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.”


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”!


[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.

Have You Misunderstood the Conditions of Following Jesus?

After Abraham had passed the test with his son Isaac, God said an amazing thing to him.

"Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring . . ."

Genesis 22:16-17

Did you catch that? God said he would fulfill his covenant promises to Abraham because he had obeyed. So, if Abraham had not obeyed, God would not have fulfilled his promises? Is that how our relationship with God works? What did Jesus say about it?

"Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Luke 14:33

As we continue to study the life of Abraham and observe his obedience without limits, we will understand more deeply what it means to follow Jesus in the New Covenant. Listen to Part 2 of a teaching series on Obedience Without Limits from Genesis 22.

Obedience Without Limits

God tested Abraham. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, whom he loved! God knew what was most important to Abraham, what he would be tempted to withhold from the Lord.

When the rich young man asked what else he needed to do to receive eternal life, Jesus asked him to sell all he had give it to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). God knew what was most important to this young man, what he would be tempted to withhold from the Lord.

God wants to know what the limits of our obedience are. You can be sure he knows what to ask for, what we would be tempted to withhold from him. We can also be sure that he plans to give us 100x back whatever we give him, plus eternal life!

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
— Matthew 19:29

Listen to this sermon from Genesis 22 about Obedience Without Limits!

What Do You Believe About the Bible?

The Bible is one of the most important foundations for our faith as believers in Christ. Let's not assume that we, or the people around us, have a strong, accurate understanding of what the Bible is and the role it should play in our lives. Here is a list of basic truths about Scripture. As you read them, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I understand what this is saying?
  2. Do I live like this is true?
  3. Am I teaching my children and those around me these truths? [Consider using this list and the Scripture references as a discussion starter for teaching your children.]

Here is what the Bible teaches about itself.

  • The Bible contains revelation that we would not know except that God has revealed it (Rom 1:2-4; Heb 1:1-2).

    There are many things we learn about God through observation of creation. But there are some things that he has told us about history, himself, and his plan that we could not know unless he told us about it in the Bible. For example, God has revealed important truths about creation, the coming of Christ, the gospel, and the coming judgment.
  • The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

    Although the books of the Bible were written by human authors, God is the true author. He used these authors to speak to us through the Bible.

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths
when we made known to you the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,
but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. . . .
No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,
but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
(2 Peter 1:16, 20-21)

  • The Bible is trustworthy (inerrant) (Psalm 19:7-11; 2 Peter 1:19).

    Since the Bible was not created by man, but was given by God, we know that it is true.

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;
the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether.
(Psalm 19:7-9)

  • The Bible is authoritative.

    Since the author of the Bible is God and it is a trustworthy presentation of truth and righteousness, then it is authoritative. Thus, all truth claims are to be tested by Scripture and the directions given in Scripture are to be obeyed.
  • The Bible is sufficient: it is the only source of revelation given or needed to understand the truth about God and his will for us (2 Tim 3:17).

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable
for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Timothy 3:16-17)

           The Bible reveals the gospel for salvation and truth to equip believers for    
           righteousness (Psalm 19:7-11; Acts 20:32; 2 Tim 3:14-17).

  • God has given us his Spirit to help us understand and apply what he has revealed in Scripture (1 Cor 2:6-16; John 16:5-15).

The Bible also teaches us what role it should play in our lives:

  • The Bible should be read, preached and taught in the home and in the church (1 Tim 4:6, 13; 2 Tim 2:2; 3:14-17; 4:1; Titus 1:9; Deut 6:4-7).
  • The Bible should be used to establish sound doctrine and practice and refute wrong doctrine and practice (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9-11).
  • The Bible should be read, memorized, and meditated upon as a constant source of wisdom and strength (Col 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19; Psalm 19:7-8; Psalm 1:1-2; 119:9-16).

The Eternal Covenant Maker and Almighty Creator [Yahweh Elohim]

This recording is the first in a series from Genesis 2, Our God Given Design. This teaching focuses on Genesis 2:4-6 and the name of God, Yahweh Elohim.

He is the Eternal Covenant Maker and Almighty Creator!

We also get a chance to answer the question of why the order of creation in Genesis 2 does not seem to be the same as the order in Genesis 1.

If you have any questions or want to add in, please leave a comment below.