Like any good brother who speaks to his family members who are about to make a journey, Peter warns his brothers about dangers that lie ahead. These dangers he describes as the passions of the flesh. What does he mean by that description?
I would suggest that he is saying that the biggest danger they face on the journey of life is found in things they once did – the passions of the flesh. What he means by the flesh is the desires that those without the Spirit will have. He has already referred to several of these passions in 1:14 and mentions some outworkings of them in 4:3: ‘living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.’ Of course, we are not to limit the sins of the flesh to physical activities. Within this category are also included wrong attitudes such as pride and selfishness. Any sin that each of us has is a sin of the flesh.
Peter calls on his brothers to abstain from such practices. He means that we should keep well away from them. In giving this advice, he recognises that all Christians, including those who have lived devoted lives, face the continual danger of reverting to these ways of living. The only way to ensure that will not happen is keep away from such practices.
Peter also reminds his readers that such ways of living are not neutral. Instead he says that they are out to defeat, harm and slay his readers. He likens them to soldiers making war against our souls. If I saw some soldiers running down the street determined to harm me, I would not walk out to greet them. Instead I would head in the opposite direction.
Peter’s warning is very important. We will be damaged in our souls if we participate in any degree with the passion of the flesh. As we know, a wound in our body can take a long time to heal and sometimes it leaves a permanent mark. Sadly an equivalent experience can be known in a spiritual sense. There are believers who have to live with the consequences of wrong involvement as Christians in sinful activities even although their misdemeanour has been forgiven by God.
Of course, Peter knew what it was like to live according to the desires of the flesh. His playing with self-confidence is recorded in the Gospels. He ended up denying his Master and I suspect Peter shuddered every time he recalled it. On another occasion, in Antioch, he engaged in the sin of men-pleasing and was publicly rebuked by Paul for allowing such an action.
We should not assume that the only reason these examples are recorded is to tell us about Peter’s personal weaknesses. We are told about these failings because they show us how the desires of the flesh war against the soul. In fact, if we are in such a situation we will only get relief by doing what Peter did – by having a personal meeting with Jesus, as he did on the resurrection day.
So Peter is not giving a mere theoretical warning. Instead he writes as one who knows the pain of dabbling with the desires of the flesh.