Abstaining From Sin: Legalism or Grace?
1 Peter 2:11–12
1 Peter Lesson #062
September 1, 2016
“Father, we pray that You will help us to objectively look at our own lives, and look in terms of our own beliefs, our own actions, and our own thoughts. We ask that God the Holy Spirit will take the truths that we study this evening and use them to enable us to move forward in our spiritual life and to grow and to be sanctified that we can live a life that is set apart to You. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.”
We continue our study in 1 Peter. We are shifting into a new section of the book today. If you remember when we went through the opening chapters in 1 Peter chapter 1 down through verse 12 we saw the opening introduction. The theme of that introduction was such that it was focusing us on the long-term plan, not the short-term plan.
We recognize that in this life we are going to face fiery trials. We’re going to face challenges and opposition. The only way to get past that is through trusting in the Lord and applying that. We have verse five, verse six, and verse seven talking about faith and preparing us for that future revelation of Jesus Christ, which is His coming for us in the Church Age. That applies to the Rapture of the Church.
Having introduced that as the major theme and the major framework for understanding the epistle, the first division of the epistle began in 1 Peter 1:13 and extended down through 1 Peter 2:10 where we stopped last time. The focal point there was to deal with something that is sometimes misunderstood in the Christian life and that is our conduct, how we conduct our lives, how we live our lives.
This is often raised as quite a challenge within churches that emphasize grace. That is one of the characteristics of the belief system, the doctrinal system we have at West Houston Bible Church and many other churches emphasizing the grace of God. We emphasize grace at salvation, that works are not necessary. An emphasis on morality or ethics or ritual or any external factor is just not relevant to your relationship with God.
God saves us on the basis of His grace, which is defined as unmerited favor. We don’t do anything to earn it or to deserve it and then after we are saved, the spiritual life is still grace, grace, grace. In fact it’s interesting as sort of an example of how this gets muddied up among churches and among individuals is that even though the spiritual life is based on grace, we understand there are commands or mandates. In fact there are 613 commands in the Mosaic Law.
There’s more than that in the New Testament. It doesn’t mean that there are no commands or mandates or absolutes that we are supposed to follow in living our Christian life. We have to fit that into this framework of grace.
Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary and author of numerous books, plus a seven-volume systematic theology, really wanted grace to be the focal point, the fulcrum, of everything about Dallas Seminary when he founded it. Recently I was reading a book on the history of Dallas Seminary and in the introduction to the book the writer had interviewed and talked with a few of the graduates who came out of Dallas Seminary back in the 1930s.
What struck me was one of these men talking about what a relaxed atmosphere there was around Dallas Seminary in the 1930s. He even went on to say something that I thought was interesting. That was that Lewis Chafer didn’t even make as large of an emphasis on what we might think of some aspects of the doctrinal statement such as dispensationalism and the Pre-Tribulation Rapture.
He had such a relaxed mental attitude that he believed that if you just taught the Word that God would use His Word to convince people and to change people. Don’t try to impose some sort of rigid legalistic external standard on people either in terms of their doctrine or in terms of their personal life.
They didn’t have a code of conduct at Dallas Seminary for students. Now that was pretty standard, at most seminaries and in a lot of seminaries they were incredibly legalistic, and at Bible colleges as well. We have folks in this congregation who went to Bob Jones University. Bob Jones is one of the most notorious for this.
There were others that had these kinds of standards. If you went on a date, not only could the boy and girl not hold hands, but there was a chaperone on the date. You couldn’t go to movies at all. If you were in the dorm, you could only watch a few television programs that were acceptable.
In some schools, especially in the 50s and early 60s, you couldn’t even watch TV. Of course, anything like drinking alcohol or partaking of tobacco products or anything like that was completely and totally forbidden, but apparently that wasn’t true at Dallas Seminary. They had this grace mentality.
There’s the story you probably heard me tell you before. I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but it makes the point. That is that one of the early graduates of Dallas Seminary was a man that you hear on the radio. He has an interesting accent. Where in the world did he get that accent? He got it because he grew up in Waxahachie, Texas. His name was J. Vernon McGee and after graduating from Dallas, for many, many years he was a pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles.
The story is that he started off at a seminary that I believe was Presbyterian, but I won’t name it in case I’m wrong. It was in Virginia. He didn’t like the fact that they weren’t dispensational and he didn’t like the fact that they were very legalistic. He decided that after he heard of this new school in Dallas, and, of course being from Waxahachie, he was only about 40 or 50 miles south of Dallas. He decided to go up there and find out if they were grace oriented or legalistic.
He got the biggest blackest smokiest cigar he could find and walked into Davidson Hall. There were only two buildings at the Dallas campus at the time. He walked in there smoking this nasty old stogie to see if they would make an issue out of that. He eventually got not only his master’s degree but his doctorate from Dallas Seminary so apparently they didn’t make an issue out of it. I always had heard that story, but after reading this comment by 1930s graduates, I could see that that was true. That was Chafer’s mentality.
You see, the problem that we have among Christians is that we always want to impose some standard on people. I believe that in my life I need to do X, Y, and Z or I can’t really grow as a Christian. That may be true, but I don’t have any basis for saying that I need to impose these standards on you because you’ve got different areas of weakness. You’ve got different problems and different challenges in your life.
That’s where legalism enters in, where people start setting this up. In 1952 Dr. Chafer died and he was replaced by John Walvoord, who was one of his protégés. He had been administrator at the school for many years and taught theology. If you read Walvoord a lot he sounds a lot like Chafer. You can tell how influenced he was.
But there was another influence in Dr. Walvoord’s life. There was an influence of worldliness in the concept of legalism and it came from one of the most important people in his life, his mother. His mother was a temperance marcher back in the period around World War I. She drilled that into him, that you can’t have alcohol, you can’t let the devil’s alcohol touch your lips if you’re a Christian.
So when Dr. Walvoord became president, grace slipped and he put together, and Dallas Seminary adopted, a code of conduct for students, which was still in effect until recently. It was an interestingly worded document that was basically saying that as future Christian leaders that all students were expected to comport themselves as Christian leaders and that would not include partaking in alcoholic beverages or tobacco products. I just found out the other day that that’s no longer true at Dallas Seminary.
They finally modified that. It was already true de facto for about 35 years but they actually changed it just a few years ago. Anyway that’s an illustration of this problem that has plagued Christians since the early church. What do you do with sin in the Christian life? There’s this emphasis that you just have to come down hard on it. Sometimes maybe you do but you can’t do it at the expense of grace.
We have an emphasis on grace in salvation. We have a grace emphasis on grace and the spiritual life. We have an emphasis on grace and dealing with people and their failures. There’s not one person here who hasn’t blown it spiritually in some huge ways. Maybe not in terms of overt sin, but maybe in terms of mental attitude sins. Maybe in terms of sins of the tongue.
There are a lot of Christians who may not have committed one of the five or six worst sins that they think of, but then they’re always gossiping or they’re judging people or they think they’re better than everybody else. You hear people that say, “Well I’ve never sinned.” I had one volunteer that said that. They thought they never sinned but that’s because they only have three things on their sin list. As long as you don’t do those three things you’re in pretty good shape.
This has always been a problem. But we believe in grace and there’s forgiveness of sin. We have to understand though how we balance that with what the Scripture teaches. This has been a problem. The problem of the other extreme of licentiousness has been there since the beginning of the church.
These are the two poles. Either legalism, on the one hand, or licentiousness. Licentiousness is the idea that Jesus died for all my sins and paid for all my sins. So what the hey, I’m just going to keep living in sin. Paul addressed that in Romans 6:1–2 so we have to deal with this issue in this chapter because the command here is to abstain from sin. Peter doesn’t mean that in an absolute sense because Peter knows that we’re all sinners, but in an experiential sense in terms of spiritual life, that’s the command.
Is this legalism or grace? Obviously it’s the Word of God so it can’t be legalism. Paul dealt with the licentious aspect in a couple of places. In Romans 6:1 after he has expounded on justification by faith, and on reconciliation and on how Christ and His work on the Cross provided reconciliation and dealt with sin, he faces head on the question that people would ask. That is, if sin is paid for, let’s just keep on sinning. If we sin this much and we got grace, let’s sin some more so we’ll get some more grace.
Paul says, “What shall we say then?” That’s a rhetorical question to focus on the issue. “Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?” If you talk to a lot of Christians, especially today, I fear it’s a major problem today as ever, but especially among Millennials. They just don’t want to think that many, many things are sin, Part of the problem is we don’t have a high view of sin. We have a low view of sin.
We’re defining sin in the wrong way and that is something we’re going to have to address as I go through this. How do we define sin? What happens in every generation in American church history is that sin gets defined in terms of certain social evils, certain socially unacceptable evils.
Today, sin is often defined in terms of political correctness. If you’re not politically correct or you say something that’s not politically correct or you don’t act politically correct or you don’t vote in a politically correct manner, then you are sinning. If you don’t hold to social justice, which has become embedded in the thinking of Millennials, if you don’t have this concept of social justice, then you’re evil. They don’t realize that the whole concept of social justice is in itself evil.
This is what happens when people don’t know the Word of God and they don’t define sin the way God defines sin. Then everything gets turned topsy-turvy, inside out, and backwards. As the prophets of Israel said, “You begin to call evil good and good evil.” You have to let the Word of God define itself.
This has always been a problem. There’s nothing new under the sun. It may get new labels. It may freshen up the clothes a little bit and it may dress itself up a little differently but it’s still the same old problem.
You had these folks in the first century who thought, “Wow, if Christ died for my sins and we’ve got grace, let’s just keeping sinning and we’ll get more grace.” Paul uses a phrase in the Greek that’s translated, “certainly not”. It’s much stronger in the Greek and we might colloquially translate it as “hell no”. It’s pretty close to that. It’s “not at all”. Never! Don’t even think it!
Paul said, “How shall we who died to sin live in it?” That’s a crucial issue to understand in terms of our spiritual life. “How shall we who died to sin live in it?” This is the struggle that especially grace-oriented Christians have. We know we’re going to sin. Sometimes we think of it as what some people describe confession as rebound. We’re bouncing back from carnality.
Other people say I know I’m going to sin so I’ll just confess it ahead of time. We call it pre-bound, don’t laugh. I know almost everybody here has thought that at some point or another. We have to understand that there is this distinction made between being obedient to the Word and dealing personally with the sin in our own life. It’s not your wife’s sin and not your husband’s sin. You can deal with your sin and your kids’ sins because as your role as a parent, maybe as a grandparent, you have that responsibility, but not your neighbor’s sin. We’ve got enough trouble on our own so we have to learn to deal with our sin without slipping over the edge into some sort of legalism.
Now there’s sort of a facetious answer to that that I heard from the wife of one pastor some years ago, who said, “Well, seems like a little legalism really wouldn’t hurt.” And there may be a little truth to that if you’re dealing with a lot of licentious people, but that’s not what the Scripture says.
We’ll talk about another problem that comes along in Galatians as well as look at this passage in 1 Peter. We come to this passage in Galatians 5:13. After Paul has laid his groundwork for answering the question that he brought up in Galatians 3:3 he doesn’t come back to the answer until he gets to Galatians 5:16. As he ends his “set up” for the answer he says, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
He’s dealing with that legalism problem again. Don’t let the liberty, the freedom you have in Christ, give you a rationale to say it won’t really matter. I’ll just commit this little sin or that little sin and I’ll do that or this and somehow get away with it. He says don’t use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
It’s going to come down to this this important issue we’re going to address it Sunday morning about what it means to love one another, such as Jesus outlines in Matthew 22. That’s the second great commandment. So what we have is this issue of licentiousness.
A long time ago I read an author who wrote a whole book on grace and it was pretty good. In there he said that one of the problems that we’ll see when you’re teaching grace, when you’re teaching people that Christ paid for sins and when you’re teaching people that they can’t pay for their sin, is you’re teaching people that they have genuine, full, true forgiveness of their sin and that if they confess sin no matter how horrible it is, that God instantly forgives and cleanses them of sin. If you teach that people are going to take advantage of God’s grace.
Then he said that if you don’t have people in your congregation taking advantage of God’s grace, then you’re probably not teaching grace. Now think about that. That’s a pretty profound observation. If you think about it, if you have experience as a parent or as a child, which covers just about everybody here, you know there was a point in time in your life when your parents began to give you a little more freedom and a little more responsibility. Then there came that time when parents say, “I have to go somewhere tonight and we’re going to leave you at home alone.”
What a test that would be today. “We’ll leave you at home alone and see whether or not you have learned what we taught you to be responsible and not abuse your freedom.” If I had a show of hands, I would say that maybe not the first time, but sooner or later, all of us abused and took advantage of that freedom. At some point when we were growing up, that is. That’s how we learn. That is how people grow up.
Sometimes you get some people who once they got to the point where they tasted a little freedom they abused it until they were through their adolescent years and through their 20s and through their 30s. Somewhere around their 50s they began to wake up and realize that they needed to get control again.
That’s what happens with a lot of people in their spiritual life, who get so focused on the fact that they’re saved so they can live like they want to, that their life doesn’t reflect any difference with anybody else around them. One of the things that we ought to recognize is the expectation in Scripture is that if you are a Christian, no matter where you are, whether at work or whether at play, whether you’re with your friends, or whether you’re with colleagues at work, no matter what the political environment, the way you live is going to distinctively set you apart from everybody else.
Back in the 30s and 40s and 50s when there were a lot of people who were Christians or so-called Christians and they were loaded with legalism, that wasn’t that much of a problem because they had confused moral life, and an ethical life, with a spiritual life. Not that Christians are immoral or unethical, but spirituality is higher than morality. Any unbeliever can be moral or ethical. But Christians do it through the power of the Holy Spirit, which takes it to a different level.
We have to deal with this issue of licentiousness and understanding the spiritual life as we look at this passage. What Paul says is don’t use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. This is another question we need to ask. What is the flesh? This is a term that is used in most of these passages that we’re going to look at whether it’s in Galatians 5:16–18, or whether it’s in Romans 6 or Romans 8 or 1 Peter 2. What is the term flesh?
The Greek word for flesh is SARX. It’s used literally to describe the flesh of any living creature, what their material body is made of. It’s also used to refer to the physical human body. It’s used in context to refer to the material body in contrast to the immaterial nature. It has a wide range of meanings. That’s the point.
Remember, if it’s used to contrast the material body to the immaterial nature, what’s the word that you use to describe the immaterial nature? It’s the word spirit or PNEUMA. We studied that word before in the past and there are a lot of different meanings to that word. You have to look at each verse in its context to determine meaning.
The one that that is significant for our study is that it’s used to refer to the weakness or the sinfulness of man. It’s used to sometimes think that the flesh is weak, in that sense. There’s a spiritual inability there. It refers to the sinfulness of man, the capacity to sin. We use the word sin nature and that’s a comfortable word for me. It’s a comfortable word for you. You heard that word many, many times, but you’d be surprised at how seminary students can get all wrapped around the axle over that word “nature” and I have read ad nausea their papers on why that’s not the right word.
One meaning of the word “nature” is just the capacity to do something. That’s what the sin nature is. It is our inherent capacity to disobey God, to sin. It involves all of the sinful passions and affections and all the different operations. There is another word that is used with it that’s either in an adjectival or an adverbial form and that’s the word fleshly or fleshy. It depends on the ending in the Greek, but basically it’s the form SARKIKOS. You take the SAR and you add an ending to it and it relates to something that pertains to the flesh. In other words, something that pertains to the sin nature and the desires and the lust patterns of the sin nature.
So that’s what we’re going to deal with because what Paul is saying here is we have to abstain from fleshly lusts. I’m not going to ask for a show of hands as to how successful anybody has been over that. So in conclusion, the Scripture uses the word “flesh” to describe the sinful capacity, the corruption, which sin has brought upon the human race and all the desires, thoughts, actions, and trends which orient each of us away from God and His perfect righteousness.
To understand sin, we have to understand that Scripture contrasts sin with God’s character. It’s not contrasting our character with other people’s character. It’s always a contrast with God’s character, which is perfect righteousness and His holiness. I don’t like to use the word “holiness” because it’s such an overused word and a word that just doesn’t resonate with a lot of meaning for most people. Holiness really has the idea of being set apart as distinct.
What distinguishes God from all of His creatures is His absolute justice and absolute righteousness, which no creature has. Even when He created the angels with righteousness or He created man in the image of God with righteousness, it’s a derivative righteousness. It’s not an absolute righteousness. God’s character becomes the standard against which any other behavior is measured. The issue isn’t how good you do in comparison to your brother or your sister or your parents, your next-door neighbor, or your best friend. It’s our behavior in contrast to what is expected of us from God.
Flesh of the sin nature always relates to something that violates the character of God. I did something interesting this afternoon because part of what I want to do in the next couple of weeks is just sort of give a summary overview of what the Bible teaches about sin. The technical term for that is hamartiology because the Greek word for sin is HAMARTIA. So hamartiology is the theology, that branch of systematic theology, which deals with sin.
It’s really a subcategory of biblical anthropology, or what makes up man. How do we understand a human being? Anthropology, if you think about it, in the secular world is the study of human beings. A subset of secular anthropology is psychology. What makes human beings tick? When you look at secular psychology, it’s all based on empiricism.
When you look at what the Bible says it’s based on how God made human beings and how God defines the basic problem. There’s an interesting article that was sent to me yesterday morning that came out a couple of days ago on American Thinker. Some of you read some of the articles in American Thinker on the Internet. The title of this article was “The Death of Evangelicalism”. It was written by somebody who I could tell by the way he wrote it in some of the references he made that he graduated from seminary not too long after I graduated from seminary.
He talked about the fact that the seminary that he had graduated from in the early 80s made these terrible shifts. That was typical of all that you can name, any seminary that was a major evangelical seminary in the 1970s. They all were making these shifts in the late 70s and late 80s The first thing he mentioned as the shift that did them in was when they threw out the Bible alone as the basis for counseling and understanding human behavior, and assimilated humanistic psychology into their systems.
Today I have been crucified in previous congregations because of my stand for the Bible alone in the area of psychology. Most churches have already compromised on this area. Back in the 80s I remember battles that Tommy Ice and I fought around Dallas Seminary. It was even in the 70s. We were back-to-back battle buddies and everybody else was against us. I’ve seen a few churches along the way where the pastors have succumbed and have said, “It’s okay to go to Christian counseling and psychotherapy.” It’s always been disastrous because it destroys the authority of the Word of God in people’s lives.
That was the first thing that this author pointed out is what led to now about a 35- to 40-year-long slow commitment of suicide by the evangelical church. So today it is a wreck. Evangelicalism is almost a meaningless term because most churches that are evangelical Bible churches, evangelical no-name generic temple of whatever, cathedral of whatever, or just some generic name based on what part of town they are in have lost focus on what the Christian life is all about.
They think that the way that you can get there is through going to Bible study and going to small groups, but what really helps, they believe, is the prescription medication they take. Now there are cases when people need to have certain prescription medication, but there are a lot of people I mean, there’s a huge problem with the over medication of our culture of people who just have the blues. They want to get some kind of antidepressant and these drugs change the way your brain works.
What happens is we start having a little downer in our life and there’s a little problem and there’s a little adversity. Rather than learning how to walk through it by the Holy Spirit we want to go get a little pharmaceutical help. I’ve even heard one person who said, “You know it’s great to walk by the Spirit, but it wasn’t until I got drugs that I could really have a handle on this.” The blasphemous implications of that are phenomenal, but they just go right past a huge number of people.
We look at this problem of the sin nature. What does Peter say here? As we get into this section we’re shifting gears from the section 1 Peter 1:13 down through 2:10. We know that he is shifting gears because he inserts this first word, “beloved”. He says, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims …” So he’s shifting from what he says and it has very little to do with what he just completed related to the priesthood of the believer. It grows out of that.
He says, “I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from the fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”
Peter is so practical. He says what what’s going to make a difference is how people see the way you live. They’re watching you. I had somebody, a friend of mine who was one of the men involved in starting this church tell me one time that because we had numerous friends who were in the Jewish community he said they were watching us all the time. Just because nobody says it, it doesn’t mean they’re not watching you as a believer.
If they know you’re a Christian they are watching you. They’re looking to see if the way you live matches what you believe, that it really does make a difference to be a Christian. Or, is it just some hobby or just something you do and they do something else on Sunday morning? They sleep late and read the paper. They watch the morning news shows and you go to church. As far as they’re concerned, it really doesn’t seem to make a difference in the lives of most Christians.
Peter says that our conduct should make a difference. They can observe the good works and the result is that God is glorified in the day of visitation. That doesn’t mean God is glorified today. The day of visitation is another way Peter has of talking about the Judgment Seat of Christ. When Christ returns we’re raptured and resurrected. The dead in Christ rise first. We who are alive and remain will be caught up together with Him in the clouds and then what happens? The Bema seat, the Judgment Seat of Christ. And when there are rewards, God is glorified for the believer’s life who walks by the Spirit and grows to spiritual maturity.
As we look at this one-sentence, two-verse paragraph, I want you to notice a couple of things here. The main idea in verse 11 is I beg you, I challenge you, I exhort you. We’ll look at that word in just a minute. It’s a strong word. It’s translated a lot of places in the new King James version as I beseech you, which is another word that’s kind of lost as it resonates with the old Elizabethan English, The main thought is I beg you to abstain from fleshly lust.
He starts with the negative and then he shifts to the positive by having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles. It’s a focus ultimately, on the positive. He says you abstain. How? By having honorable conduct. How do we have this honorable conduct? We have to study the Word and learn how to walk by the Spirit.
He starts negatively by saying abstain from fleshly lusts and then positively by saying what he means when he talks about you having your conduct honorable.
The idea there is that it’s a noble and morally good life. It is an ethically sound life because you are walking by the Spirit. You and I know it’s more than morality, but to the unbeliever, he just looks at us and says we’re morally sound. We live an honorable life. You can count on our word. You can believe them when they say they’re going to do something. They’re going to be a responsible at whatever tasks are assigned to them. There’s a difference in us. They can trust us where they can’t always trust anyone else.
The word that is used for that is the word ANASTROPHE, which means a way of life, a lifestyle, or a manner of life. Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this word. This shows the connection between this sentence, these two verses, and what was a major theme in 1 Peter 1:13 down to 2:10.
This word shows up either as a noun in verse 1:15 and 1:18, or as the verb form in 1:17. In the previous section, this idea that it’s our conduct, our way of life that needs to be transformed.
He’s not saying you do it externally. Peter clearly understands it’s from the inside out. Just as Paul says in in Romans 12:1–2, that we’re to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. The transformation is not only internal but it’s external in terms of our conduct and in our lifestyle. He says, “But as He who called you is holy [that was studied in 1:15] as He who called you is distinct and unique and set apart from all of His creatures, you also be holy, be set apart to God, in all of your behavior and in all of your conduct in the way you live your life and conduct your business.”
1 Peter 1:17 says, “And if you call on the Father [that is, in prayer] who, without partiality, judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves.” That’s living the life. That’s the verb form. “Live your life throughout the time of your stay here on this earth, in fear.” That is respect for God that changes the way we live and think on a day-to-day basis.
In 1 Peter 1:18 you have the negative where Peter is talking about redemption, that we were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, from our aimless conduct. That’s what characterizes the unbeliever, a non-focused, non-biblical, non-moral way of life. There’s a contrast there from 1:13 down to 2:10.
He even brings this out again in a little different way into chapter 2:1 when he talks about laying aside all malice. As I talked about it there that’s not some sort of moral pull yourself up from your bootstraps kind of the spiritual life where you just quit doing certain things. It has to be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that from other passages, which we’ll look at in the study, but it has to start by just confessing sin.
We strip it off that way when we confess sin, because you can’t say if verse 1 precedes the command to desire the milk of the Word, then the way most people take verse 1 is you have to quit committing sin before we can start studying the Word. That’s just nonsense. They haven’t thought it through very well. You can’t say it. So it has to be the same idea we talk about with confession. You strip off the dirty garments. You remove them by confessing sin and we’re cleansed.
Now sooner or later we’re going to start sinning again. We’re going to have to confess again and get rid of those dirty garments, but you have to do that. You have to strip off that and be cleansed before you can go forward.
What I want to do in verse 11 is break this down in terms of the language of the text and what is being said. Then start here to develop both a good sense of what the Bible teaches about sin and hamartiology and what that means for the spiritual life so we’ll just barely get started this evening.
It starts off with the word “beloved”. It’s an interesting word from the noun AGAPE, which means love, and you add on a suffix AGAPETOS, which means someone who is loved. In English that is beloved. This is a word that is used a number of times in the Scriptures through the authors. Paul uses it. Peter uses it. James uses it. John loves it. That’s how they address their recipients. Now what do they mean? A lot of us when we read this we’re thinking this is personal. Paul will use it in a personal way to refer to Epaphroditus as my beloved, or you Philippians are my beloved. It’s personal that way when it has that first person pronoun in front of it.
When it’s used as a stand-alone noun it’s not talking about the author’s love for his recipients. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t love them, but that’s not the emphasis.
The first time we see it used in the epistle is in Romans, which even though it was written later by Paul, it’s the first one in the way we organize the English Bible. He writes to them and says to all who are in Rome, beloved of God. So when we see this word stand-alone in the Scripture, the emphasis isn’t on the writer’s love for the people he’s writing to, but he’s writing them because they are fellow recipients of the love of God.
They have experienced that love in their salvation and they are beloved positionally because they are now in God’s family and they are part of God’s royal family. They have been adopted into the royal family of God. So they are beloved, which is used a number of places as I pointed out. Romans 1:7 gives us a sort of a definition and understanding of why they are beloved.
In Romans 12:19 Paul says, “Beloved”. Then he goes on to tell them what they should not do in terms of their behavior. As I pointed out, it’s used by Paul, Peter, James, and John a number of times.
In Philippians 4:1 Paul uses it to refer to the Philippians, “My beloved and longed-for brethren”. It’s a much more personal use in that verse. In James 1:16 and three times in James, James refers to them as my beloved brethren. Several other times he refers to them as my brethren. When he’s using these terms, my brother and my beloved brethren, he is talking to them as believers. So many people get screwed up in their interpretation of James because they don’t understand James is not writing to help them understand whether or not they are saved. James is writing to them because they are and he knows they are saved and is telling them how they should live the spiritual life.
James is not a book of proverbs about how to live wisely in the Church Age. It is about how Church Age believers are to exploit their new position as those who are beloved in Christ. So this word is used three times in James. In five chapters it’s used three times. It’s used seven times in 1 and 2 Peter so Peter’s fond of it.
This is the first time it’s used in 1 Peter, but in the five chapters of 1 Peter and the three chapters of 2 Peter, it’s used seven times. In John’s epistles of 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John with five chapters in 1 John, one in 2 John, and one in 3 John, he uses “beloved” six times when he is addressing his recipients. In 2 John, he doesn’t mention it all and then he uses it three times in 3 John for a total of nine. This is a standard word that is used by all of the apostles to address the body of Christ, that they are beloved of God.
What we need to think about is in terms of the impact of this on our thinking is that when you look at any given congregation, not like our congregation because we don’t have a lot of problems in our congregation, but you look at somebody else’s congregation and they have people that have all kinds of problems. They have people who are involved in various kinds of sin. They have people who are falling apart in their personal life. They have people who are who are not just pushing the panic button but are jumping up and down on top of the panic button whenever anything goes wrong.
They have all kinds of problems and some of these people aren’t very nice. We all know Christians that we really would rather not spend any time around. For some reason we just don’t like them, but what we learn from this is positionally we are all beloved. Why is that? Because God loves all believers for two reasons, and we should imitate that.
1. Because every believer is made in the image of God and because we are all image bearers we are to love one another.
2. Because we’re all adopted into God’s royal family.
So it’s not this idea, “Well I should love them.” It depends on what you mean by that. We have to define the word “love”. “Love” doesn’t mean that we’re going to feel a certain way about them or we’re going to really like and enjoy their company.
It means we’re going to treat them with honor and respect and good manners. We’re not going to run them down. We’re not going to slander them or gossip about them. We know that every believer is growing at whatever pace they are growing and we have to treat them in grace. Now that’s going to come across in a lot of ways as just good manners. We’re going to go the extra mile as we’ll see on Sunday morning in order to be good to them and kind and generous to them. That’s what impersonal love means. It doesn’t mean we have to personally feel warm and affectionate about every believer as we do some of our close friends.
Peter goes on to say, “Beloved, I beg you.” I don’t really like the way that’s translated. It makes Peter look like he just got down on his knees, imploring them to do something they don’t want to do. The word here is PARAKALEO. It is the verb form of the noun PARAKLETE, which is used of God the Holy Spirit. He is our Comforter and our Helper and the one who challenges us in the spiritual life. It has this meaning of urging someone to do something, exhorting them to do something, and challenging them to do something.
One of the greatest speeches that I ever heard that is an exhortation was that speech at the opening of [the movie] Patton given by George C. Scott. That is an exhortation to go forth and kill the enemy and to understand how it’s going to impact the thinking of the soldier. He talks about what happens when their best friend is killed and how that’s going to make him feel.
Now we’re going to go through life with a lot of problems, but in combat we have to focus on doing the right thing, carrying out our training, and that’s part of the Christian life. That’s an exhortation. It’s a challenge to do the right thing no matter how difficult it is.
So Paul uses this term in Romans 12:1 and it’s translated “beseech” in Romans 12:1. In Ephesians 4:1 it’s, “I challenge you brethren and I urge you to do something.”
It’s a strong word to challenge people to behave a certain way. Maybe in some case, in many cases, to change the way they think and the way they live. In Romans 12:1 he says “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice.” We studied in the previous 10 verses that we are priests of God and the sacrifice that we offer is our life that will serve God, which is the idea of the sacrifice. It’s not necessarily giving something up to the point where it hurts, but serving God by offering our lives in His service, wholly acceptable to God, which is your logical service.
In Ephesians 4:1 he says, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you [urge you, challenge you], to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.” Then he uses it with two ladies who were having a bit of a problem in the Philippian congregation that’s affecting the whole congregation.
Let me tell you something. These were small congregations, maybe smaller than our congregation. Certainly not a whole lot bigger and everybody knew each other and they all lived in relatively small towns. When you compare Ephesus or Philippi with Houston, they were probably about the size of Tomball, maybe not even that large. They were not mega churches.
When these two women got crossways with each other, it impacted the whole congregation. While we may sin alone, but that doesn’t mean that the sin only affects us. It may affect a number of other people and our sin may only be against God, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t impact other people.
So he says, “I implore, I urge, I exhort Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.” In other words, grow up. Learn to agree with each other and learn to work with each other and do what’s right before the Lord and get your focus off of yourself. That’s always the problem with the sin nature.
The next two words that Peter uses need to be understood together. They are “sojourners” and “pilgrims” and these are words that once again would resonate more with the Jewish-background believer than with a Gentile because of the way these words are used. The word translated “sojourners” is the word PAROIKOS. It has to do with where you live. It’s a house, a dwelling, so it has to do with somebody who’s living or dwelling in a strange place. Maybe if you moved from Texas to California you would think of yourself as a real sojourner because you’re living in a really strange place.
“Pilgrim” is PAREPIDEMOS. This is a word that was often used in conjunction with those who were in the Diaspora, the Jews who were scattered. These terms were applied to Jewish-background believers who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire. But they are also applied to any believer, because we are not living in our Father’s home. We are living on this Earth as ambassadors for Christ and we have a different mission. We are often strangers in a very, very strange world because we’re carrying out the mission that the Lord has given us.
The word “stranger” is used in Acts 7:6 and 29 to talk about Abraham who dwelt in a foreign land when he moved from Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land God promised. Then in Acts 7:29 it’s used of Moses when he left Egypt, which was his home country. He went to the land of Midian. He was dwelling in a strange place.
Where Gentiles are compared to that is in Ephesians 2:19. Before the cross they were strangers to the covenants of God. The word “pilgrims” is an unfortunate translation today because when you say the word “pilgrim” to anyone over 40 they think of someone wearing black with white collars who came over on the Mayflower and landed near Boston. If you’re under 40 you probably don’t know who these people were or you think it has something to do with Thanksgiving.
The definition of the word “pilgrim” is someone who journeys to a sacred place or religious location for religious or spiritual reasons. It’s related to the Old Testament saints and they understood that they were looking for a city set on a hill. They were looking for the ultimate provision of the promises of God in terms of providing a kingdom. It is used by Peter to relate to the Diaspora. The Jews in the Diaspora were pilgrims. And then it’s applied here. So again, this is a word that resonates with that Jewish background.
Then we get to the main command, which is an extension of the word. It’s an infinitive, a middle infinitive. I bring that out and a lot of times I don’t talk about the voice, but in this case it’s important because in a present active voice the word has a different meaning. In the middle voice it has that idea of avoiding any contact with something. Avoiding something completely. Not engaging in it. Keeping away from it. Refraining from it or abstaining from it.
It means don’t do it. That’s what Peter is saying. He’s completing his thought. It has an imperatival sense that he’s urging them not to do something. Stay away from it. Don’t yield to the fleshly lusts which war against your soul.
It’s used that way in a couple of different passages. In Acts 15:20 and 29 it’s talking about the end of the Jerusalem council. We’ll talk about that and you’ll learn some new things about the Jerusalem Council that I’ve learned recently. Remember that the problem with the Jerusalem Council is they were dealing with the Judaizers who were all upset because Gentiles were being treated as equal partner in the church.
The apostles got together and said, “How do we handle it?” They came to a grace solution, but the one thing they said they wanted the Gentiles to do is to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, and from things strangled in blood. That’s not legalism. That’s not saying not to watch TV or go to movies or drink or dance or chew and don’t go with girls who do. All of this is embedded with an understanding of absolutes. Don’t get involved in idolatry. Don’t get involved in sexual immorality and in things strangled in blood, which was also part of the ritual in terms of idols.
They were to abstain from those things. In 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, that you should abstain from sexual immorality.” Then in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 Paul says, “Abstain from every kind of evil.”
This isn’t legalism. It is spiritually responsible living. Now it can be legalism if you think that by not doing certain things somehow that impresses God and makes you more savable or makes you greater than any other Christian. You can easily turn the mandates of Scripture into legalism but just following the mandates of Scripture is not legalism. It is responsible Christian living.
What I want to do next time we come back is dig down into this a little deeper. We are to abstain from fleshly lusts. We have to come to understand what that is and what this warfare is that we’re engaged in day-in and day-out as part of our spiritual life. We are to abstain from fleshly lusts.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to study these things and to reflect upon Your Word, to be reminded that there are standards in the Christian life even though we’re saved by grace and we’re part of Your family. There are standards of behavior for the royal family of God. There’s protocol to follow and this is part of that protocol.
Father, help us to reflect upon our own life, our own living, our own thinking so we can understand what Your standards are so we might live in a way that will bring glory to You at the Judgment Seat of Christ. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”