11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Recently Phil Donahue came to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to broadcast several of his television shows. His coming prompted the efforts of a local dentist to have his programs scheduled later in the evening so young children would not be corrupted by the kinds of material he and others seem to relish. How we hoped some fearless saint could expose him as the closest thing to a pornographer found on daytime television.
By nearly popular opinion, it did not happen, and we probably should never have thought it would. Even if there had been a time when Christians could think of themselves as part of a “moral majority,” it will not be so for long. We Americans have been living in a kind of fairy-tale world. For most of our nation’s history, Christian values have closely approximated the values held by our culture. Quickly those days are coming to an end, thanks in part to social engineers like Mr. Donahue. Christian views and values are no longer tolerated as the “high road of morality” but scoffed at as backward and bigoted. Christians are beginning to be viewed as those our society would be better off without.
Such a response would not have taken the apostle Peter by surprise; in fact, he would have expected it. In our text, Peter tells us we should expect some to react to godly living. While we are obligated to live exemplary lives as we dwell among ungodly people, we should not expect to be praised for it; indeed, we should not even expect praise in this life. Holiness is a matter of obedience and hope. In our text, Peter tells us why godly living should be our goal, even when we must pay a price for it in this life.
We never think of Peter as a man of few words, but here in only two verses Peter sums up the essence of true spirituality. Peter speaks in verse 11 of the spiritual life in terms of our personal piety. In verse 12, he capsulizes the essence of our spirituality in terms of our public piety. If we would walk worthy of our calling, we must pay careful attention to these words of Peter, a man writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit about the things he has learned, which each of us must learn as well.
11a Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers …
The tone of verse 11 is completely consistent with that of verses 4-10. Peter issues no “papal decree” or authoritarian edict. Rather, he speaks tenderly to his readers as the “beloved,” the beloved of God and of those whom he loves as well. Rather than issue a command, Peter “urges” his readers to act on the basis of gratitude, not on the basis of his authority (although this apostolic authority should not be minimized). Just as Paul does in Romans 12:1, Peter exhorts his readers on the basis of divine mercy:
1 I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, [which is] your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1, emphasis mine).
10 For you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:10-11, emphasis mine).
Peter has just laid the foundation for our conduct in this present world in verses 4-10 where he defines our identity in relation to Christ and in contrast to the unbeliever. Our identity as “the people of God” (verse 10) becomes the basis for our conduct in the world. As citizens of heaven (see also Philippians 3:20), we are “aliens and strangers” in this world. We must therefore live in a way which sets us apart.
The concept of “aliens and sojourners” was a familiar one to Peter and other New Testament writers. It had been introduced early in the Old Testament where Abraham was a sojourner in the promised land, a land he never owned in his lifetime (Genesis 12:10; 17:8; 20:1; 21:23, 34; 23:4). So it was also with Isaac (Genesis 26:3) and his son Jacob (Genesis 28:4; 32:4). The nation Israel sojourned in Egypt (Genesis 47:7; Deuteronomy 26:5). Even when God delivered the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage and brought them into the land of promise, they were still “sojourners” on God’s land (Leviticus 25:23; 1 Chronicles 29:15). The writer to the Hebrews describes all the Old Testament saints as aliens or sojourners:
13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that [country] from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better [country], that is a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
It comes as no surprise then that Peter refers to his readers as “aliens and strangers:”
1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen (1 Peter 1:1).
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
The believer’s identity is the basis for his conduct. Having assured them of the certainty of their future hope in Christ in 1 Peter 1:1-12, Peter now calls for commitment:
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).
Those who have trusted in Christ for salvation, and fixed their hope on the grace He will bring at His second coming, become increasingly aware that they have changed their citizenship. Before trusting in Christ, we were outsiders with respect to the kingdom of God, but as believers in Him, we are now insiders, “fellow citizens with the saints.”
11 Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” [which is] performed in the flesh by human hands—12 [remember] that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.… 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner [stone], 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:11-13,19-22).
In Philippians, Paul sums up the truth of the Ephesians 2 passage even more concisely:
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).
Peter teaches the same truth in the second chapter of his first epistle. In verses 4-10, Peter described the identity of Gentile believers using the terminology once used in reference to the nation Israel. Because our citizenship is now in heaven, Peter exhorts us to conduct ourselves in this life as “aliens and strangers.” “Aliens” and “sojourners” know that “home” is heaven, not this earth. Paul knew where “home” was:
1 For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For indeed in this [house] we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; 3 inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. 4 For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. 6 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:1-8).
All Christians should have this view about their “home.” While many attempt to technically define “alien” and “sojourner,” my recollection of a song from another generation best conveys the sense of both words:
This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through, My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door, And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.
11b … abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul.
We have seen that in a gentle, brotherly way Peter urges us to conduct our lives as “aliens and strangers, abstaining from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” The New International Version misses much of the point by rendering the verse in this way:
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul (NIV).
The problem arises in paraphrasing the Greek term “sinful” rather than “fleshly.” Fleshly desires are “sinful,” but that is not Peter’s entire point. Fleshly desires are “earthly” desires which pertain to this life and to our flesh. Fleshly desires are those illicit desires which originated at the fall, and they are the basis for our attachment to this world, Satan, and sin.
21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans 7:21-23).
Fleshly lusts are human desires which stem from our depravity and seek fulfillment outside the boundaries of righteousness.56 They simply cannot be overcome by human effort and asceticism. They are only overcome by the power of the indwelling Spirit as we “walk in the Spirit:”
4 In order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able [to do so]; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 10 And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you. 12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God (Romans 8:4-14).
Unlike many Christians and evangelists today, Jesus did not appeal to men on the basis of their fleshly lusts. Rather, He called upon men to deny fleshly lusts to follow Him. Rather than appeal to man’s greed and materialism, Jesus called on those who would follow Him to give up their attachment to things (Matthew 6:19-24; Mark 10:21; Luke 9:57-62; 16:1-31). When the disciples sought power and prestige for themselves, Jesus spoke to them about servanthood (Mark 9:33-35; 10:35-45). Jesus spoke of those who obeyed His Father’s will as His family (Mark 3:31-35), and He taught His disciples that family must not come before their allegiance to Him (Luke 9:57-62; 14:25-25; see also Mark 10:29-30). One should rather be deprived of a member of his body than to sin against God (Matthew 5:27-30).57
There is a reason for the sequence of Peter’s teaching in verses 11 and 12. Not only does Peter deal with both personal and public piety in verses 11 and 12, but he also shows us that internal (piety) is prerequisite to external (public) piety.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day did not have internal piety. They had only the pretense of external piety, while on the inside they were rotten, driven by fleshly lusts:
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. 27 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:25-27).
Because the Pharisees had no internal piety, they always concentrated on appearances rather than on the heart. For this reason, the things in which they took pride were an offense to God:
15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
Jesus insists in His Sermon on the Mount (5:21-48) that the Law dealt with much more than external matters; it dealt with the heart. He taught that rather than just avoid external sins we must deal with the root sins from which they flow. Thus, we must not only abstain from murder but from anger and unresolved conflicts (5:21-26). We must not just avoid adultery but its roots of lust (5:27-32). Defilement comes from within, not from without (Mark 7:14-23). The words proceeding from our lips come forth from the heart (Matthew 12:34).
It is helpful to understand what Peter means by “fleshly lusts.” The term “lusts” is similar to the New Testament term “tempt” in that both terms have two very different meanings indicated only by the context.58 The root word which underlies “lusts” is used for “desire” in a very broad range of meanings. On one end of the spectrum, it is used to depict our Lord’s “desire” to observe Passover with His disciples (Luke 22:15) and the “desire” (longing) of the angels to look into God’s earthly redemption of man (1 Peter 1:12). It is used of Lazarus’ desire (appetite) to eat the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21) and the prodigal’s desire to fill his empty belly with the food of the pigs he was tending (Luke 15:16). On the other end of the spectrum, the term is used with the negative connotation of an illicit or sinful desire. In such instances, the word is rendered “lust,” “covet,” or “crave” (Romans 7:7; 1 Corinthians 10:6; James 4:2).
Peter’s own words in the rest of his epistles provide an adequate sense of what he means in our text:
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts [which were yours] in your ignorance (1 Peter 1:14, emphasis mine).
1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you]; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5, emphasis mine).59
4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of [the] divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust (2 Peter 1:4, emphasis mine).
9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery and that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the [son] of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness, 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression; [for] a dumb donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are springs without water, and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant [words] of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:9-19, emphasis mine).
“Lusts” are those appetites or desires we have by virtue of our fallen human nature. They are not sinful acts, but the desire to perform acts which are for self-gratification rather than for the glory of God. Carried out, these “lusts” result in sin (see 1 Peter 4:3). The “lusts” of which Peter speaks are “former lusts,” those which characterized his readers as unbelievers in a state of ignorance. They are also “lusts” which have an on-going appeal. When submitted to, these lusts shape (conform) us to them (1 Peter 1:14).
How should we then deal with fleshly lusts? We are not left without help. Peter gives a very concise word of advice on how we should deal with fleshly lusts—we are to avoid them. Other texts of Scripture shed light on how we avoid them:
14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts (Romans 13:14).
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).
24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24).
17 This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:17-23 emphasis mine).
5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
While necessary negative attitudes and actions are required of us, one principle means of dealing with fleshly lusts is quite positive. A friend of mine has said, “Don’t create a vacuum; crowd evil out.” Unfortunately, Christians are often characterized by the word “Don’t.” We are thought of in terms of what we don’t do rather than what we do. When our hope is fixed on heaven, our desires begin to shift from earthly, material things to things eternal. We begin to “use” material things for God and His glory rather than give ourselves to them as slaves. A heart full of desire for the coming of Christ and His kingdom has less place for fleshly lusts.
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Having spoken of our inner piety in verse 11—of our abstaining from fleshly lusts—Peter moves on to our outward, public piety in verse 12. Several assumptions underlie his command to “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles” (emphasis mine). First, Peter assumes we will not be physically separated from unbelievers but we will live among them. Second, our conduct as Christians—our daily manner of life—should set us apart from the world. Third, Peter expects Christians to believe and behave in a way significantly different from unbelievers, who are only of this world.
Peter’s exhortation in verse 12 provides us with several important principles pertaining to true spirituality as it relates to our public piety. Allow me to highlight several of these principles.
How often have I heard it said, “My religious beliefs are a very personal thing.” Translated, this means, “I don’t want to talk about religion.” Jesus never allowed us the option of having a strictly personal faith. The essence of the Old Testament Law is summed up in two commands: (1) love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:34-39; Mark 12:28-31). One’s love for God and his love for his neighbor requires attitudes and actions open to public scrutiny.
Peter’s previous words make it evident that the Christian’s conduct is to serve as a public witness:
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR [God’s] OWN POSSESSION, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Someone may challenge the public dimensions of our piety, pointing to these words spoken by our Lord:
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).
Peter simply reiterates the teaching of the Lord Jesus, and there is no conflict between his teaching and that of his Lord.
Our Lord’s words recorded in Matthew 6:1 are a part of a larger message known as the Sermon on the Mount. In that same sermon Jesus has already said,
14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do [men] light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
Jesus expected His disciples to stand apart from the world in which they lived. He taught that it is impossible to be a true disciple and not be noticed as “light” in a dark place.
Jesus did not oppose demonstrating righteousness before men; He opposed the public display of religious rituals (prayer, fasting, almsgiving) rather than godly conduct in our relations with men. Jesus was rebuking acts of Pharisaical self-righteousness performed to gain the praise of men and not the praise of God. They were seeking the praise of men now rather than awaiting divine reward in heaven. Jesus calls for His disciples to live out His righteousness in their daily conduct. He lets them know this may result not in man’s praise but in persecution. They should nevertheless persist in their newly-found righteousness (His righteousness), rejoicing that their reward is their future hope:
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when [men] cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 12 Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).
Peter tells us our conduct is to be “excellent.”60 As William Barclay indicates, the word “excellent” speaks of something beautiful, something praiseworthy:
“In Greek there are two words for good. There is agathos, which simply means good in quality; and there is kalos, which means not only good but also lovely—fine, attractive, winsome. That is what honestus means in Latin. So what Peter is saying is that the Christian must make his whole way of life so lovely and so good to look upon that the slanders of his heathen enemies may be demonstrated to be false.”61
The world tends to look at Christians in terms of what they don’t do rather than in terms of their contributions to the world. This is not to say that Christians can avoid the stigma of being separatistic. Being holy means leaving behind many of the practices we once engaged in as unbelievers (see 1 Peter 4:3-4). But since we will seldom find the world eager to praise us for what we avoid, we must also be diligent to do those things which are beneficial and therefore praiseworthy.
While we were saved in order to inherit God’s blessings, we were also called to be a blessing (see Genesis 12:2; Zechariah 8:13; Galatians 3:14; 1 Peter 3:9). Our conduct should be such that it adorns the doctrine we profess and proclaim:
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips, nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, 4 that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 [to be] sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonored. 6 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; 7 in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, [with] purity in doctrine, dignified, 8 sound [in] speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us. 9 [Urge] bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10 not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:3-10, emphasis mine).
It is true that living a life that is pleasing to God is the most peaceable path:
7 When a man’s ways are pleasing to the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).
But it is not true that piety will always result in peace.
34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW, 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD” (Matthew 10:34-36).
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).
Righteousness provokes a variety of responses. We see this in the response of men to our Lord and in the responses of men to our excellent conduct. Peter implies that living a godly life may result in the drawing of some to faith (1 Peter 3:15) and also may bring a favorable response (1 Peter 3:10-12). In the case of those who ignorantly accuse the righteous of wrong-doing, our conduct should be sufficient to silence their foolish and ignorant accusations (1 Peter 2:15). But here in our text, Peter indicates ungodly men may be expected to unjustly accuse and attack the Christian because of his goodness.
Who could accuse our Lord of wrong-doing? And yet men did. Do we wonder why? Because goodness threatens evil men. The opposition to our Lord and the accusations of His wrong-doing came from the wicked Pharisees whose hearts were evil even though they put on a good front. They accused Jesus because He associated with sinners whom He came to save (Luke 5:28-32). They accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath rather than praising Him for healing a woman who had suffered for 18 years (Luke 13:10-16).
Perhaps the most surprising reaction to Jesus is His deliverance of the demoniac, a man who had endangered the people of that part of the country so that men feared to use the road near the cemetery where he roamed about like an animal:
1 And they came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes. 2 And when He had come out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, 3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones.… 14 And their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and [out] in the country. And [the people] came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 And those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [all] about the swine. 17 And they began to entreat Him to depart from their region (Mark 5:1-5, 14-17).
Paul’s preaching and ministry often provoked a negative reaction. When he delivered a demon-possessed girl from her bondage, her owners were angry, accusing Paul of crimes of which he was innocent (Acts 16:16-21). When the preaching of the gospel began to make a dent in the sale of idols, some of the idol-makers started a riot, accusing Paul and the Christians of wrong-doing (Acts 19:23-28).
Peter himself explains why some men will react to righteousness: Because our righteousness threatens their sinful way of life, not only exposing it as sin but also indirectly reminding them of the judgment to come:
1 Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. 3 For the time already past is sufficient [for you] to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousals, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. 4 And in [all] this, they are surprised that you do not run with [them] into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign [you]; 5 but they shall give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-5).
When light exposes darkness, darkness strikes out against the light (see John 1:6-13; Ephesians 5:3-14).
The ancient church was falsely accused of cannibalism (the Lord’s Supper), of immorality (the Agape or “love feast”—again, the Lord’s Supper), and of treason (Jesus is Lord). Of what will the righteous of our day be falsely accused? What forms of excellent behavior will the world find threatening and offensive? Consider these possibilities. First, the world will find the doctrine of life after death offensive, particularly the doctrine of hell. The church may also expect to see reaction, false accusations and even law suits for exercising church discipline. The world will certainly object to our views and practices concerning sexual morality. If any Christians are left who are bold (and obedient) enough to spank (not abuse!) their children, they may expect false accusations.
The very things for which we are now slandered will be the same things for which God is praised. The key to understanding Peter’s words here is to correctly define the “day of visitation.”
1 Woe to those who enact evil statutes, And to those who constantly record unjust decisions, 2 So as to deprive the needy of justice, And rob the poor of My people of [their] rights, In order that widows may be their spoil, And that they may plunder the orphans. 3 Now what will you do in the day of punishment,62 And in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? 4 Nothing [remains] but to crouch among the captives Or fall among the slain. In [spite of] all this His anger does not turn away, And His hand is still stretched out (Isaiah 10:1-4, emphasis mine).
41 And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, 44 and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:41-44, emphasis mine).
Some understand the “day of visitation” to be the “day of salvation.” I understand the “day of visitation” to be the day of our Lord’s appearing. In this sense, He has visited us once already, and His people did not recognize Him as Messiah (Luke 19:41-44). He is yet to visit the earth again. This visit will surely be a day of divine judgment just as Isaiah foretold.
Peter brings to light a different perspective of the coming day of judgment not found in any other text of which I am aware. The coming of our Lord has various implications for unbelievers. It is the time when the wicked are subdued by our Lord:
The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet” (Psalms 110:1).
The wicked acknowledge our Lord’s identity as Messiah and His sovereignty:
9 Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
It is a day of punishment when divine retribution falls upon those who deserve it:
18 Surely Thou dost set them in slippery places; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. 19 How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! 20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form (Psalms 73:18-20).
It is a time when the wicked are punished for their mistreatment of the righteous:
6 For after all it is [only] just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and [to give] relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Peter adds one additional facet to the day of our Lord’s appearing: When the wicked stand before the Lord as their Judge, they will not only acknowledge their sin and His sovereignty, they will praise God for the good things we have done—the very things they once persecuted and falsely accused us of:
12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
Note that it is not we but God who is praised, because He is the One who has worked in us both to “will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). No longer will the wicked be able to call good “evil” and evil “good.” Standing before God, men must acknowledge the truth, and give God the praise which He alone deserves.
In our text, Peter shows us another way hope enables and encourages us in suffering. We not only endure suffering now looking forward to the glory to come, but we also endure suffering now because of the praise which accrues to our Lord by our excellent behavior.
Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:12 should be understood in relation to what he has already said in chapter 1:
6 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7 that the proof of your faith, [being] more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Persecution does play a part in the proving of our faith. When we persist in doing good even though it results in persecution, we demonstrate our faith. And when our faith is proven, God, the source and object of our faith, is praised. We do not behave excellently just because it is the pathway to present peace and prosperity, but because it is the way of faith which results in praise and glory to our Lord. We should live godly not just in hope of our blessings, but in the hope of His praise and glory!
Peter’s words could not be more relevant to our own times as we consider how the teaching of our text relates to our daily lives.
Our conduct must not be governed by the response of men, good or bad, but by the certain hope that our excellent behavior will result in praise and glory to God in eternity. Our hope is not only for heavenly rewards, but for the glory of God even as He will be praised by those who have rejected Him and persecuted His servants.
Psalm 73 finds Asaph lamenting that the wicked boast of their sin and God has not acted in judgment. The wicked wrongly conclude God either does not know or does not care how men live. Peter speaks of this same cavalier attitude toward sin and coming judgment:
3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with [their] mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For [ever] since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4).
The error in such thinking is presumed continuity—the presumption that God will deal with men in eternity just as He is dealing with them now. But Peter has a different explanation:
5 For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God [the] heavens existed long ago and [the] earth was formed out of water and by water, 6 through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water. 7 But the present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 8 But do not let this one [fact] escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:5-10).
God’s delay in divine judgment is gracious, giving men time to repent. But make no mistake: coming divine judgment is certain.
Christians need to beware of “continuity thinking” in reverse. Some Christians think we will prosper in heaven, so we must also prosper on earth. They think life on earth should be the same as life in heaven. Not so! There will be suffering here and glory there. This life is not a mirror image of the life to come, which is why we must live by faith and not by sight. We are to live godly lives now even when doing so brings persecution and false accusations, assured that these very deeds will be the basis for men’s praise when our Lord returns. Our hope of heaven enables us to bear the present heat of persecution.
(2) Spirituality must be accomplished from the inside out.
The inner, private piety of the believer is the foundation for the public piety God requires as well. This relationship between inner and outer piety can be seen in Peter’s words to Christian wives in chapter 3:
3 And let not your adornment be [merely] external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but [let it be] the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 3:3-4).
When our Lord prayed for His disciples, He did not pray for their isolation from the world but for their insulation from the world:
14 “I have given them Thy word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil [one.] 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:14-18).
We must have a certain measure of contact with the world for our godliness to be seen. There may be times when we cannot be physically present with the world, but all too often we, like the Pharisees of old, think of spirituality in terms of physical separation rather than in terms of moral purity.
At times I have pointed to men in the Bible we suppose to be holier than the Bible represents them to be, men like Jonah, for example. But I want to now consider a man who was more spiritual than we might want to think; that man is Lot, Abraham’s brother. We always think of Abraham as holy, looking on toward Sodom from his distant retreat (see Genesis 18). And we see Lot as the man who deliberately chose to live in Sodom; he surely could not have been very spiritual. But the Bible does not represent Lot this way at all. Peter especially points to Lot as an example of true spirituality:
1 Now the two angels came to Sodom in the evening as Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw [them,] he rose to meet them and bowed down [with his] face to the ground. 2 And he said, “Now behold, my lords, please turn aside into your servant’s house, and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you may rise early and go on your way.” They said however, “No, but we shall spend the night in the square.” 3 Yet he urged them strongly, so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 Before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, both young and old, all the people from every quarter; 5 and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” 6 But Lot went out to them at the doorway, and shut the door behind him, 7 and said, “Please, my brothers, do not act wickedly. 8 “Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof.” 9 But they said, “Stand aside.” Furthermore, they said, “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge; now we will treat you worse than them.” So they pressed hard against Lot and came near to break the door. 10 But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. 11 And they struck the men who were at the doorway of the house with blindness, both small and great, so that they wearied [themselves trying] to find the doorway (Genesis 19:1-11, emphasis mine).
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and [if] He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing [them] to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter; 7 and [if] He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard [that] righteous man, while living among them, felt [his] righteous soul tormented day after day with [their] lawless deeds), 9 [then] the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in [its] corrupt desires and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. (2 Peter 2:4-11, emphasis mine).
Lot is not condemned for living in Sodom nor even for taking the better property offered him by Abraham. Who among us would have chosen the more barren land? Peter says Lot was a righteous man, a point he makes emphatically by using the term “righteous” three times in reference to Lot. This righteous man lived in a wicked city, but he had two virgin daughters (Genesis 19:8). Lot knew the wickedness of the men of his town and stationed himself at the city gate hoping to save some from the evil of the city by inviting them into the security and safety of his home (like Abraham). When he sought to intervene to protect his guests, the men of the city spoke evil of him, further testimony of his righteousness:
9 “This one came in as an alien, and already he is acting like a judge” (Genesis 19:9).
Like those of us who would be obedient to Peter’s instruction, Lot also was to live as an “alien” in this fallen world. By his actions, he was righteous, testifying to the wickedness of his fellow citizens. They, like some unbelievers in every age, spoke evil of him for doing good. Peter adds the final touch concerning Lot’s righteousness when he indicates that Lot abstained from fleshly lusts. Lot was not tempted by the evil and fleshly indulgence of his city. He was tormented by it.
Someone will surely protest, “But what of Lot’s daughters? How could a righteous man offer his two daughters to a wicked mob?” There are at least two possible answers to this objection. The first is that Lot knew the men of this city were so wicked they would not be interested in sexual relations with a woman.63 The second answer may be more realistic: None of us has a flawlessly consistent spirituality. We may be pious in one area of our lives and pagan in another. The Scriptures never paint an unrealistic picture of those men who loved God and sought to obey Him. All of us fail miserably in our spiritual lives. The Scriptures describe quite honestly the fallibility of men, even good men, but they also consistently hold forth the standard of holiness God has set down in His Word.
One final word to anyone who may not know the Lord Jesus Christ. Please do not be deceived by the apparent “blessings” in your life. There is no guarantee that what you are experiencing today is what you will experience tomorrow. Peace and prosperity are not proofs of piety. Indeed, they are often a deception for those soon to be judged:
3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
Those who will be saved in the day of judgment from the wrath of God are those who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation. May you trust in Him for the forgiveness of your sins so that the return of our Lord Jesus Christ may be your hope—and not your dread.
(1) Fleshly lusts are appetites, desires, or inclinations originating from our fallen humanity, not from the Spirit of God.
(2) Fleshly lusts are inconsistent with biblical holiness; indeed, they are hostile to God, to His Word, and to His will.
(3) We were born with these desires, and although Christ dealt with them at the cross, they continue to pull at our affections, seeking to seduce us from obedience to God and attempting to enslave us again to our own appetites.
(4) We must be on constant alert, for both subtly and forthrightly the “world” (our culture) and Satan employ these lusts to draw us away from God.
(5) These desires offer only present pleasures rather than the blessings God has provided for all eternity. They always tempt us to avoid suffering for Christ’s sake and to seek instant pleasure for our own sake.
(6) Almost without exception, fleshly lusts are the very desires to which modern advertising appeals.
(7) Fleshly lusts are deceptive and corrupting; and they shape us in a way contrary to godliness and the image of Christ.
(8) Fleshly lusts are hostile to God and opposed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, continually waging war against our spiritual lives.
(9) Fleshly lusts seek to attract our affections and attention to this temporary world rather than to our true eternal “home.” Abstaining from fleshly lusts compliments our condition as aliens and strangers, who are “just passing through” this world.
56 Physical pleasures are not intrinsically evil, and thus the pleasures of marriage (Hebrews 13:4) or of a good meal are a gracious gift to be received as from the hand of God with gratitude (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
57 In the context, this teaching in Matthew is related to the sin of adultery. Jesus seems to be teaching that a disciple should not be dominated by illicit sexual desires but, if need be, drastic measures must be taken to ensure purity (see also Matthew 19:1-12).
60 The word rendered “excellent” in verse 12 is not the same term rendered “excellencies” in verse 9, but they are surely speaking of the same thing. Our excellent conduct is to reflect the excellencies of the God who saved us.
62 “The day of visitation is mentioned in the NT only in Luke 19:44 (cf. Luke 1:68), but it appears in the Septuagint in Isa. 10:3 (cf. Gen. 50:24; Job 10:12; Jer. 11:23; Wisd. 3:7). While visitation by God can mean salvation, in the Isaiah passage, which is the only exact parallel, it indicates the day of judgment. All people will have to confess God’s powerful display in his people, that is, ‘give glory to God,’ on that day, even if they have not previously acknowledged his (and their) rightness (cf. Judg. 7:17, where ‘give glory to God’ is an exhortation to acknowledge God’s justice and righteousness by a full confession before execution).” Peter H. Davids, The First Epistle of Peter (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), 1990. The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series. P. 97.