By Jonathan Moseley
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 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. 1 Peter 2:11-12
Who Are You?
That’s what this passage is all about: “Who are you?” Peter is helping Christians think about themselves the right way. This is important, because we are always tempted to think and act like the world. We would rather fit in rather than stand out. In our Western culture, the answer to, “Who are you?” usually has a lot to do with where you’re from, the degree you hold, or the career you pursue. These things don’t mean all that much to Christians. At least they shouldn’t. Yes, they’re important and beneficial and set up opportunities for us to serve. But we don’t take great pride in these things the same way the world does. For those in the world, there’s not much more to life than family pedigree, salary, and career. But Christians don’t fall for this. We know this isn’t all there is. We are sojourners and exiles.
What does that mean? At the very least, a sojourner is a wanderer. An exile is a resident of a country that’s not their own. Both have a home and both have their home in mind, but both are away from their home. This is how we are to think of ourselves as Christians. We have a home, but this world is not it. Our home is in heaven with Jesus. We are wanderers in the world, because we don’t belong to it. We belong to Jesus. Our citizenship is not here. It’s in heaven.
But I want to point something out as we embrace living as sojourners and exiles. Since we don’t make the world our home, we seem lost to everyone who does. We don't fit in. We seem like we’re the ones captive to our beliefs. The world is changing around us— evolving in its expressions of disobedience to God; yet, we don’t “progress” with society when it compromises God’s standards. The world perceives us as stuck in our ways and narrow-minded. Because of this, sojourners and exiles are strange to the world. If you don’t seem weird to others around you, then you’ve probably forgotten your real home. If your driving desire is to be well-liked among your colleagues, to move up in the corporate world, to upgrade your house and lifestyle when you get a promotion, to please your parents with your every decision, then you don’t have God’s kingdom in mind. You are just like everyone else. God’s people should be marked by differences in what they live for and how they think and what they do. That’s what makes the world “surprised that [we] do not join them in their reckless, wild-living” (1 Peter 4:4).
Did you catch that? Are others around you surprised by the way you live? How do you spend your Friday nights? What attitude do you bring into work? What is your view of money or your home or your family? Do you look like everyone else around you? Do you fit in with them? If so, you are acting more like a citizen of the world— not a sojourner or exile. Sojourners surprise the world.
You Are at War
Peter says to live as sojourners and exiles. But how? By "abstaining from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.“ This is the difference between sojourners and exiles and the Gentiles (those who do not live for Jesus)— the Holy Spirit governs and rules the life of the Christian. And for the Gentiles? The passions of the flesh rule them. But just because Christians have the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean we always follow his lead. We, too, cave to our passions of the flesh— passions that lead to putting ourselves first, passions that lead to greed and gossip, passions that lead to pornography and other forms of sexual immorality, passions that lead to the pursuit of money and fame.
As Christians, it’s not necessarily that the passions of the flesh go away; it’s that we are now able to fight them. And yes, it’s a fight. Peter says, these passions "wage war against your soul." We have the Holy Spirit. He’s our helper in this fight. But I wonder, how often do you think of this war you’re in? It’s a daily one. If you’re not aware of it, then you’ve already lost it. Here’s my plea for you from this text: pay attention to your soul. A quick prayer in the morning and a few minutes in the Bible each day is not a good strategy to keep your soul safe from the passions of the flesh. Don’t overestimate their power. These passions don’t die easily. If I was a boxer (which I’m not) and my opponent was a six year old, I wouldn’t train all that hard. I think I can handle myself against a 6 year old. However, say my opponent was someone like Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather—that’s a completely different story. The intensity of my training and intentionality and preparation will be far greater. You are at war and your opponent is massively strong.
Think about the great care you give yourself in the morning. You probably take a shower, brush your teeth (I hope so), maybe eat breakfast. You pay special attention to how you look before you go out and present yourself in public. You spend all this time preparing the external self. How much more time should you spend preparing your soul for the battles of the day? The Christian’s main business he/she sees to is their soul and getting ready for the war that’s in front of them. Don’t underestimate the passions of your flesh—it took the death of Jesus to save you from them.
Often times, strengthening your soul is going to cost you. People miss church because of their busy schedules or they feel like sleeping or a friend is in town. People lack solid, Christ-centered friendships because it takes a lot of effort. People put off confession because it messes with self-image. The demands of the day take first priority, so Word and prayer and often neglected. Heed the warning Jesus gives: "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul (Matthew 16:26)? Yes, tending to your soul may cost you your image and sleep or a brunch on Sunday. It may mean missing a meeting or letting down your boss. It may mean rearranging your schedule and making daily sacrifices. But understand, you are at war. What good is it to gain your colleague’s approval, sleep, and productivity—yet, at the same time, endanger your soul?
The War and Your Witness
Now, remember what Peter says, "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable..." Why does Peter talk about this war and then exhort us to keep our conduct honorable among the Gentiles? He answers this question for us, "so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. There’s going to be a lot about us that the world does not like. Our stance on truth and the necessity of the Gospel is often offensive. They will speak badly of us. And our behavior is going to be different than theirs. We abstain from passions of the flesh. The world does not. At the very least, we are weird, different, and strange because we do this. And on the more extreme side, we are intolerant and bigots. What the world will try to do as you embrace God’s call to holiness(=abstaining from the passions of the flesh) is label you, mock you, shun you, and worse, try to get rid of you. That’s what happened to Jesus. But though they may get up in arms over your words and disagree over the way you live, they can’t say anything against the fruit it produces in your life, namely, good deeds. In other words, one of the greatest witnesses we can give to the world is to show them what abstaining from the passions of our flesh leads to—acts of kindness, sacrifice, and love. The war is not only for your soul but also for your witness. We abstain from the passions of the flesh not only for the sake of our soul but also for the sake of the lost.
Jonathan Moseley is the Director of Community and Operations at Renewal Church.