Sermon Text: 1 Peter 2:11
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
In our text this morning, Peter has some bad news for us: When you woke up this morning, an enemy woke up with you. An enemy whose desire is to destroy you. An enemy who will wake up with you tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. (No, I’m not talking about your spouse). Look with me at 1 Peter 2:11,
“Beloved, I urge you are sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
-1 Peter 2:11
Your fleshly passions, Peter tells us, are at war within you. This is a war where no quarter can or will be given, where no truces can be called and no peace negotiated. It is a war for your very soul.
This is an enemy who aims to cripple you, harm you, and make you ineffective. It aims to sweep over you like an early frost in an apricot orchard and destroy all fruit in your life while it’s in the bud—before it can be brought to harvest. It aims to steal your joy in Christ and wreck your legacy and make you believe untruths. It aims to make a shipwreck of your faith. And this morning, Peter has two overriding goals for us:
1. Know the enemy. Peter says that there is a war on—who is this enemy? What are the schemes of this enemy?
2. Fight the enemy. To see that seriousness and stakes of the war we wake up to every morning and to fight it with grace.
So first, we need to understand the enemy that Peter is warning us against, which in this text, is actually in one sense, you. Your own desires.
The Flesh & Its Schemes
Though he was speaking about a different enemy than Peter speaks of in our text this morning, in 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul warned against ignorance of our enemy’s designs. The principle is the same: Knowing the enemy is part of effective war.
What are the Passions of the Flesh?
So what is the enemy in focus? Peter calls the enemy “the passions of the flesh.” What does that mean? In Galatians 5, Paul helps us understand this, I think.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”
Do you see that? The way the Scriptures talk about the Christian after salvation but prior to glorification is as a man at war. Before the new birth, you were not at war—you were dead in sin. There was no real struggle against sin.
But after this new birth—after your sin is taken on the cross and by God’s resurrecting grace you come to faith and new creation—there is a war. There is a new creature at war with an old creature.
This old creature is referred to by the term “flesh.” Do you see the paradoxical way that Paul talks about this? He says on the one hand that you have two sets of desires, at war with each other, and then at the same time that “…those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
So there is an already/not yet element at work in us—newness and oldness, coexisting and at war. So the question I’d like us to ask is how these passions of the flesh wage war against our souls? Peter states the face of the war of the flesh against your soul, but doesn’t in this verse examine tactics.
As we look around a bit to our right and our left in Peter’s letter, as well as elsewhere in the Scriptures, the tactics come into focus. There are 5 strategies of the flesh that we’ll examine together:
1. The strategy of the flesh is to keep you from doing what you were made for.
They keep you from what you're for. Again, this is a passage orbiting around identity. Think about what we saw in 1 Peter 2:4–10.
You were made to glorify God, living stones built on the solid Cornerstone of Christ. You were made to worship him as a royal priesthood. You were made for life with him, a holy nation. You were made to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
And the passions of your flesh wage war on your soul by saying, “Build on yourself, not Jesus. Worship yourself, not God. Proclaim your own excellencies, not God’s.”
The passions of your flesh make God’s naming of you seem untrue and your own make-believe naming of yourself true. These passions erode your soul by using it contrary to its design. Because we weren’t actually made for sin, obeying the passions of our flesh smashes us to a pulp, like trying to use a ripe pear as a hammer.
2. The strategy of the flesh is to shrink your soul to the size of smaller pleasures.
The passions of the flesh wage war against your soul by aiming to shrink it down into base urges and animalistic instincts.
See, your soul was made for God. Augustine, the great African theologian, said that God made us for himself, and therefore our souls are restless until they find their rest in God. This is why salvation is describe by Peter later in this letter as bringing us to God himself.
And what the passions of your flesh want to do is to keep you from following the gifts of God back to God as the giver. Think about that list Paul uses to describe the passions of the flesh in Galatians:
“…sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.”
What are these things? They are, without exception, somewhere down the line, good things gone wrong. Sexual immorality? Sex gone wrong. Idolatry? Worship gone wrong. Jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy? Relationship gone wrong.
Your flesh wants to aim your soul’s delight at sex and music and food and drink and company and family and human relationship, and at all costs keep you from following the sunbeam of those good gifts up to the Sun that is beaming out those sunbeams.
The passions of the flesh want your capacity for awe to be small, your taste for goodness to be small, to shrink down your vision of glory until it is the size of some created thing. And it works! I think it was John Piper who coined that phrase, “The soul tends to shrink to the size and quality of its pleasures.”
What this means is that the flesh aims to cut all pleasures off from their real point. This is what Paul means fundamentally when he says in Romans 1 that sin is the act of exchanging the truth for a lie and worship the creature rather than the Creator.
So Christians can enjoy sex and food and music and wine and nature and art—and do so with awe and wonder at the God who made all of those things. We can wonder at the glory of this creative and raucously joyous God when acids and salt and sweetness and fat dances on our tastebuds.
We can wonder at the glory of this good Father when we look at our kids and delight in them. We can delight in the exquisiteness of a glorious sonic texture in a piece of music, delight in the beauty of our bride, delight in the wonder of a sunset—all without stooping down to worship those things and thereby rob them of their use.
The flesh wants to cut off all of those good pleasures from their Creator and make them therefore into nothing but meaningless collisions of atoms and nerve endings and electrical impulses. The flesh wants to cut all of the gifts off from gratitude and worship and awe at the Father, the great gift-giver.
God made pleasure to serve our worship and usher us to himself, and the passions of the flesh wage war on our souls by seeking to promote those pleasures from servants to gods.
3. The strategy of the flesh is to cut you off from fellowship, from your brother.
James has this really interesting insight into what Peter speaks of in this text. In James 4:1–2, he says,
“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
The passions of our flesh are acid to relationship, and so cut us off from one of the strongest helps. Part of how the flesh aims to destroy your soul is to erode your relationships until you are isolated and therefore vulnerable.
How many arguments, dissensions, fights, and divisions come down to the envy, pride, gracelessness, and greed of our flesh? Our passions wage war on our souls by keeping us alone.
Not only do they cut us off from each other, they aim, number four, to cut us off from help another way.
4. The strategy of the flesh is to cut you off from grace.
The passions of our flesh aim to cut us off from God’s grace by inflaming us to pride.
One of the mother sins of the flesh, one of the overriding sinful passions in the flesh is that of pride. Pride—you could be like God if you’d just disobey God!—is a root sin, from Adam on down.
And the thing about prideful flesh is that it is inherently self-protecting and self-promoting. In one move, our prideful passions rise up in defensiveness against any admission of sin or folly or failure or weakness. And then in another moment, it will puff us up in self-promotion and attempt to project an image of godlike competence and gifting and talent.
Both of these impulses make war on our souls by cutting us off from God’s grace. When pride keeps us from humble confession of sin, failure, and weakness, we are like cranky toddlers refusing a nap. We refuse the very thing we need.
And when pride turns us into self-promoting pretenders to God’s throne, we exalt ourselves as God’s rival rather than God’s creature. And what God does with proud Christians, in an act of grace, is to oppose you. In grace, God will oppose proud Christians in order to keep them from succeeding as a rival to himself.
And so that voice in your mind, the one whispering, “Don’t confess that sin. Don’t admit that fault. Defend yourself. Get mad. You deserve better. They don’t get you. Nobody appreciates you the way they should.”—that’s the voice of your flesh, and those little whisperings are actually an all-out blitzkrieg assault on your soul pretending to be self-esteem, pretending to love you.
5. The strategy of the flesh is total destruction, total war.
Take this to the bank: The passions of your flesh are not aiming for the part, but the whole.
The passions of the flesh want to rule you, not merely influence you. These passions will not stop at some kind of border within. No, they will take everything. They want to destroy you. They want consume you. They want all of you.
Why? Because the passions of our flesh are fundamentally a god-complex, remember? The flesh is inherently self-promoting, and the job it wants a promotion to is to be God.
So the passions of your flesh want all of you because so does God, and that’s what the flesh is pretending to be. God wants you, heart, soul, mind, strength—He wants you. God is not satisfied with seconds. He is not satisfied with having a divided you. No, he aims to take all of you.
And so sin, in a perverse mockery of God’s rule, wants the same. It wants that kind of allegiance and worship. This is a total war of totalizing claims on the totality of your being—nobody in this war is going to settle for a negotiated piece. No, either God and his Christ will have all and destroy all competitors in the end, or all of you will be all of sin's.
Peter’s Exclamation Mark
So here’s the question: How do we fight back? That’s what Peter commands us and urges us to do when he says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul!” Put an exclamation mark at the end of that sentence if you need help seeing the urgency in Peter’s tone.
How do we do that; how do we abstain? Here are 5 counter-strategies in the war with our passions:
1. Believe God’s naming, not your own naming.
There are two indications in this single verse that your identity in Christ is essential to the fight Peter is calling you to:
Number one, he begins the sentence by saying, “Beloved…” Beloved! I hope you see the glory in that word. It’s like Peter is saying, “Before you do any of this fighting, before you win or lose today or tomorrow against these pernicious, soul-eroding passions, before you do anything for God in obedience—you, Christian, are God’s beloved.”
This is the difference between a man trying to win the affection of a woman by his strength and a little boy obeying his daddy—who already loves him and will continue to love him regardless of the outcome. We obey out of our preexisting belovedness.
Number two, Peter calls us to this faith as sojourners and exiles. What does that mean? Sojourners where? Exiles from what? The idea, and it's one we've already developed in this letter so far, is that we are an alien people within the kingdoms of men, citizens of God's new creational Kingdom.
Meaning we have a different King, a different God, and therefore a different goal, a different rule, a different law, a different culture, a different way of being, a different foundational Constitution, different borders, different allegiances, different beliefs, a different standard for what is true and just and good and beautiful.
And so when we abstain from our warring, fleshly passions, we live as sojourners and an exiles—the idea being that you maintain your peculiarity, that you decline and refuse to adopt the culture of the Kingdom you reside in as a resident alien—with a smile on your face and an invitation to a better way to your neighbors.
We refuse to bow to the gods of the day, kneeling in prayer with Daniel in Babylon even when the tyrants and wicked rulers command allegiance. With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we go to the fire rather than bow to the idol.
We don’t become his people by our abstinence; we confirm our identity as his people by our abstinence. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:17–20,
“So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
So our first strategy in warring against the passions of our flesh is to believe what God says about us! We preach to our souls are identity in Christ, and when we fail and sin, we preach even louder: “You are God’s beloved before you did any fruit-bearing. This sin can’t separate me from his love.”
2. Make eye contact with the stakes.
What is at stake here? What is the war for? What is it a war over? Your soul.
This will be brief, since we already looked at the total-war-nature of this battle. But Peter wants you to fight sin by seeing what sin is aiming for. “…abstain from the passions of your flesh, which wage war abasing your soul.”
Your passions are waging war with the aim of conquering your soul, colonizing your soul, winning and holding and defending the ground of your soul. See the stakes!
What does it benefit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his soul? The answer to Jesus’ hypothetical question is clearly that there is no possible incentive you could put on the other side of that deal to make it worth it! And once you see the stakes, #3…
3. Embrace total war.
The flesh is aiming for total war, total victory, total colonization. And so what is it we ought to aim for? Total war, total victory, total colonization. We aim to see the New Man, the fruit of the Spirit of God utterly choke out the weeds of sin.
When Peter says, “abstain” from these passions, maybe you hear that as kind of a weak word. No, this is like saying, “Run! Put some distance between yourself and these passions!” Total war. Just listen to how radical the Lord would have us be in this war against sin, Matthew 5:27–30,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Where do you need to gouge, mar, cut, pluck, and radically fight? Where are you right now content with half-measures? What are you right now considering more precious than your soul?
Your internet connection? Your smartphone? Your TV? Your social media? Your money? Your independence? Your boyfriend? Your girlfriend? Your pride? Your anger? Your right to be irritated and cranky with everyone else?
Are you hiding in your sin? Is your reputation worth your soul? Is pretending working? Remember, the strategy of the flesh is to cut you off from grace through self-protecting, self-promoting pride. Fight back with radical belief in God’s grace and naming of you, that you are already holy and beloved in him, have nobody therefore to impress, and will flourish as you admit your creaturely dependance and repent of your divine imposter syndrome.
4. Inflame your passion for better hopes, pleasures, and glories.
In the paradigm of the Scriptures, abstinence and abstaining is never the point or the end. Fasting is never the point or the end. Self-denial is never the point or the end.
Abstinence is saying no to one thing to say yes to a better thing. Self-denial is denying yourself, yes, but in the end it turns out to be the only way to authentically love yourself. Fasting is saying no to one pleasure for the sake of a higher pleasure—saying, “I will taste no food today so that my soul might taste and see that the Lord is good!”
Taking up your cross and following Christ isn’t about death in the end, but resurrection. It’s not about death, but the defeat of death, the swallowing up of death in victory.
In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter already told us something essential. He said, “…set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We fight hope in sin with better hope. We fight the small and passing pleasure of sin with better and more lasting pleasures.
And so in your fight against sin, make it your aim ever day to get up and say to God, “God, strengthen me this morning in joy. Give me a taste for your goodness today. Help me to taste and see that you are good today.”
Obey 1 Peter 2:2–3, and turn to the pure spiritual milk of the Word of God. Drink it in that you might grow up into salvation. Marinate your soul in the promises and hopes and glories of the Word so that the lesser promises and lesser hopes and lesser glories of sin sound hollow.
Weeping, Beloved Peter
Let me leave you with a picture from Peter’s life. Because maybe this morning you come in totally defeated in this war. Maybe last night, this morning, this week, the passions of your flesh rolled out a fresh offensive push and it feels like ground has been lost and you are doomed.
Nobody must have felt that feeling more than Peter in Luke 22:62. Luke 22:62 says, “And [Peter] went out and wept bitterly.”
Why is he weeping? Because in the preceding paragraph, he has denied that he even knew Jesus. Rather than taking up his cross and following his Lord, Peter pretends never to have met him. His self-preserving, proud, scared, sinful flesh rose up and said, “Run! Don’t trust Jesus! He’ll let you down! Go save yourself!”
And Peter listened. He listened to those fleshly whispers and obeyed them and denied that he even knew Jesus.
That is why the first word in our text this morning is so precious: Beloved. Before you obey, in Christ you are beloved. As you sin and fail, in Christ you are beloved. And as you obey and take ground and see sin slain, you are no more beloved than you were in the depths of bitterness. Let’s pray.