Strangers And Aliens (6): Like Newborn Infants (1 Peter 2:1–3)

The word “therefore” is more important in Scripture than we probably realize. It signals a relationship between what is being said now to what was just said. Remember, the chapter divisions we have in Scripture are not original. They were introduced into the text in the 13th century AD. Chapters were divided into verses by Robert Stephanus in 1551. As the original recipients would have heard this epistle (most of them could not read or did not have access to their own copy of the epistle to read it). What we know as chapter 1 would have been seamlessly connected to the beginning of what we know as chapter 2. The last thing that Peter mentions just before this passage is the immutable Word of God and particularly the gospel that by God’s sovereign, unconditional favor (sola gratia) we believe because we were brought to new life. We believe because we are elect. By grace alone we have been given true faith and, in Christ, we have an imperishable, unfading inheritance.

With those magnificent realities come real obligations. Our earlier covenant theologians called them conditions or sometimes re-stipulations, i.e., our appropriate, gracious response to God’s grace. The medieval theologians spoke of sanctification as “being made gracious” or becoming gracious. Now, to be sure, they also quite mistakenly thought that we are accepted by God because and to the degree are sanctified. That was a gross mistake. Nevertheless, it is true that there are “re-stipulations” in the covenant of grace and we are being made gracious or we are being sanctified and that gradual, gracious, often-painful process produces genuine results. Our confessions and catechisms (e.g., Heidelberg Catechism 64, 86; Canons of Dort 1.12, CD 3/4.11; Belgic Confession art. 24) teach this explicitly. We even criticized the Remonstrants because their doctrine undermined the not only the assurance of faith but also our sanctification (CD 1, ROE, 7).

1 Peter 2:1–3

1Ἀποθέμενοι οὖν πᾶσαν κακίαν καὶ πάντα δόλον καὶ ὑποκρίσεις καὶ φθόνους καὶ πάσας καταλαλιάς, 2ὡς ἀρτιγέννητα βρέφη τὸ λογικὸν ἄδολον γάλα ἐπιποθήσατε, ἵνα ἐν αὐτῷ αὐξηθῆτε εἰς σωτηρίαν, 3εἰ ἐγεύσασθε ὅτι χρηστὸς ὁ κύριος. 1So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (ESV).

v. 1: Putting Away
Peter’s language of “putting away” (Ἀποθέμενοι) and thought patterns here remind us of Paul’s language about “putting off.” Indeed this is the same verb Paul used in Ephesians 4:22 and the same thought occurs in Colossians 3:9. Peter uses the participle which seems to suggest that this is something that characterizes the life of the Christian. In light of all that we have received, in Christ, our lives are to be marked by putting away or putting off patterns that marked us before we were given new life, before we brought to true faith and, through faith, united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. Now that we are indwelled by the Spirit, and corporately God’s holy temple (1 Peter 4:14) we ought, by God’s grace, to reflect that reality. Therefore we get rid of evil (κακίαν). This is a generic term that encompasses all sorts of misery and suffering. It is used in Matthew 6:34 in our Lord’s teaching that we should not worry about tomorrow for today has enough “evil.” In Acts 8:22 it is translated with “wickedness” in the ESV. 1 Cor 5:8 combines it with “malice” as characterizing the “old leaven” or our old way of life. This is what Peter is saying here.

Our old life was characterized by evils of all sorts that he enumerates briefly: “deceit” (δόλον), “hypocrisy” (ὑποκρίσεις), “envy” (φθόνους), and “slander” (or defamation; καταλαλιάς). He mentions three sins of the heart which issue in sins of the mouth. The Pharisees were all-concerned about what goes into a man but our Lord was concerned with what comes out (Matt 15:11). What comes out is the product or the issue of the heart. What comes out is corrupt and evil because, by nature, apart from God’s favor, in Christ, our hearts are evil and full of corruption. We misrepresent the truth, we pretend to be what we are not, we desire for ourselves what God has given to others, and we speak against of others for our own gain. Now, however, that we are in Christ those patterns no longer belong to us. They are not to characterize us. We are to recognize them and repent of them and seek with all our strength to get rid of them.

v. 2: As Newborn Babies
There is hardly a more stark contrast than between the sort of corruption Peter has just described and the innocence of an infant. Of course, Peter was appealing to our common human experience. He knew full that human depravity does not just appear de novo in adults. We are all born Adam’s children (Rom 5:12–21) and are conceived in sin (Ps 51:5). By nature we are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1–3). As we experience newborn babies, however, they are apparently without guile, they are not scheming to get anything, they do not tell lies. They appear to the antithesis of what we experience with and as adults. Like newborn babies (ἀρτιγέννητα βρέφη) our new lives are to be marked with a strong desire (ἐπιποθήσατε) for “genuine” or “unadulterated” (ἄδολον) milk. The adjective, which the ESV translates as “sincere” is the antithesis of “deceit.” It is the same word with a privative attached to the front. It’s the opposite of deceit. In 1 Corinthians 3:2 and Hebrews 5:12, 13 “milk” is a metaphor for basic biblical and Christian teaching beyond which, in those cases, the congregations should have matured. In this case, however, it is not a criticism but a symbol of that which has replaced our old desires.

One fundamental purpose of milk is to help infants grow. It is a basic instinct of an infant to drink and a mother to nurse. As those who have been given new life, this ought to be our instinct. The purpose (ἵνα) is that, by being fed with the pure milk of the Word, we ought to grow up (αὐξηθῆτε) “unto salvation” (εἰς σωτηρίαν). This prepositional phrase occurs several times in Scripture:

Paul and Barnabas announced that their ministry was to be “unto salvation” of the Gentiles (Acts 13:47). The gospel is the power of God “unto salvation” (Rom 1:16). Paul’s prayer for the Jews was on their behalf “unto salvation” (Rom 10:1). We believe with the heart and believers confess that faith with their mouths “unto salvation” (Rom 10:10). True sorrow for sin and repentance is “unto salvation” (2 Cor 7:10). Paul’s imprisonment and suffering for Christ was “unto salvation” (Phil 1:19). Peter has already used this expression in 1:5. We are protected by God’s power, through faith, “unto salvation.” In these and other instances these circumstances along the sanctification that the Spirit is working in us are “unto” our salvation. They are not instruments of our salvation—Peter has already established that in 1:5 when he wrote “through faith” (διὰ πίστεως)—but they are part of the process of being delivered from the effects of the fall and sin as we make our pilgrimage to heaven.

v. 3: If You Have Tasted
Peter continues the metaphor. Only those reach salvation who have “tasted” (ἐγεύσασθε) the Lord’s goodness. This is not quite the same imagery as Hebrews 6. In that case there were those who were members of the covenant community and outward participants in the administration of the covenant of grace. They had “tasting” (γευσαμένους) of the powers of the age to come but not actually receiving new life nor actually believing. In this case, those who have “tasted” are those who have been given new life (regeneration) and have been given the gift of true faith. Those who participate in the visible administration of the covenant of grace have without new life and true faith, we used to say, participate in the “accidents” of the covenant of grace but not its “substance.” Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) wrote an entire work on this distinction. Indeed, he began his work by reflecting on Jeremiah 31:31–34 as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises in the new covenant. Those who have been given new life are justified and sanctified by grace alone, through faith alone. They are being conformed to the image of Christ. By grace alone, through faith alone, they have received and participate in the substance of the covenant of grace. They have the actual things promised in Jeremiah 31. Hypocrites, even though they profess faith outwardly, do not actually have the things promised because they lack the grace of new life and the gift of true faith and these are God’s alone to give.

Peter is probably reflecting on Psalm 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that Yahweh is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) the verb used for “to taste” (γεύσασθε) is in the same family as the verb Peter uses in our passage. The believer knows the Lord intellectually and experientially. We do not have to choose between the two. The believer knows from experience that the Lord is good, which frequently in the Hebrew scriptures is the response of God’s people to his presence. In other words, the believer knows that God has kept his promise to be with us: “And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).

We are on a long and often difficult journey to the heavenly city but the Lord is with us. Along the way he is enabling us and calling us to put away those corruptions that used to characterize us before we were delivered from the wrath to come. He has given us new life and true faith and even the sweet, pure milk of the good news. Let us receive it with faith and let that feed and sustain us as we go.

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