11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
26 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’28 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.”29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.”31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright (c)2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. http://www.esv.org
God has designed each one of us with a unique personality. The Apostle Peter was a man designed to be passionate. Sometimes righteous and sometimes foolish, we see his passion pour out in the Gospels. We see it in his eagerness to walk on water (Matthew 14:28-29), in his boldness to both contradict Jesus (Mark 8:32-33; 14:31) and confess the truth about Jesus (Matthew 16:16), and in his zealous attack on those arresting Jesus (John 18:10-11). Given who God made Peter to be, it is surprising to read Peter’s command to us in 1 Peter 2:11, “to abstain from the passions of the flesh.” Could there be a more difficult and counter-intuitive command, especially for Peter who was so prone to passion?
But Peter did not command us to be passionless; rather, his command is to trade one set of passions for another. The Christian life is not meant to be an ascetic, passionless life of disciplined restraint. God has a way of giving new life to the raw stuff of our personalities, skills, interests, and resources; of shaping them to reflect His character and share in His mission. We see this transformation in Peter himself when we turn to the book of Acts. After witnessing Jesus’ death and resurrection, Peter’s passions shift from pride to praise, from being self-centered to being Christ-centered. Perhaps the most dramatic example is how Peter publicly preaches the gospel of Jesus Christ and rebukes the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem in Acts 3:11-4:22. Peter’s passion is no longer aimed at proving himself to God and man and preserving his life, but is aimed at proclaiming God to man come what may. He moved from giving into old, fleshly passions to giving unto new, spiritual passions.
What accounts for this change in Peter’s passion? Ultimately, it was the work of the Holy Spirit in Peter’s heart (Acts 2:4). And undoubtedly, it was due to his experience of knowing Jesus and bearing witness to his death and resurrection (Acts 3:15; 4:20). But Peter’s holy passion for Jesus Christ was also a direct result of his deep awareness of his sin, and his soaring awe of the forgiveness and salvation that was his through Christ alone (Acts 3:19; 4:11-12). At the most personal level, Peter was rescued and transformed; and so, too, were his passions.
As we enter a New Year, spend some time reflecting on who God made you to be. What are your passions, skills, interests, and resources? Pray for the Holy Spirit to do His work of revealing how they may be transformed this year. What old, fleshly parts of you need new, spiritual life? But more than this prayerful introspection, pursue prayerful re-inspection of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Soak your soul in the rich wonder of God made man, made to suffer, and made to rise. Remember: He did it for you. And then sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”