We know what we have been ransomed from.
1 Peter 1:20-23
He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 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. ESV
Love one another
The second section of Peter’s letter begins at verse 13 of chapter one and is concerned with showing how the fact of salvation should be worked out in practise in the lives those who believe in Christ and have become children of God. Peter does that by means of a series of imperatives or commands. So far we’ve seen three of those commands. The first was in verse 13 where he said: “set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed”. The second was in verse 15 where he said: “be holy in all your conduct”. The third was in verse 17 where he said: “conduct yourselves with fear”.
Verse 17 is actually the beginning of one long sentence in the Greek text that runs all the way from verse 17 to verse 21. So, having considered the command to “conduct yourselves with fear” in verse 17, we spent a couple of weeks in working our way through the rest of the sentence.
We moved on to spend three weeks looking at verses 18-19 where we saw three things that Peter said that we know as believers in Christ:
Firstly, we know that we have been ransomed because Peter said: “knowing that you were ransomed”.
Secondly, we know what we have been ransomed from because Peter said: “you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers”.
Thirdly, we know how we have been ransomed because Peter said that we were ransomed: “with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”.
Picking our study up again in verses 20-21 where we see four things about Christ:
1 He was foreordained
2 He was made manifest
3 He was raised from the dead
4 He was given glory
Note the amazing fact that all of this was “for the sake of you”. That is for the sake of sinful human beings who come to believe in God through Jesus Christ.
Having reached the end of that long sentence we will move on now to find a fourth command for the Christian life. It’s there in the second half of verse 22 where we read: “love one another earnestly from a pure heart”. That command seems to self evidently be a good command at a popular level. No-one will deny that loving one another is a good thing to do. It’s frequently expressed in our popular culture. People say that it’s love that makes the world go round. In the words of the Burt Bacharach song:
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of
What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone ”
If you think back to the Sixties and the Hippie dream of peace and love, in hindsight, it all seems very quaint and naïve but, in a very real sense, it was a good dream to have. On the 25th June 1967 the world’s first live satellite television production was broadcast around the world. It it was called “Our World”. It included contributions from 19 countries and reached an estimated audience of 400 million. Britain’s contribution was provided by the Beatles and they wrote a song especially for this unprecedented and prestigious event. What did they sing? What message did they feel the whole world needed to hear? It was “All you need is love”. That was a very laudable and commendable sentiment. However, within a few years the Beatles had broken up in acrimonious circumstances and, instead of loving one another, they were angrily taking one another to court and making snide remarks about one another in the press.
You see, it’s one thing to commend love and sing about love and promote love. Doing it is another thing altogether. The grand ideal doesn’t just happen.
Now, when we look at our text we find that Peter’s command to “love one another” doesn’t stand alone. It’s sandwiched between two statements which each provide a reason or a basis for such love. Now, a sandwich filling tends to be quite shapeless and messy. It needs two slices of bread to give it structure and make it possible to handle. So it is with the love that is commanded for the Christian life. It’s not just to be a vague gooey idea like sixties notions of love. Rather, it stems from the solid realities that Peter mentions.
So, the command to “love one another” is like the sandwich filling and it is between two reasons which are like the slices of bread. We see the first slice of bread in the preceding statement where we read: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love”. You see, it’s “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth” that you’re commanded to “love one another”. This loving one another is on the basis of “Having purified your souls”.
We see the second slice of bread in the following statement in verse 23 where we read: “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable”. You see, Peter’s command for them to “love one another” was “ since you have been born again”. This loving one another is on the basis of having been “been born again”.
It is clear that Peter’s command to “love one another” wasn’t wishy washy idealism but the result of concrete realities in the lives of his readers. They had purified their souls and they had been born again. I suggest that purifying your soul and being born again are essential prerequisites for obeying this command to “love one another”. So, before we consider the command itself let’s see what Peter meant by “Having purified your souls” and “have been born again”.
For this post we are going to consider:
The first slice of bread
We see the first slice at the beginning of verse 22 where we read: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love”. We can usefully look at that expression by asking three simple questions: what, how and why.
So, the first question is “what?” and we find that Peter says: “Having purified your souls”.
The word translated as “soul” can sometimes mean “the inner, spiritual being” but it’s also sometimes used to refer to “the whole being”. The NIV seems to favour the latter as it has: “Now that you have purified yourselves”. Whichever way we are to understand “souls” here, Peter is addressing believers in Christ as those whose souls have been purified. That is cleansed or been made made clean. That immediately tells us that their souls had once not been clean. They had been impure. You see, that is the natural state of human beings in this fallen world. We are sinful.
Notice that this is speaking of something that has happened – “Having purified your souls”.
So, it’s not speaking of an ongoing process but of something that had been done. Now, of course, there is a very real sense in which believers in Christ do have an ongoing need for cleansing. However, in another sense, we have fundamentally been made clean in God’s sight. That was a lesson that Peter had been taught when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. We read in John 13v6-10: “He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean”.
That’s typical Peter isn’t it?
He swings from one extreme, “You shall never wash my feet”, to the other extreme, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” and Jesus made it clear that Peter had got it wrong both times. The point that Jesus was making was that believers in Him have been thoroughly cleansed. It’s as though we’ve had a bath. However, as we walk through this world our feet get dirty so they need to be washed but that doesn’t mean that we need another bath. That fundamental cleansing has been done once and for all.
The really surprising thing here is that Peter seems to be referring to that cleansing as being something that his readers had done. He didn’t say “your souls have been purified”. He said “Having purified your souls”. They had been active in purifying their souls. That sounds very surprising because God’s Word makes it very clear that salvation is by God’s grace and not because of anything that we have done for ourselves. Are we misunderstanding what Peter is suggesting here? It doesn’t seem so as we see when we go on to consider the next question.
That question is “how?” and we see that Peter’s answer is “by your obedience to the truth”.
So, they had purified their souls by their obedience to the truth. It still sounds very much like something that they had done: “by your obedience”. How are we to understand this expression “by your obedience to the truth”?
Well, the New Testament scriptures often refer to the gospel message as “the truth”. For instance, we read in Galatians 2v5: “to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you”. We find something similar in Colossians 1v5b-6a: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing”.
If we take “the truth” to refer to the gospel in this context, then “obedience to the truth” is probably best taken to refer to believing the gospel and coming to faith in Christ. That’s what we see in Ephesians 1v13 where we read: “In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”.
So, Peter’s readers had purified their souls by hearing the gospel of salvation and believing in Jesus Christ. That’s in keeping with what Peter had just said in verse 21: “who through him are believers in God” and “so that your faith and hope are in God”.
Now, it’s important to recognise that, although salvation is enitirely by God’s grace and on the basis of what Jesus has done in dying on the cross, believing in Him is something that we do. Otherwise, the gospel message would be: God is able to save sinners through Jesus Christ and you’d better hope that He will save you. But, that’s not the gospel message is it! The gospel message is: God is able to save sinners through Jesus Christ so repent and believe in Him. We must believe but it’s not our believing that saves us – it’s who we’re beliving in, the Lord Jesus Christ, that saves us.
So, having answered the questions “what” and “how” let us now consider “why”?
We see that the answer that Peter gives is: “for a sincere brotherly love”. The Greek word that’s been translated as “brotherly love” is “philadelphia”. I know we’ve been talking about a sandwich filling but that has nothing to do with a soft cheese! Brotherly love is just as it sounds: the sort of love that you would hope to find between brothers. But notice that Peter says: “for a sincere brotherly love”.
Now, the word sincere comes from the Latin meaning “without wax”.
In Roman times, when statues started to crumble they would be filled in with wax to keep their shape and keep up appearances so the term “without wax” came to mean “genuine” or “without pretence”. So, the brotherly love that results from having purified yourselves is not to be a show or facade but real, genuine love. Paul commended the Thessalonian believers for their brotherly love. He said in 1 Thessalonians 4v9: “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia”.
I wonder if the same could be said of us?
Even if it could, notice what Paul went on to say to the Thessalonians: “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more”. His point is clear: believers in Christ can never love too much because that is what we have been saved for.
In our next post we will look at: The second slice of bread
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!