In 1 Peter 2:11-12 Peter encourages believers, “to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (v. 11). Sometimes the commands New Testament authors give are easy to agree with, but difficult to follow. How do we successfully resist the strongly felt temptations that come our way?
It is important to note that feeling a fleshly passion is not sinful. It is sinful if you entertain the passion and give into it. But feeling the passion for fleshly fulfillment only signifies that you are in a battle. As long as you fight against it you are on the right side of the battle. But Peter’s advice is not to suppress the desire. neither does he tell us to fight against it. His instruction is simple: abstain.
Paul teaches us that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:18). Now as believers we have the power to resist, to abstain, to choose not to do what our enemy wants us to do. Here one of the essential principles of spiritual warfare is revealed: Do the opposite of what your enemy wants you to do. If your enemy, whether a demon or a desire, wants you to sin, do the opposite, even if that means doing nothing. Time is your ally. eventually the desire will pass and you will be victorious. But that is easier said than done.
All sincere believers at some point must face an enemy that seems more powerful than they are. In fact, it is not until we admit our enemy is stronger than we that we are in a place to win the battle. We must acknowledge that we are not strong enough in and of ourselves to resist temptation every time it presents itself. We need help. Thankfully, God has provided all the help we need. It is called the grace of God. God’s grace stands behind the words of 1 Pet 2:11 and in fact in all of this epistle. Peter’s concluding words summarize everything he has taught: “This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Pet 5:12). Peter thus acknowledges that all the righteous acts that believers do are an act of standing firm in the grace of God.
But many people misunderstand God’s grace and thus step out of it unwittingly. One way this happens is by thinking that grace means God does everything and we do nothing. But even when Peter refers to grace he tells us to do something; “stand firm.” How does one stand firm? By doing everything Peter has instructed us to do in his epistle. In 2:11 it means abstaining from fleshly lusts. That means if you give in to a fleshly lust, you have just stepped out of God’s grace. Sure, you can get back in again and be forgiven, but it is impossible to consciously disobey the commands of God and at the same time to be standing firm in His grace.
A good explanation of the grace of God is found in Phil 2:13. Paul tells us, “It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Our working to please God is something that God works into us. These kinds of works are not contrary to grace; they are the expression of grace. God not only works in us to work for Him, but he also works in us the desire to do so. Therefore, works of service that we perform that spring from the desire He put in us are not dead works, but proof of the work of grace that is in our lives.
Someone might argue, “If you do the work without feeling the desire, it is a work of the flesh. It would be better not to pray than to pray in the flesh.” However, to possess the desire but not perform the work is also a work of the flesh, even if that work consists of doing nothing. Not praying is just as fleshly as praying in the flesh, so if you are going to be in the flesh anyway, it is better to pray than not to pray. It is deception to think that not doing God’s will facilitates grace.
Not praying unless we feel the desire to sets a dangerous precedent in our lives. It teaches us to do what we desire, when Scripture tells us to do what God desires. As a result, when we are faced with temptation we will end up doing what we desire. Problem is, when we feel a fleshly passion, it is impossible to at the same time feel a desire to abstain from it. Unless we train ourselves to act contrary to our desires, we will never be successful in resisting temptation. Therefore, when deciding whether to do right or wrong, it is always better to do what is right even if you do not desire it. It is better to be labeled a legalist than to be confirmed as a sinner.
When fleshly desires entice you to sin, the only response that facilitates God’s grace is abstaining. There is more you can do than abstain, but it begins there. Grace draws us closer to God. You cannot draw closer to God by sinning. You draw closer to God by allowing grace to do its work, which is to work in you the desire and the ability to do God’s will. Everything in your life that promotes the will of God is the true grace of God. The flesh always works away from doing God’s will. If you want to cultivate an atmosphere of grace in your life, stand firm in God’s grace and abstain from fleshly lusts. Then the grace of God will enlarge in your life, manifesting in an increase of the desire and ability to do His will.