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.

Are You Afraid You'll Miss God's Will?

Some Christians are afraid they are going to miss God's will for their lives. But they have nothing to worry about. The first way to be sure to find God's will is by following the first foundational principle we discussed:

1.  We can discern God's will by surrendering our lives to him.

There are two other important ways we can be sure to discern God's will.

2. We can discern God’s will by studying Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–6; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).

The more we understand Scripture and have his wisdom, the clearer the right paths will become for us (Hebrews 5:11–14). Paul has this to say about discerning God’s will:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

How are our minds renewed? How are our thoughts and attitudes changed? We learn from the psalmist that we are changed by God’s Word.

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
Psalm 19:7–8

If we want to know God’s will, then our first task ought to be to discover what he has already revealed about his will in Scripture. God has already revealed to us that he wants us to love him, love people, and make disciples. He has also shown us many specific ways that he wants us to do these things. Many believers are seeking God’s will on something, when they really just need to get busy doing what God has already revealed in his Word.

If we are seeking his direction about a matter that is not specifically addressed in Scripture, we can be sure that he will lead us in a way that is consistent with what he has already revealed. The Bible is authoritative in the believer’s life, so anything that we believe to be true and right should be tested by Scripture (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1–6; Titus 1:9).

3. We can discern God’s will by seeking him in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Jeremiah 29:11–13; James 4:2b).

God loves for us to seek him and his will in prayer. When we ask for anything according to his will, he hears and answers us (1 John 5:14–15). So here is a simple question: does God want us to know and do his will? Of course! We can have absolute confidence and peace that God will direct us as we seek him.

I meet believers who are afraid that they are going to miss God’s will. They worry that God is trying to speak to them, but they just can’t hear it. However, God is not playing games with us. He is not leaving hints to a puzzle we must figure out. He knows what we know, and he is able to communicate with us. We can have the confidence and peacefulness of a child who knows that his Heavenly Father can handle it! If we are stressed and afraid as we seek God, then we are not trusting that he is able and willing to show us his will.

[This is the the third post in a series. The first two are:

Bible Reading Ideas

Based on what we believe the Bible teaches about itself, it makes perfect sense to make it a daily habit to read the Bible. This would be the bare minimum!

“Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.”

(Psalm 1:1-2)

Bible reading should be a basic part of our daily time with God. So, what should we read? Anywhere in the Bible is great! Here are a few ideas and principles to keep in mind. 

Expose yourself to the entire Bible.

We often gravitate to those portions of Scripture that we find easier to understand or that mean a lot to us. This is fine, but it is important to read and understand the epic story of God’s relationship to man throughout history and across the Old and New Covenants. It is important to expose ourselves to all the truth principles of Scripture. It is a good idea to make it your goal to systematically and repeatedly read through the entire Bible. There are many methods and resources for doing this.

  • You can buy a one or two year Bible.
  • You can find a program or app that leads you through the Bible in a certain period of time.
  • You can decide not to put a  time limit on it. Read through the Bible as slowly as you want.
  • Instead of reading straight through, many people like to read different portions of the Scripture each day or week. For example, you might read a passage from the OT, from Psalms and Proverbs, and something from the NT. Most one year programs are designed this way.

Read entire Bible books.

The best way to understand the correct meaning of a sentence or verse is to understand how it fits into its paragraph, section, and book. You might decide to conduct a deep study of a particular book of the Bible.

Ask specific questions.

No matter what you are reading, be sure to make it personal and practical. This is not just a history lesson or an exploration of ideas. It is a personal encounter with God. It is an opportunity for God to speak to you with encouragement and direction. Here is a list of questions you might use as you read.

1. Summarize the story or teaching in 1 to 3 sentences.

2. What do I learn about the character and ways of God in these verses?

3. What example of obedience or faith do I find in these verses (or bad example)?

4. Do I have any questions that require further study?

5. How is God speaking to me through this Scripture?

6. What am I going to do in response to his leading?

7. Write or voice a prayer to God in response to what he has shown you.

Journal as you read the Bible.

Journaling is a wonderful activity and habit to develop, even when you are not reading the Bible. The main reason is that it helps you to develop, clarify, organize, and record your thoughts and experiences. It increases your awareness and intentionality in life. For these same reasons, it is helpful to journal as you are reading your Bible. You could use questions like those above to guide your journaling.  

Study a topic.

Sometimes you might want to read the Bible in light of a particular question or problem you have. I recently wanted to study about fasting. I simply did a search for the words “fast” and “fasting” on esvbible.org. I read each verse that referred to fasting. I tried to find the main principle in each verse that related to fasting. Don’t forget how important it is to read the larger context of each verse in order to accurately understand it. Then I put all of these principles together to get an idea of what the Bible teaches on fasting in general.

Some topics will include several key words or ideas to find the relevant passages. For example, a study on prayer might include Matt 7:7-11, which does not include the word “prayer”! But the word “ask” appears five times.

Happy Bible reading!

A Great Way to Understand the Bible Better

I am going through the book 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching by Wayne McDill (also known as my Dad) with a group from our church. Like many of you, most of them are not planning on becoming preachers. Although this book is written for those who desire to preach and teach God's Word, these skills are great for anyone who would like to understand and communicate the Bible more effectively. One of our students is a mom who takes her responsibility to disciple her children seriously.

The first skill is to complete a Structural Diagram of the passage you are studying. This part of the study helps you understand how the various words and idea in the text relate to one another. Here is an example of what it might look like.

I recorded a video of me explaining to my older children (who are going through the book with us) how to do a Structural Diagram of Phil 2:5-11.