1 Peter 2:11: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”
As God’s people, we are all called to live the antithesis, that is, to live as strangers and pilgrims in the world. God would have us stand against the devil, the world, and our old sinful flesh.
The calling to live the antithesis is implied by the term “saints” used to describe believers in Scripture; literally, a saint is a “holy one.” Holiness involves separation from sin and devotion to God. Therefore to live the antithesis is to live a life of holiness.
Although the calling to live the antithesis is found throughout the Scriptures, 1 Peter emphasizes that message when it calls us to live as strangers and pilgrims in the world. The inspired apostle introduces his letter with special reference to us as strangers in the world and chosen by God: literally the original Greek has, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect strangers…”
Before talking about living the antithesis, however, it is important to know the reason that the antithesis exists. 1 Peter stresses that the antithetical life is a result of God’s will and God’s work: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). It is significant that before the inspired apostle gives the command to live the antithesis, he reminds the saints who we are. We are a chosen generation, literally, an “elect race” chosen out of the mass of this world. According to that sovereign election God acted in history, and by a powerful and irresistible work called us out of darkness and brought us into his marvelous light. The reality of the antithesis begins with God’s will of electing us and his work of calling us.
Truth be told, we deserved to be left in the darkness. But God was gracious to us to show us mercy and to make us his people: “Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). Living the antithesis demands that we see that about ourselves: we are now God’s people who have obtained mercy; we are now of God’s party, friends of God rather than friends of the devil.
Why did God choose us in eternity and set us apart for himself as a holy nation? Did he choose us so that we could live for ourselves and continue to walk in darkness? Obviously not. The reason for God’s mercy towards us is given in 1 Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” God chose us so that we would “show forth” (literally “message out”) his praises.
Knowing that God graciously chose us and called us out of darkness in order to bring honor to his name ought to motivate us to live the antithesis.
1 Peter 2 goes on to show us how the antithetical life will manifest itself.
Does the antithesis mean we must separate ourselves physically from the world? The Anabaptists in the days of the Reformation did that: they withdrew from ordinary society in much the same way that monks separated themselves from the world by joining a monastery.
But that is not what living the antithesis is about. If it were, then it would be a relatively easy matter. All we would have to do is give up some modern inconveniences, change the way we dress, live in a commune, and practice certain other outward behaviors.
Rather, Scripture depicts believers as living in the presence of unbelievers. 1 Peter 2:11–12: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; 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.” Obviously if our conversation, that is, our conduct, is to be honest among the Gentiles, it stands to reason that our honorable life is lived in the presence of Gentiles, who are not followers of the true God.
Although living the antithesis is not primarily about physical separation from the world, the point must be made that there is still a physical component to the antithesis. Living the antithesis means we will steer clear of certain places. We will not go into the bar or the dance call, the movie theater or the place where the wild party is going on. But the antithesis is primarily spiritual. It is about a spiritual battle that takes place first within our hearts and souls. If we are of God’s party, we will want to serve him not just outwardly, but from the heart.
This is why the Holy Spirit tells us to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Pet. 2:11). More than just abstaining from outward things, we are called to steer clear of evil desires in our hearts. The antithesis is therefore a matter that must engage the heart. If the heart is left out of the battle, living the antithesis becomes nothing more than hypocrisy—pretending to be something we are not.
If we pursue the antithesis in our hearts, battling day by day against the old man of sin, that will inevitably show itself in our conduct.
The inspired apostle shows some of the implications of living the antithesis beginning at 1 Peter 2:13. If we are of God’s party, we will submit to his will for our lives. By extension, that means we will submit to every authority God has placed over us.
Living the antithesis therefore means submitting to government because God gave rulers that authority: “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” ( 1 Peter 2:13). Far from allowing us to rebel against evil and ungodly governments, God calls us to be good citizens of the state.
Second, the inspired apostle addresses the subjection of workers to their bosses when he says, “Servants, be subject to your masters” (1 Pet. 2:18). This is our calling not only when they are good and gentle, but also when they are harsh and demeaning towards their workers. If we have signed a contract to work for a particular boss, we ought to honor that contract and submit to him for God’s sake, in order to bring honor to God.
Third, the apostle addresses how living as strangers and pilgrims affects our marriages (1 Pet. 3:1–7). Wives are to live in loving subjection to their husbands, and husbands are to love their wives, dwelling with them according to knowledge, giving honor to them. The antithesis involves not conforming ourselves to the selfish patterns of the world with regard to marriage.
Young people and young adults must not conform to the world’s ideas regarding the pursuit of sexual pleasure outside of marriage. If even to look at a woman in lust is to commit adultery (Mat. 5:28), certainly physical interaction that involves lusting must also be adultery. Instead of conforming to the world’s ideas of sex and marriage, God would have young people and young adults prepare themselves for godly marriages. Living the antithesis means we will stand against the selfish ideals of the world and seek rather to serve God also in our dating relationships. Living the antithesis means submitting ourselves to God’s plan for marriage.
Living the antithesis involves submitting ourselves to God’s will in other relationships too: living holy lives, we will have compassion toward others, love them as brethren, show pity to them, be courteous, not rendering evil for evil, but instead blessing. Instead of speaking evil, we will seek peace and unity in the church (1 Pet. 3:8–11). Indeed, the antithesis involves every square inch of our lives. There is no neutral ground.
Those who live the antithesis will suffer persecution and ridicule. But in that way, God will be honored. Ultimately, that is what the antithesis is all about: bringing honor to God who chose us and called us out of darkness.
May God give us grace to live in spiritual separation from the world and devotion to Him. He is worthy of all glory.