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

Are You Teaching Your Kids About Personal Finances?

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"Parents cannot abdicate the teaching of finances to the schools, because the schools aren't teaching it. It's astounding to think that you can get through elementary school, high school, and college and still not know how to balance a checkbook, or buy a home, or decide what kind of insurance you need. But, unfortunately, that's the norm."

You will find this paragraph in the introduction of the Money Matters for Teens Workbook by Larry Burkett with Todd Temple. For those of us who have children in public (and probably even private) school, this is a helpful reminder that we cannot depend on the schools to prepare our children for life. In addition to teaching practical matter of life (like finances), Christian parents have to remember that God has given us the responsibility to disciple our children (Deut 6:4-9; Eph 6:4). We cannot depend on others to fulfill this role in our children's lives (not even the church!). 

For those of us who homeschool our children, this norm only confirms our reasoning for home education. But it is probably still worth asking home educators: Are you making sure to include personal finance in your teaching plan? We are using this workbook as a part of ours. 

One more reason that teaching personal finance to our children is important: "It's sad that half of all marriages today fail and, overwhelmingly, the major factor is the mismanagement of money." 

[Photo by Olly Joy on Unsplash]

When It's Time to Get Married, Listen to Your Mother

When I was in college, I convinced myself that I was supposed to marry a certain girl. I even talked myself into believing that God was leading me to do it. In retrospect, I can see many reasons that I was wrong, but I did not see those at the time. Fortunately, there was one key that prevented me from making a mistake. My mother simply would not agree. I made a commitment as a young man that I would never marry someone unless I had the blessing of my parents. I believe this commitment was built on a biblical principle that helps us learn to discern God's will for our lives.

In the past few blog posts, we have been exploring important principles for understanding God’s will for our lives. These are separated into five foundations for discerning God’s will and four avenues for discerning God’s will.

Foundations

  1. We can discern God's will by surrendering our lives to him.
  2. We can discern God’s will by studying Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–6; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
  3. We can discern God’s will by seeking him in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Jeremiah 29:11–13; James 4:2b).
  4. We can discern God’s will by waiting for him to lead us (Psalm 25:4–5; 106:13).
  5. We can discern God’s will by listening to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Avenues

  1. We can discern God’s will by observing our personal desires, convictions, and abilities (1 Cor. 7:8–9, 36–38; Exod. 25:2; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:4–7, 11).
  2. We can discern God’s will by observing God’s work in our circumstances (James 4:13–17; 1 Kings 12:15; 1 Cor. 16:8–9; 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).

Now we can cover the last two avenues.

3. We can discern God’s will by listening to the counsel of the church (Matt. 18:15–17; Heb. 13:17; 1 Cor. 12:4–20, 14:29–33; Prov. 15:22).

Learning to live in community and to submit to the authority that God has placed in our lives is critical to discerning Gods' will. When you are seeking God’s will on a particular matter, go to those who have authority in your life and ask for their counsel. It is also helpful to get feedback from others in the body of Christ. Take the time and effort to find godly people you trust, and ask them for counsel as well. This might not be easy, because it takes humility to ask for and listen to advice from others. But we can be sure this is a part of how God intends to give us his wisdom.

Once again, we cannot discern God’s will only by listening to the advice of others. Sometimes we may receive conflicting feedback—and sometimes even godly people are wrong. But getting counsel from others is a critical piece that must be taken seriously to see how it fits into God’s overall movement in our lives.

4. We can discern God’s will by reasoning and testing (Prov. 14:15; Rom. 12:2; 1 Cor. 1:20–21, 2:4, 4:6, 10:15; Acts 17:2, 11, 17; 1 John 4:1–6; James 3:17).

Seeking truth is more than, but not less than, using our minds (Phil. 4:7; Rom. 12:2). We tend to try to think our way out of troubles or calculate the wisest decision. This is simply not enough.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5

At the same time, it is right to use our intellect as we seek God. Although God’s ways transcend our understanding, his life-transforming work is generally discerned through the mind of the believer. Furthermore, while God’s ways may transcend logic, they are not illogical, chaotic, or confusing. If we build our thinking on the presuppositions of the love and power of God and the revelation of his Word, then his leading is going to make sense. So as we seek God’s will, we are supposed to be reflecting, thinking, remembering, paying attention, and making wise choices. As you make decisions, try to think clearly and objectively about the situation and what you know about God and his ways.

When you are seeking God’s will on a particular issue, you can use the following questions to help process these foundations and avenues for discernment.

  1. Am I willing to follow God’s will in this matter, even if it is not what I want to do?
  2. What scriptural principles are relevant to this question? Do I need to study more on this subject?
  3. Have I spent significant time in prayer seeking God about this question?
  4. Have I worked through any feelings of pressure or impatience? Will I wait until I am clear about God’s leading?
  5. Has the Spirit convicted me of any sin related to this question? Can I sense his peace in moving in a particular direction?
  6. What desires and abilities has God given me that are relevant to this question?
  7. How has God worked in my circumstances to lead me concerning this issue?
  8. Have I sought the counsel of godly leaders and others in my church? What do they have to say about it?
  9. What are the pros and cons surrounding this question? What makes most sense from a biblical perspective?

This is the the sixth post in a series. The first five are:

Will God Always Provide for You to Accomplish His Will?

I was hoping to take my oldest children with me on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic this summer. But three weeks ago I called the leader of the trip to tell him we could not go because we did not have the necessary funds. The kids and I were operating in faith that if God wanted us to go, he would provide. So we came to the conclusion he wasn't leading us to go.

A little over a week after I called, someone expressed interest in contributing to our trip. Then within a week and half we had received enough support for at least three of us to go! God's provision was the final confirmation we needed to help us see how he is leading us to go on this mission trip.

In the past few blog posts, we have been exploring important principles for understanding God’s will for our lives. These are separated into five foundations for discerning God’s will and four avenues for discerning God’s will. I have already mentioned the first five.

  1. We can discern God's will by surrendering our lives to him.
  2. We can discern God’s will by studying Scripture (Psalm 19:7–11; 1 Thessalonians 4:1–6; 2 Timothy 3:16–17).
  3. We can discern God’s will by seeking him in prayer (Philippians 4:6–7; Jeremiah 29:11–13; James 4:2b).
  4. We can discern God’s will by waiting for him to lead us (Psalm 25:4–5; 106:13).
  5. We can discern God’s will by listening to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

Now, here are the first two of the four avenues for discerning God’s will.

1. We can discern God’s will by observing our personal desires, convictions, and abilities (1 Cor. 7:8–9, 36–38; Exod. 25:2; 2 Thess. 3:5; 1 Cor. 12:4–7, 11).

Although we have sinful desires that tempt us to disobey, God also gives us good desires that help direct our lives. It is not difficult to identify sinful desires (Gal. 5:19–21). Any desires that we have that are not sinful ought to be taken into consideration as we seek God’s direction. We should observe the things we feel strongly about, the strengths of our personalities, and the natural talents and spiritual gifts that God has given us. All of these have been given to us by God as a part of his design for accomplishing his mission for us. Observing how God has made us is an important part of understanding his will for our lives. Now, we should not conclude that we know God’s will just because we want to do something. These desires, convictions, and abilities must be understood in light of the other eight ways we can discern God’s will.

2. We can discern God’s will by observing God’s work in our circumstances (James 4:13–17; 1 Kings 12:15; 1 Cor. 16:8–9; 1 Pet. 3:17; 4:19).

God causes and allows particular circumstances to take place in order to direct our lives. This does not mean that everything that happens is God’s will or is caused by God. For example, God may allow, but does not cause, the enemy to set our circumstances against us in order to deter us from doing God’s will (Job 1:6–10; Eph. 6:11). And we know that temptations are not caused by God (James 1:13). This is why we can never determine God’s will by circumstances alone.

At the same time, we know that God will open and close doors as a way of leading us. We also know that God will provide everything necessary for the completion of his will. Whatever wisdom, strength, ability, or resources we need to do what God wants us to do, he will provide. God’s provisions as we obey are confirmations of his direction.

Another way we can discern God’s will through our circumstances is by observing how he has worked in our lives in the past. Sometimes these are called “spiritual markers.” Henry Blackaby and Claude King explain: “Each time I have encountered God’s call or direction for my life, I have mentally built a spiritual marker at that point. A spiritual marker identifies a time of transition, decision, or direction when I clearly know that God has guided me…When I face a decision about God’s direction…I look to see which one of the options seems to be most consistent with what God has been doing in my life.”*

This is the the fifth post in a series. The first four are:

*Henry T. Blackaby and Claude V. King, Experiencing God: Student Edition (Nashville: LifeWay Press, 2005), 170.

 

Is That God Speaking or Just My Own Random Thoughts?

A friend of mine is currently wondering whether or not he should marry a particular young lady. In many ways, he is ready to get married. He would sure feel better if he just knew how God was leading him. But for some reason that is not clear yet. I believe he is sincerely seeking the Lord and ready to obey, so what is the hold up? I'm not sure. But I am sure that God loves this young man, hears his prayers, and will lead him at the right time.

Many times seeking God's will for our lives requires WAITING. Wow, we are not very good at that! Before moving forward, let me recap what principles we have already covered concerning discerning God's will:

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

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

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

Okay, let's discuss the next two principles:

4. We can discern God’s will by waiting for him to lead us (Psalm 25:4–5; 106:13).

If we have confidence that God wants to show us his will, then we will be able to wait on him to lead us. Since God’s timing is rarely our timing, we often get impatient and are tempted jump ahead of God. We sense the pressure of a decision we have to make or the urgency of a problem we need to solve. But many times, the pressure and urgency we sense about an issue are only apparent. Problems often disappear, or two choices turn into three or none. When we wait on God, he often opens up new opportunities that were not yet available to us. It is easy to jump at something good before we have even discovered what is best.

As we learn to wait on the Lord, we should remember that waiting doesn’t mean sitting around. Instead, we are to keep busy with what God has already given us to do. In addition, seeking God is quite active. We pray, study Scripture, observe our desires and abilities, ask for advice, think, conduct diligent research, and observe his work in our circumstances.

As I have sought the Lord over the years, I have learned what it feels like to be pushing ahead on something instead of letting it unfold in God’s timing. There is a different kind of peace and certainty when it unfolds in God’s timing. Be patient, and wait until you are certain that God is leading you. If we take action without understanding God’s will, then we are not acting in faith, and “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

5. We can discern God’s will by listening to the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit has a ministry of witnessing to the truth (Acts 5:32; 20:23; Romans 8:16; John 15:26; 16:7–11). When we are walking in disobedience, God convicts us and calls us to him through his Spirit. But when we trust and walk with God, there is peace (Isaiah 26:3–4; Philippians 4:6–9). Peace is much more than how we feel about something; it is a supernatural sense of rightness that comes from God.

This sense of peace is developed from a daily walk of obedience and trust. We learn to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit as we become more immersed in God’s Word and learn to walk in obedience to what he is saying to us.

How do we know the difference between God’s leading and our own random thoughts? Or worse, what if some other spirit is speaking to us? The Bible teaches us how to recognize the voice of God.

  • The Spirit speaks, reminds us of, and agrees with the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17; John 16:13).
  • The Spirit will acknowledge and glorify Jesus (1 John 4:1–4; John 16:14).
  • The Spirit brings peace, order, conviction, and righteousness. He does not bring doubt, confusion, guilt, or evil (John 16:8–11; Galatians 5:16–26).

These are the biblical signs of the work of the Holy Spirit. When God speaks to us through his Spirit, he will speak according to his Word, he will glorify Jesus, and he will bring righteousness and peace!

This is the the fourth post in a series. The first three are: