Elect Exiles: The Living and Abiding Word

Sermon by David Strain on September 15, 2019

1 Peter 1:22-25

Now if you would take a Bible in hand and turn with me to the first letter of Peter, 1 Peter. Page 1014 if you’re using one of our church Bibles. On Sunday mornings here at First Presbyterian Church we’ve been working slowly through 1 Peter. We’ve come to the last paragraph of the first chapter, verses 22 through 25; 1 Peter chapter 1. 

We’ve seen in verses 3 through 12 that Peter begins by recounting our great privileges, the blessings that are ours as Christians. And then beginning in the thirteenth verse, he wants to show us the “therefore”s, the implications, the so-what of these great privileges for the way that we live our lives. And he’s continuing to do that here in the second half of the chapter in verses 22 through 25. Peter’s consistent pattern, as we’re going to see as we walk through the letter together, is to exhort us to Christian duty very clearly, but then very quickly in the context of that exhortation to obedience to provide us with reminders of the riches of God’s grace so that the imperatives, the commands, always rest on the indicatives, the promise and gift of grace so that we never think that we’re able to obey in our own strength but rather our obedience is equipped and enabled by the grace of God in the Gospel. Saint Augustine famously prayed, “My hope is only in Your exceeding great mercy, Lord, give what You command; command what You will.” Right? That’s what Peter is saying to us over and over again. It’s the heart and the inner dynamic of living out the Christian life. “Lord, give what You command, and then command whatever You will. Lord, supply me the grace that I might be obedient to Your call.”

Now in your passage, in verse 22 if you would look there with me, you will see the main ethical target at which Peter is taking aim in our lives. This is what he wants from us. Verse 22, he wants a “sincere brotherly love.” He wants us to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” And we’re going to take the rest of our time this morning to explore the indicatives of grace that stand behind the imperative, the command to love one another. We’re going to look at the way that God blesses us by His rich mercy and His wonderful grace so that we can love one another earnestly from a pure heart. Before we do that, before we read the text and dive into its teaching, we’re going to pray once again, so let’s pray.

O Lord, now we have Your Word open before us. Open our hearts to the truth. Open our minds. Give illumination by the Holy Spirit who inspired these words to show us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the face of Jesus Christ. For we ask it in His name, amen.

1 Peter chapter 1 at verse 22. This is the Word of Almighty God:

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for

‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’

And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

This past week I was reading about one of the most famous expeditions of the nineteenth century into the heart of Africa in search for the source of the Nile River. Two men, John Hanning Speke and Captain Richard Burton, they trekked inland, they trekked in westward from Zanzibar until they reached Lake Tanganyika and there Burton, he was ill, and so he couldn’t continue, and Speke went on alone until he found what he named Lake Victoria and declared Lake Victoria to be the source of the Nile River. Because Burton was sick, Speke got back to London first and proclaimed that he had found the source of the Nile. Burton never agreed with him, the two men never reconciled, and the dispute rolled on for some years. Although now, after two of those expeditions, Speke’s two expeditions have largely been vindicated even though there are other rivers, tributaries that feed Lake Victoria, it’s widely acknowledged to be the source of the Nile.

As I was reading through 1 Peter I was thinking about that story because in some ways what we need to do with this passage is to follow the river of Peter’s thinking back to the source. He begins with brotherly love, that’s what he wants from us. To see how we get there, how brotherly love like that can be produced in our lives, we need to trace back the journey to the source. Just try and follow Peter’s logic with me and you’ll see the train of his thinking. So brotherly love, earnestly from a pure heart – that’s what he wants from us – it is rooted in having been purified, “having purified your souls…for a sincere brotherly love.” So back of brotherly love is this purification that takes place. And this purification, he says, takes place “by your obedience to the truth.” He’s talking about their conversions there, when they responded in faith and repentance to the Gospel message. And back of all of that, he says, is the new birth. “Since you have been born again,” verse 23, “not of perishable seed but imperishable through the living and abiding Word of God.” So do you see the chain of Peter’s thinking? Brotherly love needs to flourish in your life. Where do you get it from? It comes as a consequence of a purified soul. That comes in the wake of conversion when you come in response to the truth. And that comes when God, by the work of the Holy Spirit, gives the new birth into the heart of a sinner. And that comes through the ministry of the Word.

So there are five stages to this journey back to the source of the river that we need to follow. First is brotherly love. Second is the question of the purification that took place in their lives. Third is obeying the truth, conversion. Fourth is the new birth. And fifth is the means God uses to effect the new birth – the ministry of God’s holy Word.

Sincere and Earnest Brotherly Love 

So let’s think about step one first. Peter starts with his objective in our lives. He wants sincere brotherly love. That’s what he says is the fruit of the purification that came when we obeyed the truth; sincere brotherly love. So we should love one another earnestly from a pure heart. The language Peter uses to describe this kind of love is important. First he says it is “sincere brotherly love.” The Greek word is anupokritos – “unhypocritical.” The background of that word, etymologically, came from the context of a Greek play where the actors would wear a mask as they adopted the persona that they were playing. And Peter is saying, “I want love among Christians that doesn’t wear a mask. I want sincere brotherly love. No mask. No pretense. Straightforward, real-deal love.”

Now love like that, it’s uncomfortable. Isn’t it? It feels risky to us. We wear masks for a reason, don’t we? We’re ashamed and we don’t want others really to see us, so we wear a mask. We build a wall. We hide. We keep people at arm’s length. Or we’re afraid of being hurt if we get too close to other people, so we wear a mask and build a wall and keep them at arm’s length. It’s not easy to love like this. It feels risky. We feel vulnerable to love like this. And yet, Peter really is saying when you become a Christian something happens to you and in you so that you begin to take the mask off, you begin to come out from behind your walls, you begin to take the risk of learning to love one another really deeply truly and be known and know one another. 

The second thing he tells us about this brotherly love is that it is earnest. Do you see that word in the second half of verse 22? “Love one another earnestly, sincere brotherly love. Love one another earnestly.” The English Standard Version, that’s our pew Bible, translates the word that is translated as “earnest” can refer either to intensity or duration. So Peter might mean, “I want you to love earnestly, passionately, deeply, fervently.” Or he might mean, “I want you to love unrelentingly, unremittingly, perseveringly, come what may, through thick and thin.” Either way really the point is clear when you take all of this together. Love that Christians are to show one another is heartfelt and lasting. It’s not superficial. It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s not on-again, off-again blowing hot and cold. It is stable and strong. 

Now given how hard love like that can be for us, given how prone we are to wear a mask, build a wall, keep others away, where do you get love like this? Where does it come from? How can you and I, how can we begin to love like this? We’re commanded to love like this, so how do we obey this command? We’re ashamed and we don’t want anyone to see. We’re afraid of getting hurt and we don’t want anyone to get close. How are you going to love like this, then, given that reality? 

Having Purified Yourselves 

Well look at step two. Step one – love one another. Step two – such a love, Peter says, comes “having purified yourselves.” You purified yourselves for, or unto, sincere brotherly love. The past tense there is important. Peter is not now commanding you to be or become pure. This, rather, is a declaration that his first readers have already become pure in some sense at a definite point in their past. When did it take place? Well that’s step three. 

By Obedience to the Truth 

Look at the text. Step three. “Having purified yourselves” – when? How? “By your obedience to the truth.” So this moment of inner purification took place when they obeyed the truth. The summons to believe the Gospel, to repent of sin, to trust in Christ. Peter is talking about their conversion. And he’s telling us when a person gets converted, there are many things going on. Here he mentions two in particular. Two things are going on when a person gets converted. First, conversion brings cleansing. When you obeyed the truth and you came to Christ, you didn’t stay dirty, he’s saying. You didn’t stay guilty. You got clean. You purified yourself not by anything you did or said, but by trusting in Christ whose blood can make the foulest clean. Before the judgment seat of God, your guilty stains were washed away. In the theater of your own heart, the polluting power of sin was broken. It’s what Paul means in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. You may remember this passage. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. The sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor theives, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

That’s what happens when you become a Christian. You’re washed and sanctified and justified. Or on Peter’s terms, you purify yourself by your obedience to the truth. When you get converted, you get clean. Now do you see how that helps with the difficult task of taking the mask off and learning to love one another sincerely from a pure heart? Peter is saying you don’t need to be ashamed anymore because you’re clean now. You don’t need to be ashamed. You can take the mask off. You’re clean now. You can let people see you. In Jesus Christ, your sin is forgiven, you’ve purified yourself; you’re clean now. You don’t need to be ashamed anymore. And you don’t need to be afraid anymore; you are secure in Jesus Christ. Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, accepted before God, renewed by His grace, never to be lost; nothing to snatch you from His hand. You can take the mask off. You’re secure in Christ. You can come out from behind your walls. You can take what sometimes still feels like a big risk and learn to love one another. You can begin to enjoy real connection, real community. That’s what Peter is calling us to. But you only get it when grace erupts in your heart and makes you clean. And you only get that when you obey the truth. That’s the first thing Peter says – conversion brings cleansing.

The second thing he says is that conversion is an act of obedience. You see that in verse 22? You obeyed the truth, he says. So the invitation of the Gospel, that’s not a negotiation. That’s not just an offer of a wonderful possibility for you to take or leave. It is a divine summons by God the King. It’s a command. He commands all men everywhere to repent and to come to a knowledge of the truth. I think as Presbyterians – some of you are Baptists. We won’t tell anyone you are here. It’s okay! But as Presbyterians we have a very high doctrine of the sovereignty of God. God is the one who saves sinners. We don’t save ourselves. But sometimes we overstate that or misstate it as if to suggest that we have no part to play in conversion. But Peter is really saying repentance and faith is something you must do. God won’t do it for you. It’s really your will that responds to the offer of the Gospel. It’s really your obligation to answer when Jesus calls. You must do it. You must obey today without delay. 

Every now and again I run into people who tell me, “Pastor, I would love to be a Christian but I’m waiting for God to sort of do something to me first. To zap me in some way.” I think Peter would say to them, “Dear friend, if you’re waiting for God to zap you before you answer His call, you never will answer. You never will settle the great question of your response to the good news. We sometimes sing a song here that has the line, “If you tarry till you’re better, you will never come at all.” That’s the point. You must obey the truth without delay. You should not look to or appeal to any other consideration. Jesus commands you to come. Come. Trust Him. Repent of your sin. Turn from life your way. Bend the knee to King Jesus and do it now without any hesitation, without any excuse, without any delay. Obey the truth. So step one is brotherly love. Love without a mask – risky, honest, vulnerable love – made possible by step two. 

Since You Have Been Born Again 

As we make our journey back to the source of this river, the second stage of that journey, “you purified your souls.” You got clean. That’s how you can take the mask off. Step three – that obeyed when you obeyed the truth. You heard the Gospel and you said, “That’s me. I’m a sinner. I’m guilty in God’s sight. I need mercy. Only Jesus has mercy for me. Lord Jesus, forgive me. Deliver me. Rescue me. Save me. I have no other hope but You.” And He did. And all of that, step four, all of that Peter says, all of it – brotherly love, a purified heart, because you obeyed the truth – all of it happens “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God.” Back of conversion, back behind repentance and faith is the secret work of God the Holy Spirit in the human heart. “We were dead,” Ephesians 2, “dead in trespasses and sins in which we once walked. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even while we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” Conversion is our obedience to the truth. We repent. We believe. But the new birth is nothing we do. We are powerless. We are dead, Ephesians says. We are lifeless. And then as Peter put it back in verse 3 – do you remember we looked at this in verse 3? The Father caused us to be born again, “to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” It’s a glorious sovereign work of free, unconstrained grace that brings the dead to life. 

Well now that raises some important questions, doesn’t it? Does the absolute sovereignty of God – it’s all His initiative, we’re utterly passive; unable to alter our dead spiritual condition until He gives the new birth, new life – does that fact render the other things that Peter is saying to us in this letter like – “Give a reason to everyone that asks for the hope that you have with gentleness and respect.” “Proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” I want you to be on mission together. That’s Peter’s agenda. – But does the sovereignty of God in salvation render mission pointless? Does it render evangelism useless? Is there nothing one human being can do in the life of another by means of which they may pass from death to life? It’s a good question. 

By the Means God Uses to Effect the New Birth 

And that’s where step five comes in. The last stage in our journey back to the source of all of this. It is one of the most extraordinary, I think, thrilling features of God’s way of working. It is that He uses means. God uses means. Peter tells us what means God uses to effect the new birth in dead sinners. Look at the text. What does it say? How does God get it done? He says we’ve been born again “through the living and abiding Word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this Word is the good news that was preached to you.” That’s a bombshell passage. Isn’t it? It provides all the wind a preacher needs in his sails to get him into a pulpit with confidence. You see what it says? It’s electric really. It’s saying when you open the Bible and you explain to someone who Jesus is and why He came and what it means to follow Him, when you say what this Book says, even though you’re nothing more than grassy flesh – that’s what Peter says we are. Quoting Isaiah 40 there in verse 24 – do you see that? He said you’re a big clod of dirt, grass; a lump of sod speaking to another lump of sod! That’s you and me. It’s the epitome of powerlessness, of temporary life. The flowers of the grass, they fall and wither. How in the world? How can it be that one lump of grass telling another lump of grass the Word of God brings this mighty change? But that’s what Peter says happens. It’s thrilling. God works by His Word to give new life to the spiritually dead. 

He’s really saying whenever you proclaim the living and abiding Word of God there is every possibility that right before you will happen a Lazarus moment. You remember the story of Lazarus? Lazarus has been dead for three days. He’s dead, dead, dead! He’s so dead that when Jesus said, “Roll the stone away,” they’re worried about the smell. He’s as dead as can be. And Jesus is going to raise Lazarus from the grave. How does He do it? How does He do it? Does He rant and rave? Are there hysterics? Is there some strange ritual? Does He have a secret defibrillator up His sleeve, you know, to try and – “Clear!” Is that what happens? What does He do? He just speaks. “Lazarus, come forth.” And death comes to heel at its master’s voice like an obedient puppy and Lazarus walks alive again from the tomb. And Peter is saying that’s what has happened to you if you’re a Christian today. You might have heard the Gospel a million times, but one day the same Gospel you’ve heard over and over became life from the dead. You heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come forth!” And you came forth alive. It caused the new birth in your heart, mysteriously by the power of the Holy Spirit. He’s saying that’s what happened to his first readers. That’s what has happened to us if we’re believers. He’s saying, “That’s what can happen if you will just take the risk and open your mouth and speak for Jesus and tell that friend about Him.” It could be a Lazarus moment right in front of you where the dead hear the voice of the Son of Man and live.

“He speaks and listening to His voice, new life the dead receive. The mournful broken hearts rejoice; the humble poor believe. Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb! Your loosened tongues employ. You blind behold your Savior’s come, and leap ye lame for joy.” Who wouldn’t spend their days engaged in this? What a thrill. The possibility that just once, just once in a lifetime of proclaiming Jesus, a dead sinner might come to life is so worth it. What a thrill to be the instrument in the hands of God in raising the dead. 

Well look, preaching today faces some steep competition. Doesn't it? We carry around in our pockets a screen that pumps entertainment and information, more information than we could ever hope to process, and it schools us into becoming consumers of bright shiny data at a rapid pace, 24/7. Then you come to church on a Sunday morning and there’s some guy in a big flappy robe talking about an ancient Book for about thirty minutes. And how can it possibly compete? Preaching has this one thing going for it. When the living and abiding Word of God is preached, dead sinners come to life. The dead are raised at the voice of Jesus speaking in the Scriptures.

What did you come to church expecting would happen? I really think Peter is saying you should come expecting resurrections. As the Word of God is proclaimed, sinners pass from death to life. That’s what we should be praying for, looking for, longing for, expecting – resurrections. Maybe today you came and you don’t know what you believe. You’re not a Christian. You’re here because that’s what you do on Sunday. You’re here because somebody brought you along. You’re here because they’ve been on your case for weeks and finally, you know, “I can report to mom back home that I showed up in church Sunday morning.” Please understand the voice of Jesus the great King is calling you and you must render Him obedience. He is calling you to repentance, to turn from life your way, and bend your knee to Him and accept life His way. Trust Him. You must obey the truth and you must do it today. Right now. When you do, you will discover as many of us have that the grace that enabled you to flee to Him caused new birth in your heart, even in the midst of your spiritual death. But don’t wait for God to do something. He’s calling you today, right now. Come today, right now, and obey His call, His summons. What are you waiting for? Come and trust in Christ – a perfect Savior of sinners. Let’s pray together.

O Lord our God, we bow before You. We, some of us are wearing masks, and we are protecting ourselves. We’ve been hurt before; we don’t want to get hurt again. We’re ashamed. We see our sin and we don’t want anyone else to see it. And so we, to protect ourselves, we keep others at a distance. By Your mighty living Word, would You work in our hearts, teaching us, reminding us, if we are Christians, that we are clean and we are secure; we’re safe in Jesus. Therefore, take the mask off. Help us to get there, please. Some of us today are not believers, so Lord Jesus now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, awaken the dead, unstop our deaf ears, open blind eyes. We pray that everyone in this room would hear the voice of the Son of Man, hear Him calling, commanding, and that everyone here today, without any further delay or any other excuse, would come and bend the knee to Him, confessing our guilt and crying for mercy. O Lord, do the work among us. How we need You. How we need You. So hear our cries, for Jesus’ sake, amen.

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