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.

I Love My Wife . . . and Ice Cream!

What does it mean to love others? This is an important question because our culture and language use the word love with such varying and casual meanings. “I love ice cream!” “I love football!” “I love fishing.” “I love my wife!” In fact, just this week I told my wife that I loved her and she asked me, “What do you mean by that?” I’m pretty sure my wife wants me to love her in a different way than I love ice cream.

Our culture talks about being “in love.” When we say we are “in love,” we are talking about how we feel or how much we like someone or something. Unfortunately, this is exactly NOT what love is according to the Bible. Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another person.

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love has nothing to do with how we feel. In fact, love is what we do in spite of how we may feel. Love has nothing to do with what we get out of it. Real love is about giving, not getting. Jesus said,

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what more are you doing than others?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Matthew 5:46-47

Once again, God calls us to deny ourselves and do things his way. This requires faith. The world and Satan have convinced us that if we get what we want, we will be happy. This is a lie. Selfishness actually does not lead us to fulfillment and happiness. When we deny ourselves and love God, we find that he is all we ever needed or wanted! In the same way, when we deny ourselves and love others, we find joy and satisfaction. Even unbelievers who live a life of service can tell you this!

How to Have a Love that Lasts

“I love ice cream!” “I love football!” “I love my wife!” This is how we use the word “love.” When I told my wife that I loved her this week, she asked me, “What do you mean by that?” I’m pretty sure my wife wants me to love her in a different way than I love ice cream!

Our culture has a love problem. One way we know there is a love problem is that it doesn’t last. Marriages and families are breaking apart all over the place. The love of our culture does not last because it is misplaced and misunderstood.

Do you want a love that lasts? Do you want your marriage to last?

Here is my prayer for you.

"That you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may have strength to comprehend with all the saints
what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

(Ephesians 3:1-19 ESV)

Believers are to be rooted and grounded in the love of Christ. The word “rooted” gives us a picture of a strong, healthy tree that is deeply planted in the soil. It can withstand the difficult storms of life. The word “grounded” gives us a picture of a strong building constructed on a solid foundation. It can withstand the difficult storms of life.

I want to encourage you to root your marriage in the love of Christ, to build your home on the solid foundation of the love of Christ. Here are two ways you can do it.

1. Let your love for Christ be greater than your love for one another.

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother
and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.”

(Luke 14:26 ESV)

We know Jesus does not want us hate our family members. In the book of Matthew he explains it another way.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
(Matthew 10:37 ESV)

As I said, the love of the world doesn’t last because it is misplaced. We often look to others for fulfillment instead of Christ. We place our focus, loyalty, and service on others, instead of Christ. Only Christ can give us fullness and life and peace. Even a husband or wife cannot do this.

But if you set your heart and love on Christ above all, you will find absolute peace and satisfaction. And when two people are filled with and share Christ’s love . . . Wow! It is amazing. If you want to share real, lasting love, then plant your own love deeply into the love of Christ!

2. Let your love follow Christ’s example.

In our culture, the symbol for love is the heart. We associate this with feelings. When we say we love something (“I love ice cream!”) or someone, we are saying that we really like them. Our culture has misunderstood love as emotions.

Do you know what the symbol of love is in the Bible? Not the heart. It is the cross.

"Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends." 
(John 15:13 ESV)

In his first letter, John explains that we know what love is because God sent his son to die and save us from our sins. Love is not getting, it is giving. Like Jesus, love is sacrificing ourselves for the good of another.

So, here is what I am saying. If your first love is Christ and you find your fulness in him, and if you live sacrificially for the good of your spouse, your love will never be shaken!

Make Knowledge Easy for Your Children

What if I told you I discovered a Bible verse that revealed the secret to making it easy for your children to acquire knowledge? Well . . . I did. Ready? Here it is:

"A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding."

(Proverbs 14:6 ESV)

Did you read that? “Knowledge is easy”! How? First, we have to understand the difference between knowledge and understanding. It is the difference between facts and wisdom. It is the difference between knowing historical data and understanding what history can teach us about the world. It is the difference between knowing how to do something and knowing the right thing to do.

We live in a culture that has elevated knowledge above skill and wisdom. Our schools teach for knowledge—worksheets, testing. They do not emphasize skill or morality. For me, even gaining knowledge took second place to a much more important goal: passing classes and graduating!

Many of us who are teaching our children at home are products of this educational system. Many of us have made the mistake of taking public school objectives and strategies home with us. So, how can we correct this perspective and the resulting strategies? Let me give you a couple ways:

1. Aim for more than knowledge.

Knowledge is important. But it is not the most important. Very rarely do we acquire knowledge for its own sake, just to know it. We acquire knowledge to accomplish a more practical goal. We have projects, hobbies, goals, jobs, repairs, and chores that require knowledge.

Of course, this is the answer to every child’s favorite question, “Why?” It seems that no matter what instructions or corrections I give my children, they always ask the same question: “Why?” I think “Because I said so” is an appropriate answer. However, it can’t be the only answer. At some point our children will have to understand the why of what they are learning. The goal of learning is related to understanding. When we know why we are learning something then we understand it and it is much easier to learn.

So, how do we identify the why of what we are teaching? If we are aiming for more than knowledge, then what are we aiming for? Here is the simplest, and most important place to start:

2. Prepare your children to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives.

This must be the ultimate goal of all education because it is the ultimate goal of life. And what is God’s purpose for your children’s lives? Generally speaking, we all have the same purpose: to love God (Mark 12:30), love people (Mark 12:31), and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20).

Paul specifically contrasts knowledge and love in 1 Cor 8 and 13:

"This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up.
If anyone imagines that he knows something,
he does not yet know as he ought to know.
But if anyone loves God, he is known by God."

(1 Corinthians 8:1-3 ESV)

"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge,
. . .  but have not love, I am nothing."

(1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)

Knowledge is a means to an end. The end is love. EVERYTHING we do (and everything we teach) ought to have this purpose.

You want to make knowledge easy (or at least easier) for your children? Then put it in a meaningful context. Place it in submission to our ultimate purpose in life. The real challenge of teaching our children should not be wrestling with them over math or history. The real challenge should be imparting to them wisdom, a biblical worldview, a love for God, and a commitment to his purpose for their lives. 

Do You Really Want Honest Friends?

One of the #1 character qualities people want in a friend is honesty. But to be honest, honesty is pretty hard. Honesty is hard because telling the truth to our friends is sometimes hard and we don't like hard. We would prefer the easy road.

The Bible confirms that a good friend is honest (and that it hurts).

"Better is open rebuke than hidden love.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend.
Profuse are the kisses of an enemy."
Proverbs 27:5-6

Our culture has duped us into believing that the #1 quality of love is tolerance. Therefore, a good friend always puts up with everything you say and do. He will never tell you that you are wrong (which might hurt your feelings).

It is easy for us to believe this because it appeals to our selfishness. We would rather everyone always be happy with us and like us. We would rather avoid conflict. But according to God, that is not what a good friend does.

In the church (our relationships to brothers and sisters in Christ), we have an even greater responsibility to help each other out by being honest. Our responsibility is not just to those whom we would consider our closest friends.

Here are a few important principles about living in community with fellow believers:

1. Speak the truth in love.

(See Prov 27:5-6 above and Eph 4:15; Matt 18:15). When you have a concern about a brother or sister, love them enough to ask questions and learn more about it. Love them enough to share your concern. There is always the risk for nitpicking, judgmental people to abuse this (another subject for another day), but in my circles, the primary problem is an unwillingness to speak the truth.

2. Don't share your concerns about a friend with others.

"Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered."
Prov 11:13

Gossip and slander is very destructive. Also be watchful for gossip disguised as a prayer request!

Here are a couple of exceptions to this principle:

  • When you are talking to one or two mature, trustworthy people for prayer and council about helping your friend who is in a serious situation.
  • When your friend won't listen to you and you need some back up (Matt 18:16).

The next two points are steps to take when someone is trying to talk to you negatively about another person.

3. Don't form opinions about a person being talked about without getting the full story.

"The one who states his case first seems right,
until the other comes and examines him."
Prov 18:17

4. Encourage others to speak the truth in love to their friends.

If someone talks negatively about someone to you, then encourage them to follow the first two principles.

And if you sense that the person sharing information is not truly concerned, or not willing to help his friend, then ask him to stop talking to you about others.

Think of a friend you love that needs your help today. Remember, only an enemy offers nothing but kisses!

Love Gives Everything . . . and Never Runs Out

Love does not get. Love gives.
     Love gives everything . . . and never runs out.
     Love doesn't need anything because it is already full of Jesus.
     Love is joyfully consumed only with the good of another person.

Love is free.
     Love has no conditions and requires no payment.
     Love is not disturbed by circumstances.

Love risks rejection and get's rejected.
     Love doesn't seek acceptance.

"Love does not rejoice with evil, but rejoices with the truth."
     Love never has to compromise
     Love never has to compromise truth.
     Love tells the truth.
     Love does not have to agree with lies or
                 put up with wickedness to be love.

Love is patient and kind.
     Love smiles.
     Love affirms.
     Love encourages.
     Love is not irritable.

Love is not offended.
     Love does not get run off.
     Love does not get offended when falsely accused.
     Love keeps trying, keeps reaching.

Love wants you to be happy, but doesn't always try to make you happy.
     Love weeps with those who weep.
     Love does not satisfy wrong desires in order to make you happy.
     Love does not enable wrongdoing.
     Love doesn't agree with you to make you happy.
     Love is not controlled by you. You can't get it to do what you want.
     Love says "no" sometimes.

Love does not love in order to "get results."
     Love wants you to change and have peace and joy and trust God. But love can't do
              it for  you and doesn't try.
     Love doesn't try to fix you.
     Love does not calculate outcomes.
     Love prays for you. Love hopes.

God is love.
     Love is full of Jesus.
     Jesus is love and shows us what love is.
     Love begins with and flows from love for Jesus.
     Love for Jesus begins with the love of Jesus.

Love is not prideful.
     Love is teachable.
     Love admits when it is wrong.

Love has an eternal perspective.

How to Be Productive and Reduce Stress (at the same time)

Have you ever been doing something and had the heavy, frustrating feeling that you should be doing something else? Have you ever been talking with someone and wished you were talking with someone else? Not only do I think we all have this experience, I tend to believe many of us spend much of our lives in this state!

Two very costly things happen when we find ourselves often in this situation:

1)         The first cost is STRESS. It is so stressful to feel trapped doing something, when you know or wish you were doing something else. Our minds and bodies put up with a constant tension of trying to be in two places at once. Our mind and hearts are not where we are!

2)        The second cost is UNPRODUCTIVITY. Here are two examples:

I recently heard this statement: “Love is attention.” When someone is talking with you, and his or her heart is not there in the conversation, you can tell! The relationship is not growing and the conversation is not effective. What a waste of time!

Another example is the daily experience we have of trying to accomplish a task that requires attention and thought, and we are continually interrupted. This is frustrating! We lose much time and energy when we have to refocus ourselves on the task. We have to figure out where we were so we can begin again. We lose momentum! What a waste of time.

Paul tells the Ephesians, “Make the best use of the time, for the days are evil” (Eph 5:16 ESV).

One of the major ways we make the best use of time is FOCUS! The reason this is important is that “the days are evil.” There is a spiritual battle taking place and there is much at stake. We cannot afford to waste time!

One of the keys to giving something your full attention is to be convinced you are doing the right thing. Here is the rest of the verse --->

So, here is what we should do:

1)         Carefully select what you are going to do, making sure it is the best and most important thing at the time to do. Be willing to say no to the many other things that you could do. When you find yourself doing something that is not the Lord’s will or best, STOP.

2)        Give yourself fully to what you are doing. This can be done because you have a conviction that it is the thing you should be doing. Give your whole mind and heart to it.

3)         Relentlessly resist distractions. Now there is the possibility, of course, that an interruption may trump the current activity in urgency and importance. A person who has clearly delineated his priorities and goals will quickly be able to assess whether an interruption should trump the current activity or not. MOST things can wait.

Ahhhhhhh! What peace to know I am doing what is best and give myself to it. And so much can be accomplished when I am focused! Have a peaceful and productive day.