Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Putting the Flesh Behind (1 Peter 4:3-5)

“For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” (1 Peter 4:3–5, NASB95)

“I love Peter’s words, “the time already past is sufficient.” By this he means that there is to be no more back in the day even if you didn’t do it back in the day. Peter writes that for those who are in Christ their time has passed for doing the things that people who do not know Christ do. There may have been some carry over in you doing these things after becoming a Christian, but for those who are in Christ now is the time to stop it once and for ever. It is not proper for those who bear the image of Christ to live in the way of the world or of the Gentiles or those who do not know God. People who live in the flesh do the things of the flesh, but those who are in Christ they are to do those things which are consistent with their new identity in Christ.

Sure, desires are strong, but we are to take those desires captive and correct them as we are mindful of who God is and what He has called us to do. Back in 1 Peter 2:19-21 we read in the English Standard Version (ESV translation), “For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” (1 Peter 2:19–21, ESV) While the passage may primarily be focused on suffering unjustly, the response speaks to the entirety of our lives. We read that it is a gracious thing to “be mindful of God.” In this we are to refocus our attention from what seems most pressing toward our God who gives us victory in oppression. This is true if that oppressing event is a person or a passion. We continue to read in these verses that we have the example of Christ set for us. Jesus’s example even includes temptation to do what is opposed to His purpose for coming as we saw at the beginning of His ministry when He was led into the wilderness and did not sin (Luke 4:1-13).

In Hebrews we read of Him, “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18, NASB95) And we see how He comes to our aid in passages such as 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, “for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5, NASB95) We are to take every thought captive and submit it to the obedience of Christ. Jesus Christ is the filter through whom our actions are to be guided. When we are tempted to act, Scripture tells us that we are to pause to analyze our actions and alter them to be consistent to the ways of Christ. What may be presented to us as a physical temptation really is fought first and primarily in our thoughts. James wrote concerning this, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” (James 1:13–17, NASB95)

So, what are the specific things that Peter set aside as areas of abstinence or rejection?  We could look at this listed as specific items or the painting of a grand picture of a loose and self-gratifying life. I think it is both. It is important for us to understand that root of this life is the same, and that often the activities are greatly intermingled. It is also important to understand that how wrong it is that just because you don’t do most of these that somehow doing one might be acceptable. Peter says that the whole dump truck of this former way of life is unacceptable for those who are in Christ. We are to put them all away as we have our minds renewed by the Word of God, and put on those things which are consistent with obedience to Him.

Having said this, let’s take a few minutes to expand on the words chosen to paint the picture. The first one is “sensuality.” Having just gone through Easter, I watched once again the classic Ten Commandments movie which includes a fictionalized portrayal of Moses going up on the mountain and the people turning to a wild sexual party. As I listened to the narrator, one of the words I remember hearing to describe their actions was “licentiousness.” Pointing back to this event, Jude compared them to some who had crept into the church. “For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 4–7, NASB95)

Sensuality or licentiousness [Greek: aselgeia] is described in the Strong’s Enhanced Lexicon as “unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence.” The Dictionary of Biblical Languages describes is as being “unrestrained in moral attitudes and behaviors.” It is the epitome of the phrase, “If it feels good, do it.” It is acting opposed to God without any restraint to do whatever pleases the individual. It is unrestraint pleasure seeking, without regard to cost or rule. It is setting one’s own desires over any thought of what might be right or how others might be affected. It’s self-focused pleasing, and it is likely the overriding umbrella for all that follows. Once the door is torn down there is no barrier to what goes through it. Desire rules and the results leave a wide path of destruction with an end of undesired consequence.

The next on the list is “lusts.” Lust [Greek: epithumia] is really nothing more than a strong craving or desire for something, whether that desire is for something right or wrong. In a proper perspective, Paul wrote, “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire [epithumia] to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” (Philippians 1:22–24, NASB95) Here Paul’s strong desire is to be with the Lord, but he understands that God has something else in mind and he is good with that. But most of the time this word is used negatively, and it is these negative desires that we are to put to death as we read in Colossians 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NASB95)

The reality is that we can lust over almost anything, and the plural form indicated in many translations of 1 Peter is indicative of this. Those given to pleasing strong desires tend to do it again and again with an ever-broadening scope. It is a multiple and multiplying pattern, often leading to thoughts and actions that are further and further removed from what one might perceive as a right standard. When one’s desires rule, right is pushed to the side and often justified in various ways. This is the downward spiral written about by James in the passage cited earlier in this post as people then act on their lusts and engage in sin and destruction. This destruction won’t invalidate our salvation, but it surely will affect our relationship with God and with those around us. It may even lead to a shorter life.

When we violate what is right we alienate those who we love. This is particularly true today of pornography, where men, primarily but not exclusively, turn from their spouses and toward satisfying their sensual pleasure in someone else. Some would contend that seeing is not doing, but the Bible disagrees. Jesus said, ““You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–29, NASB95) Maybe we shouldn’t dig out our eyes, but we definitely should throw out the garbage that captures our eyes or do away with the pathways through which it comes. Thinking of this, I am mindful even of the movie Fireproof where the husband having realized the destructive nature of pornography took his computer into the front yard and in front of his neighbors broke it to smithereens.

The next several actions on the list are more obviously outward, “drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries.” At this point thoughts have turned to action. It’s gone beyond a drink to being drunk and not just drunk once but a life pattern of such. It is the attitude of being controlled by liquor and not the Lord in blatant contrast to the Word of God as we read in Ephesians 5:18, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation [waste or abandoning what it right and good], but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18, NASB95) We have been made new in Christ and we are to live with His Spirit in control of our lives and not a bottle, glass, or can. But realize, that this pattern of life did not just happen all at once, it came from a series of steps in that direction. The harsh reality is that it may only take one time of being drunk to bring about great destruction. Beyond this, it is also true that if you got away with it once it doesn’t mean that the next time will end as well.

From drunkenness, we also read that we are not to be given to carousing and drinking parties. In the cults present at the time of the writing of this instruction we see it described as, “a nocturnal and riotous procession of half drunken and frolicsome fellows who after supper parade through the streets with torches and music in [honor] of Bacchus or some other deity, and sing and play before houses of male and female friends; hence used generally of feasts and drinking parties that are protracted till late at night and indulge in revelry. (Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.) Taking this to today, we might ask if, apart from the worship of some deity, things really are any different. Today there doesn’t have to be a cause or an excuse other than the worship of self. Regardless of what Peter’s original readers might have engaged in in the past, things had changed and they were not to do them any longer. They were to set them aside and live according to their new identity just as we are called to do today.

I apologize for the length of today’s post, but the content of these verses points to a very real battle that we are engaged in today. This is a battle where many don’t see the danger, especially concerning the first couple of points. But we are not to be deceived. We have an enemy who holds nothing back, and he is more than willing to use all that God created as good and turn it to evil. We need to be realistic in our evaluations and diligent in our actions, recognizing that many will look upon us and shake their heads.

Today we live in a morally misguided world. We see our Vice President ridiculed when he puts in place standards with other women which he will not violate in order to honor his wife and his commitment to walking right before God. Reading on in our passage today, “In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead.” The truth is that the world doesn’t get it, and the reality is that we should not be surprised that they don’t. But the world is no longer to be our guide. We have been given the light in Christ, and it is in His light and the light of His Word according to His Spirit in us that we are to walk.

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”” (John 8:12, NASB95)

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NASB95)

“So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:12–17, NASB95)

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