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Internal Source of Holy Behavior

Notice that each of these admonitions comes in recognizing an antagonist: Fleshly lusts [“passions of the flesh” 11], “Gentiles” [12], and foolish men [15].

Fleshly lusts are said to wage war against your soul. The biblical view of sins of the flesh is that they cannot be divided from spiritual issues. The philosophical atmosphere in which Christianity developed had a strong undercurrent of dualism—that is, the life of the body and the physical world had little, if any, impact on the spirit or the mind. What one does with the flesh does not affect the soul. Others who were purely materialistic did not believe in the continuation of any soul or spirit subsequent to death, so desires of the body constituted the basic motivation for chosen lifestyle. Peter, and the rest of the New Testament writers, see the person as a whole, the body and the soul/spirit are compositely the person. What one does in the body is without fail also a moral and spiritual action. Fallen desires that locate themselves particularly and most noticeably in the lust of the flesh both arise from the affections, not just the body isolated from moral affections, and impact the soul. So this is quite a radical statement of world-view that fleshly lusts wage war against the soul. Look carefully at Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 to see how insistent he is on not excluding the actions of the body from the spiritual realities of redemption.

Peter speaks of the “Gentiles” as the arena before whom the holy life is to be lived, under God. He expands his statement on this in 4:3-6. As an apostle to the “circumcision,” it is possible that Peter is writing only to Jewish believers. It seems, however, from chapter 4, that Gentiles whose Christian conversion had separated them from their normal Gentile companions, were among these Christians of the dispersion also. Peter is urging that their lifestyle should be so distinct from the pleasure-seeking commitments of the Gentile world-view, that the difference would be striking. They are to live in a way that is “honorable,” that is, manifesting in their conduct those things that are intrinsically excellent.

Those that live apart from the revelation of God [15], are willfully ignorant of much that they could know about God [cf Romans1:19-22 and note the relation between affections alienated from God and the function of the mind—e.g.  “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise they became fools.”]. Peter indicates that their ignorance is inexcusable and that their foolishness is equal to refusal to understand.  They are without understanding [aphronon] having refused, because of selfish desire, to exercise their understanding for the purpose of grasping those things that are honorable.

 Consider your identity – “Aliens [paroikous] and strangers” [parepidemous, sojourner] Peter initially addressed them as “elect exiles of the dispersion” combining their spiritual status with the literal earthly condition. He now uses their earthly detachment from a stable living condition as a means to solidify in their hearts that their true citizenship is in heaven [cf Philippians 3:20 and context] and they do not, therefore, connect themselves to the values and practices that define this world.

Consider the spoils of the battle – your soul. The soul in this context connotes the whole person as it will be constituted after the resurrection but emphasizing that the destiny of the whole person depends on the condition of the affections and the understanding—those peculiar qualities of rational morality possessed by those made in the image of God. A true belief of the gospel arises from the changed heart that has “tasted that the Lord is good” and therefore, loses its relish for the passing pleasures of this present order and the spiritually corrupt mental outlook that invents and promotes them. With the passing of conscience and the dimming of any concept of future consequences connected to present action, the world pursues a more bacchanalian lifestyle seeking to press immediate pleasure into every moment. The Christian has been restored to both sanity and to the source of true and lasting joy and godly pleasure. The glory of God is his driving force for present life and he embraces the prize won for him by Christ of an imperishable inheritance filled with joy inexpressible full of glory [1:8,9], the salvation of your souls.

External Demonstration by Excellent Behavior

Live lives of intrinsic excellence and goodness [12] – These things, such as Paul describes in Philippians 4:8, 9. Jesus Christ alone is excellent in his expression of perfect worship and obedience in his human nature and those that follow him must emulate his love [Ephesians 5:1, 2].

For those very things you will be accounted as evildoers and slandered.

Haters of mankind for stances on abortion, infanticide, and homosexuality – In the Roman world of the first three centuries, Christian morality made them despised by the libertine element of the population. Even common conventions and rights claimed by Roman citizens were seen as antithetical to Christian conduct. Christians sought to rescue exposed infants, opposed abortion, criticized the brutality of the spectator events. For this they were considered as opposed to the rights and values of the Empire.

Atheists for not being idolatrous – It became obvious that Christians did not buy or do any kind of reverence to the images that commonly dotted the market-place of cities, not did they buy incense or food to offer to household deities. Note how novel Paul’s understanding of God seemed to be to the Athenians in Acts 17:24, 25.

Unpatriotic for being exclusivists – The Christians would not syncretize their faith with the gods of Rome. They maintained the exclusivity of Christ as the way of salvation. This was seen as unpatriotic and as an insult to the Emperor. Radical claims of the deity of the Roman emperor were not endorsed by Christians, and their refusal to consent sometimes led to their execution.

In the day of visitation those very things become the source of their praise – It becomes a part of the necessary recognition of Jesus as Lord, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. Then, too, will the excellent virtues so maligned in this world be seen as the truly good, for they reflect the unchangeable goodness of God.

Orderly Living by Lawful Behavior

1     Human institutions are for the order of society and are built on remnants of the imago dei that expresses itself in corporate structures. Even pagan structures have to recognize some kind of order, symmetry, designation of authority and submission to perform certain needed tasks. The perfect community of the Trinity forms the very nature of reality and humans made in the divine image cannot function apart from observing to some degree those aspect of community that are eternally present in God. Sin makes us abuse this, keeps us from reflecting it perfectly and fills our attempts at order with graft and corruption and selfish grasps for power, but all government helps keep the nations from becoming a perfect conflagration of human destruction. Note how Peter lists the different levels of administering the justice that should be at the center of governmental concerns. Our submission to these human institutions is for the Lord’s sake.

2. Punishment of evil and reward of good [cf. Romans 13:1-7] The distinction between good and evil as discernible realities is necessary to the proper governing of any society. Nations and the variety of classes within them might not hold to precisely identical codes of right and wrong and may, therefore, at times disagree on whether some laws are just or unjust, and should be able to remonstrate for change. But that there is a difference between evil, deserving punishment, and good, deserving liberty and an unmolested peace of mind in pursuit of personal prosperity (however conceived) and that the function of government is to enforce these distinctions for the well-being of the entire population is largely undisputed. This is because government is ordained by God Himself in accord with the creation realities of both authority and submission.

3. Our position as aliens and sojourners does not mean that we establish lawless societies, that our “freedom” in Christ might become a cloak for disobedience to law. While our citizenship is in heaven [Philippians 3:20], we live in this world as salt and light demonstrating that the principles of honor and love are fundamental to reconciliation in all personal relations.

4. The only exception is an order that requires disobedience to Christ [cf. Acts 4:15-22]  In this case, their preaching was not yet illegal, but simply offensive to the Jewish leadership. Neither the significance nor the safety of a Christian’s life is bound up in the perfection of the political system under which he or she lives, but in reverent fear of God as manifest in belief of the gospel. The Christian may, therefore, honor the emperor as a testimony to his ultimate fear of and trust in God and as a witness to others that appropriate respect of order and authority is a moral commitment of the Christian.

D. Peter’s address to servants – In this passage, Peter continues his admonitions to Christians to live submissively within the sphere of their present calling. A call to submission does not mean, necessarily, that the sphere of labor or relationship is ideal, or even just, but that a Christian can live with godly integrity and can conduct himself as a follower of Christ under stress as well as in happy situations. This idea becomes especially poignant when we realize that the example given is that of Christ’s patience and submission in the most unjust action ever done in human history.

1. Does Peter’s address to slaves give warrant to slavery as a human institution? Passages such as these were frequently used in defenses of slavery. The assumption was that the regulation of an existing institution was tantamount to God’s approval of the institution. He regulated slavery, and did not issue a mandate against it; the institution of slavery, therefore, is ordained of God and we must not insist on its abolition but only seek to remove any abuses from it. Though arguments on this issue from a biblical standpoint can be complicated at times, the general principle of Scripture is that personal freedom is superior to slavery, thus if a slave could obtain his freedom, he was urged to do so [1 Corinthians 7:21] The foundation of slavery, man-stealing, is strictly seen as a violation of divine law [1 Timothy 1:10], and Christian Masters were to be aware that they themselves had a Master in heaven and that they should consider their Christian slave as Brothers (Paul even states in the case of Onesimus and Philemon “No longer as a slave but as a beloved brother.”] Over and above the importance of this particular ethical issue, Peter is concerned that all Christians conduct themselves with integrity, personal purity, and loving deference in the inequities of a fallen world.

2. Unjust suffering borne patiently is pleasing to God—19, 20. Peter looks at the condition from the standpoint of the dominance of sin in all human relationships. In a pagan society the regard that a Master would have for his slave would normally involve a peculiarly egregious violation of the second Great commandment, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.”

Disobedience to the commandments rules in the hearts of all men, so a Christian should not be surprised when the world, especially someone in a place of power, shows no regard for God or man.. Peter gives the admonition to slaves with the assumption that their true Christian character will shine most brilliantly when they are called on to respond to injustice. Responding positively to the benevolent and gentle does not draw upon the reserves of grace but is no more than natural men would do. If we love those that love us, how does that let grace prove itself. Even the unbelievers would show respect to those that treated them with favor. [cf. Matthew 5:43-48]

In addition, patience under just suffering, a warranted punishment, is not a distinct demonstration of Christian character but an expected attitude thoroughly consistent with a deserved chastening. To receive punishment with resignation and patience when it is due for disobedience shows no extraordinary strength of character; to resist it and resent it, in fact, would only aggravate one’s guilt.

The manifestation of grace for the Christian slave occurs when he/she does all that the Master requires [which according to Christ should not raise the spirit of expectation in the slave for gratitude from the master (Luke 17:10)] and yet on pure whim or from arrogant malice receives rough, ill treatment from the Master. This shows that one, no matter what his earthly condition is or who is his earthly authority, views the Lord as his true master. Such submission is “a gracious thing,” that is a manifestation of grace. The Christian has focus on the love, mercy, faithfulness, and grace of God and desires to please Him, knowing that whatever we do we do “as unto the Lord.” We should implant in our hearts and test our actions each day by Paul’s question to the Galatians, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please Man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” [Galatians 1:10].

E. Applications

1.No amount of external obedience will aid in eternity without an internal change.  Thus the order is important. Ye must be born again. Excellence and virtue is the fruit of the Spirit. Remember, Peter is talking about all these issues in light of his assumption that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.”

2..No amount of claiming to have had an internal change void of excellent and orderly external behavior will be convincing either here or hereafter.

3. The life changing reality of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ alone suffices for a life that will glorify God here and that will bring forth praise to God even from his enemies when Christ appears.

4. Suffering in this life may be the means by which our Father sanctifies us; if the suffering is unjust, it is the opportunity we have to emulate our savior who bore our sins in his own body, and who showed infinite patience with the malefactors even praying for their forgiveness.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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