1 Peter 2:11
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul
2 Peter 2:4
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world
In the last lesson we began to study the subject of fleshly lusts. We looked in detail at Peter's Plea, "I beseech you", and in particular investigating the meaning of fleshly lusts and the peril in which we live. In this lesson we shall continue with Peter's discourse, but now we shall focus on the problems and prescription against pleasing the flesh.
What is the problem that Peter claims is the result of fleshly lusts? The pleasures of the flesh are at war with our soul! Again we find the war mentioned between the physical and the spiritual (remember Romans 7 and Galatians 5). War is not pretty - there are casualties and losses. Pleasing the flesh will lead to the following disasters:
Jesus gives the parable of the seed in Luke 8:4-15. In verse 14, he says the seed that did not produce fruit was "choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life". The pleasures of the flesh can keep us from producing fruit as we are meant to do. How many are the believers that have succumbed to worldly pleasures rendering them completely barren?
Demas had been a faithful co-worker with Paul. What caused him to quit? His desire to serve God was replaced with the desire for pleasure (2 Timothy 4:10). What about Esau? He gave up his birthright for a bowl of stew (Genesis 25:32).
What was special about the birthright of the seed of Abraham?
How sad to consider that many Christians have lost their desire to serve God because they would rather enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.
Paul tells Timothy, "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier." One who is entangled in the things of this world must spend a majority of his time trying to get out of the mess he is in. Many a Christian has become so entangled in the things of this world that they can never serve God like they could have. Peter also talks of those who are lured away by the lust of the flesh and become entangled in the pollutions of the world (2 Peter 2:18-22). He says of these, "the latter end is worse with them than the beginning".
Paul's warning to Timothy concerning riches is that they can cause one to fall into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition (1 Timothy 6:9-10). What happened to Ananias and Sapphira? Paul writes of those caught up in the pleasure of this world, "Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:19).
The two keywords Peter uses to describe his prescription against pleasing the flesh are "abstain" and "as". The first tells us what we are to do and the second tells us how.
The word abstain means "to hold one's self off" or perhaps more simply "to deny". We are to deny ourselves from these fleshly lusts. In other words, don't give in to them. Paul tells Titus something very similar to this, "denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:12). There are going to be some pleasures which we shall have to deny our flesh from enjoying.
Some Christians have a hard time understanding this. They believe Christian liberty means that they can do anything they want, and they label as legalists those who say otherwise. However, this precept of abstaining from fleshly lusts has nothing to do with determining our salvation (i.e. it is not legalism). It has to do with the well-being of our souls, and escaping from the bondage of the flesh.
Praise God that we were not just left with a command to deny fleshly lusts, but we have been given a method for accomplishing this as well. Peter says to abstain from fleshly lusts, "as pilgrims and strangers".
What are pilgrims and strangers like?
A pilgrim is a sojourner - one who is dwelling in another land for some temporary amount of time. A stranger is a foreigner or alien - someone who is of a different land and culture.
Abraham is perhaps the greatest example of a pilgrim and stranger. God made a covenant with Abraham beginning in Genesis 12, and in Genesis 15 some of the details were clearly laid out. In verses 18-21, God promises a specific area of land (which we know as Canaan) to Abraham (see 13:15) and his seed. Yet, Stephen tells us in Acts 7:5 that God gave him none inheritance in it, no, not so much as to set his foot on. Abraham spent the rest of his entire life living as a stranger and a pilgrim in the land that God had promised to him. This is captured very well for us in Hebrews 11:8-16. Peter says that this is how we are to live in this world bent on pleasure, and this is how we can deny the flesh from the lusts of the world.
1. Seeking a Better Country
As pilgrims, we ought to keep our thoughts on heavenly things. Whenever we find ourselves lusting after the pleasures of this world, we need to remember the country from which we are and to which we shall be going. This was how Moses withstood the pleasures of the flesh in Hebrews 11:24-26. He chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. Meditating on heavenly things will quickly erase the lure and desire of the flesh. Remember that Eve fell when Satan was able to change her focus from all the things she could do, to the one thing she could not.
From Hebrews 11:13, we understand that Abraham was so persuaded of the future promises of God, that he lived as if they were true in the present. When the fleshly lusts begin to attack our soul, let us believe 1 Corinthians 2:9 as if it had already taken place: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
2. Sojourning in a Temporary Dwelling
As a pilgrim, Abraham never really had a permanent home in Canaan. Living in a tent, God could tell him to go here or go there, and Abraham could easily pick up and go. He had no permanent attachments to the place that he lived. If we are going to successfully resist the lusts of the flesh, we need to be careful not to make any permanent attachments with this world. This is only a temporary home for us. If we live with that in mind, when God says don't do this or don't do that, we will have no trouble obeying Him because there will be no strong attachments!
Remember what Paul told Timothy, "For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Timothy 6:7). Job understood this, for when he lost his children, possessions, and house, his testimony was, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD" (Job 1:21). Everything of this world will one day perish - it is all temporary. When those fleshly desires creep in, remember that the pleasures of sin are but for a season. Lasting pleasure will come when we seek the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
3. Singular from the World
As a stranger, Abraham was not ashamed to be different from those that were natives of Canaan. He did not try to become a Canaanite, but remained a foreigner though he lived there the rest of his life. The Normal Christian is not ashamed to be different from the world. There are going to be things that they do that we will not, and they are not going to like that (1 Peter 4:4). Just because the world enjoys the pleasures of the flesh, that does not mean that we should do likewise - we are not citizens of earth but citizens of heaven.
4. Separate from the World
As a stranger, Abraham remained separate from the people of Canaan. If Abraham had become close with them, it would not have been long before he would have been just like them. Separation has always been a key to victory over sin. Perhaps the major cause for the downfall of Israel was due to the fact that they did not remain separated from the wicked people living around them. Yet many Christians today see nothing wrong with yoking up with the world and some even encourage it. Pauls says, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14). Nehemiah literally pulled out some people's hair over the issue of separation (Nehemiah 13:23-27). If you want to have victory over the lusts of the flesh, don't keep company with those that are worldly.