This passage is from today's Daily Lectionary reading, 1st Peter 2:11-12:
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.
RM: If you think about it, think about all the false accusations leveled against Jesus, especially near the end, Jesus was never slandered or falsely accused for doing the kinds of things that would have been the expected, religious looking actions, which he occasionally did do along side the other religious people of his day, such as going to religious festivals or obeying religious laws and such things. He was never later accused or slandered for doing these types of things that would have been the right, religious things to do of his day. The things that Jesus was accused of were either actions and behaviors that looked on the outside like immoral and sinful types of things, such as spending time with prostitutes, or for doing things that confused people, such as speaking symbolically so often of things, such as tearing down temples, etc. Let's then apply this to what our passage is calling "honorable conduct" or good Christian "deeds" which we are supposed to do in front of others, and what such actions are supposed to look like, if we are to follow in Jesus' foot steps.
People often think that what the Bible means, when it says that Christians are supposed to put their good conduct on display for an onlooking world, is referring to what you might think of as "religious" looking actions of morality. I am convinced that such actions and behaviors are NOT the type of conduct to which this passage and others are referring. I think this is a very confusing and easily misunderstood point, which is difficult for legalistic, "religious" types of people to understand.
I am convinced that true Christianity, the real essence of it, the true feel and heart understanding of it, is sadly so very different from what many evangelical people in our society believe that it is. I am submitting to you that what might be called the grace approach or gospel approach toward God is the essence of true Christianity. And if you study and follow Paul and Jesus in their argumentation in most of their dialogues in the New Testament, they were constantly trying to steer believers away from legalism much more than they spent time steering them away from base immorality.
The impulse of legalism in the fallen, human heart is the natural thrust in all of us that leads to a more self-reliant, performance based, legalistic version of Christianity, which the Bible seems to be saying is actually not Christianity at all. ("I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one" Galatians 1:6-7a)
So, then, what are these "good deeds" and "honorable conduct" which we are to perform before an onlooking world? What DOES real holiness look like? ....it looks like love. It looks like a NON-religiousy, non-condemning, warm, accepting kind of person, who is safe for bad or hurting people to confide in and rely on. It looks like a person who is willing to go far out of his or her way to help someone regardless of that person's integrity. It actually looks NOT very religious, and yet somehow it is quietly holy, in a tattered, messy kind of way. True "good deeds" put on display will look something like Jesus' life looked, which consisted in spending time with bad people. It also looks like having an understanding of Jesus' grace approach, which was often, honestly, very confusing for some people and required much more time to understand it. Jesus' conduct more often than not did NOT look like the expected religious activities of his day. To those who were a part of the religious establishment, it looked more like irreligion than anything, though of course he was constantly serving, helping, comforting, and renewing.
Let us keep fighting ourselves as God commands us in this passage, to "abstain from the passions of the flesh", and "flesh" so often means 'self-reliance,' the impulse of legalism, but of course we could also include all the other immoral desires that spring up in us as well. Let us keep fighting ourselves to abstain from any and all passions which would hinder us from giving TRUE holiness to those around us. And, as always, let us do it motivated by and based on our desperate need for Jesus' grace, which he keeps giving to bad people like us.
Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for loving us so much. Help us to follow in your footsteps as a church, and to have the type of "good deeds" that you had, Jesus, motivated by your grace for us, so that others might "glorify God on the day of visitation." We love you, and we need you. Amen.