Peter has one more principle to share from his painful failure in the high priest’s palace.
11 Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 12 Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation (1P 2.11-12).
If we’ve been altered so radically by God’s selection of us, it ought to make a difference in our thinking, our outlook (and thus even our facial expressions!), our decisions, our day-to-day behavior. Peter has already stated as much in verse 9. Moving from darkness to light certainly changes the way you see things.
But here he restates the contrast between the old and new life, and then he draws yet another consequence of that change.
His emphasis here turns from what God has done to and for us, to what we ought to do in response. Here comes an imperative: abstain. The object he chooses is “fleshly lusts,” which includes a lot more things than we typically envision. When we hear the word lusts, we immediately think of sexual lusts—which this term definitely includes—but really it envelops any of our inclinations that are primarily for our own benefit; fleshly doesn’t have to mean physical. Paul uses the word flesh frequently for anything related to “the old man,” the former way of life. I don’t think it unlikely that Peter might have picked up that use of the word as well.
In the old days, he says, we used to make our choices based simply on our own self-interest. (And here his mind could well have gone back to that fateful night in the high priest’s palace.) Now, he says, we act in God’s best interest.
And that means acting in the interest of others as well: we “have our conversation honest” (“conduct honorable” ESV) or live honestly in our interaction with others. We don’t take advantage of them; we don’t deceive them; we don’t speak critically of them; we don’t take actions that lower their value or interfere with their progress toward worthy goals. (Yeah, after I finish writing this post, I really, really need to go mow my lawn. It’s lowering the property values of the whole neighborhood.)
And what happens when we live out among our neighbors the changes that God has made in us?
They “behold.” They see. They notice. This word see is the word for an eyewitness in a legal case. The eyewitness reports what he has seen; he testifies to the validity of the evidence. Just as DNA evidence is proof positive of identification, so also God has placed in us his DNA, if I may say so, and the evidence of his work in us should be indisputable. We are evidence in the court of history. Are we convincing?
Note that others do notice, despite their predisposition to reject us; though “they speak evil against you as unbelievers,” they still notice. And Peter says that they will respond to the genuineness they see: they will “glorify God.”
Does this mean that they will come to Christ because of what they have seen? or merely that they will be forced, despite their unbelief, to bow the knee to him at the end of it all? I’m not sure; it could involve either. I would certainly prefer the former, but we know that final submission will come to all (Ro 14.11; Php 2.10-11).
Peter says that our observers will glorify God “in the day of visitation.” When is that? Well, the phrase literally means “the day of oversight [or overseeing],” and that could mean a lot of things. Maybe it’s the day when they come to conversion—that’s certainly a day when they would glorify God. Or maybe it’s the day of judgment, when every knee shall bow.
But in any case, God will be glorified, and some of that glorification will be the direct result of the good work he has done in us.
Peter learned a lot in that palace. He was changed, painfully, from someone who was interested only in promoting his own agenda and benefit to someone who called himself a “servant” of Jesus Christ (2P 1.1), the very one he had betrayed. May we be changed as well.