In verses 3 to 12 Peter was praising God for the great mercy he has shown his people by causing them to be born again into a living hope, because he’s given his people the hope of the resurrection from the dead and of inheriting eternal life in his presence. And though his people may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials in this life, nevertheless we can look forward with hope to the coming of Christ when we’ll receive the promised inheritance: eternal life in the presence of God, an inheritance which even now is being kept safe in heaven for us. So, Peter has been praising God. And whenever we hear these things, whenever we remember these things, it makes us want to praise God too, for his mercy to us in Christ Jesus.
But then last week, we looked at verses 13 to 21 and to the three instructions Peter gave his readers. Do you remember? Be hopeful, for Christ the Saviour is coming again. Be holy, because the God we worship is holy. And live in reverent fear, because our Father in heaven may have to discipline us if we continue in sin without confessing it or repenting of it. So, be hopeful. Be holy. Live in reverent fear. And then, do you remember, there was a bonus point last week? Peter wrote to remind his readers that we’ve been redeemed: set free with the blood of Christ from an empty life without purpose and without hope in order to live a full, purposeful and hopeful life while we wait for our Saviour to come again.
So, that’s what we’ve been learning from 1 Peter. It’s a short letter, only five chapters, but it’s packed with things which make us want to praise God; and it’s packed with things for us to do for God. And today’s passage — verses 22 to 25 of chapter 1 — is dominated by a command. It’s there at the end of verse 22 and it’s the command to love one another deeply, from the heart.
But before we get to that dominant command to love one another deeply, from the heart, Peter reminds his readers that they have purified themselves by obeying the truth. And as we think about what that might mean, you might find it helpful to draw a distinction between obeying the truth and obeying the law. Obeying the law means trying to keep all of God’s commandments. It means trying to do all that God has said in his law. That’s obeying the law. And Peter is not talking about that here. He’s talking about obeying the truth. And obeying the truth means responding to the call of God, responding to the command of God to believe the good news of the gospel. And that’s what Peter is talking about here. Not obeying the law, but obeying the truth, responding to the call of God to believe the good news of the gospel. By doing that, says Peter, you have purified yourselves.
In Mark 7 we read about how the Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law noticed that the Lord’s disciples were eating food with hands that were unclean. Now, the Pharisees and teachers of the law weren’t worried so much about personal hygiene; they were worried about ritual purity. You see, in those days, they believed that when you went to the market, you might come into contact with someone who was ritually unclean. And if you touched someone who was ritually unclean, you’d become contaminated. The ritual uncleanness was catching. And if you became ritually unclean, you weren’t allowed to go into the temple to worship God. So, whenever you came home from the market, and before you ate, you were meant to wash yourself in order to remove this ritual uncleanness. They thought that’s the way to purify ourselves: wash your hands before eating. But then, in Mark 7, the Lord explained that having unclean hands was not the real problem. The real problem was the fact that our hearts are unclean. And our hearts are unclean because of all the sinful thoughts and desires and attitudes which lurk inside us and which leak out and affect how we treat one another. Do you remember? He said that from within, out of our hearts come evil thoughts and sexual immorality and theft and murder and adultery and greed and malice and deceit and lewdness and envy and slander and arrogance and folly. All these evils, he said, come from inside and they make us unclean. Washing our hands won’t get rid of those things. Washing our hands won’t make us pure in God’s sight; washing our hands won’t make us fit to come into the presence of God.
So, what will make us pure in God’s sight? How do we become clean inside? Well, we become pure, or we purify ourselves, by obeying the truth, by responding to the call of God to believe the good news of the gospel. That’s how to become pure in God’s sight, because whenever a sinner believes the good news of the gospel about Jesus Christ the Saviour, that sinner is cleansed by God from all that makes him, from all that makes her unclean in his sight.
Peter understood this. Remember in Acts 10 when he was called to go to Cornelius’s house? Cornelius was a Gentile. Now, in the past, when he was still thinking about ritual purity, Peter wouldn’t have gone anywhere near the home of a Gentile, because they would have made him ritually unclean. But now Peter understood; and he went and preached the good news of the gospel to them. He wasn’t worried about becoming contaminated by them. And then, in Acts 15, Peter reporting to the first General Assembly in Jerusalem about what happened that day when he visited Cornelius. And this is what he said. He said: God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted Cornelius and those with him by giving them the Holy Spirit. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.
How is a sinner’s heart purified? By faith; by responding to the call of God to believe the good news of the gospel. And whenever a sinner believes, his heart is cleansed, her heart is cleansed.
Love one another
And look at the end result, according to Peter in verse 22: you now have sincere love for your brothers. And when Peter refers to your brothers, he’s referring to our fellow believers. So, evil thoughts and sexual immorality and theft and murder and adultery and greed and malice and deceit and lewdness and envy and slander and arrogance and folly no longer belong in our hearts. Now, they might remain there, the way bits of dirt remain on the driveway even after we’ve power-washed it. But those wicked things don’t belong in our hearts any longer, now that we believe and belong to God. So, those wicked things don’t belong any longer. And what does belong in our heart? What now fills our heart? Sincere love for our fellow believers.
Now, do you understand the implication of this? If you’re a believer, and you don’t display this sincere love for your fellow brothers, if you treat your fellow believers in a less than loving way, then you’re living as if you hadn’t ever responded to the call of God to believe the good news of the gospel. You’re living as if you still belonged to your old life, that life of sin and shame, with a heart that is filled the shameful things. You might think you’re devoted to God, you might think you’re full of zeal for God’s glory, but if you’re not displaying this sincere love for your fellow believers, then you’ve fallen back into your old ways, instead of living as someone who has been raised with Christ to the heavenly realms. Isn’t that the point Paul was making in 1 Corinthians 13?
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
And so, Peter goes on to teach us that we’re to love one another deeply, from the heart. In other words, we’re to love one another as those whose hearts have been purified by faith in the Saviour. That’s how we’re to treat one another. And, of course, this was so important, given the background to this letter. Remember that Peter’s first readers were under pressure. They were being persecuted for their faith and it seemed as if the whole Roman Empire was against them. And at times like that, when the world is against you, and you’re fearful for your life and anxious about the future, and when you’re under pressure, it’s very easy to become short-tempered with one another, and to snap at each other, and to argue with one another, and to lose your temper with your fellow believers. When Christians are under pressure, it’s very easy for us to fall back into our old ways. And so, we need this reminder from Peter that we’ve been purified by faith so that we might love one another deeply.
The new birth
But Peter doesn’t stop there. He goes on to refer to the new birth as if to say, we’re to love one another deeply from the heart because we’ve been born again.
This isn’t the first time Peter has referred to the new birth. He mentioned it back in verse 3. And when we were looking at that verse, I made the point that we can’t make ourselves be born again; we don’t decide that we’re going to be born again; it’s not something we produce ourselves; it’s something that God produces in us. That’s why in verse 3, Peter was praising God: he was praising God because God is the one who causes us to be born again.
And again, when we were looking at verse 3, I made the point that being born again means beginning a new life. It’s about having a new existence. So, a mother goes into labour and gives birth to a child. By being born, that child begins her life here on the earth. But then, during her life here on earth, she might begin a new life. And she’ll begin a new life when God looks upon her in mercy and causes her to be born again.
Sometimes in the Bible, the new birth is described as life from the dead. So, we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but we were made alive with Christ. Sometimes in the Bible, the new birth is described as a new creation. So, Paul writes that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone; the new has come. So, it’s about being raised from spiritual death to spiritual life. And it’s about being re-creating or re-made so that our old life without Christ is over and a new life has begun. So, God raises us to life and he re-makes us.
Those are some of the things I said before about the new birth when we were studying verse 3. But look now at what Peter adds in verse 23. He says we were born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God. Peter is describing here how God causes a person to be born again. And he mentions the seed and he mentions the word.
Now, some of the commentators suggest that the seed and the word are one and the same. They say that the word of God is the seed which God uses to cause sinners to be born again. But other commentators believe Peter is referring to two different things here: there’s the seed; and then there’s the word. And I think they’re right: we’re born again of seed, or from seed through the word of God.
Now, it’s obvious what the word of God is: it’s the Bible which contains everything we need to know about God and about his will for our salvation. And Peter describes God’s word as living and enduring. It’s living because it produces life in those who hear and believe it. And it’s enduring because God’s word is sure and steadfast and does not change. And to underline this — to underline that God’s word does not change — Peter goes on to quote from Isaiah 40 where we’re reminded that all men — and all women — are like grass; and our glory — all that we boast in — is like the flowers of the field. In what sense are we like grass? In what sense is our glory like the flowers in the field? Isaiah tell us: we’re like grass in that, just as grass withers and dies, so we will wither and die; and our glory is like the flowers in the field in that, just as flowers fall, so our glory will fall. We’re like grass: here today and gone tomorrow. But the word of the Lord, well, it stands for ever. And its power to change lives and to produce in men and women and boys and girls the new birth will not ever diminish.
That’s the word of God. What is the seed? Well, it’s not clear. Some commentators think it’s the Holy Spirit: so, God causes us to be born again by his Spirit. Others say the seed is the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit: God’s causes us to be born again by the power of his Spirit. There’s not a lot of difference between those two options. Others say it’s the principle of new life, or the source of new life, which the Holy Spirit plants in us. Again, there’s not a lot of difference; all three options involve the Holy Spirit, because being born again means being born of God’s Spirit.
Perhaps it’s helpful to think of it this way: a gardener goes out into the garden and plants a seed in the ground. But before the seed can grow, it needs water. And once the seed is watered, it begins to grow and produces a new plant. Well, God plants his seed in the hearts of men and women and boys and girls. But before the seed can grow, it needs to be watered; it needs to be watered by the word of God. And once the seed is watered by the word of God, it begins to grow and produces a new person.
I’ve seen this happen. I remember a church where there wasn’t much life. The minister gave out a few pious thoughts on Sundays, but didn’t really preach God’s word. And the congregation used to sleep-walk in at the beginning of the service; and they sleep-walked out at the end of the service. One of the members even told me that he looked forward to coming to church on Sundays, because he worked hard all week and led a very busy life, and he looked forward to being able to sit quietly in church for an hour on Sundays and not have to think. But then the old minister retired and a new minister came who opened the Bible and preached God’s word on Sundays. And as he watered that sleepy congregation, some of them sprang to life and their lives were transformed. Now, some of them hated what the minister was doing; and hearing God’s word only hardened their hearts. But for others, it was as if they were a garden that had laid dormant for years and years; and nothing ever grew there. But now, suddenly, God planted seeds in that garden, and the seed was watered by God’s word; and the seed burst forth into life. It was remarkable.
It’s interesting. When we go out to do the door-to-door visitation around the district each year, we often say that we’re doing this at the wrong time of the year. We’re doing this at the wrong time of the year, we say, because all the organisations have stopped for the summer; and what are we going to invite the people to? But, of course, we need to remember that the Sunday services never stop; and every Sunday, morning and evening, God’s word is preached. And God uses the preaching of his word to cause men and women and boys and girls to be born again. He plants the seed of new life in their hearts; and he waters it with his word; and, when the time is right, life bursts forth.
But notice one other thing. Peter says we’re born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable seed. The gardener goes into the garden and plants seed; and he waters the seed; and a plant or a flower begins to grow. And it’s lovely; everyone admires it. But it doesn’t last, does it? It looks great for a while, but then the seasons change and it begins to wither and droop and finally it dies. It perishes.
But those who are born again from God’s imperishable seed, and who are watered by God’s living and enduring word, will not die. They will not die.
Yes, we’ll die, and our bodies will be laid in the grave. But we believe — don’t we? — that while our bodies are laid in the grave, our soul goes to be with the Lord in heaven. And we believe — don’t we? — that when the Lord Jesus comes again, our bodies will be raised from the grave and we’ll come — in body and soul — into the presence of the Lord to live with him forever.
So, you see, those who are born again from God’s imperishable seed, and who are watered by God’s living and enduring word, will not die, but will live for ever in glory with God.
Now, what has this got to do with loving another? Do you remember? In verses 22 and 23 Peter said we’re to love one another deeply from the heart, for you’ve been born again. So, what’s the connection between being born again and loving one another? Well, before we were born again, it was normal for us to think only of ourselves. Before we were born again, it was normal for us to fight with one another and to slander one another and to be impatient with one another. It was normal for us to be like that with one another before we were born again. But God has caused us to be born again: he’s raised us up with Christ to live a new kind of life; and he’s re-created us to be like Christ. And so, if we’ve been born again, we’re no longer to live as we once did, but we’re to live a new kind of life, which means we’re to love one another deeply, from the heart, just as our Heavenly Father has loved us deeply from the heart and chose us; and just as Jesus Christ loved us deeply from the heart and died to save us. So, from now on, as those who have been born again from God’s imperishable seed, and who are watered by God’s living and enduring word, we’re to love one another.