By Christopher VanDusen
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ ought to know that He has changed them, and made them new people with new affections, desires, and beliefs. Their old, sinful, lifestyles have been left behind, and they are now living new, inwardly pure, lives, out of a new found love for God and Christ. As a result, we know that we are supposed to love other Christians in a special way, since we are God’s children, in contrast to unbelievers. But how are we to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and what is supposed to motivate us to do so? The apostle Peter answers these questions in 1 Peter 1:22-25.
Peter wrote the letter of 1 Peter to Jewish Christians who had been transplanted from Israel, to what is now Turkey. They were living among mainly unbelieving Gentiles, and had been experiencing increasing persecution from them. This persecution was simply a response of the God-hating unbelievers to the salvation of these believers whom Peter calls “aliens” in a strange place, since their salvation resulted in them ceasing to participate in the evil lifestyles of the Gentiles, and to live holy, Christian, lives. In response to this persecution, and to further instruct these aliens in the Lord’s teachings, Peter wrote 1 Peter to them as a letter of encouragement.
To begin the letter, Peter introduces himself as a “sent one”, or apostle, of Jesus Christ, and his audience as God’s chosen aliens, who are in a strange place, among people unlike them in fundamental ways. Then, he describes in great detail God’s marvelous salvation of them, which gives them hope for a blessed eternity, since they know that God has saved them, and is saving them from their sins, even while they are saddened by various trials. Further, he explains that their salvation was long-anticipated by the Old Testament prophets, but has only just now been revealed to people like them through the preaching of the gospel that they heard and embraced. In the next section, he begins to instruct them on how to live in light of the hope that they have when the Lord returns, and gives them new, perfect, and sinless, bodies. He commands them to be hopeful, holy, and reverent, not only because of their hope, but also because they are God’s obedient children, now treat Him as their Father, and have been redeemed by Christ’s death. He gives them the ultimate reason by saying that this was planned before the creation of the universe, but brought about by Christ in history, so they would have hope and faith in God.
After giving them the ultimate reason why they should fear God, and live accordingly, Peter now moves on to the first way that they are to do this in verses 22-25 of chapter 1:
“22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (ESV)
In this passage, Peter gives the aliens the reason they can love one another, the way in which they’re to do it, and then two reasons why they must:
- They’ve Purified Their Lives (v. 22a)
- They’re to Passionately Love (v. 22b)
- They’ve Been Imperishably Enlivened (v. 23a)
- They’ve Been Implanted with Lasting Life (vss. 23b-25)
They’ve Purified Their Lives
First, Peter explains to the aliens why they have the ability to love one another as they ought:
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love . . .”
The main reason that they can love one another, and therefore ought to, is that they’ve “purified” their “souls”. By using the word “purified”, Peter is probably alluding to the Old Testament ritual cleansing in the Old Testament. By obeying some of the laws that God gave to the nation of Israel, the Jews were able to be cleansed from any defilement, or uncleanness, that they had brought upon themselves, so that they could worship God in the way that He had prescribed. For example, if one had a skin disease, they were to avoid contact with other Jews, and only once they had been cured of the skin disease, and went through various ceremonies in obedience to the Law, could they be restored to fellowship with Israel, and offer sacrifices to God as normal. Likewise, since the aliens had purified, or cleansed their souls, they were now able to have fellowship with other believers by loving them.
But what does Peter mean by the word “souls”? When speaking of the 3,000 people who were saved on the Day of Pentecost, Acts 2 says that these were “souls” added to the church. By that, Luke, the author, clearly doesn’t only mean that the non-physical part of these people was made a part of the church, but that people themselves were added. That’s the way “souls” is used in the New Testament. In other words, by “souls”, Peter means all that makes a person a person. Another word that means about the same thing is “lives”, because as a person is, so is his life — his life is his soul.
So, when Peter says that the aliens have purified their souls, he means that they’ve cleansed themselves of their old hatred for God, His truth, and for people. At heart, they are now clean in God’s sight, and able to love Him, and His children.
But how did they do this? By their “obedience to the truth”. By “the truth”, Peter means the “good news”, or “gospel”, that he says in verse 25 “was preached” to them. But why does Peter say that they obeyed it? Because the gospel, which is the good news that God sent His Son to become a man, die for our sins, and rise from the dead as Savior and Lord, also includes the command to “repent”, or change one’s mind, and to “believe in the Lord Jesus”. This is at least the beginning of what the apostle Paul calls “the obedience of faith” in Romans. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, he also says that the Lord will punish those who “do not obey the gospel”. Thus, the gospel is to be obeyed by being believed.
To end this statement, Peter says that the aliens purified their souls “for a sincere brotherly love”. In other words, one of the purposes of their repentance and faith in the gospel was so that they would be able to sincerely love others in a brotherly way. The Greek word that’s translated “brotherly love” refers to the love that siblings have for one another. In this case, Peter’s speaking of the aliens’ love for one another as brothers and sisters in God’s family. However, he specifies that this love is “sincere”. That is, it’s genuine, and not put on, or faked. So, since their souls are purified because they obeyed the truth, they’re now able and willing to love one another like brothers and sisters, since that’s what they are.
They’re to Passionately Love
After explaining why the aliens love one another as brothers and sisters, Peter next instructs them on how they need to do this by commanding them to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart”.
Since Peter is commanding them to love one another, he can’t be telling them to like one another, or to work up some feeling for one another. No, Peter’s telling them to do something, not feel something. In other words, this love is not just one of emotion or of one’s own pleasure, but love of action.
However, Peter doesn’t just command them to love one another, but to do so earnestly. The Greek word translated “earnestly” conveys the idea of hotness, or heat, so this love that they’re to give to one another is to be emotional, and to therefore produce power that motivates them to care for one another, and to affect one another. Furthermore, they are also to do this “from a pure heart”. Only a couple of early copies of the letter include the word “pure”, so Peter might have just said “from the heart”. It makes little difference. Since they’ve purified their souls, their hearts are also pure. But what is “the heart”? Whereas the soul refers to the whole person, the word “heart” specifies the control center of a person, which includes the affections, desires, and will. Hence, Peter’s telling them to love one another passionately, affectionately, and willingly.
They’ve Been Imperishably Enlivened
In the beginning of verse 23, Peter gives the first reason that the aliens ought to love one another passionately by saying, “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable”.
First, he says that they ought to love one another passionately because they’ve been “born again”. This means that they’ve been given new, spiritual, life, and have been turned into God’s children by the power of the Holy Spirit. As such, they have new hearts, with new desires and affections. Further, as those who have been born into God’s family, they are now all brothers and sisters in that family.
However, they haven’t just been born again, but born again by imperishable “seed”, in contrast to physical seed that does perish. This is a reference to the biological seed of a man, which produces a new person, who is then born into the world. Unlike that seed, the seed that gave the aliens new life will never perish, or die, so that they will always be spiritually alive to God. Therefore, they have eternal life.
They’ve Been Implanted with Life
In the rest of this passage, Peter explains that the aliens have been given eternal life because that which gave them this life is eternal. He explains this by saying that they’ve been born again,
” . . . through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
First, Peter says that the seed that gave the aliens new life was “the living and abiding word of God”. By the “word of God”, Peter is again referring to the gospel, but as the message from God. Peter describes two of its qualities. First, it’s “living”. This means that it has power that changes things, including people. Second, it’s “abiding”, which is another word for “enduring” or “lasting”. That is, it will never cease to exist, or to be living and working.
Next, Peter contrasts earthly life with the life that God’s Word gives by quoting from the Old Testament, in order to show that God’s Word is eternal. The quotation says that “all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever”. The point is clear — all earthly life is decaying, and will eventually die, but “the word of the Lord”, or of the Ruler of the universe, will live forever.
Finally, Peter equates “the word of the Lord” with the gospel that the aliens heard by calling it “the good news that was preached to [them]”. In the original Greek, Peter actually said that “this word was ‘evangelized’ to you”, since the Greek word translated “the good news that was preached” literally means “announced as good news”. By equating “the word of the Lord” with the gospel, Peter is saying that the gospel that the aliens heard was the “imperishable seed” that caused them to be born again, and it did this because it’s “living and abiding”, and “remains forever”. Thus, they will never lose the spiritual life they now have. As a result, they will always be able, willing, and obligated to love one another passionately from their hearts.
As a Purified Soul, Passionately Love the Brethren with Your Imperishable Life
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, remember that you’ve purified your soul by obeying the truth for the purpose of sincerely loving your brothers and sisters in Christ. Therefore, the most important way that you revere God is by loving them. In fact, the apostle John summed up God’s commands for us in 1 John 3:23 by saying, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” (ESV)
Second, are you loving your brothers and sisters in Christ passionately from your heart? In other words, do you feel love for them, and do you express this love by willingly caring for them as you notice their needs?
Third, remember that you’ve been born again by a never-dying seed, so that you will never cease to have spiritual life, and never cease to have love share with your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Finally, remember that it was God’s living and enduring Word that gave you this new life through the gospel that you learned, so nourish your spiritual life by continuing to learn God’s Word, and seek to impart this life to those who are dead in trespasses and sins by sharing the gospel with them.
If you have no sincere love for other Christians, then it follows that you haven’t purified your soul by obeying the gospel. If that’s the case, then you’re still impure before God, and are in rebellion against Him, and His enemy. The good news is that God sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus, live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross to take the punishment we deserve for our sins against God. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as the King of the universe. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin and hell, and their King, to receive His forgiveness, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish His enemies for their rebellion against Him in an eternal place of torment. Please make sure you’re trusting only in Jesus as your Savior from your sins, and from God’s wrath, to receive God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace. If you’ve done this, make sure you obey the Lord’s command to be baptized in water by an obedient believer of the gospel as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and as your physical profession of faith.