God’s Word for You
1 Peter 1:22-23 Born again
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, March 3, 2022
22 Since you have purified your souls by obeying the truth, resulting in sincere brotherly love, love one another constantly from a pure heart. 23 For you have been born again, not from perishable seed but from imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.
The grammar of “purified” here is an action begun in the past which continues on and on indefinitely and (ideally) into eternity. The soul that has faith in Christ is the soul that is purified for all eternity. Continuing with Peter’s grammar, the “obedience of the truth” (these are both nouns although English makes one seem like a verb) is the realm or sphere of holy obedience, something only possible through faith in Christ. This leads to love. The familiar word philadelphia (ϕιλαδελϕία) is of course “brotherly love,” the love Christians have for one another. This is the love from a pure heart that drives away annoyance and hatred by saying, “This is my brother in Christ; Jesus loves him, and I must learn to love him better.” It is the love from a pure heart that drives away lust and coveting by saying, “This is my sister in Christ. Jesus my Lord loves her and watches over her, and he has entrusted her life of faith partially into my circle of friends. I must learn to love her as my sister, my daughter, and my mother.” It is the love that devotes us to one another, honoring one another even above ourselves (Romans 12:10).
To be born again is not an act of the will or of human choice. It is new life, that is faith, given to the soul of man. The soul is so excellent a thing, as Augustine summarizes, that it has power even though dead (dead in sin and unbelief) to give life to the body. For the soul of the impious, unbelieving man is dead (dead in sin), and yet by it, though dead, the body lives. And therefore the soul is in the body; it sets the hands to work, and the feet to walk, it directs the eyes to see, the ears to hear, it discriminates tastes, avoids pains, seeks after pleasures. All these are tokens of the life of the body, but they are from the presence of the soul. When the soul that is dead in unbelief hears the gospel and receives it with joy, it is made alive by the power of the word of God. To be born again is for the whole person, soul and body, to have the life given to it that God foresaw in eternity when he wrote our names in the book of life. God so steered and manipulated history, the fates of nations, the winds in ships’ sails, the moment of discovery for inventors, and the births of sons and daughters to the right parents at the right moments in time, that his plan for the Church would unfold as they must. The fall of a sparrow, the plunge of a meteor, the blast of hail, the twirl of a snowflake, all happen according to the will of the Father (Matthew 10:29; Job 38:22-23), and all things happen for the good of those who love God, who are born again (Romans 8:28).
This rebirth is spiritual, because Peter says it is “not from perishable seed but from imperishable.” Perishable seed is the seed of a husband, which soon dies if it does not give life to his wife’s egg. Imperishable seed is the working of the gospel in the soul, which is brought to another kind of life, eternal life, which animates both body and soul. For even though the living person in this lifetime is corrupted by sin, the living spirit, born of the gospel, wages war against that sin in the body. “Sin,” Luther says, “incites, murmurs, and desires to rule. But do not let it rule. Its desire must be subject to you. If you are stirred by anger, lust, envy, etc., retain the seed of the living God, and you will suppress these things. To walk about in smugness is to live in sin after Christ and the birth (spiritual rebirth) have been lost. May God protect us from this!” (LW 30:273).
God’s work of bringing an unbeliever to faith is described in various ways in the Scriptures. It is typical of our living, compassionate God to express the same truth in more than one way so that various people who think and regard the world in different ways can understand by means of one illustration or another.
The process of coming to faith is sometimes called “conversion.” This is restoring the sinner from his path straight to hell to the narrow path of salvation. This is done by the will and the work of God. God intervenes in our quick slippery slide to damnation and rescues us. The crowds at Pentecost were converted, turned from unbelief to faith, through the preaching of the gospel (Acts 2:40-41).
Another word for conversion is “regeneration.” This is the illustration of being born again from our text here in 1 Peter 1:23. This is also the picture Jesus uses when preaching to the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3:3-7.
Yet another word for conversion is “quickening,” being brought from death to life.” A way of seeing a difference between regeneration and quickening is that regeneration, being born again, gives life to one who never had faith (as when a baby is brought to faith through baptism). Quickening is reviving a soul that was dead in sin, trespasses, and unbelief (Ephesians 2:1,5).
In each of these examples, God is the one who is active. Man is purely passive, just as Lazarus had no part in bringing himself back to life (John 11:14, 43-44). God’s action is accomplished through the gospel (apart from the gospel there is no such thing as faith as the Bible describes faith). Finally, the process of conversion, regeneration, and quickening is instantaneous. A person is either converted or not; there is no in-between state. Your conversion is complete.
You might have a friend who has been misled by a false teacher into thinking that they had to make a decision of some kind in order to believe in Jesus. There is no passage of the Bible that says this, although many passages describe the life of a believer who has already come to faith. Don’t confuse the two. You don’t need to argue about whether faith is valid based on whether you came to faith by baptism or by being instructed and being coaxed into making a decision. The faith that one has in Christ is saving faith; rejoice about that. Calling out a false teacher must sometimes be done, but hammering on the poor members of a false teacher isn’t always productive. Be thrilled that they know Jesus.
You have faith in Christ and you believe in God. Keep trusting in him, and he will not let the enemies of hell and the grave triumph over you (Psalm 25:2). No meager advances made by the devil will have any lasting hold over you. Cling to Jesus who brought you to faith, and he will bring you home to heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith