Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to walk our readers through 1 Peter in order to help them understand what it teaches and how to apply it to our lives. This series is part of our larger commitment to help Christians learn to read, interpret, reflect, and apply the Bible to their own lives.

1 Peter 1:22-2:3, “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.

1 Peter 2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Peter uses the pattern of the indicative (what Christ has done) and the imperative (What Christ commands) here in 1 Peter 1:22-2:3 to help his readers understand the gospel. The phrase notes the way in which the apostles move from what is to what, logically, ought to be. Peter begins in 1 Peter 1:22, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” the next section begins in 1 Peter 1:23; 2:1, “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.

1 Peter 2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” The final imperative, “crave spiritual milk,” rests on a final indicative, “you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).

The indicative-imperative interplay governs most of 1 Peter. Earlier Peter described the Godward responsibilities that the gospel creates. God’s elect should set their hope in God’s grace (1 Peter 1:13), be holy (1 Peter 1:16), and live in reverent fear (1 Peter 1:17). In this passage, Peter accents the manward responsibilities of the gospel. We love each other deeply (1 Peter 1:22), and put away all malice (1 Peter 2:1). 1 Peter 1:22-25 also develops his interest, seen earlier in 1 Peter 1:10-12, in the veracity of God’s Word. Peter says that believers are purified by obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22). They have been born again by the “enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Further, the Word of the Lord endures forever (1 Peter 1:24-25). Since we are shaped by the Word, believers can rid themselves of sins such as malice and deceit (1 Peter 2:1).

God’s Word is Truth That Brings Life

Peter has just told his readers that God has redeemed them “With the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:19). Jesus was chosen for this task “before the creation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Through Him, they “believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him” (1 Peter 1:21). Now, therefore, Peter tells his people, “you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). The phrase “obeying the truth” is important. Peter does not say that we obey a command; he says that we obey “the truth.”

For Peter, “the truth” is neither abstract nor general. In this setting, “the truth” means “the gospel.” The closest parallel to 1 Peter 1:22 is Galatians 5:7, where Paul asks the Galatians, “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?” In the context of Galatians 5:1-6 and the entire epistle to the Galatians, “the truth” means “the gospel.”

1 Peter 1:25 also mentions “the word of the Lord… that was preached to you.” Elsewhere, the New Testament uses the parallel phrase “the word of truth.” In Ephesians 1:13 Paul identifies “the word of truth” with “the gospel”: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Again, “the word of truth” is identical to “the gospel” in Colossians 1:5b-6, “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you”. Finally James 1:18 says that God chose to give his children spiritual life or birth by “the word of truth” (John 14:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

So when Peter declares that we purify ourselves “by obeying the truth,” he means that we purify ourselves when we believe the gospel, which is “the word of truth” par excellence. All Scripture is God’s true Word, yet within it we find something that the apostles call “the truth” (1 Peter 1:22) and “the word” (1 Peter 1:25). If we collapse 1 Peter 1:23-25, it becomes clear, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of god.. and this is the word that was preached to you.”

Elsewhere in the New Testament, to obey the truth (1 Peter 1:22) is to believe it. This is clearest when Paul cites Isaiah in Romans 10, marveling, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed our message?’” (Romans 10:15b-16) Notice that Paul equates the two; we obey the gospel when we believe it. To believe is to obey. The expression “obey the gospel” is also found in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17. In both texts, the writer warns those who “do not obey the gospel.” That is, they do not know God or bear His name or belong to His family. In short every proclamation of the person and work of the Lord Jesus implies that the listener should trust and follow Him. Hence the apostles say that we should “obey the gospel.”

We obey the truth when we believe the gospel that Peter declared: Jesus is God’s anointed, the Savior. He suffered, shed His innocent blood, died, and rose, and promised to restore all things (1 Peter 1:3-9). We obey the truth when we believe that Jesus died as a sacrifice for sins and that God “raised him from the dead and glorified him” (1 Peter 1:21). We obey the gospel when our “faith and hope” (1 Peter 1:21) rest in Jesus Christ, who “bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24).

We can obey the gospel because the word is understandable and authoritative. And we should believe the gospel because it summons a response—obedience. Some disciples think it is very pious to talk about their faith in passive terms. They say, “I was saved; I surrendered to God.” Indeed, there is a passive element to faith; we rest in Christ. But faith is active, too. Joel 2:32 says, “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” The active language of calling on God appears frequently in the New Testament (Acts 2:21; 9:14-21; 22:16; Romans 10:13; 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:22).

We should call on God actively. “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Here Paul links the gospel to God’s glory. He also links the gospel to his power in Romans 1:16. The gospel is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” So, then, the gospel is the truth of God that brings the power and glory of God to all who believe.

The gospel also makes believers holy, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,” (1 Peter 1:22). To restate, Peter says that the gospel empowers moral change, specifically the ability to love our brothers “from the heart.” Since the heart is the most important anthropological term in the Bible, this is no minor claim.

Solomon warned, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23; 23:19). The heart makes plans (Proverbs 16:1; Proverbs 16:9) and controls every member of the body (Proverbs 4:23-27; 6:16-19), even our facial expressions (Proverbs 15:13) and our tongue (Proverbs 12:23). The heart seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14) or follows foolish impulses (Proverbs 6:25). It can trust God (Proverbs 3:5), make decisions, and establish a life direction (Exodus 14:5; Numbers 32:9; 1 Samuel 13:14; 1 Kings 12:27; 18:37).[i]

The heart is evil beyond measure (Jer. 17:9), unless God regenerates it, which He promises to do (Jer. 31:33). As Ezekiel 36:26 puts it, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. In our passage, Peter states that God uses the gospel to change the heart, so we are pure and “love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).

Love is both a feeling and a way of life. Peter says that the gospel both purifies the heart and teaches us to love. This challenges a common belief. Many Christians think of the gospel as the starting point of the Christian life, the first step in the journey, but something we surpass in time. Yet the gospel isn’t the first step of many; it is the core of the faith the hub of the wheel. The gospel is not for outsiders and beginners, something that insiders supersede as we grow in knowledge and obedience. No, the gospel is “the word of his grace, which can build you up” (Acts 20:32; 20:24). Grace makes us strong. From it all action radiates.

About twenty years earlier, Peter learned this the hard way. He enjoyed full fellowship with Gentile Christians in Galatians until some Christian legalists passed through. They apparently chided people for eating with Gentiles who didn’t follow Jewish food laws. Peter caved to their pressure and stopped eating with his Gentile brothers. Paul called this hypocrisy and a failure to act (literally, walk) “in line with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). That is, the gospel should have taught Peter not to separate from fellow Christians over matters of good.

This point implies that we can solve many of life’s questions by asking, “What action is in line with the truth of the gospel? What decision is consistent with the gospel?” Suppose someone wrongs you. What response is consistent with the gospel? Anger? Self-pity? Revenge? Forgiveness? A conversation?

If your career is uncertain, if you lose your job or lose income, what response is in line with the gospel? Panic? Shame? Despair? Anger? Or is there a better way to walk in line with the gospel and obey it? The gospel says that we are beloved of God, regardless of our achievements. What response follows that?

We should always seek the path that is in line with the gospel. Looking at life through the lens of the gospel is part of “obeying the truth.” We “obey the truth” when we know we are justified by grace and sanctified by grace. We get right and stay right with God the same way: through the gospel, not works.

Both religious and irreligious people can disobey the gospel. Moral people can be just as far from God, just as antagonistic to the faith, as immoral people and atheists. Revelation 11:7-8 points out that Jerusalem, the city of religion, murders the prophets. Religious leaders insisted on Jesus’ crucifixion. A secular man wants to be his own lord, but a moral, churchgoing man can be just as far from Jesus. If he hopes to earn God’s favor by religious activities and moral goodness, he trusts himself, not Jesus. He might admire Jesus the teacher and holy man, but if he thinks God must reward his piety, he does not obey the truth of the gospel.

Religion says, “If I obey, God will love me.” The gospel says, “Because God loves me, I will obey.” When Peter says that “you have purified yourselves,” he uses a perfect participle, signifying that this purification is an ongoing state. By obeying the truth, the gospel, we are purified in a definitive way, even though we must yet grow in it. As Hebrews 10:14 notes, “by one sacrifice {Jesus} has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” To be made perfect forever is the definitive element; to be made holy is the progressive element. Both are true and essential, and both rest on the gospel.

Peter asserts that this gospel grants life. 1 Peter 1:23, “ since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” Some Christians balk at the phrase “born again” because certain people use it as a shibboleth. The Greek could be translated “born anew” but the concept is clear. By His Spirit, God grants His people a new and second life. The theological term for this is regeneration. Paul says that we “were dead in our transgressions and sins,” but that God “made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1-5). Because they care nothing for God and His truth, the unregenerate are compared to the deaf and blind (Palm 38:13; Proverbs 28:9; Isa. 43:8; Rev. 3:17). Humans are not deaf as a rock is deaf. We hear but rebel. Our being is intact but our nature is corrupt. In regeneration, God quickens the mind, open the eyes, and renews the will. The renewed person comprehends the gospel (1 Cor. 2:14-15) and is attracted to it, so that he comes to Jesus freely and willingly (Westminster Confession of Faith 10.1, “Of Effectual Calling).

Regeneration is God’s decision and act (John 3:1-8). It is rooted in Jesus’ resurrection (1 Peter 1:3). When a newly regeneration person reads the Word, the gospel, the Spirit grants illumination. He liberates the will from its bondage to sin and cleanses the heart. He grants new affections, which drive out old desires. In his oft-quoted sermon “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, ” Thomas Chalmers says that we do not cease to love the world by a “mere demonstration of this world’s insignificance.” The heart will love something, so that it is impossible to extirpate or expunge love of the world directly. The heart needs “another object more alluring” and “another love… more worthy” of our affection. Nothing else creates new life and new energies. No one believes or obeys the gospel apart from this work of God.”[ii]

Ordinarily, God’s Spirit regenerates the human spirit as a man, woman, or child reads or hears the Word. 1 Peter 1:23, “ since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;” Peter’s main interest is the gospel, yet he declares that Scripture, which makes the gospel known, is imperishable, living, and enduring, so that it will always have the power to give life.

The gospel is a special case in all of Scripture, which, unlike humans, live and endures forever. To this point, 1 Peter 1:24-25a quotes Isaiah 40:6-8, “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.”

Because Scripture is God’s Word, it shares His attributes—it endures forever. Human life is, at best, like flowering grass, splendid for a season, but short-lived. The brevity of life does not drive Peter to despair. Although “all flesh is like grass,” God and His Word stand forever. “And this,” Peter continues, “is the word that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25b). Because we believe the gospel Word, because that Word unites us to the risen Lord, an imperishable and unfading inheritance, kept by God, waits us (1 Peter 1:3-4, 9). God created atoms, wove them together in their vast numbers, and then chose to subject them to futility and death, for it is better that man know his futility than that we live on and on, oblivious to his doom. Then, if renewed by the Spirit, he can taste life eternal.

New Life Brings Spiritual and Moral Reform

Genuine faith brings change in behavior. Again, Peter says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). That is, when someone obeys the gospel, it creates “sincere love for your brothers from your heart” (1 Peter 1:22). We will explore the emotional aspect of love, when we examine 1 Peter 3:8-12. Here we notice that love has both an emotional and volitional elements. We both feel love and resolve to love. Love is a result of conversion, since believers become members of God’s loving family.

Love

Love is a way of life. It fulfills the law (Matthew 22:34-40). If we love others, we respect them, promote their lives, honor their property, tell them the truth, and seek their good, not their goods.

Peter describes this love in three ways. First, it is sincere and deep, affectionate and heartfelt—earnest, unfeigned, and without pretense. Second, it is brotherly and filial, not calculating. It has no thought of gaining something in return. It is natural, when we help a brother, to be aware that the friend might return the favor in our own time of need Indeed, James says that believers have a duty to assist their brothers and sisters in the faith whenever any of them needs food or clothing. Yet genuine Christian love does not calculate a return on acts of kindness. Third, love is deep. The term translated “deeply” can mean “earnestly” or “unremittingly.” The root is a verb that means “stretch out” and can describe a man or animal running at full speed. Thus, love should be strenuous and enduring.

Ideally, sincere, brotherly, and earnest love come together, and we gladly help each other in the hour of need. We stick with each other when the need lasts for weeks or months. We never begrudge our labor. Love is sincere and earnest we we invite a stranded family to stay with us, and the welcome stays warm even if a dish breaks or a carpet is stained.

The End of Malice, Envy, and Slander

The indicative-imperative structure continues to guide Peter’s commands in 1 Peter 2:1-3. In this case, however, the indicative comes last, in 1 Peter 2:3, “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Logically, however, our experience of the Lord’s goodness comes first. Because we know that god is good, we are good, and it must show in our attitudes and actions.

“Rid yourselves” of sin, Peter exhorts us in 1 Peter 2:1, using a verb (apotithemi) often used when someone takes off or lays aside clothes (Acts 7:58). When Peter says that we “rid” ourselves of (NIV) or “put away” (ESV) these sins, he imagines our taking them off, as If they were soiled garments.

The sins that Peter names are not the “Gross vices of paganism” but “community destroying vices” so often tolerated by the church: malice, deceit and hypocrisy or insincerity. It is worthwhile to define them.

Malice signifies evil or wickedness in the broadest possible sense, the ill-will to all, perhaps for its own sake. Or it can signify the bad blood and nursing of grudges that seem to motivate some people. Joseph Stalin embodies all sides of malice. With callous indifference, he issued political and economic decrees that led to the death of millions of his own people. He also murdered his underlings, with his own hand, in public, with a laugh, as if he enjoyed it.

Hypocrisy can also be translated as “insincerity.” While hypocrisy signifies deliberate deception in English, the Greek term does not necessarily have that sense. It includes ordinary inconsistency between belief and practice, between one’s inner and outer life. It includes self-deception as well as deception of others. The hypocrites of Matthew 23 seem quite sincere- they travel land and sea to make one convert (Matt. 23:15- 27-28). If we reflect a moment, we see that one can be both sincere and hypocritical. If we first deceive ourselves, we will readily deceive others.

Peter links malice with envy. Malice easily leads to envy, which is the gnawing sorrow we feel when someone else has something that we think we deserve. Immanuel Kant said that envy is a wretched vice because it hurts everyone. It torments the subject, who envies, and it hopes to destroy the happiness of the one envied.[iii] Envy’s apologists claim that envy can at least spur achievement but most observe that envy is that rare state that brings no good to anyone. Vain as it is, almost everyone succumbs to envy at some point. The envious compare themselves to others and, for some perverse reason, always decide that they come up short.

Malice and envy readily lead to deceive and slander. The envious want to bring other people down; they will slander or malign others to do so. Deceit like malice, is a wide-ranging vice. It includes all dishonesty, whether in words or deeds. Yet deceit and slander are both primarily sins of the tongue. When we deceive, we share the truth, ordinarily to someone’s face. Slander is a bald opposition to the truth, ordinarily behind someone’s back. The deceiver hides the truth. The gossip sometimes tells the truth, but delivers it to the wrong people. The slanderer boldly lies, pretending to deliver the truth.

Slander can be the child of envy. In the Middle Ages, Europe had one church but many reform movements. When a reformer became too popular or powerful, church officials typically accused the reformer of financial corruption or unchastity in order to undermine the reformer’s credibility.

Peter tells his readers to “ride yourselves of deceit and slander” (1 Peter 2:1) because he knows that God’s people don’t always tell the truth.

Suppose a wife asks her husband the dreaded, “Did you remember?” question. Did you remember to walk the dog? To take out the trash? To take the cake out of the oven? No, he forget, but wait, he remembered three seconds ago, when she asked, so he can possibly say, “Yes, I remembered.” But there is a follow-up question, “So you took the cake out?”

Now the guilty husband drops the phone, grabs the hot pads, and yanks the cake from the oven. He picks up the phone again and says, “Sorry, honey, I dropped the phone… Yes, the cake is out of the oven. She asks one more question, “So its it cool?” The husband faces one more choice. Will he finally tell the plain truth, “No, it’s not cool”? Or will he evade one more time, “It’s not quite cool, but it’s getting cooler”?

Deceit is tempting in private conversation, when we hear embarrassing questions such as, “What are you thinking?” or, “Did you remember?” But deceit has public dimensions, too. Political operators deceive when they distort the record of an opponent. Business reports deceive when they hide problems or overstate assets and opportunities.

Since the church is full of sinners, it is also full of deceivers, hypocrites, and slanders. People say one thing, then the opposite, and act baffled if someone points this out. For some people, words and tools they deploy to fulfill their goals or desires. For them, the truth is any statement that gets them what they want, and a lie is any statement that keeps them from getting what they want.

As we believers put off deceit, hypocrisy, and slander, we tell the truth more and more consistently. But we don’t simply tell the truth; we speak the truth in love, we edify, and we strive to give grace to all who hear (Eph. 4:15, 29). If we must tell the painful truths, we do so gently. If we must bring bad news, we take care not to wound or degrade anyone. If we tell a cheering truth, we shun boasting and flattery.

Growth in God’s Salvation

Peter connects the sins and the cures for sin. Among the sins that Peter mentions, malice leads the way. If we try to hide our malice, we deceive and play the hypocrite. We show malice towards others by slandering them. We show malice towards the strong by envying them.

The gospel liberates us from these sins. God pours His love into our hearts, displacing our malice, so that we can love others sincerely, from the heart (1 Peter 2:22). The gospel teaches us to confess our sins, and that drives out hypocrisy and deceit. Faith in the Lord liberates us from envy, since we know that He gives good gifts to His children (Luke 11:13). Envy is the opposite of grace, for it wants to grasp rather than to give. It is also the opposite of love, for the envious see nothing but their anguished desires. No wonder Paul calls envy one of the “works of the flesh”, a partner of discord, jealousy, and selfish ambition (Gal. 5:19-21).

But the gospel breaks this cycle of sin so that we can put away sin. We put off sin and crave spiritual milk because we “have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). Although this is the last line in our passage, tasting God’s goodness is the indicative that logically precedes all the imperatives. Because we have tasted—personally experienced—his goodness, we can rid ourselves of malice and envy, for example. God loves us and pours His love into our hearts, surely that should expel all malice towards others. And why should we envy others? “The Lord is good,” and he will give us what we need, what is best for us.

Peter knows that we cannot break with all these sins at once or by a mere act of the will. Since sins become familiar habits, our progress may be slow and our actual behavior discouraging. Still, we must strive to purify ourselves (1 Peter 2:22). Peter commands, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:22).

Grammatically speaking, “craving pure spiritual milk is the lone imperative in 1 Peter 2:1-3. In the New Testament era, milk could be a metaphor for basic principles, foundational truths, taught to new converts (1 Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:13), or any spiritual nourishment. It has everything that a new Christian needs, that we may “grow up in [our] salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

Notice that Peter doesn’t counter his list of vices—malice, deceit, and the rest—with a list of virtues for which we strive. Instead, he commands that we desire something, god’s pure spiritual milk. That milk is pure (literally undeceiving). it has no corrupting errors or extraneous additions. Therefore disciples desire God’s truth as an infant longs for her mother’s milk.

Humans must take nourishment in order to grow. We crave God’s milk and spiritual growth because we “have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). We don’t crave religion” and its fantasy that we can earn God’s favor if we keep the rules. Religion breeds pride and self-righteousness if we keep the rules, and self-loathing and despair if we cannot. But we crave God’s truth and grace.

Peter names a series of sins and sinful attitudes in 1 Peter 2:1, but he surrounds his call to reform with a call first to the gospel and second to life in God’s family. In Peter’s language, if we obey the truth by believing the gospel, we will tell the truth, by putting off deceit and slander. We have tasted that the Lord is good and know that we belong to His family. God feeds us and grants us sincere, heartfelt love for each other so that we put away sin and grow up in our salvation.

[i] Bruce K. Walke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 225-27.

[ii] Thomas Chalmers, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” in Sermons and Discourses, 3 complete Am. Ed. (New York: Robert Carter, 1846), 2:271-75).

[iii] Joseph Epstein, Envy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), xxi.)