Is It Our Job to Purify Our Souls?

In 1 Peter 1:22, Peter writes,

“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love,
love one another earnestly from a pure heart.”

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Today I have been focused on the phrase “having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” Bible scholars disagree on what this means. Some believe this “obedience to the truth” refers to faith in the Gospel and thus the purification of one’s soul refers to justification and salvation. Others understand the purification to refer to the removal of sin from the inner man as a result of obedience. Which one does Peter mean and why does it matter?

First, it is important to point out that both of these possible meanings are generally biblical. In other words, we know that God purifies our souls based on our faith in the Gospel (1 Cor 6:11 - just as we are sanctified and justified). We also know that as Christians we should choose to purify our bodies and souls by removing sin from our lives (2 Cor 7:1).

So which meaning does Peter intend in 1 Peter 1:22? Here are the reasons that I believe Peter is talking about the removal of sin from the Christian’s life.

  • This seems to me to be the most natural and straightforward reading.
  • The only other two appearances of the word translated “purified” (hegnikotes) in the NT (James 4:8; 1 John 3:3) definitely refer to the cleansing of a Christian’s life from sin.
  • Here the purification is done by the Christian, not by God. Generally, if not exclusively, the cleansing of a person at salvation is described as something that God does.
  • While it is possible to refer to faith in the gospel as “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5; 15:18), the normal use of “obedience” in the NT refers to holy living.
  • The main idea of the preceding section of Scripture (1 Peter 1:13-20) is a call to live a holy life.
  • The imperative of this verse is to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart.” Just as believers are responsible for loving “earnestly,” they are also responsible for loving “from a pure heart.” This is not referring to justification, but to their choice to be holy in their hearts.
  • The next section, 1 Peter 2:1-3, explain the application of this verse: “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” These, of course, are issues of holiness in the inner man that would be the basis for loving from a pure heart.

In view of 1 Peter 2:1-3, we are able to discover the importance of inner holiness for loving others. The sins of our heart (or soul/inner man) are what hinders us from loving others. As Peter mentions, these include malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. When we are struggling to love others like God has called us to, then an important step to take, as Peter teaches here, is to remove the sin from our inner selves (purify our souls) in obedience to the truth. Then we are in a great position to “love one another earnestly from a pure heart”!

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[Added on April 14, 2018]

A friend asked me if the past tense of "purified" doesn't support the interpretation that the phrase "having purified your souls" refers to conversion.

This past tense is a perfect, which conveys the idea of a completed act that has ongoing results. Here is how a perfect tense fits into my suggested interpretation that the purification of our souls by obedience to the truth means that we are responsible for removing sin from our lives.

  • Even though this is something that we may do on an ongoing basis in our Christian life, that is not to say that a Christian cannot remove all known sin from their lives at any given point in time. For example, in James 4:8 Christians are commanded to purify their hearts. I think we should assume that this is possible to do (complete), not just something you are always doing.

  • This does not necessarily mean that a Christian who purifies their heart is therefore free from all sin. This is because there may be sin in his life that he is not yet aware of. God is gentle and faithful to give us what we can deal with. We can have a pure heart to the extent that we have confessed and repented of all known sin of the inner man.

  • A good example of a similar use of a past tense is Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore, having put away (aorist participle) falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” This doesn’t mean it may not have to be done again. It just indicates that something has to be and can be done in order to accomplish something else.

It's Not Bad to Be a Burden

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I just read a powerful article by Joni Eareckson Tada for pastors titled When a Member of Your Church Dying. It goes well beyond dealing with a dying church member and is not just for pastors. It is about how Christians can think biblically about suffering, end of life decisions, ministering to those who are suffering, and the importance of the family and church. I highly recommend it. Here is a portion of it about the role of family.

Families are not technical, mechanistic social contracts that we make with one another. Family members all have a moral responsibility toward one another. That’s what defines a family.

It might be a good thing to be a burden to your family. Think about it: Everybody else might reject you, but your family has to take you in. Family members are supposed to be a burden to each other, a way for other members of the family to learn self-sacrifice.

My grandmother was 81 years old when she came to live with my family. My mother and father expected me to stay home on a couple of Friday nights and be with my grandma and do laundry. I remember hating it at first, resenting the fact that Grandma’s presence in our home had made my life more challenging. But when I look back, I’m so glad my grandmother came to live with us. It taught my sisters and me self-sacrifice, compassion, and what it means to go the extra mile for someone you love. We learned that normal Christian service is extraordinarily sacrificial.

I don’t think we would have learned any of these things as young people had it not been for my grandmother coming to live with us. I desperately hope my grandmother didn’t pick up on my vibes as a kid, but that experience taught me what a family is supposed to look like. We’re supposed to be burdens on one another.
— Joni Eareckson Tada

Loving God: A Practical Handbook for Discipleship

Loving God: A Practical Handbook for Discipleship
is now available! 

Today our churches are full of Christians who are starved for discipleship, Christians who are serious about following Jesus but don't know where to start. If you have not been taught and led through the basic principles and disciplines of the Christian life, this book is a great place to start. You may be a parent or friend looking for a practical resource as you help others on their spiritual journey. Loving God can equip you to be an effective mentor as you help others follow Jesus. Its easy-to-read chapters discuss the following subjects in detail:

Each chapter includes discussion questions, a helpful summary of the main ideas, a list of practical tools, and recommendations for further reading.

  • Finding your purpose
  • Giving it all to God
  • Spending time with God
  • Learning to pray
  • Understanding God’s Word
  • Living in victory
  • Ministering to others
  • Living in community
  • Discerning God’s will
  • Living Intentionally

Free and Equip Your Children to Pursue Their Unique Interests

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A great way to help your children become self motivated is to help them to discover their gifts, talents, and interests. Then, as parents, we have the opportunity to free and equip them to pursue those unique interests. 

To learn more about this, watch this last video in the series, How to Help Your Children Become Self-Motivated. You will also get a sneak peak at my upcoming book, Loving God: A Practical Handbook for Discipleship