"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation."
In v. 9 Peter uses titles and descriptions for the Church that were exclusively held for the Israelite people for many centuries. What an outrageous thing unbelieving Jews must have believed this to be in his day! "You mean to tell me that GENTILES... pagan, idolatrous, Gentiles... are now the priesthood of God?! The 'holy nation' is no longer just Israel but people from every country who have Christ as Lord? Preposterous!" But this is exactly what Peter is explaining. What seemed so nationalistic for so long (God's people being Israel alone) was in actuality always meant to be people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The Priest had come, became the sacrifice, was raised and now reigns over us all. And now we, his chosen people, are all priests who "proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light." Friends, you and I are not just Christians, we are priests, both to one another and to the world. Being indwelt with the Holy Spirit, we are representatives of God to the earth, offering the mercy we have been given to others through the cross of Christ. Do you know his excellencies enough to speak about them? Have you grown in your knowledge of what He did for you so that you don't just stumble about in explaining it, but can confidently say "this is what He has done and why He is so amazing"? This challenges me because the world needs to hear it and be able to understand as best they can, yet I'm afraid my ineptness gets in the way of making the message clear.
Peter goes on in v. 11 to urge us, as sojourners/exiles, to abstain from passions of the flesh. Here's one problem I see in Christianity today: we don't act like exiles. We don't act like this world is not our primary "home" - we act as if this earth, America or anywhere else, is our deepest citizenship. Yet Peter calls us deeper, to realize that this new birth comes with it radical new orientation. No longer am I just flesh with a dead spirit, I am flesh with the Spirit of God living in me, having made me new and given me true life. I belong to Him most fundamentally and not my earthly place of residence. This is one important reason to abstain from passions of the flesh - because those things that we thought gave us life just won't, and indeed they never could.
But there's another reason we need to abstain from passions of the flesh. Peter tells us they "wage war against your soul". Sounds dramatic! Yet is this not exactly what happens? We know God calls us to deeper intimacy with Him, to deeper waters, and yet the temporary things of this world can have such a strong grip on our souls that we avoid God and consume ourselves with earthly, meaningless pursuits. Instead of developing our souls, seeking to grow in knowledge and wisdom, we absorb ourselves in sports knowledge (who won the World Series 27 years ago?), in the latest tabloids (how many women is it for Tiger Woods now? Are Brad and Angelina still together?), and so many other pursuits. While "passions of the flesh" may refer specifically to acting out sexually outside of God's intent, it has other ramifications as well. Anything that can cause us to avoid God, avoid spiritual depth and maturity, I believe to be passions of the flesh. And the truth is it is killing your soul - waging war and winning the battle for so many of us. Peter is not a kill joy - "guys don't go do stuff you want to do, even though I know it's fun and wish I could do it too". NO!!! God is calling us, through Peter's inspired writings, to come deeper with him and aggressively reject things that are trivial, meaningless, and ultimately wage war on our souls. We may not know it, we may not be able to see it, but there is a war being waged this moment on your soul.
Here's one way I know war is being waged on my soul: it is often times far more appealing and more satisfying for me to watch Sportscenter for an hour without distraction than it is to read my Bible for 15 minutes without distraction. The moment I open the Word, begin praying, read a book about growing spiritually, whatever... the moment I do these things is the moment a million things come to mind - that person to talk to, that game I don't know who won, that headline I want to read more about online, etc. etc. etc. War is being waged on my soul whether I know it or not.
Lord help us! Keep us focused on you this day, on your excellencies, and on the marvelous light you have called us into. Thank you for saving me, for dying for me, for rising so I can know I have everlasting life in you and with you. I want to play my part in this royal priesthood, whatever that means today. Thank you for living in each one of us who are your people. Draw men and women to yourself today, and may you receive all the glory. Amen.