“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light?…?. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” 1 Peter 2:9–11

What a captivating phrase: “which war against the soul!” The enemy within is revealed!

The cheapest way to destroy a strong, well-trained, well-equipped army is to demoralize, dishearten, and distract that army. The best army in the world is practically already defeated when its heart is eaten out from within.

By the same token, the way to strengthen an army is by building soldiers which are stout in soul as well as in body. A quiet confidence will be evidenced throughout the ranks, from the lowest to the highest, and morale will be almost palpable.

There are many similarities for the soldier of Christ. The main difference for us is that our instruments and arena of warfare are more difficult to quantify and observe. Our business is not guns and ammo, shock and awe, getting there first with the most, or in destruction and attrition. Our business is won one soul at a time and is defined first on an individual level. We each have direct, daily communication with our Commanding General. We also have the responsibility of procuring and securing our own armor and we have the higher obligation of being a soldier-priest.

Our text discloses the believer’s commission. You are among a chosen generation in that your sovereign God has orchestrated everything about you for His purposes and for your life’s mission. You are in a royal priesthood, a kingly priesthood, a position of profile and extreme importance for justice and intercession. You are a member of a holy nation, you have an integral part to play in this Church Age Dispensation, you are not just “one among many,” but you are one for the benefit of many. And finally, you are His special people. The uniqueness of the Church today is because of the uniqueness of each individual within the church. Others are highly dependent upon whether you are effective in your mission through obedience, or ineffective through your disobedience. God, your Commander in Chief, calls the shots!

You are given one high and holy purpose that overarches all the rest of your life. You are to proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light! Your praise may be a whisper in your small corner, or it may be multiplied when you serve alongside many other believers. When saints bring praise to the Lord of Glory, the resonance must be thunderous in Heaven. Each act of praise is obedience to God!

What robs a believer, or an army of believers from bringing praise to God? 1 Peter 11 gives one distinct answer: when a believer does not abstain from fleshly lusts. Abstain is to “hold back from.” “Fleshly lusts” are inordinate desires of the fallen human nature, including everything from sexual trespasses to material wants and character failure (jealousy, pride, anger, greed, etc.). Peter would know the tug of the flesh on someone who is well-meaning but naïve.

The Apostle Paul shares his rules for discipline found in 1 Corinthians 9:24ff. Paul sought to keep his body under submission (buffeting it down) so that he would not find himself a castaway (shelved) from usefulness. In Romans 6:13 he gives understanding of the spiritual mechanism: “And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” And in Romans 13:14 he writes, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.”

Peter’s word picture is just as insightful for you and me. He tells us that these fleshly lusts war against your soul. He pictured our fallen sin-nature as something of an irregular army bent on guerrilla warfare. Your enemy within is liable to carry on a campaign against your soul. It is bent on eating your soul out from within, to distract, to diminish, to demoralize, and to defeat you by taking out anything of value (e.g., joy, purity, devotion). Your spiritual infrastructure, your reserves, your will to keep up the fight, these are all on the target list of your fleshly lusts. The enemy knows it cannot win a crushing victory over a saint of God, but it can hollow out your soul until it is an empty shell of no real use for your Commanding General.

James 4:1ff takes this internal warfare a bit further in showing how a believer does not just destroy his own witness and praise, but also infects believers around him: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?”

To be sure, much of your visible warfare is as you go out your front door. Satan is abroad seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) and the world is such that it will torment your righteous soul from day to day by “seeing and hearing their lawless deeds” (2 Peter 2:8). Peter’s words here remind you of the guerrilla warfare you face within. Keep your armor on and a keep a whole heart within so that you can offer superlative praise to God! Trust and obey.