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In 1Peter 1:22 we read: ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth ...’

A careless reading of these words would make us think that Peter’s original readers were more or less perfect, and that this perfection was the result of their own actions. But there are elements in Peter’s statement, and in his following statements, that rule out this conclusion.

When Peter used the word ‘purified’ he certainly did not mean ‘perfect’, because in 2:1 he commands them to rid themselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. So there is no way that we can conclude that they were already morally perfect, morally clean.

When he says that they ‘obeyed’ it was ‘the truth’ they obeyed. We do not normally talk about obeying the truth. We usually talk about obeying commands or instructions, or obeying a person. However, Paul speaks of obeying the good news [Romans 10:16 Greek text; NIV – ‘accepted the good news’], and of obeying the truth [Galatians 5:7]. And Peter wrote of people who did not obey the word [3:6] or did not obey the gospel [4:17]. It seems clear then that Peter is not talking about obeying moral commands, but about making a right response to God’s truth revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ we are obeying the gospel command ‘Repent and believe!’

It is at this initial point of personal obedience to the gospel call that Peter’s readers, and all believers, ‘purified’ themselves. This is the point at which they were ‘born again ... of imperishable (seed), through the living and enduring word of God’ [1:23]. That word, which they obeyed in responding to the gospel, working in synergy with the sanctifying work of the Spirit [1:2], here produced in them both the desire and the ability to obey, and the obedience – the response.

Like the ‘sanctifying’ mentioned in verse 2, the ‘purifying’ Peter mentions in verse 22, is a salvation concept, not a progressive, personal increase in godliness. This purification is paralleled in statements made by other apostolic writers. For example:

Paul in Colossians 1:22: ‘But now he reconciled you by Christ’s physical body ... to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.’

The writer to the Hebrews: ‘And by that will we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ [10:10], and ‘For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy’ [10:14].

When we obey the Gospel command to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ a massive change takes place:

Before we did not know God, but now we know him by knowing Christ.

Before we rejected God, but now we receive him by receiving Christ.

Before we were God’s enemies, but now we are reconciled to God through the death of Christ.

Before we were banned from God’s presence, but now we have permanent access to God through the blood of Christ.

Before we were burdened with guilt, now we stand acquitted because of Christ.

Before God kept a record of our sin, now that record has been erased by the blood of Christ.

Before our personal righteousness was disgusting to God, now we have been credited with the perfect righteousness of Christ.

Before we were children of the darkness, now we are children of the light.

Before we were under the dominion of Satan, now we are in the kingdom of Christ.

Before we were slaves of sin, now we are the children of God.

Before we were dead in sin, now we have new life in Christ.

All this and more is included in Peter’s word ‘purified’.

Something that is not obvious in English translations is that in the Greek ‘have purified’ is in the Perfect Tense. This tense refers to an action completed in the past, the results of which are still in place. It speaks of completion and of permanence. The words ‘have been made holy’ and ‘has made perfect’ in Hebrews 10:10 and 14 are also in the Perfect Tense. Thus, ‘have purified yourselves’, ‘have been made holy’ and ‘has made perfect forever’ all refer to an already completed action with a permanent impact.

We can therefore be assured that the massive change that took place when we first believed in Christ is a permanent change. It is, as we read in Hebrews 10:14, ‘forever’.

Let us rejoice in this grand certainty!

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018