How Should We Live?
© 2020 C. O. Bishop
1st Peter 2:11-25 Galatians 5:16-23
We saw last week that there are “changes coming,” for all true believers. No matter who I was in the past, life is not going to be just as it was before. I have a new heritage, and a new Master. It is obvious that things are going to change. So, we need to think about what will change, and how.
We saw last week that there were things destined to be “laid aside and left behind” as we press forward to walk with Jesus. We also saw that there was an expectation that we would begin to display a “family resemblance,” since we have been born again—“born from above,” as some of the passages say—and specifically, we are born into the family of God, as His real children.
Now Peter goes on to admonish and exhort the believers to “live up to” the calling they have received. I can’t lose my position in Christ, but walking with Him does require some attention as to my response to the world around me: without that attention to my walk, I will constantly stumble, and fall back into the mess of my old habits and responses. So, Peter gives fair warning against this trap:
Abstain from Fleshly Lusts
11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.
He prefaces it all with the fact that as long as we are in this World, we are literally “strangers and pilgrims:” travelers, nomads…just “camping out,” here; seeking a home not in this world, but in that which is to come. The song, “This World is not my Home” is correct: we are “Just passing through!” But it is so easy to forget that fact. Peter warns us to not forget, but, as strangers and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts which war against our souls.
The goal is that our lives should reflect the truth and grace of God before unbelievers, so that, when they speak evil of us (as He says will happen,) they will eventually have to confess before God that our lives(the Greek word “anastrophe,” translated “conversation,” here, means our “way of life”) and our works actually have shown the truth of our testimony, and that they have rejected and persecuted us without cause…and in so confessing, they will Glorify God in that day—the “day of visitation.” Our reputations should be built upon the truth that people can see in our lives, not just what we say is there. This is the importance of a living testimony, which is expected to agree with our spoken testimony.
If I consider, for a moment, the phrase, “Abstain from fleshly lusts,” I might also step over into Galatians, where the “works of the Flesh” are listed. These are what the lusts of the flesh produce, if I allow them in my life. The word “lusts” simply means “strong desires, and isn’t even always a bad thing, though we use the word that way almost exclusively.
The Lusts Produce the Works (Galatians 5:16-21)
16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.
19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
I find it fascinating that the “works” (plural) of the flesh (verses 19-21) are listed seventeen strong, with an eighteenth item that is a “catch-all” phrase: “and such like”. The list is literally twice as long as the nine-fold list in verses 22, 23, and that last item extends it to include everything that the human heart can imagine. And it is plural: if I am partaking in any of these, then I am in the flesh; it’s as simple as that. Any one of these marks me as being “in the flesh.”
But the next “list” is half as long, and it is singular: it is not a “smorgasbord” from which you can choose what you would like to exemplify. It is a “nine-fold” fruit (singular), or a single fruit with nine aspects, or characteristics, and all nine aspects, or characteristics, have to be present or it is not the Holy Spirit who is producing it.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
Notice that last bit? “Against such there is no law…?” Why is that even an issue? It is because the whole context of the book of Galatians is the separation of Law and Grace. If you are walking in the Spirit, then the Law will have no effect on you because it does not touch the things of the Spirit. That is why God can freely tell us, here in 1st Peter 1:13-15, to submit ourselves to Civil Authority.
13 Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14 Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15 For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
As a general rule, believers are to cheerfully submit themselves to human civil law. Is there a possibility that the law of man can “cross the line,” so to speak, and be in direct conflict with the Law of God? Surely there is! But it is actually pretty rare. Usually civil laws are made to protect the law-abiding people from human predators and to protect their personal rights against those who would take them away. It is a rare thing for the laws of man to require us to do something that is wrong, or to forbid us to do something God says we are to do. But it can happen.
A week ago, we received the news that our governor had mandated “no more than 25 people in church gatherings.” That does not force us to disobey God, though it might have made us work harder to obey Him: we were willing to split the services to keep below 25. But the ruling also said that enforcement was at the discretion of local Law enforcement; so we called the local police chief, to see what he would require, and we were told that he has no intention of enforcing such a mandate, and that if he comes here it will be to worship with us, not to act against us.
So, we obeyed the law, and simultaneously obeyed God. And, in the process, we allowed the local law enforcement to see that we are not in rebellion, which strengthens our testimony with them, whether they are believers or not.
We virtually always have an option to not disobey God, and still be obedient to the law. In the unusual event that there is literally no avenue of escape without bringing down the judgment of an evil, ungodly employer or government, then that becomes our option: we can lose a job, or our belongings or our freedom or even our lives as the final option. Believers have made these hard choices for virtually all of human history.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did not go into the furnace because they disobeyed God, but because they obeyed Him. Daniel did not end up in the lion’s den because of dishonoring God, but because of honoring Him. Daniel submitted to every ordinance of Man until the ordinance clearly required him to ignore God, and even then, he was in his own home, praying toward Jerusalem, not out on a street-corner, haranguing crowds of unbelievers in the name of the God of Israel. He was quietly obeying God when they came in and arrested him. We need to keep these examples in mind.
16 As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
We are truly free in Christ: we are free to serve Him, but we are not free to use our “liberty” as a way to cover sin. We are free to serve and to suffer, as the servants of God. We are not free to use our freedom to damage someone else unnecessarily, nor to express self-will and rebellion cloaked in a show of “piety.”
Honoring Man, while Honoring God
17 Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Notice that there was no hint of “backtalk” here: they were to extend respect and honor to all those around them. They were to commit themselves to the Love of the Brethren, in keeping with Jesus’s command in John 13:34, 35, and to fear God above all human authority, and yet, to honor the human government. He goes on to give some examples:
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. 19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. 20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.
Is it possible that we will suffer grief in return for good behavior? Certainly it is! And, if that is what really happens, then God is glorified by that suffering. But if we are “off in left-field” doing things God has warned us not to do, and end up being punished for our misdemeanors or infractions, then it does not honor God…it dishonors Him. I have heard of Christians losing jobs specifically because they are Christians…and, in anti-Christian countries, people are imprisoned or even killed because of their faith. In those cases, they have honored God by their obedience and their suffering.
But when I have also known believers who were jailed for tax-evasion, or theft, or other crimes, they were not suffering for their faith: they were being punished for wrongdoing. And that does not honor God. Is it possible that the government will use your taxes for evil purposes? I can just about guarantee that they will! When Jesus paid taxes to Caesar, was Rome using that money to promote godliness? Of course not! And yet, we are told to pay our taxes, and not be rebels. We are to take Jesus as our example:
21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:
Whole books have been written about what it may mean to “Follow his steps:” I am not going to spend a lot of time on the subject, but I do think we should at least look at this particular context to see what is in focus, here:
In the first place, the subject in this context is the concept of “suffering for doing rightly.” Jesus certainly did nothing but “good, righteous works,” showing compassion and kindness to the poor, and holding the privileged and wicked religious leaders accountable for their sin. However, this passage is not suggesting that we all quit our jobs, and walk around attempting to imitate Jesus in His earthly ministry: I have no gift of healing, nor of any sort of miraculous sign-gift. So I can’t imitate that portion, but I can imitate His righteousness and I can strive to learn His Word, so that I can offer the same message of Hope which He offered.
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: 23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:
We can at least see that we are to trust God for justice, not other humans, who are flawed individuals, just as we are. We can also see, obviously, that we are especially to abandon the kinds of wrong behavior that could get us in trouble with civil law, because there is no glory to God in suffering punishment for unrighteousness. Dishonesty and a vengeful, sharp tongue are both mentioned as things Jesus did not exhibit.
But for believers, it goes further, as Jesus judges the hearts, not just the outward actions. There are people who teach that “unless there is an outward action, it isn’t sin.” Sorry…that is simply not true. Every man who is honest with himself knows what it means to “sin in his heart.” And, it is interesting to note that the specific sin Paul addressed in Romans 7 was covetousness! (What part of your body do we use to commit Covetousness?) It is specifically a sin of the heart and the mind! Jesus judges the heart, not just the outward actions!
What is the “Goal” of our Salvation?
24 Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.
We are dead to sins, that we should live unto righteousness. That is the goal!
Now, this last phrase, “by whose stripes ye were healed,” is a direct quote from Isaiah 53:5, but the conclusion is strictly New Testament: We could not be “dead to sin” in the Old Testament. But, according to this passage, along with Romans 6 and Galatians 2, we believers during the Church Age truly are dead to sin, as we died with Christ, and the result is supposed to be that because we are alive to Righteousness and alive to God, we should live for God.
25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.
This final passage reminds us that the letter was originally to Jewish Christians: the gentiles were seldom referred to as “sheep,” but the “lost sheep of Israel” was a common theme. In one place, only, John 10:16, Jesus said “16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” I believe in that reference he is talking about the Gentiles who would respond in faith: In the Church Age, there truly is one fold and One Shepherd. The Jews who had strayed from the God of Israel were considered “the lost sheep” of Israel. The Gentiles were simply considered to be foreigners and heathen. In fact, the word “gentile” simply means “heathen.” So these who had once been “lost sheep” of Israel had been returned to the shepherd and “overseer” or “Bishop” of their souls. The word translated “bishop” is “episkopos,” meaning “supervisor” or “overseer.”
We gentiles have been born into the family of God, and He is truly the Shepherd and the Bishop of our souls as well, but we were not the lost sheep of Israel. We did not “wander away from God:” In fact, regarding the lost world, in Matthew 7:23, Jesus said “I never knew you! Depart from me ye workers of iniquity.” He does not say, “I once knew you, but you just wandered off and got lost: too bad!” He says he never knew them. We were born as sinners, just as the lost Jews were born as sinners. That is where we all start out!
This is probably a good time to be reminded of what Jesus says about us who have become His sheep: John 10:27, 28 says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me, and I give unto them Eternal Life, and they shall never perish.” Also, in John 6:39, he said “this is my Father’s will who sent me, that of all He has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” As a gentile believer, you will never become a “lost sheep.” He will keep you for eternity. You have been placed into a new relationship with the Savior, and it is entirely dependent upon Him, not you!
We are His forever! Now we need to learn to walk with Him!
Lord Jesus, allow us to walk with you and reflect your holiness as a testimony to the world that has rejected You. Teach us to walk in Your footsteps!