Battling to Make a Difference (1 Pet 2:11-12)

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Battling to Make a Difference

The internal and external battle that changes lives

1 Peter 2:11-12

Almost every one of us in this room right now knows what it is like to go on a diet.  What’s it like? It’s war!  Dieting is a fight, a discipline, a vigilant effort–a battle to make a difference. You must remain alert, deny urges, think, deny feelings, stay on target, not give in, not make exceptions, shop different, eat different, exercise, and never ever ever give up.

I dropped those first 15 pounds–no problem.  But now breaking that barrier is a battle–it’s an all out war.  If you want to win, you must continually battle, and what makes this warfare the most difficult is this–you are battling you, the enemy is you, you are the one warring with yourself.  And most of you have found that your enemy is strong and vile.

Some of you believers have never had to diet, and for the rest of us who do, I want to say to you, we don’t like you.  Yes, we’re envious.  But what I hope none of us will forget after today, is whether we diet or not, that each genuine Christian here is involved in a battle just like dieting, but it is much more serious, and much more deadly than just good health.

You have a battle raging inside and outside of you every day, that if you don’t fight, it’s an indicator you’re not in the Lord’s army.  To not fight this internal battle means you are not His true child.  Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Look at this text and examine yourself:  some are given to secret impurity, lusts, pornography, fantasies with someone you are not married to; there are women who continually push their sensuality because all the cute girls do.  There are parents who make their family an idol; others practice strife–everything is an offense and everyone is against me, jealousy because you’re not noticed nor have a platform.  Some create disputes over the slightest disagreement; those who don’t trust but suspiciously create factions; fathers who refuse to deal with their outbursts of anger; those who party, carousing just like the world does.  God says to you, “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

I wonder how many of you understand you’re in a battle everyday, but that battle is against yourself.  How many of you woke up and said, it’s going to be a big battle today–against me?  When you think about the enemies of your faith–do you think about sneaky false teachers, those guys on TV who are more like pro-wrestlers than preachers, or those who write bad books?  Or do you actually embrace the truth, that you are a bad guy, that you are a bad gal and you are going to have to battle against your desires, say no, and not do what you feel like doing?  You’re going to war every single day against you.  You are your own worst enemy.

Do you actually demonstrate this truth in your lifestyle?  Do you trust the Bible over your own opinion, preferences or feelings?  Do you heed the Word of God when taught?  Do you seek out Biblical counsel over weighty matters?  Do you battle against your flesh?

Turn in your Bibles to 1 Peter 2:11-12, and take your outline.  Now Peter says, you’re at war with yourself.  For a chapter and a half, Peter has been talking about the glories of our salvation.  Today, Peter begins a whole new section of his letter to us, and as he does throughout this letter to beaten believers, Peter gives a general summary, then follows it with an explanation of how that summary will work out specifically in everyday life.

You know what a good newspaper article is like–it describes the summary of the story in the first two paragraphs, then goes into specific detail in the rest of the article.  Verses 11-12 is the introductory paragraph; what follow are the details on how it works out, first in civil life (verses 13-17), then with slaves (verses 18-20), Christ as the ultimate example (verses 21-25), and then in marriage (chapter 3:1-7).

Peter has been talking about salvation and our relationship with each other in the Church up to 2:10.  Now in 2:11, Peter changes his focus to our relationship to this world, and specifically how we together as the Church, and you as a Christian live for Christ on this fallen planet.  Are you ready to live the way Christ wants in this world?  The first thing you must embrace is that you are at war with yourself–there is an enemy you must fight, and it’s you.

#1 The internal war you must fight

Read verse 11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”  I love the contrast here–the first thing Peter calls you is beloved, then he calls you an alien and stranger. Those typically don’t go together–you are a prized alien, a dearly loved stranger.  But it makes perfect sense.

When it comes to your relationship with your Savior, you’re beloved.  When it comes to your relationship with this world, you are an alien and stranger. You have a relationship with God through Christ, and yet you still, for now, live in this world as aliens and strangers.  And more important than you loving God, is remembering that God loves you–you are objects of His love, His beloved, the ones that God is affectionate to, cares about and thinks about.

You all know what it means to think about that guy or that gal.  I’m sure before you were engaged, and many singles and students have had powerful feelings toward someone of the opposite sex.  Even if they never knew about your feelings, it was difficult to get through a single day without an ache in your heart, as you pined away for that person.

As I grew in my affections for Jean, as my administrative assistant, she was just outside the door of my office–I could see her–and my heart became so knit to her, I had to move my desk just so I would not have to look at her so I could get some work done.  It was awful . . . and wonderful at the same time.

God calls you Christians beloved, because He wants you to know that your God has set His affection upon you.  Do you feel that?  And even though in this world, you feel like an alien and lonely like a stranger, you are loved by God now, and loved by a God who will bring you home to experience His perfect love forever.

So Peter says in verse11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers.”  Peter’s intended audience were literally aliens and strangers–they had been kicked out of Rome and sent to this desolate region south of the Black Sea in modern day Turkey.  They were being abused by unbelievers, and were viewed as outcasts.  So they actually were aliens and strangers in this new land.  But Peter reminds them, they are also aliens and strangers, no matter where they live on this planet.

Aliens are people living in a foreign country where they don’t have citizenship rights–their privileges are limited.  Strangers are those who live in a place that is not their true home.  And all genuine believers are foreigners in a Christ-rejecting world.

I was in Siberia, Russia, teaching to about a hundred high school age students on relationships, using the illustration of a male tarantula, which is blind when looking for its mate.  The students all looked at me like I was crazy, until I discovered later that my translator misunderstood me, and was telling the students the giant spider was looking for some meat (not a mate).  Now there’s a relationship picture I wanted to leave them with–and it reminded me again how much of a foreigner I really was.

And beloved Christian, you don’t fit here–you don’t belong here, you don’t speak the same language–it is really vital you feel that.  James 4:4 says, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”  Don’t try to completely fit in here.  Believers should . . .

Receive those things of the world that God gives us with thanks

Reclaim those things in the world for their God-intended purpose

Reject all those things of the world which violate God’s Word

Christian, you have a new heart that’s different, a new Lord that’s different, new values that are different and a new purpose.  You go to Disneyland or any other tourist trap in southern California, and you are going to run into foreigners.  Sometimes they do crazy things; like bathe their kids in fountains, stand on toilets to use them, drive on the wrong side of the road. But most often they look a little different, they act a little different and they speak differently.   Peter reminds you that you should too.  You should look, act and speak different–you’re an alien and stranger.

So Peter says in verse 11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers.”   When Peter says, I urge you, he literally is describing coming alongside of them and appealing–Peter is passionate here.  Literally, I continually and strongly and personally appeal to you.

And, what does Peter want from you, beloved aliens?  Verse 11, “to abstain from fleshly lusts.’  Willingly and decisively, daily fight a war with yourself–to keep away from the desires that come from within ourselves–to hold oneself off from internal passions springing from residual fallen-ness.

Wait a minute Chris, I thought when I died with Christ in salvation that my old nature died with Him.  Yes, that’s right–Romans 6:6 says, “Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”  Then what am I battling?  Answer: the inclination of sin.

It’s as if your body was filled with sin, then washed clean by Christ, but sin was so bad when it was in you, it damaged you and left thousands of Swiss cheese holes that like sin and fit sin.  You were saved from the sewer and God has put you on his ledge.  But in order to walk that ledge, you have to hang on to the rope called the Holy Spirit.  The moment you try to walk in your own strength, the moment you let go of the rope, you will roll right back down into the sewage of sin.

You have a memory of sin, and a comfort with sin in your flesh.  That’s why Paul says in Galatians 5:16, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”  Even though regeneration creates a totally new person, with new desires to please God and follow His Word, that new person is still incarcerated within the old, unredeemed human flesh, causing a battle between the Spirit and the flesh.

Before we were saved, all sinners lived under the dominance of fleshly lust, Paul says in Ephesians 2:3, “Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”  But once saved, God commands believers to abstain from being driven by lust.  And Peter pleads with us, like he is commanding us here in verse 11, to abstain . . . telling every genuine Christian that they have the ability by their new life in Christ and through the indwelling Holy Spirit, to restrain the strong desires that well up within us.

To abstain is to continually keep away from sinful desires–do not allow yourself to indulge in them at any time–don’t give in, don’t surrender, don’t say, “Oh well, everyone sins.”  No, fight the feeling.  Our society says feelings are morally neutral–they are not.  Some feelings are wrong and this verse tells us–God has given us the ability to avoid them, overcome them, and to not obey them.  Living by your feelings is a dangerous habit, since some of your feelings are evil, plus feelings are not always correct.  And all feelings contrary to God’s Word are sin.  So Peter says to abstain from fleshly lusts.  Lust means strong desire, passionate emotion, powerful urges, feelings–and flesh means they are coming from within us.  Too many Christians blame Satan and his army for far too much.

Far too many Christians believe that isolating themselves from the world is the key to spiritual life.  The ways of the monk.  It is time for you to embrace the fact that you don’t need Satan or this fallen world to be evil–the danger is within you.

Peter is not merely talking about sexual urges here–he is talking about staying away from desires that cause strife, or jealousy, or anger, or arguments, to divide up, to be disagreeable, to envy what someone else has, to get drunk, be wild – as well as be impure, desire sex or be addicted to porno.  Peter is talking about the internal desires within you, which Paul says are describing the life of a non-Christian, not a Christian.

Paul says this in Ephesians 5:3-5, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

As aliens to this planet and strangers to this world, genuine believers will not be known for living by their internal desires–we will stay away from them.  The word abstain is like a ship staying away from the shore so that it doesn’t shipwreck; we will hold ourselves away from evil internal passions.  This is the war no one sees you fight, but it is a war we all know, whether you are fighting or not.

Fathers who continually lose their temper with their children are not fighting the fleshly lusts. Zealous young men who know the Word of God, but quickly compromise in a relationship with a gal, are not battling the flesh.  Mothers who continue to be paralyzed with fear over their children, are not fighting the flesh.  Gals who flirt with young men are not fighting their internal lusts.  Believers who continue to remain uninvolved in the church are not fighting lust.

You see, Peter says this fight is internal in verse 11.  Look at the depth of this internal battle–it wages war against the soul.  The term wage war is actually the word for soldier, used as a verb–these internal desires are like enemy soldiers continually doing battle against our spiritual lives.  Again, Satan and the world are most often not to blame–it’s your own internal desires that are attacking your walk with God.  And the verb, wage war, makes it clear these desires are continually warring against you, actually building a military camp, and laying siege against your inner person to wear you down and destroy you.  This is a strong battle.  Bad me, bad!

Though the wrong answer, can you see why some in the Middle Ages whipped themselves?  Peter says these internal desires against God’s will wage war against the soul.  Soul is used here to describe the immaterial and material part of us joined together as a living soul–once we are saved, it is the new you which is being attacked, and it’s your sin residuum, flesh, you who are doing the attacking.

Now if I were to give you a really cool looking shiny metal sphere about the size of a baseball and told you to play with it, sleep with it and enjoy it, but three months later I told you it was filled with radioactive material that was killing you the more you touched it–you’d be mad, maybe murderous.  Yet even though all of us are battling at some level with internal strong wrong desires, more than a few of you have convinced yourselves that because they are just feelings, just emotions, just desires–and because they don’t always work themselves out into actions or words–that those desires are harmless.

God is telling you those desires are like a shiny metal sphere with hidden radiation pouring out in waves to kill and destroy.  Those feelings which don’t always show themselves in action or words are waging war against your inner person, and making you weak and ineffective.  Hidden secret fantasies with someone not your spouse, bitterness that is rehearsed, fears that are played out over and over in your mind; picturing some sexual fantasy in your mind, arguments practiced in your head, anger expressed in your mind, telling someone off in your heart, replacing trust with suspicion toward your leaders and so much more–all are damaging you.

Do not be unaware of the damage just entertaining this type of desires can do to your spiritual life.  Peter says stay away–do you know what that means?  Stay away, don’t go near, don’t allow it.

So, how do you actually abstain from strong feelings?  Peter doesn’t suggest for you and I to let go and let God.  The New Testament tells us what we will have to do–three crucial steps.

First  Living Holy Spirit Dependent

Being filled with the Spirit leads to a walk by the Spirit, which is Word-saturated, confessed-up, obedient to the Word, service and sharing Christ.  Galatians 5:16, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.“

Second  Living Holy Spirit practiced Discipline

1 Corinthians 9:27, “But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.”  Human effort is involved–you must say, “No,” and not fuel bad thoughts with wicked media or trashy reading or perverse discussions.

Third  Living Holy Spirit encouraged Direction

2 Timothy 2:22, “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  When you’re battling wrong feelings, evil thoughts and strong bad desires; a big part of your battle is to change direction–instead of fighting bad desire, replace it with a good desire.  Don’t just flee the internal battle with sin, but pursue delighting in God by serving Him.  Instead of lusting after that gal, focus on serving Christ and showing Him off to friends who need to see Him.

“Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.”  But Peter is not only concerned with you battling an internal ongoing war against your own sinful desires and emotions in verse 11.  He’s very concerned about the external example you must show, 1 Peter 2:12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Your faith is not a private affair–it is not just about you and God–it is not just about your beliefs.  It is also about your behavior.  It is not merely about your worship, it is also about your witness.  Verse 12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles.”  The Greek word behavior is to move about, day-to-day patterns, describing what you do each day between getting up and going to bed.  God is talking about what you do Monday through Sunday, 24/7.  And Peter says that lifestyle is to be excellent.

Excellent actually describes conduct that is morally noble and above reproach in the eyes of the unbelieving world.  Excellent means beautiful in outward form–it could be translated lovely, fine, winsome, gracious, fair to look at and noble.  It’s the loveliest kind of visible goodness.  Peter is not talking about moral goodness, but attractive goodness–impressive goodness.

It’s the difference between laughing with your friends at the kid who’s a little odd, or serving that kid by sitting with him at lunch.  It is the difference between talking about the weird mother with the gals after church, or seeking some way to serve her.  Excellent conduct is a visible, winsome goodness, and that is what our behavior is to be like while we live among the Gentiles–literally the nations–Peter’s way of saying keep your conduct super fine while you live among the lost watching world.

But why, Peter, why should we live noble among lost people?  Why is this so important?  Peter will tell us three reasons (all linked together)–why work hard at being a winsome example to students in gym or guys at work?

First  To disarm hostile opposition to Christ and His bride

Notice how Peter describes the first reason in verse 11, “so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers,”–slander literally means to speak down to, or to accuse.  They were continually accusing believers of being harmful to society.  This was a big problem back in the first century–by calling Christ their King, Christians were viewed as those who were disloyal to the Caesar.  By participating in the Lord’s supper (the body and blood of the Lord), the unsaved thought Christians were being cannibals.  By calling their fellow-Christians sister and brother, some of the lost thought Christians practiced incest.  By seeking to convert the lost, the unsaved thought Christians were being subversive to society–follow Christ, not Rome.

Christians back then were being slandered as evildoers, but their accusations went beyond our strange Christian practices–later Peter says in 1 Peter 4:3-4, “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, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.  In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you.”  Unbelievers viewed Christians with suspicion and hostility, because real Christians did not conform to their way of life.

Today, following God’s Word by waiting till marriage, being faithful to your commitments, saying what you mean, telling the truth, turning away from evil are all mocked by many unbelievers.  But most often, Christians today are slandered three ways:

1)  as legalistic, religious rule-keepers, trying to earn favor with God

2)  as judgmental, behavioral standard-setters, putting everyone down

3)  as hypocrites, who never live-out in practice what they believe

So Peter says your everyday behavior is to be so excellently noble, verse 12, that those who accuse us for being legalistic, judgmental hypocrites would see so much good, so many beautiful actions, that their accusations would fall on deaf ears and not be embraced.

Each of you are supposed to live in such a way that proves all their accusations wrong.  And it will not merely be by you not cussing, not cheating, not stealing and not lying, but disarming hostile opposition to Christ and the Gospel will come about when you do sacrifice, give, share, comfort, give time, give labor, and give gifts to show off Christ.  All Christian conduct should hold up under close personal scrutiny.  And Peter takes this exhortation a step further, telling you your lifestyle of visible goodness is . . .

Second  To lead to the conversion of lost observers

Verse 11, “Again so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  How are those slanderous accusatory remarks refuted?  How are the criticisms unbelievers throw at Christians undone?

Peter says, “As they observe your beautiful labors;”–as they watch our attractive Spirit-empowered good deeds.  Good, again, is not the moral good, it’s the beautiful and attractive good.  Deeds is ergon, where we get the word energy–works, actions, labors.  We put the criticism of the lost about us Christians to silence, when they observe our intentional, attractive actions.  If we’re ever going to reach the lost with the Gospel, and see them consider Christ, we must intentionally and continually plan attractive sacrifices for them to see.

Some of you are trying to reach a relative or a friend for Christ–what attractive sacrifice are you making to get their attention?  This is exactly what Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “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.”  Both in this passage and 1 Peter, the good works are to be seen.  Observed, in verse12, is literally inspected, watched and contemplated.

Can I have a witness here?  Peter says be a show-off.  But the goal is not to point to yourself, but to point to Christ.

What’s an attractive good deed?  What is light and salt?  Bring a loaf of bread over to a neighbor just because you love them.  Doing a job for a fellow-worker who knows you don’t have the time.  Sticking up for a student who is being put down by others, and thousands more  attractive sacrificial actions.  The end result you are praying for is for those who actually slander you to glorify God–meaning they turn to Christ and are saved.

The hope is God would use you as the tool to draw them to Himself, so they would see themselves as sinners who deserve hell, but turn from their sin in repentance, and depend in faith on Christ’s death on the cross to give them abundant life now and eternal life forever.  The goal of continually doing attractive actions is that unbelievers would be attracted to Christ and believe in Him.  God is glorified when His own children become more like Him, but God receives more glory, when His enemies become His friends–which leads us to the third reason we are to live attractively.

Third  To bring God the glory He deserves

Verse 12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”  When unbelievers are overwhelmed with attractive sacrificial good deeds, some are going to be saved and as a result, will bring God glory as they turn to Christ and become more like Christ.

God’s glory is the summation of His character; it is the totality of His many amazing attributes.  It is all of who God is, manifested.  And the only way for anyone to glorify God is for God to glorify Himself through them.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.

The Bible tells us we glorify God by producing fruit, confessing sin, giving thanks, sharing the good news, and by becoming believers.  Thus Peter’s phrase, “glorify God in the day of visitation” is a reference to the unsaved submitting to Christ for salvation.  The day of visitation is either the final judgment day or most likely, because of the context, it is the day God calls you to be His child.  It is the day you turned from sin to dependently follow Christ.

Some of us know the exact day, some of us know the season, some of us are unsure exactly when it happened, but all genuine believers had a day of visitation when God awoke us from the dead and gave us a totally new life.  The day of visitation is the day Jesus forgave all your sin, freed you from your sin, cleansed you from the inside out, gave you a new heart with new desires, filled your life with His Spirit and His Word.  The day of visitation is the moment Christ Jesus changed you from His enemy to His friend, delivered you from slavery to freedom, took away your guilt and made you innocent before God.

As a result, many in this room who used to slander Christians, accuse them of many faults, now glorify God and honor Christ above all, because of what God did for us through His Son.

So Peter says in verse 12, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Are you battling to make a difference?

1)  Realize you won’t battle unless you remember you’re loved

You live different because He forgave you, when He should have tortured you in hell forever.  And you live different because the cost of your forgiveness was the death of God’s only Son.  How can you not battle your lusts internally and fulfill your purpose externally, after what Christ has done for you personally?

2)  Run from sinful desires by depending on God’s Spirit!

You can’t win this battle without the filling of the Holy Spirit.  And He only fills those who depend on Him, confess all known sin, saturate their lives with the Word of God, serve Him in ministry, and share the gospel with the lost.  Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.”  If you don’t pursue being filled with His Spirit, then you will not win the battle of the flesh, and possibly prove yourself unsaved.  Some of you today, need to repent of some internal evil desires.

3)  Responsibly live a life of attractive deeds to bring God glory

I am saying this to me–don’t be so busy you have no time to sacrifice for the lost around you. They need to see Christ in your attractive deeds, as well as your words explaining how it is Christ who motivates you.  You glorify God by reaching out to the lost with the good news, and with attractive deeds–will you?

About Chris Mueller

Chris is the teaching pastor at Faith Bible Church - Murrieta.