Strangers And Aliens (5): The Imperishable, Immutable Word (1 Peter 1:22–25)

Travel broadens our horizons. It helps us to see that this is a great big world filled with an amazing variety of people, cultures, and wonders. In a way, traveling can even be transformative. When we return home you we are not quite what we were when we left. An especially long journey teaches us what is truly important. In the desert, if we must choose between water and a Rolex watch, the choice is easy even if painful. The Israelites learned this lesson (or should have learned) it repeatedly in their desert pilgrimage between Sinai and Canaan. They ate the Passover in haste as a reminder that the desert is not their home. They were not to settle in it. They were to be mindful that they were on their way to another city. Those who believed understood that, indeed, the city to which they were traveling would not ultimately be found in Canaan (Gal 4; Heb 11:16; 12:22). Just as Abraham saw through the types and shadows that Christ was coming (John 8:56), so too the believers among the Israelites knew that they were traveling to a heavenly city. They knew that the purpose of the journey was, in part, to prepare them for their new and final home.

1 Peter 1:22–25

22Τὰς ψυχὰς ὑμῶν ἡγνικότες ἐν τῇ ὑπακοῇ τῆς ἀληθείας εἰς φιλαδελφίαν ἀνυπόκριτον, ἐκ [καθαρᾶς] καρδίας ἀλλήλους ἀγαπήσατε ἐκτενῶς 23ἀναγεγεννημένοι οὐκ ἐκ σπορᾶς φθαρτῆς ἀλλὰ ἀφθάρτου διὰ λόγου ζῶντος θεοῦ καὶ μένοντος. 24διότι
πᾶσα σὰρξ ὡς χόρτος
καὶ πᾶσα δόξα αὐτῆς ὡς ἄνθος χόρτου·
ἐξηράνθη ὁ χόρτος καὶ τὸ ἄνθος ἐξέπεσεν·
25τὸ δὲ ῥῆμα κυρίου μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.τοῦτο δέ ἐστιν τὸ ῥῆμα τὸ εὐαγγελισθὲν εἰς ὑμᾶς.
22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25but the word of the Lord remains forever.”And this word is the good news that was preached to you (ESV).

v. 22: The Transformative Effects Of The Gospel

Peter picks up on the theme in the last part of the previous passage. It is by God’s sovereign grace, in Christ, that we are believers in God (v. 21). We, who believe, have bee redeemed by the precious blood of Christ (vv. 18, 19). We have been granted new life about which I will say more below. That new life, wrought in us by the Spirit, through the gospel, has had a transformative effect. We are not what we were when we began the journey. We are those who have “purified” our “souls” by Spirit-wrought obedience to the truth.

By souls (ψυχὰς) I take Peter to referring to the entirety of our person. In other words, by “soul” Peter is not invoking the notion held by some of the Greeks. The soul is not a sort of gas bubble trapped in the body waiting to be released at death to merge into the cosmic One. The soul is who and what we are. Yes, we are capable of being temporarily dislocated from the body but that is an abnormal state (2 Cor 4).

Believing, trusting is a Spirit-given, Spirit-wrought act of submission by the soul (intellect, will, and affections) to the truth. We know what the truth says. We acknowledge the truth to be true and we trust that it is true for us. In unbelief our souls were corrupted by lies, the antithesis of the truth. The fruit of this trust, this obedience to the truth, is a new way of life.

As a consequence, instead of murdering our brothers, whether in our hearts or with our hands, we love them (φιλαδελφίαν). Instead of viewing people as commodities to be manipulated for our own gain, now, in Christ, we view them as bearers of the divine image and those for whom Christ died. Our new affection toward them is genuine (ἀνυπόκριτον). It comes from a pure (καθαρᾶς) heart. Such a transformation could only happen by the marvelous power of God the Spirit working through the gospel.

v.23: The Power Of New Life

That we are spiritually dead and must be born again (ἀναγεγεννημένοι) is a universal biblical doctrine. This was the repeated message of the prophets (both major and minor) to Israel. She needed to be born again. She needed to receive through faith alone, which itself is a gift of God, the blessings promised to Abraham (Gen 12, 15, 17), which, in the words of Jeremiah 31:33 is God himself: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Ultimately Yahweh was not interested in sacrifices and ceremonies (Amos 5:21). Our Lord Jesus clearly taught Nicodemus (John 3) that he (and we all like him) was spiritually dead and needed to be regenerated or born again and further that only the Holy Spirit gives new life. Just as the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep at creation (Gen 1:2) so he is the agent of our new creation (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). The Apostle Paul teaches that it is the Spirit who raised us from spiritual death (Eph 2:1–4) to new life (Rom 8:2, 11; 2 Cor 3:6). This is the force of Peter’s contrast between a “perishable” (φθαρτῆς) and “imperishable” (ἀφθάρτου) seed is between human generation and divine. After the fall, all human generation ends in death. The spiritual life that comes from the Holy Spirit is of a different sort. The Spirit gives new life and with it eternal life through faith in Christ.

The Spirit, however uses instruments and agents, namely “the living (ζῶντος) and abiding (μένοντος) Word of God” (λόγου θεοῦ). Peter clearly has the highest view of Holy Scripture. It is he who teaches us that the prophets did not write on their own. They spoke as they were “carried along” (φερόμενοι) by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). Scripture is the infallible product of the Spirit’s powerful work in and through fallible humans. The Word of God is living and abiding because it is God’s Word. Whatever God speaks into existence comes into existence (Gen 1). “And God said…and it was.” Nothing has changed. The same powerful Word through which all things came into being is also at work in us. It is through the Word that the Spirit gave us new life. It was through an announcement. Through a declaration. It is not necessary to choose between the biblical teaching that it is the Spirit who sovereignly gives new life and the necessary agency of the Word. We affirm them both.

vv. 24–25: The Covenant of Grace Never Fades

Peter contrasts God’s Word with that which is purely human by paraphrasing Isaiah 40:6, 8: “All flesh is as grass, and all its glory as the flower of grass; the grass withers and the flower falls. But the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

James 1:10–11 paraphrases these verses from Isaiah 40 in a similar way and draws from them similar but different conclusions. This is also the sort of language we see used in the Hebrew Scriptures regarding God’s covenant promise: “He remembers his covenant forever, a word that he commanded, for a thousand generations” (Ps 105:8). Flesh (σὰρξ) is a reference to created things and to human words and acts. They seem terribly important at the time. Who did not bow when Caesar rode by? The Roman Coliseum was magnificent in its time but look at it now. Nice suburban neighborhoods that were abandoned during the Great Recession (c. 2007) were soon over-run with weeds and wildlife. Men make promises and break them almost as soon as they are made.

God, however, does not fade. His glory does not fade. His promises do not falter. He does not lie (Num 23:19). His Word is that much true and reliable.

Peter summarizes all these benefits as “the word that was evangelized (εὐαγγελισθὲν) to you.” The surrounding pagan culture lives its life, as it were, in light of falsehood and fading glory. They were seeking to pressure the Christians in Asia Minor to forget their Savior and the heavenly city. They were, in effect, tempting them to turn their pilgrimage into a home.

We, who have been given a new birth, however, live our lives in light of God’s eternal, immutable Word and promises. Those promises came to fruition in the incarnation, obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. In him are found all the benefits of the covenant promises made to Abraham. Thus, we continue on with our pilgrimage and as we do we conduct our lives as those who have heard and, by God’s grace, believed the good news to our everlasting benefit and comfort.

Here are all the posts in this series on 1 Peter.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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