BORN AGAIN TO LOVE
1 Peter 1:22-25
We live in a culture that has taken some biblical words and used them in a way that redefines and cheapens them so that they no longer mean what the Bible means. But then they seep back into the vocabulary of Christians with their devalued meaning.
Take the term “born again.” The media uses it to describe anyone who makes a comeback or gets a fresh start in life. A baseball team that has been in the cellar and suddenly starts winning is called “the born again” Dodgers. Chrysler under Lee Iacocca was a “born again” corporation.
And so it’s not surprising when over 50 percent of Americans say that they’re “born again Christians.” They mean that they had some sort of religious or emotional experience that resulted in a fresh start in life. It may have involved praying to Jesus or “inviting Him into their hearts.” But in most cases, they have no idea what the Bible means by being born again.
Another word that has become devalued is “love.” We say, “I love pizza”; “I love baseball”; “I love my dog”; “I love my family”; “I love Jesus.” But what does it mean?
I bring up these two terms, “born again” and “love” because they are central to understanding Peter’s thought in 1 Peter 1:22-25. Peter was writing to scattered groups who represented the first Christians. He continues to instruct them regarding what happens in the life of people who are truly born again.
The new birth is marked by purity of soul in obedience to the truth (1:22a).
At conversion, a person begins a new life of obedience to the truth of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. The outward symbol of this obedience to the truth is baptism, which pictures the inward purification from sins that takes place when a person trusts in Christ. When Peter talks about his readers purifying their souls in obedience to the truth, he is referring to their obedience in baptism.
We need to be clear on two things here. First, baptism does not save anyone. Personal faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ saves a person from God’s wrath and judgment. But baptism is the way a person who has trusted Christ confesses Him publicly. The New Testament way of confessing Christ is to be baptized. But baptism does not save the person. Baptism is the outward symbol of obedience to Christ that reflects the inward reality of saving faith.
There is no such thing as saving faith apart from obedient faith. There is a dangerous error in our day that says you can believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, but obedience to Him as Lord is optional. If you want a fire insurance policy to protect you from hell, then believe in Jesus as your Savior, but you don’t need to go all the way and obey Him as Lord. You can just go to church when it’s convenient, drop a few bucks in the offering plate now and then, and call yourself a Christian. But if you like hardship and suffering, if you think that denying yourself and taking up a cross and living a holy life sounds adventurous and exciting, then you can sign up for the discipleship track. You’ll be rewarded with a few extra benefits in heaven.
Does this mean that true Christians never disobey God? Of course not! But it does mean that there is no such thing as a characteristically disobedient believer. If a person claims to be saved, but lives in chronic disobedience to God and disregard for His Word, the person is deceived (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 6:7; 1 John 3:7).
The new birth takes place through God’s imperishable Word (1:23-25).
The new birth is effected by God through His Word, not by man.
Wherever the Bible has gone and the good news about Jesus Christ recorded in the Bible has been preached, whether among a savage tribe or in a sophisticated, educated culture, the miracle of new birth has taken place. People are transformed inwardly by God’s power through His Word, not through human self-improvement.
The new birth is not temporary, but lasting.
Peter describes the new birth as coming from an imperishable seed, in contrast to the perishable seed of human birth. That imperishable seed is the Word (Luke 8:11) which is living and abiding. Thus the new life which God imparts through His Word is eternal, not subject to death.
This new birth, marked by purity of soul in obedience to the truth, which takes place through God’s imperishable Word, is the basis for the command Peter gives to love one another:
The new birth demands a new love (1:22b).
Peter’s readers were suffering as aliens in a foreign world. If you were an American living in a strange country, and you were being hounded for being an American, and you heard that there was another American also in the same city, you’d seek him out. You’d cling to him as one who understood what you were going through. This would be especially true if the person were a blood relative, born to the same family as you. That’s Peter’s point, that those who are members of God’s family through the new birth must stick together in this alien world.
Biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that shows itself in seeking the highest good of the one loved. Thus it is not a sentimental feeling, like so much modern love, since at its core it is a commitment. It does not mean always being “nice,” since sometimes the commitment to seek a person’s highest good involves confronting them in a way that causes pain. Love is always caring, even when it must confront. It is not devoid of feelings of compassion and tenderness.