So far in our series through 1 Peter, we’ve been reminded—over and over—of the glorious wonders and privileges of the gospel:
We are God’s elect (1:1).
We have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit (1:2).
We have been given new birth (1:3).
We have a living hope (1:3).
We have a heavenly inheritance waiting for us (1:4).
We are being shielded by God while we wait for our Savior to take us home (1:5).
We have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (1:19).
We are God’s special possession (2:9).
We have received great mercy (2:10).
Peter has reminded us of these gospel truths to encourage any of us weighed down by the trials we experience on this earth (1:6). Having lifted our souls anew by a sure hope in Christ, he now pivots to teach us what Christian living should look like in full consideration of the glorious blessings we have in Christ. In other words, he answers the question, “How should we live in light of all that the Lord has done for us?”
Here are his directives:
Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)
We have already seen the basic idea for Christians to pursue holy living, which Peter has called us to in 1:15-16. But here in 2:11-12, he builds on his main idea to teach us two sides of holiness.
Abstaining from Sin
On one side of holy living, we have the call to abstain from sinful desires, which we see in verse 11. Of course, this directive comes on the heels of Peter lifting our hearts with the truths of the gospel. Ultimately, we abstain from sin because it's the right response to the glorious grace we've received in Christ; if God has rescued us from sin, we no longer bathe in it. But in our text, Peter shares two more reasons why we should abstain from sin.
First, “as foreigners and exiles,” we no longer belong to this world nor its sinful pleasures. As those who belong to Christ, our true identity is tethered to heaven, and it’s pull away from this world should feel irresistible. Pursuing sin is simply an unnatural pursuit for those whose true homeland is in heaven. Peter is reminding us that citizens of heaven fill themselves with Christlikeness, not worldliness. He wants us to live in ways that reflect Jesus, not the world (more on this below).
Second, we must abstain from sinful desires also because they “wage war against your soul.” Peter knows our trials and tests of faith will likely come with the temptation of sinful desires, which he has already described as “malice… deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander” (2:1). The list brings to mind the trial Peter faced when Jesus was arrested. Do you remember his deceit under the pressure of being recognized as one of Jesus’ followers? Three times he lied about his relationship with Jesus, culminating in his cry, “I don’t know the man!” (Matthew 26:74).
In our trials, we will be tempted with fleshly desires that appeal to us with the attraction of momentary satisfaction, but which ultimately cause us pain and harm in the long run. Thankfully, the Lord is in the business of forgiving us and restoring us, just like he did for Peter (John 21:15-17). And since he knows the damaging effects of sin, Peter urges us—with great love and care—to abstain from sinful desires. Why put ourselves through the heartache sin inevitably brings?
Committing to Good Works
On the other side of holy living, we have the call to commit to good works (2:12). As a continuation of the negative directive we saw above in verse 11, which is to “abstain,” we have in verse 12 the positive directive to “live… good lives.” It’s a directive that Peter ties to “good deeds” in the latter half of the verse, letting us know that gospel-centered living is not only about abstaining from some things, it’s also about committing ourselves to other things. Specifically, good deeds.
And this isn’t exclusive to Peter’s letter. Repeatedly, the New Testament calls us to good works. Why? Because they’re an outward expression of our inward transformation in Christ. So it shouldn’t surprise us to see good works highlighted throughout the New Testament:
In Ephesians 2:10, we are reminded of the importance of doing good works as a result of our salvation.
In Titus 2:7, we are reminded that our good works serve as an example to others.
In Titus 2:14, we see that keeping Jesus at the center of our lives leads us to be “eager to do what is good.”
In Titus 3:8, we are told that “those who have trusted in God [are] careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.”
In James 2:14-17, we are reminded that good works are evidence of genuine faith.
And Peter himself will go on talking about the importance of good works throughout this letter. He’s going to show us again and again our call to good works in various settings, even as we suffer injustices and trials of various kinds. But the greatest text of all, we find in Matthew 5:16, where Jesus says, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
It seems Peter paraphrased the words of Jesus. There is remarkable similarity between Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:16 and Peter’s words here in verse 12, words that Peter would have heard several years before writing this letter of his own. Truly, Peter is living with Jesus at the center of his life, with the gospel at the center of his heart, and the Word of God at the center of his mind, encouraging him unto the good work of writing a letter of encouragement to suffering first-century Christians.
And we should do likewise.
How do we motivate ourselves to good works? By looking to Jesus and recalling the greatest good work of all. If we want to live as citizens of heaven, reflecting Jesus rather than the world, we do so by pointing our hearts to the selfless work of Christ through the cross and the empty grave, for it’s in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection that we find our greatest motive for committing ourselves to good works.
Allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to motivate you toward good works! Not because you’re trying to earn salvation, which is impossible (Ephesians 2:8-9), but because you’ve already been saved by God’s magnificent and generous grace (Ephesians 2:10). As you savor God’s goodness through the work of Christ, allow that goodness to overflow from your heart, that you might overflow with good works of your own; good works that serve others; good works that reflect Christ; and ultimately, good works that will “glorify God on the day he visits us.”
With Christ as your motive, what is one good work you could commit to this week? Go, and do it.
With love for you in Christ,