Perhaps you have heard of the KISS management principle. Kiss is an acronym that stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. It is a reminder that the more complicated a plan becomes the less people will understand it. Management gurus make fortunes coming up with simple formulas like this for managing complex organizations.
This morning, in just two verses we are going to find a simple formula for how to live faithfully as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 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.
The principle for living holy and faithful lives is this: “Avoid what is destructive and practice what is good.” We’ll spend the rest of our time expanding on the principle.
Before we look at the principle make sure you catch the tone of Peter’s words. The New International Version begins with the words “dear friends” but it is likely that a better translation is “beloved”. The word used is from the word agape, the strongest word for deep and sacrificial love. This is important because Peter is not trying to bully or coerce us here. He speaks to us out of love. He wants what is best for us.
Imagine you have fallen into some sin. Two different people confront you with the wrongness of your actions. The first one comes to you with his finger in your face and anger in his eyes. He raises his voice and scolds you for the way you have been living. You get the feeling that this person is angry because you have let them down or embarrassed them in some way. How would you respond?
The second person has been by your side through thick and thin. They have proved their love to you again and again. They are on that short list of people you know you could call if you were in real trouble. This person takes you aside puts their arm around you and looks at you with moist eyes. They ask, “What are you doing?” Their words aren’t much different from what the first person said. Would your response be different? I suspect it would be. We would respond to the heart with which the words are spoken.
This is why we need to get at the heart, the love, and the compassion behind the words Peter will share with us. We need to hear the words spoken out of love and concern.
Abstain from Sinful Desires
The first thing Peter tells us to do is to stop giving in to sinful desires. This is like the guy who comes to the Doctor and says, “Doctor I have this horrible headache because I keep hitting myself in the head. How do I get rid of the headache? The answer is pretty simple: Stop hitting yourself in the head!
Peter tells us that if we really want to walk as a child of God then we need to stop giving in to sinful desires. But what are “sinful desires” and why should we stop giving in to them?
The word for “sinful” actually means “fleshly” desires. Peter describes these kinds of desires later in chapter 4. He says a true believer
does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. 3 For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. [1 Peter 4:2-3]
In the book of Galatians Paul contrasts the “fruit of the Spirit” with
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. [Galatians 5:19-22]
There are many of these lists but I hope you get the idea. Sinful or fleshly desires are the very things that advertisers, salesmen, politicians, and even some of our friends promote. They encourage us to indulge, to live the “good life”, to embrace life, and to look out for “number 1” (and they don’t mean God).
One commentator writes with a sad clarity,
In our day there is little shared understanding of honorable conduct. We have lost the vital connection between the body and the soul. We live in a day that has not only loosened itself from biblical moorings but from the ancient Greek classical ones as well. The sad truth is this: we live in a day that is more earthbound and passion-driven than even the unbelieving ancient world. And this is all the more reason to heed Peter’s call. “Abstain.”
Let’s try to make this more concrete. Peter is telling us to abstain from sinful desires such as,
- Sexual impurity (sex outside of Biblical marriage, marital unfaithfulness (adultery), pornography etc.)
- A preoccupation with stuff that leads us to obsess, steal, spend ourselves into bondage, or manipulate others.
- The lust for power which leads us to pervert justice and manipulate people.
- The need to always be right, which leads us to distort truth, justify our sin, and makes us unable to listen to anyone else.
- The sinful desires of Jealousy, Bitterness, Resentment, Hostility and an Unforgiving spirit which poison everything else we do with a negative outlook.
- The desire to rebel against God by creating a “designer faith” (taking parts of various belief systems and combining them into your own new religion) or by begin “too busy for God”.
I hope you get the idea. The command is simple but it is HUGE. We all have sinful things to wrestle with in our lives. What makes this difficult is that everyone around us is not wrestling with these things . . . they are pursuing them with gusto! We might even feel we are being “penalized” for being a believer by not being able to “have any fun”. We might ask, “Why should we abstain from such things?”
Peter gives two simple answers. First, we are aliens and strangers in this world. In essence he says, “Look, as a child of God you are not like everyone else”. We have a different focus, different values and are heading to a different destination. Because of this we should be living differently from everyone else.
Imagine you were attending the Olympic games in some foreign country. The people of the country are all very nice and welcoming. You enjoy your visit to the country and feel it is a very nice place to live. However, when the games begin who do you root for? Where will your loyalty lie? It will lie with your own country. Many professional athletes play on teams in the United States, but when it comes time for the Olympics they play for the team of the country where they hold their citizenship. Our citizenship impacts our behavior.
We can enjoy and appreciate life in this world but because we are citizens of the Kingdom of God through the blood of Christ and the mercy and grace of God, we have a different loyalty than those around us. We pursue a different goal. We seek a Kingdom that is not of this world but of the next.
Second, Peter says we should abstain from sinful desires because they are destroying us. He says they “war against our souls”! These “temporary pleasures” that others pursue are like a cancer that eats away our soul and character. Outwardly we may appear to be “having a good time”, inwardly we are dying.
Look at what these desires do to our society.
- Infidelity and sexual license destroys families and leaves people bruised and damaged.
- The obsession with the material leaves people enslaved by debt and encourages corruption, deception and all kinds of scams to take advantage of others;
- Bitterness and hatred incite violence in the home and in the world
- Laziness encourages a sense of entitlement rather than diligence and productivity;
- The worship of power leads to injustice and a sense of lawlessness and promotes violence and competition rather than cooperation.
These things make it impossible for real growth in the way of Christ. We lose our unique identity because we are enslaved by our desires and emotions. We also die spiritually because we are fighting God rather than walking with Him.
Abstaining from sinful desires is a battle. We cannot be successful by being passive. Peter commands us to take action. It is our nature to excuse and justify our actions. We have to stop lying to ourselves. We must confront the lie that says “what we do is not an indication of who we really are.” We can’t separate what we do from who we are. What we do IS indeed who we really are. Our behavior in the world reveals what we truly value; it shows our true character. Our actions reveal whether our faith is real or only pretend.
Live Consistently Among Others
Peter has given us the negative side of his principle for life. Now we turn to the positive side.
12 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.
The story is told about Plato that when he was told that a certain man had been making certain slanderous charges against him, responded: “I will live in such a way that no one will believe what he says.” That is the same solution suggested by Peter.
Peter has been honest about the fact that living as a follower of Christ will cause us to swim against the current of the world. Sometimes this will bring ridicule. Others times it will make people want to “knock us down a few pegs” so they can feel better about themselves. Rather than despair, Peter says we should work to live faithful and godly lives with such consistency that our critics are finally silenced.
Think about it like someone who works at a job. People may slander a person to their employer but if they are doing their job with energy, precision and excellence; if their attitude is always pleasant; if they always speak positively of the company and about others; if their production is always equal to or above anyone else; what do you think the employer is going to do? Will they believe the gossip? Will they fire the worker? No. They are more likely to defend that employee and even promote them!
Love those who are cast off by the world
Keep going even though life is hard
Forgive when we have been treated shamefully
Listen even when we don’t want to hear
Keep silent to protect the reputation of someone else
Are content even though we have less than others
Keep working even when a relationship is hard
Are generous instead of indulgent
Get involved rather than turn away
Love our friends even though we do not embrace their lifestyle
Chose the way of God joyfully and consistently
Something happens . . . . People see God in us. People will embrace what is different from what they have always believed only when they see the difference such a change makes in a human life.
I was reading a book recently written by a man raised in the radical terrorist Palestinian group Hamas. He was the son of one of the leaders and became powerful in his own right. He was developing into a hate-filled and violent man. But he changed. He changed because he saw kindness in Christian people. They did not offer to love him if he would change; they just loved him. They gave him a New Testament and because it was a gift, he read it. As he read about Jesus he saw a stark contrast between the approach of Jesus and that of Mohammed. He was drawn to the superior results that come from the power of forgiveness and humility. He SAW faith lived out before he ever understood the nature and call of Christ. His friends did explain the faith and he became a follower of Christ (even at the cost of being disowned by his family) because he was compelled by seeing the truth of Christ lived out in the lives of his friends.
Peter says if we will embrace the life of Christ . . . if we will pursue godliness and self-discipline, something wonderful will happen. Some of the critics will actually become our brothers. Some who presently revile us will come to embrace us. And most important, some who were excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven will join the ranks of the Redeemed. Those who cursed God will instead praise Him.
Chuck Swindoll writes,
For unbelievers, earth is a playground where the flesh is free to romp and run wild. But for believers, earth is a battleground. It’s the place where we combat the lusts that wage war against our souls. For the brief tour of duty we Christians have on this earth, we cannot get stalled in sin or, for that matter, incapacitated by guilt.
So let’s review, Peter gives us four simple lessons:
1. Live a clean life. It is simple advice: if you do what is right you will not have to undo anything, you will have no regrets, and you will foster a continual and deep fellowship with God. It is never wrong to do what is right! It’s not always easy. But it is worth the effort.
2. Diffuse Criticism with Consistency. The best way to silence a critic is to live a life that proves them wrong. Consistency starts in little things: the way we do our job, the way we clean up our mess, the way we present ourselves, the way we listen, the way we handle frustration, the way we pray, the forgiveness we extend, the time we make for God, the way we use our time, the priorities we embrace, and the consideration we give to the needs of others.. Big things come when we first attend to the little things.
3. Remember that the world is watching. People notice the way we live our lives. When they hear that you profess faith in Christ they will watch even more closely to see if your life gives any evidence of His work in you. They will be watching for inconsistencies and will relish in them. Warren Wiersbe shares this great story.
In the summer of 1805, a number of Indian chiefs and warriors met in council at Buffalo Creek, New York to hear a presentation of the Christian message by a Mr. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After the sermon, a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs. Among other things, the chief said:
“Brother, you say that there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the Book?
“Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.”
When you and I show the love of Christ to those who are outside of the church and we do it consistently . . . it will make an impact. It will open doors for us to share the message of hope found in Christ. Those who see and experience the love, kindness, and compassion we extend to others may eventually turn and trust the very Savior who has called us to Himself.
If we do these simple things, we will bring honor to our Father in Heaven. I think back to how much joy it has brought to my heart when I knew my parents were proud of me. I knew they were proud of me but when I first heard them say those words
I can’t imagine how great the joy would be to know that my life and actions have pleased the Lord of life. What an incredible thing to hear God say, “I’m proud of you.” And consider how wonderful it would be for someone in Heaven to say to us, “I am here today because I saw the love of Christ in you.” I find it hard to think of anything that would be greater than these words.
It is a simple principle: Abstain from sinful desires and live consistently for the King. The idea is simple; applying the principle is tough; but the results of following this principle — is profound.