Beloved, I beseech you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul. Maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (RSV)
This is Peter talking to people who have been scattered to people because of persecution. How does this pertain to me? As mentioned before, I am an alien in this world and for that reason I should resist the passions of the flesh even more so. When it comes to these passions, the Bible is quite clear about them.
Rom 13:13 Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. Gal 5:17-21 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 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 shall not inherit the kingdom of God. (NASB)
As I look over the lists of fleshly passions, I notice that greed isn’t listed. However Eph 5:3 ties greed right in with impurity. Lev 19:11 takes care of lying and stealing also. There just isn’t any wiggle room for me to indulge myself in the things that the world has approved. The world gives lip service to avoiding many of these things but sexual promiscuity (including impurity) and carousing are probably the two most “tolerated” sins that I see in society. I also find it interesting that sorcery and idolatry are listed in the deeds of the flesh. Both of these are becoming more commonplace.
What exactly is Peter talking about when he mentions the flesh? Some versions use the term sinful desires or sinful nature. The dictionary has a definition of flesh that explains it in secular terms: the physical body along with its needs and limitations, as opposed to the soul, mind, or spirit. There are limitations in me that are going to want to do the things listed. How can I abstain from these? The answer is in Gal 5:18. I must be lead by the Spirit. That means I must yield my desires and emotions (soul), my thinking which results in my goals (mind), and my body to God. Since my spirit has been born again, it is the only thing in me that is already yielded to God. It is the means by which the Holy Spirit lives in me and changes my desires to do God’s will. Yielding is an ongoing process until one day I’ll be completely submissive to God. That will be the day of His visitation (when Jesus returns again) or when I die and am finally with Him and free from all the temptations of the flesh.
Peter refers to the world as the Gentiles. Gentiles didn’t have God’s law and in the Jewish mind they did all these things since they had no restraint. The world in Peter’s era, for the most part, acknowledged that most of these things were wrong. Even today the world agrees, otherwise we wouldn’t have everything from anger management classes to specific laws. This reveals that even a person who isn’t being led by the Holy Spirit (a non-Christian) still has a sense of right and wrong.
When Jesus comes back again, it will be too late for non-Christians. However, they will still give glory to God. They will then have to admit that their accusations against us were false. I note, however, that they will do this because they will see my good deeds. One way of avoiding all the lusts of the flesh is to replace them with good deeds. Eph 4:25-32, 5:4, 11, and 17 lists sins and what I should do to replace those sins in my life. When I’m doing these things, the world will see and note it.
Don’t be mistaken, the world knows how a Christian should behave even if they don’t agree. Sometimes they know better than some Christians. They are watching and my strongest witness comes when my actions match my words.