Desire: What Do You Want?
10/14/2019 1:47:59 AM
1 Peter 2:1-12
October 13, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Do you have any bad habits? Do you have any bad habits that are actually sinful? I mean, do you find yourself regularly coming back to the same place, realizing, “I did it again!”? Are there any sinful behaviours that you really struggle to kick?
When you hear Bible verses like Col 3:5, “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, which is idolatry” do you have one or two that really stand out as “Wow, that one has been really hard to put to death!”?
I think Paul knew what that was like. In Romans, speaking of the internal battle with sin that rages in the Christian’s heart, he had this to say, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:18b-19)
When Jesus says things like, “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out!” do you have something in your life that you think you may need to pluck out? Maybe it’s gossip or slander. Maybe it’s telling white lies, or exaggerating. Maybe it’s lust. Maybe it’s greed. Maybe it’s substance abuse. Maybe it’s anger. Maybe it’s bad language. It could be anything, but it’s a behaviour you know is wrong, you wish you didn’t do, but you keep on doing it?
This fall we’ve been doing a series on the Holy Spirit with the goal of living Spirit-filled lives. 3 Sundays ago, we looked at Col 3:1-17. Getting very practical, I asked you to pick 2 of the imperatives, or instructions that Paul gives in that passage and to work on them for 2 months. Some of them were positive, like clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Some were negatives, like rid yourselves of all such things as anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language
What two things am I working on with the Holy Spirit? Today we are going to start looking at some very practical ways to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to rid ourselves of certain sinful practices.
Repeatedly, the Bible identifies our desires as the place to start our battle against sin. A common mistake today is to think of our sin as limited to the things we do that are sinful. But our sinfulness has much deeper roots than our actions! Our whole heart is corrupted by sin, so that includes sinful thinking, a corrupt will, fallen desires, sinful preferences and a tainted imagination. Sinful action finds it source much deeper than our actions. It begins in our sinful heart, many times with sinful desires, or even good desires set on sinful things, or given a sinful significance in our priorities. Let’s see what I mean….
Remember, we are building on our series on the Holy Spirit and tools the Spirit has given us to cooperate in our sanctification. Everything we talk about today I want to make sure we are firmly grounded in our thinking- all of this is the result of the Spirit working in our hearts because we have been saved through faith in Christ. None of this is to achieve a right relationship with God. Jesus achieved that for us already. All of this is a response, an act of worship, offering ourselves as living sacrifices to God. This is living up to the status God gave us out of grace through Jesus Christ.
By way of context, at the end of 1 Peter 1, Peter says, “For you have been born again… through the living and enduring word of God…” (v. 23) So this passage is written to and for Christians. It applies to us! And the foundation of what Peter is saying is that we have found salvation through Christ.
What It Says
We are reading from Peter, not Paul. One of Peter’s patterns of writing, at least in 1 Peter, is to lay out an exhortation or an encouragement to live a certain way, then to give the foundation for that exhortation, followed by a digression about an important side point. [Scot McKnight, 1 Peter, p. 103] We are going to skip over most of the details in Peter’s important digression, verses 6-8 about Jesus being the cornerstone, the stone that was rejected and the stone that causes men to stumble. These are important, but not directly to our point today.
The centre of Peter’s exhortation is to crave pure spiritual milk. This is a word about desire. What are we to desire? Spiritual food! How are we to desire it? We are to crave it like a baby craves milk, or like a person in the desert craves water. [McKnight, p.105] What is the result of desiring such spiritual food with such intensity? We cast off, rid ourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.
The verb “rid yourselves” is that of stripping off clothing. Common image in NT (and ancient world) for changing your lifestyle, shedding the old and putting on the new. Paul uses the image in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and Colossians (3 Sundays ago). James and Hebrews use it too! It is an active verb, requiring action on our part, effort and intentionality. Think of pulling weeds from a garden. It’s not enough to encourage the good plants to grow, you have to pull out the unwanted plants too.
Notice, the sins Peter lists are all relational in nature. They are about how we treat or think of other people. Malice is deep hatred for another person. Deceit means lying to another person in order to attain personal gain of some sort. Hypocrisy means acting one way but hiding your true thoughts or motives (William Barclay, James and Peter, p. 190). Envy means desiring what another person has or receives and slander is speaking ill of another person, usually springing from envy! And all of these are destructive to agape love!
When you primary concern in life is the well-being of others, you rid yourself of these behaviours and thoughts. Make note that malice and envy can be deeply hidden below the surface. They are not activities, per se, but sins in our thought life! They likely spill over into our actions when we do not root them out, but they are sins of the heart. Our sin is not limited to what we do, but also how we think and feel!
Peter says that by craving pure spiritual milk, we will grow into our salvation. What does he mean? We grow up into our salvation like a child growing into clothes that are initially too big for them. We mature and grow into the salvation we have already been given. We look to the future for the full expression of our salvation, the full consummation of our salvation when we are resurrected. Remember, Peter has already established with his readers that they are saved, they are born again through Jesus. He isn’t talking about growing in order to be saved, but rather growing into, growing to fit into, the salvation we have already been given.
Peter goes on to explain the reason for, the foundation for, this exhortation to crave pure spiritual milk and to cast off these sinful characteristics. The first reason is that we have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. (Borrowed from Ps 34:8) We crave because we have tasted. Having tasted salvation, having tasted that the Lord is good, we are to crave more and more. It’s hard to crave a food you have never tried! But when you like a food, and you miss that food, you crave that food. We have been born again (Ch 1). We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Now, as spiritual infants, we are to crave pure spiritual milk having had that initial taste of the goodness of God.
Consider, now, verse. 4-As we come to God, we are being built into a spiritual house- that is a temple. What do gods do in temples? They live there! That was the point of the tabernacle and the temples in the Old Testament! (It may also be the point of the seven days of Genesis 1 and God “resting” on the seventh day! See John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.)
The people of the church are where God lives and have access to Him. That is what it means to be a priest, or for the body of believers to be a priesthood. Priests have access to God and the responsibility of bringing others to Him. Peter is intertwining a number of images from worship in the Old Testament in which most Israelites could not come to God directly, or offer sacrifices directly to God. Priests were the special people who had such access to God. Now, Peter says, through Christ, we are the new temple and the new order of priests. God dwells in the church people (not the building!) and church people, as a group, have unprecedented access to God and a priestly responsibility to bring others to God.
Peter then has an important digression on Jesus as the living stone, but we are not going to examine that in particular today. Picking up again at v. 9, Peter goes on to describe Christians as a whole, the church as people (not the building!).
Christians are chosen, royal, priestly, holy, unified in identity and belong to God. While we tend to zero in on the individual side of this, “I am chosen, I have access to God,” etc., that’s not what Peter had in mind. Peter had in mind the church- the whole group of believers, all those who are saved by faith in Christ. In the OT, all of these terms were applied to Israel! Now Peter is applying them to the church. As a group, we are a unit, a holy nation. Holy means set apart for special use and purpose. Nation is an identity word. We all together belong to God. And this all has a purpose- a special (holy) purpose- to declare the praises of God who called us out of darkness in sin into his wonderful light in Jesus, the light of the world!
Notice, though, a key phrase in there- abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul! Christians must wage war against their sinful desires. Our “soul” in Peter’s usage is like our “spirit” in Paul’s usage. It is the dimension of people that relates to God (McKnight, p. 126) There is a war raging within us between our old selves, selves steeped in sin and rebellion against God, and our new selves, the Holy-Spirit-filled part of us, the heart in which the Holy Spirit dwells. The war is there whether we acknowledge it or not. As believers, we are called to engage in this war alongside the Holy Spirit. We are to not give in to our sinful desires, but are to rid ourselves of them (v. 1), or in Paul’s words, to put them to death and crucify them!
So what are we to do with this? I’m going to skip our usual section “explanation” or “What it means.” Why? Because I want to spend time trying to apply this to our thinking and living. I have something very important to share today that I think really connects with what Peter is saying, but what I’m going to share is not a “straight exegesis” from this passage. I’m going to lead us through a helpful exercise that I hope will give us new tools to use as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit to cast off all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. I hope this is a tool that will help us put to death our sinful nature, and keep in step with the Spirit.
Let me ask, “What do we want? What do we desire?” If we are to not gratify our sinful desires, what does that mean?
Deep down, our greatest desires are for significance and security. We want to know and be known, to love and be loved. Knowing others and being known in return gives us significance. Loving others and knowing we are loved in return gives us security. So much of what we do is based on these two fundamental needs. We want to matter to somebody. We want to make a difference to someone. We want to know somebody would miss us if we were gone. We were built to be in relationship! We were built to be in relationship with God and with one another.
But sin gets in the way of that. Sin spoils our relationship with God and with one another. When our significance or security is threatened, we often run to our “favourite” sin. How many people drown themselves in alcohol because they don’t feel loved? They feel insignificant and try to drown out that painful feeling by numbing themselves with substances. How many people, when they feel insecure, latch onto a bad romantic relationship? How many women put up with rude or abusive men in their lives because they don’t feel worthy of love, or are afraid if they leave they won’t be loved? These are extreme examples to prove my point.
How many people have heard, “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping?” Or of “retail therapy”? Again, this illustrates the point that when our security or significance is threatened we look to a habit (ie. shopping) to deal with it.
You can think of this cycle as a wheel. We have our sense of significance and security on one side. Our favourite, or habitual sin(s) on the other side. When our sense of significance is threatened, it makes us feel insecure, we run to our habitual sin in order to numb that feeling, to soothe ourselves. If our sense of security is threatened the same thing happens. We run to our favourite addiction, our favourite sin to deal with the sense of insecurity.
Examples: High school, some girls find their significance in being pretty or popular. When a new pretty girl arrives, they feel threatened. So they gossip about and slander her. Maybe this develops into malice! But it is because of the threat to their significance that they do this.
Or consider work. Perhaps a person finds their security in their job. But cutbacks are coming! They feel insecure, so they run to their favourite sin, maybe getting drunk, or having an affair, or even the habit of smoking. (I’m not saying smoking is a sin, by the way. Rather, I’m pointing out that we run to our habits to deal with difficult feelings! Smoking is a bad habit, but we do it often for emotional reasons!)
Or perhaps you find your sense of significance in the nice things you own, a nice house, a good car, etc. Those will never fully satisfy you, though. So you have to continually be upgrading your furniture, or your car, clothes, etc. If you don’t have the money to do so, you may run to your favourite sin and get angry, or spend money you don’t have and go into debt.
Maybe on some level you don’t feel loved. You feel insignificant and insecure. You look for love in relationships, which is great for a while, but when they end, you’re devastated. Maybe you’re driven to anger, depression (which is often referred to as “anger turned inward”) or even suicide! Your significance and security and shaken, you swing around to sin, that sin can spiral out of control and you find yourself in a very bad place. Again, I’m not suggesting that being depressed is a sin- it’s not something we “do.” Rather, depression is a sign of living in a fallen, sinful world. Depression is the result of sin affecting us. It can become consuming like an addiction and is equally destructive.
Addictive behaviour is typically an attempt to deal with difficult, unprocessed emotions. Usually talked about in terms of “typical” addictions, like substance abuse, sexual addiction, pornography addiction, etc. but also shopping addiction, addiction to gossip and slander, rage addiction, a habitual need to control too.
Think about it- when your sense of significance and security (S&S) are threatened, those are VERY difficult emotions to process! It’s easy to run to a habitual behaviour to cope.
Whenever we find ourselves in a situation of asking, “Why do I keep falling into this sinful behaviour?” this is a good place to start! Where are you putting your sense of significance, that you matter? Where do you put your security?
How do you stop the cycle? The problem in all of these scenarios is that we are putting our significance and security in something other than God. Put your significance and security in God. He is the only thing in this world that cannot be shaken!
Putting S&S in something else is actually idolatry! God should be on the throne. When our S&S are not in him, something else is on the throne! We actually see this at work in the first sin. Why were Adam and Eve tempted by the fruit? Hunger? Boredom? Accident? No! Because it would make them be like God! à significance!
Where do you place your S&S? Let’s play a little game. Amy taught me a wonderful phrase: “What if?” vs. “Even if!” So often those of us prone to worry ask, “What is this happens?!?” But putting our faith in God means we say, “Even if this happens, God will look out for me, my destiny is secure, etc.”
What if tomorrow morning you woke up and the news was that your bank had failed? All your money was gone! How would you feel? If your sense of security is at all tied to money, you’re feeling a tightening in your chest right now! But when we place our S&S in God, even if our money is gone, we will be faithful, secure in the knowledge that God provides for us. Our security as a person isn’t shaken. We may have a lot of work to do, but we don’t turn to sin, we don’t spiral out of control, we aren’t consumed by anger or depression or shame!
What if you woke up Tuesday morning and go to work and everything has burned to the ground? What if the insurance wasn’t paid up? Your work is gone! S&S? Even if I lose my job, I know God is with me. I will rest secure in that knowledge. We may face tough times, but it doesn’t shake my S&S
What if your child is diagnosed with a terminal disease? Even if! What if you’re in an accident and your face is scarred? You’re no longer beautiful? S&S in God…. Even if! If you’re a student, what if you’re accused of academic dishonesty and kicked out of school even though you’re innocent? Even if!....
When you find yourself engaged in habitual sin or a habitual cycle shaped by the sin of the world, ask yourself, “Has my significance or security been threatened?” Ask God to show you where you’ve been threatened. Then repent of putting your significance or security in that thing that isn’t God! You have tasted that God is good, so put your S&S in God!
How? Remember the truths of Scripture, like our passage today. You are a royal priesthood- status! Significance! You are royalty, a privileged child of the King of Kings! What’s more significant than that? You’re a priest! You have access to God! That is significant!
This passage identifies numerous things in which we can put our significance that is based on God. Here are terms applies to us: royal, priest, temple, chosen, holy nation with a great purpose! God has chosen to dwell in you! He chose you to be his child as well as his representative on earth! You are set apart as holy for a special use by God. Your identity is now as a person of God- a holy nation! He has moulded you together with other Christians to form one nation, a national identity! God has called you out of darkness and into his light. And God has given you a tremendous task- to declare his praises so that others will come to know him too! Wow! And we doubt our significance?!?
What about our security? This passage gives numerous examples for us to place our security in: you have salvation, God is good, you are being rebuilt, belong to God, and have been shown mercy. Do you doubt your loved? Look at what God has done for you out of his love for you! He has granted you salvation, at great cost to himself by the way! You’ve tasted that God is good, so put your security in his goodness and that he says he loves you and has a wonderful destiny in store for you. Need to feel secure? Look at the resurrection! Jesus was resurrected from the dead and promised you will be too! What can stand in the way of that?!? You are being forged with other believers into a new temple of God! That’s amazing! And God chose you to be his child, part of his nation and has shown you mercy! What security!
The first step in turning away from our sin is having sight of our sin. At the root of so much of our sinful behaviour, sinful thoughts and sinful attitudes is the sin of idolatry, specifically that of putting our sense of significance and security in something other than God. That is idolatry! And we have to have sight of how we are committing that idolatry if we are to repent of it. So ask God for sight of your sin. Ask him to show you where you are putting your S&S that is not in him and how that pushes you around the circle into sin. When he starts to show you, ask him to help you shift away from that idol to him. And as you do this diligently, you will find that less and less you’re wallowing in your favourite or most habitual sinful behaviours and attitudes. Amen
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