1 Peter 1:22-25 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; 24 for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
Christians will suffer various trials (1:6) because we live in a world with sin.
These trials will come because of sin within and sin without.
Sin within produces suffering because sin, by definition, is always off the path of goodness and blessing. Our sin always harms us…sometimes immediately and obviously and sometimes gradually and subtly, but it always causes harm and harm always brings a measure of suffering.
Sin without produces suffering because: 1) it causes the world around us to hurl down its brokenness upon us (tornados, drought, sickness, disease, …) and, 2) it causes unrepentant sinners to act in evil ways (theft, deceit, slander, murder, …).
Peter wrote this letter to help the people of God suffer in ways that honor God.
To this point, he’s given his readers three main ways to honor God in their suffering: 1) remember the gospel and the salvation it produced (1:3-9), 2) hope not in better circumstances but fully in grace (1:13), and 3) be holy (1:14-25).
For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at Peter’s words concerning the third point (be holy). Peter has charged the people of God to honor God in their suffering by living holy lives. Specifically, he’s called them to stop acting on the desires of their flesh, to be morally pure because God their Father is morally pure, to fear God, and, as we saw last week, to love other Christians in sincerity, earnestness, and purity.
As I briefly noted last week, Peter’s charge for Christians to love Christians in their suffering is rooted in the reality that they’d been born again through the word of God. It is the phrase “through the …word of God,” and its remarkable implications, on which we are going to focus this morning. It is through God’s word that God’s people become and remain and thrive as and delight in being God’s people. Let’s pray that God would awaken us to this amazing grace and all that it means for us today.
BEING BORN AGAIN AND THE ORDER OF SALVATION
Before we can understand what Peter means by being “born again…through the living and abiding word of God,” we need to back up a bit and consider the nature of salvation.
As you’ve heard me say many times, when the NT speaks of salvation through faith in Jesus, it is referring to something much bigger than most people realize. For most, salvation means praying a prayer at some point in this life and then going to heaven when they die. Again though, while the bible’s understanding of salvation certainly includes those things, it also includes a great deal more. Salvation, fully manifest includes election, gospel call, regeneration, conversion, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, death, and glorification. All of that is from God and all of that is what it means to be saved.
Now the various NT authors don’t always have all of these in mind every time they speak of salvation (Paul, for instance, often speaks of salvation primarily in terms of justification), but God has given us the entire bible, not just a few paragraphs within it. And from the entire bible, we can easily see each of these ten aspects of salvation.
With that in the way of background, “born again,” for Peter (and John who is the only other NT author to use that phrase), refers to regeneration. Being born again (or being regenerated) means being given new spiritual life by God. All people since Adam are born dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive [regenerated us, gave us new life, caused us to be born again] together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:4-5). He caused us to be born again that we might believe in Jesus and be saved.
Peter’s point, then, embedded in a larger context of suffering faithfully, is that this new life, new birth, regeneration comes from God “through the…word of God”. How can mankind be saved from the spiritual death we are in because of Adam’s sin and our own? By being given new life from God which comes through the word of God.
Again, what I want to concentrate on this morning is the power of the Word of God to bring life. If my sermon lands the way I think Peter and the inspiring Spirit would have it land, we would all leave with a much greater sense of awe and wonder concerning the bible, a much greater appreciation for how available it is for us, a much greater commitment to read and study and know it, a much greater desire to apply and share it, and a much greater understanding of how to suffer in a manner pleasing to God. That’s no small order, but it is, I believe, what the text demands.
With that, let’s consider more closely what it means that God’s word is what causes us to be born again.
BEING BORN THROUGH THE WORD OF GOD
As Hebrews 1 says, throughout history, God’s word has come to his people in various ways at various times. However, what has always remained constant is the fact that life has only ever come from his word. That is, God’s word, in whatever form it has come, has always been the only source of life.
Genesis 1 begins with the word of God causing life to come from nothing. There was no life outside of the godhead, the godhead spoke, and then there was life. “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit…let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth…and let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…and let us make man in our image, after our likeness'” (Genesis 1:11-26).
Psalm 33:6 acknowledges the unique, life-giving power of God’s word, calling on God’s people to sing, ” By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.”
But it is not as if God brings life into the world through his word and then leaves it to continue apart from his word, on its own strength. Indeed, God not only creates life by his word, but also sustains life by his word. That’s the point of Hebrews 1:3 which reads, “he [Jesus] upholds the universe by the word of his power.”
By his word God gives the path of life, the path on which people may walk and live. Of this David wrote, “You make known to me the path of life” (Psalm 16:11).
God spoke to Abraham and caused him to have life in the form of a son through a barren wife and life in the form of a great nation through a nomadic nobody. And God spoke to Abraham and gave his son new life by providing a ram as a sacrifice.
According to Psalm 119:25, God’s word is the source of life when everything around is crumbling and bringing death, “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!”
Upon visiting his friend who had died, “Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out'” (John 11:43), and he came alive. God spoke to Lazarus and he was given new, physical life.
And, of course, God’s word gives eternal life to sinners who are dead in their sin. Peter first came to understand this in the very presence of Jesus, crying out to Jesus, “Lord…You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
It was this realization in the presence of Jesus that led him to declare in our passage for this morning, “You have been born again…through the word of God” (1:23).
It is God’s word that brings life. It is only God’s word that brings life. Grace, before we get back to v.23, marvel at this. All life outside of the godhead that has ever been has come through the word of God. There is no life, God speaks, and there is life. There is a path that leads to death, God speaks, and the path of life becomes clear. Sickness overtakes, death comes upon mankind, God speaks, and the dead rise. Sin overtakes, eternal death comes upon mankind, God speaks, and mankind is born again; regenerated; given new spiritual life. God’s word is the source of life, even eternal life.
Marvel at this, Grace. Worship God in this, Grace. Be people of the word of God, Grace. Reject the temptation to spend your time in things that numb at best and lead to death at worst. In your suffering, honor God by embracing the privilege of giving yourself to the words of life!
BORN AGAIN THROUGH THE RESURRECTION
With all of that, look again with me at v.23. In it Peter makes the claim that his readers have been “born again…through the…word of God.” Peter uses similar language in 1:3. There he writes, “According to [the blessed Father’s] great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”.
In v.3 it is said that Christians are born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…to a living hope, through the resurrection. In v.23 it is said that Christians are born again to love one another through the word of God…to love, through the word. Seeing how these two passages fit together is an important step in truly grasping the significance of each individually.
Again, in reverse order, v.3 says that God causes Christians to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His point is that the objective, historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection satisfied the wrath of God and fulfilled God’s requirement of righteousness. Because of that event and all that was accomplished by Jesus in it, God is able (as Paul says in Romans 3:26) to justly give new life to people who had sinned against God. If not for Jesus’ death and resurrection, either mankind would have had to remain dead in our sin or God would have had to act unjustly (since he declared that the wages of sin is death).
And in awesomely consistent language, in v.23 Peter declares that God causes Christians to be born again through the word of God. That is, God causes his people to be born again through the good news about Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection (1:25b). Through his word God graciously connects all who would trust in the good news of Jesus (purify their souls by believing in [being obedient to] to the truth) to all that was accomplished in the objective, historical cross-work of Jesus).
While many believe that mere spirituality or positive thoughts or a vague faith in a vague being has the power to save, the holy Christian Church has always understood salvation to come through the necessary combination of the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, true knowledge of it through God’s word, and genuine belief in it.
In other words, being born again through the resurrection of Jesus and being born again through the word of God (which tells of the resurrection of Jesus) is not two things, but one!
Similarly, the results mentioned in 1:3 and 1:23 fall under the same heading as well.
The result of all of the new birth, according to 1:3, is that Christians are born again to a living hope. That is, when God gives new life to his people, we are given the power of God to leave behind despair (on one hand) and naïve, false confidence (on the other). Those things are replaced by genuine hope that the resurrection of Jesus accomplished for us more than anything in this world can take from us. The grace of God is that all who are truly born again are given unshakable, foundational hope. We certainly have good days and bad days, but we never truly despair, for Jesus’ resurrection overcame anything that might rightly cause despair and, in its place, accomplished certain glory!
And, as I mentioned, in awesomely consistent language, in v.23 we find that being born again through the word of God results in love for the saints. The hope of certain victory through the work of Jesus on the cross frees us up to love those whom God loves. When there is right reason for despair (which all apart from Christ have) true love for others is impossible. But when there is no reason for despair, we are really freed to give ourselves to others for their good in joy.
What we find, then, when we bring these verses together, is that spiritual life only come through the word of God on account of the resurrection of Jesus, and it produces living hope that frees God’s people to love in otherwise impossible ways. Life and hope and love cannot come through any other means than the word of God.
BORN AGAIN THROUGH THE LIVING AND ABIDING WORD OF GOD
It gets better still, Grace. Peter not only tells of new life through God’s word, he also tells a bit of the nature of the word of life. Specifically, he says that it is living and abiding (or imperishable).
God’s Word is Living
Peter helps God’s suffering people to see that God’s word, which has caused them to be born again, is alive. It is living. It is not dead or impersonal or inactive.
The author of Hebrews captures this in 4:12, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Continually, the word of God is living and active. It is working to bring life and sustain life, to heal and to guide, and to save and to resurrect and to preserve.
When we open the text of the bible, we are not opening a powerless document. We are opening the living and active word of God. As we take it in, it will work in us to give us life, every time, always. God’s word is living.
God’s Word is Imperishable
But Grace, God’s word is not only alive, it cannot die!
Shamefully, lying came easy for my friends and me when I was a kid. This led to all kinds of shenanigans. “I promise I’ll pay you back if you buy me an ice cream cone,” was a commonly told lie. “I’ll give your tape back by tomorrow,” was another. “I was 3 under par.” “I know how to dance, I just don’t like to.” You get the idea. When it proved to be to our advantage (or we imagined it would), we lied.
However, even a kid, and even though I knew very little about God, I knew enough to understand that he was not to be messed with. There was a lot wrong with the theology of my youth, but I did have at least a bit of healthy fear of God. Because of this I found myself in a difficult spot.
My friends found out that if they could get me to “swear to God,” or “promise to God,” they knew I wouldn’t go back on my promise. Being as sharp as they were, they also figured out that if I refused to “swear to God,” or “promise to God,” that I was likely lying. Their realization of this caused me to go to great lengths to find ways to not keep my word, while convincing them I was keeping it, and not technically lying to God.
It was all pretty ridiculous and convoluted. The fact is, my word meant very little.
Imagine if God’s word were like mine…fickle and untrustworthy, being kept and reneged on without warning. Peter wrote that God causes his people to be born again by his word. We are called to bank our eternities on God’s word.
We praise God, therefore, that in contrast with things like my friends and me, flesh, grass, and flowers, Peter notes that God’s word cannot die. When God speaks, his word continues, unchanged forever. Things with flesh die. Grass dies. Flowers die. God’s word does not. Other things are perishable. God’s word is imperishable. All of God’s promises are certain. God never goes back on his word. When he speaks, we can trust it with our eternal lives. It will not fail. It will not change. It will not perish.
Grace, God’s word gives life. It gives physical life, the path of life, and new, everlasting, eternal spiritual life. God’s word is living (it is active and continual), and imperishable (it cannot be killed).
Our former ignorance caused us to live according to our sinful passions, but we are no longer people of ignorance. God’s word came to us, caused us to be born again, and shows us how to live. We are, therefore, people of the word. Let us, therefore, live according to it. And in so doing, whether in comfort or suffering, we will honor God and live! And let us, therefore, speak and share the word of life. Let us not keep it to ourselves. Let us declare it to the nations that they too might be born again and know the love of God.
Grace, know the word, love the word, obey the word, and share the word. In security and suffering, live and give life through the word. Amen.