Abstain From Fleshly Lusts
Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. — 1 Peter 2:11
Does it seem like you have one temptation that you have to constantly fight more than others? What is that temptation? Is it a sexual temptation? Is it a temptation to eat something you shouldn’t eat or to get upset with the same person again and again? Are you tempted to spend money you really don’t have to spend? There are things you can do to make sure you don’t give in to that temptation and let it conquer you. Along that line, I want to talk to you today about a scripture that will help you conquer temptation.
When Peter wrote to the Christians who lived in the first century, these believers had only recently come to the Lord. When they got saved, they were literally delivered from a lost Roman world that was filled with sin of all types, including a great host of sexual vices and different forms of carnality — all of which were considered to be acceptable in that society.
Now these believers were living for Jesus. Because they wanted to please Him, they were striving to live holy lives. The pagan environment in which they lived, however, caused them to feel the lure of sin very strongly.
The society these believers lived in celebrated carnality and flaunted their debauchery. This means the believers of the Early Church were constantly confronted by the very low standards of that world. Surrounded by sin, they had to constantly resist the lure of sin and not permit themselves to be pulled back into their old lifestyles.
To help them resist the temptation to fall back into sin, Peter told them, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). The word “beseech” is the Greek word parakaleo, a compound of the words para and kaleo. The word para means alongside, as in one who comes up close alongside another person. The word kaleo means to call, to beckon, or to beseech. But when these two words are joined to form the word parakaleo, it presents the picture of one who has something so important to say that he pulls right up alongside his listener, getting as close to him as possible; then he begins to literally plead with him to take some course of action. This person urgently calls out, pleading with his listener to hear what he has to say and to do what he is suggesting.
So like a father in the faith, Peter pulls up alongside his readers and begins to call out to them — earnestly pleading with them to listen to the advice he is about to give them. When Peter’s readers saw the word parakaleo (“beseech”), they understood that it was a flashing light to get their attention. They also undoubtedly understood that Peter felt very passionate about the urgent words he was about to speak to them and wanted them to carefully listen to what he had to say.
But as noted earlier (see January 14), the word parakaleo was also used as a military word. In the ancient Greek world, before military leaders sent their troops into battle, they would call them together to “beseech” them. Rather than hide the painful reality of war from the soldiers, the leaders would summon their troops together and speak straightforwardly with them about the potential dangers of the battlefield. These officers would also tell their troops about the glories of winning a major victory. They didn’t ignore the dangers of battle; they came right alongside their troops and urged, exhorted, beseeched, begged, and pleaded with them to stand tall; throw back their shoulders; look the enemy straight on, eyeball to eyeball; and face their battles bravely.
Because the word parakaleo was widely used in this manner as well, Peter’s readers also understood that he was now speaking to them as a general in the faith. The word “beseech” emphatically let them know that discipline and a rigid, committed warfare mentality would be required if they were going to accomplish what he was about to order them to do.
Peter goes on to tell his readers, “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” Notice that Peter calls them “strangers” and “pilgrims.” The word “stranger” is the Greek word paroikos, a word that describes an individual who lives among the citizens of a nation but is not a citizen himself. He is a foreigner or an alien in that nation. Even though he may have received the legal right to live there, he doesn’t have the same right to participate in society as does a legal citizen.
By using this word, Peter reminds his readers (and us) that they are no longer citizens of the world. Even though they live in the midst of the world, they are now heavenly citizens and therefore cannot participate in the activities of a lost world as they once did. They must learn to live among those in the world without being like them.
To drive this point even deeper into the hearts of his readers, Peter also urges them to live as “pilgrims.” The word “pilgrims” is the Greek word parepidemos. This word depicts the attitude that believers must have about their present lives in this world. It describes a temporary traveler who is merely passing through a certain territory on the way to his final destination.
Because this person is simply passing through, he doesn’t allow himself to become attached but rather stays disconnected. Because he will soon break camp and move onward, he knows that it would be foolish for him to become entrenched in an environment where he cannot remain.
Now Peter uses this word to urge believers to live as if they are travelers who are only on this earth for a short stay. To help them stay free of the sinful environment that is in the world all around them, he implores them to “…abstain from fleshly lusts….”
The word “abstain” is the Greek word apechomai, which means to deliberately withdraw from; to stay away from; to put distance between oneself and something else; or to intentionally abstain. The word apechomai was a well-known word, so every person who read this word understood that Peter was telling them to put distance between themselves and the “fleshly lusts” that were raging all about them.
When Peter speaks of “fleshly lusts,” he uses the word sarkikos for “fleshly.” This word describes the impulses, cravings, and desires of the carnal flesh — those things that appeal to our lower side. The word “lusts” is the word epithumia, a compound of the words epi and thumos. The word epi means over, and the word thumos depicts passion. When compounded into the word epithumia, it pictures a person so overcome by some passionate desire that he completely gives himself over to it.
Let me stress something here that is imperative for you to understand: Your flesh is never content until it has completely taken you over and consumed you. Once you have given your flesh permission to have its way and to exercise even a small amount of power in your life, it will try to latch hold of you — and eventually it will wage war for total control of your life.
Please don’t think you can participate in only a little taste of sin and then walk free of it. Once the flesh has been allowed to indulge in sin, the cry of the carnal nature to indulge in sin once more will become stronger and stronger, ferociously working against you in its attempt to pull you deeper and deeper into sin until you are completely conquered by it.
That is why Peter so firmly tells us to “…abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” The word “war” is the Greek word strateuomai. This word is derived from the word stratos, from which we get the word strategy. But when it becomes the word strateuomai as used in this context, it pictures a fiercely committed soldier who possesses a warring mentality. Because he is so committed to waging war and destroying his resistance, he fights tactically, strategically, and aggressively. Furthermore, the Greek tense accentuates the fact that once the flesh has been allowed to express itself, it will wage continual warfare and its assault will be unending.
Peter’s chief concern is that the flesh will wage continual warfare against the “soul.” The word “soul” is the Greek word psyche, which describes a person’s mind, will, and emotions. The New Testament writers clearly understood that the mind, will, and emotions are where Satan wages his greatest warfare against the saints. Therefore, Peter urges his readers not to open the door and invite this warfare to begin by deliberately participating in sinful activities. Instead, he tells them to abstain from fleshly lusts, thus keeping their mind, will, and emotions free of unnecessary battles.
Peter’s words in First Peter 2:11 could be interpreted to mean:
“Dearly beloved, I sincerely beg and warn you to live as if you are travelers here in this world. Never forget that this is not your real residence and that you must not become too attached to the environment around you. I urge you to refrain from any carnal, low-level desires that try to engulf you and thus drag you into a very long, protracted, strategic, and aggressive war in your mind, will, and emotions.”
If you have one temptation that you have to constantly fight more than others, how did that fight begin? Did you look at something or allow your flesh permission to do something that you knew was wrong? Did you open the door to this attack yourself by not saying no to the flesh at a critical moment in your life? What are you going to do now to shut the door to the devil and drive this battle out of your head and flesh?
It is a whole lot easier to avoid fleshly temptations than it is to uproot them once they get deeply rooted inside your mind, will, and emotions. So if the world around you is crying out for you to participate in its sinful activities (just as it was probably doing to Peter’s first-century readers), remind yourself that you are just a temporary traveler in this world with no rights to participate in such activities. Make the choice to refrain from the works of the flesh. By making this decision, you can avoid horrific battles that others fight every day in their minds because they didn’t say no to the temptations that were offered to them.
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I ask You to help me say no to the temptations that are constantly assailing my mind and emotions. There are moments when my flesh screams to participate in sinful behavior. But I know that with the power of Your Spirit working inside me, I can resist and refuse to give in to these sinful impulses. Holy Spirit, I am leaning heavily on You to strengthen me so I can continue to abstain from fleshly lusts that wish to war against my soul and take me captive.
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I live like a stranger who is simply passing through this world. God has blessed me and made my journey comfortable, but I never forget that this is only a brief journey in my eternal destiny. When sin cries out for me to participate in its activities, I remind sin and the flesh that I am not a resident of this world and that I therefore do not have the right to enter into its activities. Because the Spirit of God lives in me, I am fully empowered to say no to sin and to remain free from its detrimental effects.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Can you think of a time in your past when you knowingly allowed yourself to dabble in a little sin? Did that one decision catch you and throw you into one of the biggest battles of your life?
2. If you were counseling someone else who was tempted to allow himself just a little taste of sin, what helpful advice would you give him to help him abstain from sin?
3. Is there one particular sin you are struggling with right now? Are there places or people you need to avoid in order to stay free?