Conflict within and conflict without (II)
1 Peter 2:9-12 ESV
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. 10 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.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 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.
Previously I reminded you how God’s saints have been made to be God’s people in order to show, declare, proclaim God’s praises and Peter is now urging them to do that. Peter urges them “to abstain” and then, in verse 12, he urges them “to keep your conduct honourable”. We could say that he strongly urges them to abstain and maintain. Stop doing certain things and continue doing certain other things.
It’s worth repeating, these aren’t just instructions that he’s throwing out because they sound like a good idea. They are given in a context that shows that there are important reasons for these instructions. In the hymn we’ve been singing we had the words:
“Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come”
That could provide good titles for today’s sermon such as “Many a conflict” or “Fightings within, without”. You see, Peter’s instructions are given because believers in Christ live in a context of conflict and his instructions make it clear that there is both conflict within and there is conflict without. Let’s now apply ourselves to understanding the:
When you look at verse 11 it is clear that there is a conflict because we read the words: “which wage war”. A war is being fought. There is a conflict. The proper sense of the Greek here is actually “which continually wage war”. We’ve recently seen the commemoration of the D-Day landings. That reminds us of the awful conflict in the Second World War. Long and protracted as it was, that conflict eventually ended but peter is speaking of a continual conflict. Neither is it an occasional hostility that breaks out from time to time. It’s not referring to intermittent border skirmishes but an ongoing, concerted opposition. Why do I describe this as a conflict within or an inner conflict? Well, in any war or conflict there is an aggressor who attacks or wages war and there’s a defender who is being attacked.
In verse 11 we find that the aggressor that wages war is described as “the passions of the flesh” and the defender that is under attack is described as “your soul”. Now, “the passions of the flesh” are within you and “your soul” is the real inner you. So, this is a conflict within. Peter says that there is a battle raging within you. You’ll remember that, back in the days of the miners’ strike in the 1980s, Margaret Thatcher provocatively dubbed the miners as “the enemy within”. The appropriateness of that term was a matter of personal opinion. It depended on your point of view. To her supporters that description perfectly hit the nail on the head while to many others it was callous and deeply offensive. In the case of believers in Christ, God’s people who are sojourners and exiles, we most certainly do have an enemy within. We know that from experience but, unlike Margaret Thatcher’s “enemy within”, that is not just a matter of personal opinion or your point of view. The fact is that the Word of God tells us of this “enemy within”. It describes it as “the passions of the flesh”.
What are these “passions of the flesh” that are waging war against “your soul”?
Well, we’ve already come across this word “passions”. You’ll remember that back in chapter 1 verse 14 Peter said: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance”. Another word for “passions” would be “desires”. When we looked at 1 Peter 1v14 we recognised that “passions” or “desires” can be good or bad. The word itself is neutral. The passions Peter had in mind in 1 Peter 1v14 were to be avoided because he was speaking of “the passions of your former ignorance”. By that he meant the natural passions or desires that controlled you before you came to faith in Christ. Here, he’s speaking of the same thing but he describes them as “the passions of the flesh”.
Now, the word flesh here doesn’t refer to our physical human bodies. Rather, it refers to our fallen, sinful human nature. So, “the passions of the flesh” are the desires that are generated by our fallen, sinful human nature. Consequently, they are sinful desires, natural desires that we have apart from the work of the Spirit. As believers in Christ we’re not exempt from such sinful desires. In recognising that, we mustn’t rationalise them away. We mustn’t view them as just being a disappointing and annoying irritation.
The reality is that they “wage war against your soul”.
We must view them as a powerful army that is attacking us. Sometimes you can be under attack and you can just shrug it off because it isn’t very serious. You can stand aloof and rise above it but in this case it’s our very souls that are under attack. That’s serious. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 16v26: “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?” You see, your soul is the most important thing that you have. The well-being of your soul is of paramount importance. Sometimes in warfare there can be strategic reasons for giving up certain things. It might be expedient to surrender some ground to the enemy so that you can better defend what really matters most. Well, in this spiritual warfare within, it is your soul that matters most so the last thing you want to do is forfeit your soul.
So, what is the Christian response to such an attack on your soul to be?
You might expect it to be to “fight against” the enemy, to “join in battle with” the aggressor, to “stand toe to toe and slug it out”. It could be the cue for Peter to launch into a rousing, Churchillian, “fight them on the beaches” type speech”. But, so much in the Christian life is topsy turvy. It’s counter intuitive. It’s the opposite of what is commonplace in the world. That’s the case here too. We see that Peter does not urge us to stand up and fight. Rather, he says: “abstain from the passions of the flesh”. Paul expresses a similar thought in slightly different words in Romans 13v14 where he says: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”.
Peter says to “abstain from the passions of the flesh”.
Paul says to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”.
Both are saying to not engage with “the passions of the flesh”. Both are saying to not be involved with “the passions of the flesh” but, rather, to have nothing to do with them. Steer clear of them. Keep away from them. Joseph provides us with a good example of this. Look at Gen 39v6b-8a where we read: “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused”. That was Potiphar’s wife seeking to seduce Joseph. She was trying to inflame his passions and to get him to submit to “the passions of the flesh”. Joseph abstained from those passions and refused her advances. Like the passions of the flesh, she didn’t take “no” for an answer. We see that she was persistent because we read in Gen 39v11-12:“But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house”.
The best way to fight against “the passions of the flesh” is to run away from them! In physical warfare, victory certainly doesn’t come by running away from the enemy but when it comes to the spiritual conflict within running away is the way to victory. That is the way to win the battle for your soul.
Next, let us consider post we will consider:
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!