisherman in world history, exhorted his persecuted Asia Minor brethren to abstain from fleshy lusts way back in the sixties of the first century.
The acclaimed disciple wrote: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims to abstain from fleshy lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Since Peter sent his epistle to believers, we may infer from the verse that even Christians are tempted by fleshy lusts.
Happily, however, the verse also teaches us three truths that help us in our warfare, namely, 1) we are loved; 2) we are pilgrims; and 3) we are soldiers.
Let’s get cracking…
1.- We are loved
Peter follows a strict and purposeful pattern throughout his first letter. Before talking about ethics and sanctification, he preaches the Gospel. His book kicks off preaching the Gospel and its blessed effects in the first twelve verses. Only then does the apostle make the switch to ethics from 1:13 onwards.
Paul, another distinguished servant of the Lord, reasoned in the same matter in his epistles. First doctrine, then sanctification!
In our verse (2:11), Peter is going to call the Turkish saints to deny fleshy lusts, but before doing so he reminds them that they are “dearly beloved”. His intention is to comfort the hearts of God’s beloved sheep and to give them strength to wage a good warfare against the flesh.
The saints are loved by God the Father who elected them before the foundation of the world through no merit of their own but by the pure free and sovereign pleasure of the Almighty.
They are loved by God the Son who shed His precious blood for His highly-esteemed church. They are loved by God the Spirit who applied the impeccable work of Christ to their unregenerate hearts, raising them up from the dead. Furthermore, to add some icing to the cake, God’s children are loved by all of their brothers and sisters in the Lord!
So the first rule of Christian ethics is not recalling what we must do; but keeping in mind what has been done for us. Love has been lavishly bestowed upon us! Therefore when temptation comes, we are to preach the Gospel to ourselves and to say to our souls: “You are dearly beloved!”
2.- We are strangers and pilgrims
We foreigners are a bit rare. I have been living in Spain for the best part of ten years now and I am still as British as I ever was. You can tell it by my accent, my punctuality, my love for black tea (blessed be Tetley’s and PG Tips!) and my unique red hair. It is tough for us strangers to fit in.
No matter how long we live abroad, there is always something that marks us out as different.
The same rule applied to the recipients of Peter’s letter. Not only were the majority of them foreigners in a nationalist sense, but they were also spiritual strangers and pilgrims like the father of the faith, Abraham, who –in spite of amassing hoards of goods- never felt quite at home in the world as he longed for the city of God. The Christian knows that this world is not his home. He is just a-passing through! His loyalties lie elsewhere.
Fleshy lusts are of this world here below. This means that they are to be fought against as enemies of our heavenly citizenship. Although we are mocked and spat upon in this world due to our love for God, the good news is that we are well-known and well-loved in heaven.
The Father knows us by name. The Son intercedes for us continually. The Spirit assures our perseverance.
Since we are not of this world, we must not indulge in fleshy lusts. To do so would be to betray our homeland and our beloved heavenly family. As beloved strangers and pilgrims, we are to turn a blind eye to the poisonous whims of the ever-present flesh.
3.- We are soldiers
Finally, Peter points out that we are to, “abstain from fleshy lusts which war against the soul”. In other words, my friends, we are in a war! The Christian is in a battle! The Christian life is one continual scrap.
As soldiers we are under the orders of another. We are not our own. Our captain calls the shots. So if he tells us to abstain; we are to do so whether we feel like it or not. One friend of mine is a soldier in the Spanish army and several times he has fallen asleep whilst standing as he has spent whole days without going to bed!
Soldiers, as disciplined servants, abstain from even legitimate pleasures (food, drink, sleep, recreation, etc.) in order to defend their nation.
Soldiers must not flirt about with enemies. Such a procedure would be considered high treason. Every fallen desire that does not come from our renewed nature which the Spirit has wrought in us is to be axed down in the name of the Lord of hosts. Soldiers are brave, upright and faithful to the end. May the Lord mould us all into being such vessels!
One final observation worth taking into consideration is that Peter is not writing his epistle to unbelievers. The unregenerate cannot overcome their perverted lusts. They have no power to do so.
The apostle is dealing with God’s people. Thanks to the blessed work of the Spirit of God in granting us spiritual life, we may now obey God whereas we were unable to do so before.
So here are three steps towards overcoming those accursed fleshy lusts which so often assail us:
- Remember that you are dearly loved.
- Remember that you are a pilgrim.
- Remember that you are a soldier.
Let’s fight the good fight for the glory of our Saviour!