Rejecting Sinful Desires

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his post was first published in September, 2019. —ed.

Hunger for God’s Word is incompatible with the desire for sin. That’s why the apostle Peter calls us to reject sinful desires—they are deadly obstructions to a healthy biblical diet. He writes, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:1–2).

Peter says we must take a look at our lives and start shedding sinful thoughts and activities. The Greek verb he uses here (apotithēmi) refers to stripping off soiled garments. It conveys the same idea Paul had in mind when he wrote: “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Colossians 3:8–9). In the early church, believers would be baptized in their old clothes, and when they came out of the waters they would be given new clothes to put on. The process was symbolic of the fact that salvation marked the shedding of all that was old and the putting on of all that was new. Peter depicts a similar idea in the language he uses here.

Having begun our new lives in Christ, we must shed whatever is still hanging on from our residual fallenness. We need to identify these lingering elements of the old life as direct hindrances to our desire for God’s Word. They spoil our spiritual appetites, as the stench of the old contaminates the fragrance of the new.

To help with the shedding process, Peter identifies several sinful categories that might linger in our lives. The first he mentions is “all malice.” This isn’t malice in the narrow sense we usually think of; it’s not merely evil intentions directed toward another person. The word here (kakia) serves as an all-inclusive term for wickedness. It encompasses everything base, disgraceful, and wretched. It is the general, pervasive malignancy of the flesh, out of which evil behaviors emerge. Peter is referring to the generic, inherited wickedness common to all people. First and foremost, that is what believers must eliminate if we are going to have a proper desire for the Word.

To that, Peter adds “all deceit.” The Greek word dolos was used to describe the bait on a fishhook. Here it refers to all forms of deception, dishonesty, guile, treachery, and falsehood. Whereas wickedness speaks to general, open sin, deceit is by nature more discreet. Peter is describing the secret, hidden ways we sin against and take advantage of others. Believers must not traffic in such deceptions. Duplicity is incompatible with a hunger for God’s truth.

Continuing on the theme of secret sin, Peter also charges believers to put off “hypocrisy.” This refers to any pretense or insincerity, anything phony or inconsistent. Believers must be genuine in all they say and do. God’s Word has no tolerance for those who practice hypocrisy.

Peter points to another sin believers must eliminate: “envy.” Believers must not resent the prosperity of others or covet their possessions. This category also includes the hatred, bitterness, grudges, and conflicts that corrupt relationships in this ruined world. Peter is talking about the kinds of interpersonal sins that inhibit our usefulness to the kingdom and stifle our appetite for God’s Word.

Finally, Peter commands his readers to put aside “all slander.” He uses an onomatopoeic word (katalalias) to describe slanderous whispers and tattling behind another’s back. It also includes defamation, disparagement, malicious gossip, or any other attempt to tear down others.

There is a natural progression to the sins Peter describes. He starts with the broad sense of general wickedness and corruption that produces deceit and deception. Deceit leads to hypocrisy, while hypocrisy, in turn, masks envy. And festering envy will inevitably lead to slander.

Peter wants the opposite for God’s people. In the previous chapter, he urges his readers to “fervently love one another from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). In order to do that, Christians have to weed out the wickedness that lingers from their former, sinful selves. They need to look inside at the nature of their hearts, uncovering the secret sins of deceit and hypocrisy. And they must bring an end to the sins that poison and corrupt their relationships with others, like envy and slander. Peter wants believers to identify and eliminate all the filthy rags of the flesh. God’s people must faithfully confess and repent of the sin that remains in their lives, pleading with Him to remove it.

If you don’t have that kind of hunger for the cleansing, refining work of the Word, you need to carefully examine your life to see if there is sin hindering your desire.

We understand that true repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. But the Spirit does not perform that work in the lives of unwilling people; we have to cry out for Him to bring about repentance in us. And an essential element of that cleansing, refining work is the Word of God (John 15:3). We need to cultivate a desire for Scripture and the work it accomplishes in us. We need to hunger to learn its truths, to receive its joys and its convicting realities. We need to eagerly and attentively sit under its teaching and study it for ourselves as though our spiritual lives depend on it—because they do.

Used with permission from John MacArthur.

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