Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and exiles to abstain from sinful desires that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.1 Peter 2:11—12
What it does it mean to live the good life? How might our world define the good life? What would you say? Here’s another question: do you think God wants you to live the good life?If I were to say God wants you to live a good life, what kind of life might I mean?Because it all hinges on what we mean by the word “good,” doesn’t it?
While 1 Peter is all about what we might face by living as followers of Jesus in this world, our passage this morning suggests that living as followers of Jesus also means living the good life. Now, even though the two verses we’re going to look at are also an introduction to the next section of Peter’s letter, they can teach us something about what it means to live the good life and why it’s important that we do.
So first let’s think about what it doesn’t mean to live the good life. For Peter’s readers in Asia Minor the good life was to live however one wanted, to indulge your impulses and desires. This is why Peter tells them: Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. From The Ashbury Bible Commentary: “These desires are characteristic of the pagan society from which they have been redeemed and to which they must no longer conform.”
Even in our culture, there are lots of people who think that if it feels good it must be good. So, when Peter tells his readers—including us—to abstain from sinful desires, he’s saying that not all of our desires are good and healthy. His words here also remind us that even once we’ve come to faith in Jesus, we can still very much struggle with sinful desires. He goes as far as to say that these sinful desires wage war against your soul. And this would have been especially true for his first century readers who were living in a pagan culture filled with immorality. It’s can also be true for us.
In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”
But living the good life isn’t just about not giving in to sinful desires. It’s also about recognizing why. The other translation we read helps us to see this. There Peter says: So I beg you to keep your lives free from the evil things you want to do, those desires that fight against your true selves.
The sinful desires, the evil things we find ourselves wanting to do, are sinful and evil precisely because they actually hurt us and go against God’s purpose for our life. To give in to our sinful desires is to cross the boundaries that make the good life possible.
In other words, God defines the good life, not our desires. Put another way: Living the good life means embracing God’s vision for our life. It means living the way he designed and created us to live—the way we were meant to live.
What sinful desires do you sometimes struggle with? Do you sometimes want to do things you know aren’t good for you and that don’t please God? Why do you think God wants us to keep our lives free from the evil things we want to do? Does he want us to be miserable? How do we keep our lives free from such things? What helps us resist sinful desires?
Years ago, in his song “Only the Good Die Young,” Billy Joel sang: “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints/The sinners are much more fun.” What do you think? Is living a sinful life the good life? I imagine that some people do see things this way.
In our passage Peter writes this: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Now, on the surface when we read this we might conclude Peter is simply talking about our behaviour. Good deeds equal good lives. Are we living morally upright lives? Because this is what the good life is. But is it?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that morality is unimportant. Peter is talking about that too. But there’s more to it than that. And we can see this when we consider the word he uses for “good.” The word for “good” here is Καλός. Here is what it means: “beautiful, good, worthy, an outward sign of the inward good, noble, honorable character; and seen to be so.” Or it can also mean: attractively good; good that inspires (motivates) others to embrace what is lovely (beautiful, praiseworthy); i.e. well done so as to be winsome (appealing).
Doesn’t that throw a fresh light on Peter’s words? So when Peter talks about living a good life, he’s talking about living in such a way that our way of life is not only good but attractively good. Here’s the thing: we can obey and behave outwardly in the right ways and still make a bad impression and have a bad witness.
For Peter’s readers, they faced being accused of wrongdoing because they wouldn’t participate in the pervasively pagan culture all around them. They didn’t fit in. They had to find a way of being winsome witnesses in a neighbourhood where their faith was strange.
David Kinnaman, in his book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity… and Why It Matters, writes: “Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don’t hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves.”
One of the battles we face is this. We live in a culture that in many ways already thinks it knows what the Christian faith and church are all about and has rejected it. Or thinks its no longer relevant. We’re called to show them differently. Which means we have to wrestle with what it means to be a Christian and to be the church here and now.
This means that while we are called not to give in to desires that run contrary to God’s good intentions for us, we are also called to live in the midst of those who do; and in such a way as to show just how good God is.
Living the good life shows God’s beauty. How we live has the potential to reveal God’s character. We’re called to live in such a way that others will want the life we have.Because as we live the good life, our good deeds—our acts of kindness, service, and love—will put God’s goodness and beauty on display.
Here’s the thing: if we want other people to see the Christian life—to see a life of following Jesus—as something appealing, beautiful, and good, then we have to experience it that way first. Our lives have to be an overflow of our experience of God’s love and grace in Jesus. Do we see the Christian life as the good life? Because what we really want to do is for people to see God as he really is in Jesus—and to come to Jesus and experience this good life.
What is attractive about the Christian life? What’s attractive about your Christian life? How can we be more winsome as we live our faith in our neighbourhood? What about the Christian faith might be attractive to people who don’t share your faith? Why might we think of God as beautiful? And how can we show his beauty through our good deeds?
There are times when seeing the moon at night is kind of amazing. I love it when the moon is so bright that it almost seems bright outside—even though it’s late at night. Of course, we all know the moon doesn’t have its own light. Even though it can look beautiful, it’s beautiful because it reflects the light of the sun. You could say the moon glorifies the sun. In our passage Peter writes: People who don’t believe are living all around you . . . So live such good lives that they will see the good you do, and they will give glory to God on the day he comes. Well, in this scenario we are the moon while God is the sun. We are called to reflect his beauty and goodness into the world. Put this way: Living the good life glorifies God.
Glorifying God means recognizing him for who he is. It means acknowledging him for who he is. It means seeing him as worthy of our worship and praise. And we want to—and ought to—lives our lives in such a way that even those who don’t share our faith right now might one day glorify God also.
However, our passage also says that they will see the good you do, and they will give glory to God on the day he comes. Peter here refers to the coming again of Jesus Christ. On the day he comes . . . They will give glory to God.
Our text here is ambiguous about whether or not those who glorify God because of our good deeds on the day Jesus returns are doing so as believers or simply because once Jesus comes again they are finally acknowledging what is impossible to ignore or avoid. For my part, I want people I know who aren’t Christians to glorify God before Jesus returns. I want people to come to Christ and to know the good life he has waiting for them.
How can we reflect God into our neighbourhoods? What does it mean to glorify God and how can we do this? Are we praying that God will use us to open the eyes and hearts of people around us so they can see him for who he really is? Of course, there is one person ever on this earth to have lived the good life perfectly. That’s Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 says: He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. It’s talking about Jesus. Only Jesus perfectly reflects God’s glory. I love what Madeleine L’Engle says about being a Christian: “It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.” Because of the good life Jesus lived, we can have the good life God wants for us now. We can live the good life, because Jesus lives in us.