Since you have purified yourselves by your obedience to the truth, so that you show sincere brotherly love for each other, from a pure heart love one another constantly, because you have been born again—not of perishable seed but of imperishable—through the living and enduring word of God. For
All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like a flower of the grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord endures forever.
1 Peter 1:22-2:3
And this word is the gospel that was proclaimed to you.Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up into your salvation, if you have tasted that the Lord is good.
It is said that when the famous missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, started his trek across Africa he had 73 books in 3 packs, weighing 180 pounds. After the party had gone 300 miles, Livingstone was obliged to throw away some of the books because of the fatigue of those carrying his baggage. As he continued on his journey his library grew continued to grow smaller, until he had but one book left—his Bible. He could live without all of those other books; but the one book he couldn’t live without was the word of God. In our passage from 1 Peter, Peter tells us about living by the word of God.
Peter says to his readers: You have been born again by means of the living word of God. The question is: what does he mean when he says this? Now when Peter talks about God’s word in our passage, he’s not talking directly about the Bible as we know it. Peter would not have had the Bible as we have it; he would have had the OT. And more specifically, when he talks about God’s word here, he means the good news of Jesus: what we call the gospel. He’s talking about the overarching story of Scripture—the narrative arc that culminates ultimately in the person of Jesus. And as Peter says: This is the word that was preached to you.
So, it is the message of Scripture that God uses to bring us to faith. Put simply: We only come to faith in Christ through the message of Christ. The Spirit uses the message of the gospel to bring us to life. Which means: Living by God’s word means having new life in Christ. In Romans 1:16, Paul says, For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for everyone who has faith.
If we think of Peter’s original readers, they would have heard someone preach the good news. The Holy Spirit would have used the preaching of the good news to change their hearts and minds and lives—to bring conviction, repentance, and conversion. It was through the means of his word that God changed the hearts of Peter’s audience.
God’s word is also the means by which we come to faith. Think about yourself. What did God primarily use to bring you to faith in him? Was it through someone’s testimony or witness or friendship or a sermon or a special experience of God’s presence at church or VBS or Sunday School or a Christian camp? Whichever it was, no doubt it was the message about Jesus that led to your conversion. There are lots of ways and situations in which we could hear God’s word, but it is the message of salvation in Jesus that leads us to faith.
So: How did you first hear of the good news of Jesus? What was it like hearing about the salvation we can have through Jesus? What makes the message of the good news in Jesus unique? How does it differ from other messages we can receive? If you’ve already come to faith in Christ, what role does the word of God have in your life now?
Being changed by the power of God’s word is not only about our own personal salvation. When we come to faith through hearing the good news, this should also have an effect on how we relate to one another. Writing to the believers in Asia Minor, Peter says: So you have an honest and true love for each other. So love one another deeply, from your hearts. He’s describing a love that is sincere, not sentimental; that is based on our faith, not feelings; and that is not only about our attitudes but our actions. He gets down to the nitty-gritty here. Listen to what he says: So get rid of every kind of evil, and stop telling lies. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Stop wanting what others have, and don’t speak against one another. We’re being instructed here to cultivate healthier, holier relationships with one another. This is significant because it means that our new life in Christ is not just “between me and Jesus.” It’s between me and Jesus and the people around me.
This is why John says: whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen . . . And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister (1 John 4:20—21).
Now, it’s important to realize that the love Peter is calling us to have is rooted in God’s love for us that we have received through his word, the proclaimed good news of Jesus. In other words, only once the word of God has taken root in us can we love one another deeply, from our hearts. It’s a love based on and rooted in the kind of self-sacrificial love we see at work in Jesus, the love that is at the heart of God’s character.
Eugene Peterson, in his book Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, he writes: “Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son.” Do you see, then? When we’re really living by God’s word, it changes who we are and how we live. And in this case, it should transform our relationships with one another.
So: How do we treat one another? What is our attitude towards the people around us? What’s the connection between loving God, ourselves, and one another? Can we truly love someone else if we haven’t learned to receive the love God has for us? What are we doing in our church to grow in our relationships? Do you see this as part of your responsibility? In what ways do you actively show others the love of God and seek to build stronger, healthier, more loving relationships in your church?
John MacArthur writes: “I have found that my spiritual growth is directly proportionate to the amount of time and effort I put into the study of Scripture.” And I don’t quote him to make us feel guilty about whether or not we think we’re reading the Bible enough or whether we struggle with it. I quote him to point out two things: first, we are called to grow spiritually. Once someone has been converted to faith in Christ, ongoing transformation and spiritual growth has to occur. In Ephesians 4:15 Paul says: we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. Second, this happens as we allow the Holy Spirit to apply the word of God to our lives. So, if we’re going to grow up as believers, and therefore grow in love, then we need ongoing nurture from the word of God.
Our passage puts it this way: Like newborn babies, you should long for the pure milk of God’s word. It will help you grow up as believers. You can do this now that you have tasted how good the Lord is. Here’s the thing, however: the word of God is not always going to be a welcome or comfortable word. Even for Christians, it might be a convicting word, one that ought to lead to further repentance and further transformation into the image of Jesus. Hence, Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. God still has (much?) work to do in all of us, deep work that penetrates our hearts and minds.
But that’s why our passage also says this: You can do this now that you have tasted how good the Lord is. In other words, once you have come to faith in Christ and come to know the love and grace and mercy and power of God in your life, it is all easier to trust him to continue his work in us. This means putting ourselves under his word. It means being in his word. It means submitting to his word. Not something we always find easy to do. It’s like a small child submitting to their parents because they’ve experienced their parents’ love—having received their love, having tasted the goodness of their parents, means they find it all the easier and, dare I say, desirable, to follow their parents’ instructions.
So: What does it mean to grow spiritually? Have you experienced this kind of growth? Do you want to? What difference does reading God’s word make in your relationship with him? What difference does it make if you don’t read God’s word? When was the last time God challenged you through his word and invited you to deepen your faith further? What was that like?
In our passage, Peter also says: His word lasts forever. You were not born again from a seed that will die. You were born from a seed that can’t die. In other words, the message of salvation, the good news of Jesus, is not a message that changes. This is what makes the word of God reliable and trustworthy. It’s not a truth that changes with the circumstances. It also means the new life we have in Christ won’t go away or end. Which also means our changing circumstances don’t affect our life in Christ. I don’t mean to say that reading the Bible is always easy. Nor am I saying that growing spiritually is easy. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t easy.
Of course, this is also why God’s word is such a gift to us. God has given us his word so that we can grow spiritually, so that we can grow in our understanding, in our attitudes, in our actions, and in our relationships. I think of Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by Satan to turn stones to bread. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3: “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Look how Jesus relied on the word of God! Indeed, feeding on the word of God is how we learn to trust and walk with the Word made flesh, our Saviour Jesus.