War Within (verse 11)
Peter offers his readers urgent application (i.e. “I urge you”) based on apostolic affection (i.e. “Beloved”). Out of concern for them, he wants them to recognize that they are temporary residents in this world and should not attempt to plant their roots too deep or attempt to adopt the sinful and empty customs of this world. It’s important for us to remember that though we should appreciate and value the land in which we live, we should not lose our distinct Christian identity in it.
The specific urgent command from Peter is to “abstain from fleshly lusts.” We must separate ourselves from corrupt affections, evil deception, sinful desires, prideful boasting, foolishness, disobedience, bitterness, rage, slander, etc. These things are not merely stumbling blocks or rival interests, but they actually “rage war against the soul.” Sin within us is like a soldier seeking to destroy us spiritually (c.f. Proverbs 14:30; Galatians 5:17ff; Romans 8:13).
To abstain or distance ourselves from these fleshly lusts requires that we not only deal with the fruit but with the root. The condition of our hearts produces the sinful deeds of our bodies and we must therefore fight sin violently at the heart level (c.f. Matthew 15:15-20). We do this not merely defensively, but offensively—doing what it takes to realize the honor of our state as Christians and to live in light of Christ being our complete sufficiency. As long as we are practical strangers to the love of God and to those pure pleasures found in Him, we will remain servants of evil desires.
Witness Without (verse 12)
While it is true that as Christians we are to do all that we do before God and for God, it is also true that we are living our lives before the world (c.f. Matthew 5:14-16). The word “excellent” refers to a life that is beautiful and attractive. We are to live in such a way that the observers of our lives, even if they currently accuse us of wrongdoing or speak evil against us, will eventually be overwhelmed with the goodness and beauty of our lives and actions. The idea is that through God-given consistency, slander is turned to admiration, and admiration leads to seeking the God of our salvation.
Peter is careful to make clear that the way we live this excellent life is first of all a matter of abstaining from sinful desires. We maintain a consistent witness by consistently abstaining from the desires of the flesh that wage war against our souls. We must deal with every sin and all temptations at the level of the heart, the source of all evil, sin, and wickedness. In other words, Peter’s evangelism strategy is simple: kill sin and make war for the protection of your soul! As the stale, stagnant, contaminated pond of our heart is purified bit by bit, one dark corner at a time, then every overflow will produce righteous deeds, pure motives, and God-honoring actions. This is what God uses to build His kingdom.
- In these verses, Peter is not advising us to withdraw from the culture or to rebel against the world around us; but rather, he is admonishing us to live excellently in the midst of it., The gospel instructs us “to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). In what ways is your life distinct from the world because of godliness? In what areas are you currently tempted to live sinfully like the world? What opportunities has God given you to glorify Him by your excellent behavior? Are you waging the war against sin at the heart level, especially by living in light of the privileges bestowed on you through Christ (verse 9) and the complete sufficiency of Christ?