Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.1 Peter 2:11 (ESV)
Who is this enemy? … They are the natural selfish human desires whose sole purpose is to find satisfaction outside of the influence and control of God’s Spirit.
We hear often about spiritual warfare. Not much however has been heard about the other warfare the apostle Peter mentions in the verse above.
The Greek word for “soul” (psuche), which is the target of this battle, has the same root with “psychology”. So perhaps we should pay equal if not more attention to psychological and not just spiritual warfare.
Specifically, our enemy in this conflict targets our minds and our emotions. The purpose is to manipulate them so that our wills direct us to behave in certain ways.
Who is this enemy? It is an army Peter calls the “passions of the flesh.” They are the natural selfish human desires whose sole purpose is to
find satisfaction outside of the influence and control of God’s Spirit. They were part of our lives before we came to faith in Christ, and they have not left since then.
Christ has already demolished their power on the cross. However, they refuse to surrender, but have merged into the crowd of many Christian virtues. Then under the cover of spirituality, they engage in covert operations. Once in a while they spring surprise attacks. If our souls are unprepared, we are crushed. Over time, if they keep winning these little battles, we will end up believing that we have lost the war.
We find out the true nature of what these enemies are often only after they have surfaced in our lives.
Paul describes it this way: “It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalising everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.” (Galatians 5:19-21, The Message) Note that the list is not exhaustive, and it is not all of a sexual nature.
How can the Christian uphold the victory that has already been won by Christ on the cross?
Peter’s prescription is that we abstain from the passions of the flesh, i.e. hold back from going ahead to do what they tell us. This is a difficult thing to do if we only focus on the action (or inaction). This
is why Peter’s emphasis is that we see ourselves as sojourners and pilgrims. It is a mindset change, a renewal of our mind that might help us to exercise that restraint.
Paul’s prescription leads us to turn to another source – the Holy Spirit. When we do, we see the results: “He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.” (Galatians 5:22-23, The Message)
Taking the two prescriptions together, we see Peter telling us what we must not do (i.e. abstain), and Paul telling us what we must do (“keep in step with the Spirit”, Galatians 5:25, ESV).
Not all our troubles come from satan. When we recognise this other enemy, and arm ourselves well, we can maintain the victory already won for us by Christ on both fronts.
Picture by Creativa/Bigstock.com
Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup has been a Methodist pastor for 28 years, during which he was also President of Trinity Annual Conference from 2005 to 2012 before he was elected Bishop of the Methodist Church in Singapore for the quadrennium till 2016.