I have noticed that a lot of time and effort is spent around here by people trying to make things grow. They are trying to grow grass in their yard; or tomatoes or flowers in their garden, or fruit trees in their orchard. And that’s good. I think there is something godly about horticulture (although I seem to have missed out on it … Cheryl & our kids enjoy it, and I know a number of you all do as well. That’s good.) But in no area of our life is it more important to grow, than in our walk with God. How can we have a growing Christian life is one of the important questions there is. And that is what our verse for today talks about:
“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart”.
This tells us several things you must do to have a growing Christian life:
I. FIRST YOU MUST OBEY THE GOSPEL
You really BECOME a Christian in the first place by responding to the truth of the Gospel.When Peter mentions “the truth” here, he’s talking about the Gospel. We see a number of times in the New Testament where the words “the truth” are used as a synonym for “the gospel”:
— Ephesians 1:13 says “the message of truth” is “the gospel of your salvation.”
— Colossians 1:5 calls “the word of truth”, “the gospel.”
— II Thessalonians 2 repeatedly says that the lost “did not believe the truth,” the “truth,” of course, being the Gospel.
— I Timothy 2:4 says that God wants “all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” — which is the gospel.
— II Peter 2:2 calls the gospel “the way of truth.”
And there are many other examples. So repeatedly in the New Testament, “the truth” is a synonym for what we would call “The Gospel” — the plan of salvation.
And corresponding to that, Peter uses the phrase “obedience to the truth,” as a synonym for “being saved”. We see that elsewhere in the New Testament as well:
— In Romans 1:5 Paul says God made him an apostle “to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.” “Bring about the obedience of faith,” means to see that they are saved.
— Then in Romans 15:18 Paul says the result of his ministry has indeed been “the obedience of the Gentiles” — in other words, that they were saved.
— II Thessalonians 1:8 says that when Jesus returns, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
— I Peter 4:17 “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” — in both of these passages, “not obeying the gospel” means not being saved.
So several times in the New Testament, we see that “obeying the Gospel” is a synonym for being saved.
It is significant that when Peter preached his first Christian sermon, on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, that he concluded the message with an invitation: for them to repent of their sins, and put their faith in Jesus who was crucified for their sins and who rose again, and then to show their faith by being baptized. Those who did that, New Testament writers tell us, were “obeying the gospel;” those who did NOT do that, they tell us, did NOT “obey the gospel.” “Obeying the gospel” is a synonym for being saved.
So when Peter uses the phrase “in obedience to the truth” here, he is talking about their salvation. The people he was writing to, have obeyed the Gospel, and have been saved. That is the basis and the foundation for everything else he is going to say here.
Which brings every one of us the question: Has this happened to you? Have YOU “obeyed the gospel”? Have you done what the Gospel Peter preached, commands for you to do? Have you repented of your sins and put your faith in Jesus as your Lord & Savior? And then have you followed through on your profession of faith, by being baptized?
Every one of us really needs to search our souls about this. Our message today is on “The Growing Christian Life.” But you cannot GROW in your Christian life, if you do not HAVE a Christian life!
See, the Gospel is like a “seed” that gets planted in your life when you are saved; then you grow as a Christian by feeding and watering that “seed,” as we shall see in a few minutes. But you can’t “feed and water” something that is not THERE!
Some people think “Why am I not growing as a Christian?” The answer for some of us is that you ARE a Christian, but you are just not doing some of the things we are going to be talking about later. But the answer for others of us is that the reason you are not “growing” as a Christian is that you have not actually yet BECOME a Christian. You have not “obeyed the Gospel.” You have not done what Peter said: you have never repented of your sins (realized you were going the wrong way and turned away from your sins) and you have never put your trust in Jesus’ death on the cross to save you. If you haven’t done this, you can forget the rest of this message; it isn’t going to help you. You can’t “grow” in Christ, if you are not IN Christ.
You can’t grow as a Christian if you have never really become a Christian. You can’t grow in salvation if you haven’t really been saved.
The first thing you’ve got to do is obey the gospel. You can’t go anywhere with God if you don’t do that.
Now, someone may say, “But pastor, I have been in church all my life!” Going to church is good, but it doesn’t make you a Christian. A friend of mine says, “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.” Just coming to church doesn’t save you. You must come to a point in your life when you “obey the gospel”: when you repent of your sins, and put your faith in Jesus as your Lord & Savior. And then your first step of obedience after that is to be baptized. To get anywhere with God, you must first “Obey the gospel.”
II. THEN YOU MUST PURIFY YOUR SOUL
So, if you have “obeyed the truth” and given your life to Christ, then you are a Christian. But becoming a Christian is just the beginning. Now you need to grow in Christ.
It is just like our little grandson Ian Phillip that we went to see last week in North Carolina. He is the cutest little thing (he’s got my dimple in his chin!). It was so good to be with David & Ashley and celebrate this new birth. BUT — his birth is not the end of it, is it? It’s just the beginning. Now he needs to eat, and grow, and develop into the man with the life that God has planned for him.
And it is the same way with us as Christians. When we are saved, we are “born again.” That is great; that is the most important thing that can happen to us. But that is not the END of your Christian life; that is just the beginning. NOW it is time for you to grow, and develop into the Christian person that God has planned for you to be.
And that growth happens as you “purify your soul,” as Peter talks about here. Remember that your “SOUL” is the eternal part of you: your mind, and will, and emotions. You had a mind, will, and emotions before you were saved — and you still have them after you get saved. When you have been born again in Christ, you are “saved,” you are “going to heaven” now. Nothing can change that. But there is still a lot of “purifying of your soul” still left to do yet, because your mind and will and emotions haven’t all automatically changed just because you were saved. God’s Spirit is in your heart, but you have a lot of growing to do; a lot of changes to make:
— Your mind has been brought up all these years to think in certain ways, so now you need to reprogram your mind in a lot of areas
— Your will has been used to making certain decisions, which you shouldn’t be making in the same way any more, so now you need to practice subjugating your will to the Lordship of Christ, and let HIM determine your decisions, NOT just make them the same old way you’ve been used to.
— Your emotions may have controlled your life before, but now you need to learn to keep your emotions under control, and not be ruled by them.
So once you get saved, your mind, and will, and emotions all need to be “reprogrammed” in a sense, to your new Christian life — and this doesn’t happen all at once; it happens as you daily walk with God in His word (which is the next thing this Book goes on to talk about …). You’re just like that baby: you’ve been “born again,” but now you need to grow.
A lot of people don’t understand this about the Christian life, and it causes them a lot of consternation. They say things like: “If I am a Christian, why am I having these bad thoughts? Why do I still get so angry? Why am I still making so many bad decisions?” And they may even question whether they are a Christian at all. Maybe YOU have even thought this yourself!
But here’s the thing: when you gave your life to Jesus, your spirit WAS saved. God DID wash you from your sins; His Holy Spirit DID come into your life. But your “soul,” your mind, your will, and your emotions, are still under the “programming” of your past life. All these things need to be “re-programmed” in a sense, and that takes time in God’s word and prayer, worship, Bible study, godly counsel, and life experiences. It doesn’t mean you aren’t saved; it just means you need to GROW. This is what we call the process of “sanctification” — slowing becoming the person God wants us to be after we are saved. And that takes TIME!
There were some people at our last church who adopted a little boy from another country. That is such a great thing to do; adoption totally changes the life of a child forever — and it also changes the life of the family that adopts it. But there are, of course, some challenges that go along with it. The moment the adoption papers are signed, that child is a member of that new family. But that doesn’t mean all the challenges are over. If they have come from another country especially, they have to learn a whole new language. They’re members of a new family now — but they still speak the “old language.” So they have to learn a new language. And chances are, they are also going to have to learn some new patterns of behavior. They may have grown up without discipline — or with too harsh discipline — so they have to learn to respond to their new parents in love and obedience. They also have to learn the new customs and habits of their new country, and their new home town. They are “in the family” really and truly, right now. But they still have a lot of “reprogramming” to do!
I think that adoption is an amazing picture of the Gospel. This is what God has done for us: we were all sinners and rebels against God, but amazingly He still loved us and sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. And when we hear the Gospel and obey it, God “adopts” us into His family. The moment you do that, you are saved; you are “born again;” you are “adopted into” the family of God that moment, just like that adopted child.
But also just like that adopted child, that doesn’t mean that all of your challenges are over, just because you’ve been adopted into God’s family. You have grown up in this world, speaking a certain kind of “language.” And that has to change. You’ve got patterns of behavior that need to change; you need to learn to be loved and disciplined by your Heavenly Father. And like some of those adopted children, you may have a LONG way to go. You ARE “in the family” of God — but you have a lot of “reprogramming” to do.
And that “reprogramming” is what “purifying your soul” here in I Peter is all about. It means you have to re-train your mind, and your will, and your emotions to your new Christian life. And as we shall see in coming weeks, you do that by spending time every day in the word of God, which “reprograms” our mind to God’s ways, instead of our old ways. But for that to happen, we’ve got to be committed to the process of growing and “purifying our soul” like Peter talks about here.
III. (FINALLY) YOU MUST CONTINUE TO PURSUE THE GOAL
And what are we purifying ourselves FOR? What is the goal that we are working towards as growing Christians? Peter tells us here, that goal is LOVE. He says you “purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren”, now, he says, “fervently love one another from the heart.” We see it there a couple of times: LOVE is the goal of our Christian life.
Paul reinforces that same message in I Timothy 1:5, where he says: “the goal of our instruction is LOVE from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” LOVE is what God saved us for; LOVE is the goal of every mature Christian.
See, God saved us to love. Some people wrongly think that God created us so that He could have someone to love. But God has always enjoyed the most perfect love in His Triune fellowship in heaven: the Father, and Son, and the Holy Spirit loved each other and shared glory from all eternity. So He already had perfect love. He didn’t “need” us. But graciously, He created us to JOIN Him in that love relationship. Sadly, we sinned and separated ourselves from that love, but when we follow Christ, we come back into the love relationship that God designed for us originally to have with Him. The closer we get to Him, the more we will become like Him, and the more we will love. Love is our ultimate goal as Christians.
As I John 4:8 says “The one who does not love, does not know God, for God IS love”! As we purify our souls and grow in the Christian life, the evidence of it will be that we are growing in love. We tend to think that a “mature”, growing Christian as someone who can quote a lot of Bible verses or teach a good Sunday School lesson. But God says NO — a really mature, growing Christian is the one who LOVES greatly. LOVE is the ultimate sign of Christian growth and maturity.
And notice what he says here about the love of the Christians to whom he was writing. He says, “In obedience to the truth (in other words, since you were saved) you purified your souls for a sincere LOVE OF THE BRETHREN.” This phrase “love of the brethren” is the Greek Bible word “philadelphia.” We all know that the nickname of the City of Philadelphia is “the city of brotherly love.” THAT is the Greek Bible word here. So Peter commends these Christians here, saying, “You have a sincere, brotherly love for each other.” “Sincere” is “an/hypocritos”; NOT hypocritical; NOT “an actor.” Literally NOT just “putting on a mask.” How many people do this in churches: they “put a mask on” and come to church, and pretend to be someone or something that they are not. But he said these people here were not doing that; he said they had a “sincere”, “philadelphia”, brotherly love for their brothers and sisters in the church. That’s good!
But he says, I don’t want you to be content with that. And this a good word for a lot of us spiritually. If you want to grow as a Christian, you can’t be content where you are. You may be doing some good things in your life spiritually. Don’t be content with that. Always seek to be growing. Always seek to be moving forward. See, if you’re not growing, you’re dying. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling back. Never be satisfied with where you are spiritually. The current of this world is always going against us, and if you are not actively swimming against the stream, then the “current” of this world will be carrying you back. So you’ve always got to be moving forward, lest you get carried back. You can’t just be content to sit where you are.
We’re going to have to be careful about this attitude when we get into our new building one day soon. It will have taken all this work and effort to get there, and it will be easy for us just to say “Ah … we made it! Now we can relax” NO! We can’t be content just moving out there; we need to remember what God put us out there FOR: to witness and minister to our community. So when we get out there, we need to “keep our pedal to the metal” and not just be content to sit where we are. If we do, we’ll die; new building or no new building. We’ve always got to be moving towards the goal.
And many of us as individuals need that word too. You may have been a Christian for a number of years — that’s good — but don’t be content where you are spiritually. Keep purifying your soul. Keep walking with God daily in His word & prayer. Always look to be growing as a Christian.
And especially seek to grow in this area of love. Peter says, THIS is God’s goal for you: to grow in love. He says, you’ve got this good, “philadelphia” love; you’ve got this “sincere love of the brethren.” But he says, don’t be content with that. “Keep the pedal to the metal.” Go on the next level, which is to “fervently love one another from the heart. Now this second word for “love” here is a different New Testament word; it is not “philadelphia,” but “agape”: the sacrificial, unselfish kind of love that John 3:16 says God had for us when He sent Jesus to die for us.
So Peter says, hey Church, you’re “fond” of each other; you like to hang out with each other. You like to go to La Casona after church and eat out together. That’s good. But now, He says, “take it to the next level,” and grow in real, selfless, sacrificial LOVE for each other, like Jesus showed when He died for you. THAT is what God wants to see in His church. That is what the world needs to see in the church.
I’m so grateful that we’ve got some of that agape love here at First Baptist. Cheryl & I have experienced that from so many of you all. Many of you have experienced it as well. I love the story of what happened when our sweet Bobby Beam got sick, and he and Mrs. Shirley had to board their dog at the vets while he went to M.D. Anderson. Word got out that his dog was being boarded there, and several people tried to pay the bill for it. The woman at the vets office asked one of our ladies, “Why are all these people trying to pay this man’s bill?” And she told them: “That’s our church; caring for Mr. Bobby.” The worker asked, “What church is this?!”
Folks, you can’t BUY that kind of advertisement. I don’t know if that person will ever come to our church, but I guarantee you, the way you cared for Bobby made an impression on them. When people hear and see things like that; when we love one another, it causes people to say, “I want to go to a church like that!” Our love for each other is our best witness.
And this is exactly what Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, when you love one another.”
That last little phrase is so telling: “By THIS shall all men know that you are My disciples” — HOW will they know that we are Jesus’ disciples? Not by our church buildings; not by the way we dress; not by our programs or outreach methods — but by our LOVE for each other! That is such an amazing and convicting verse. When we really love other in the church with an “agape” love, it not only ministers to each other, it also witnesses to the lost world which sees our love for each other.
I shared in one of our first prayer meetings this spring, that a generation after Christ was on earth, the Roman Emperor Hadrian sent a man named Aristides to spy out this new sect called “Christians,” and he commissioned him write him back a report about them. Aristides wrote to the emperor of what he saw from these Christians. He said;
“Behold how they love one another …. If one or other of them have (slaves) through love towards them they persuade them to become Christians, and when they have done so, they call them brethren without distinction. … from widows they do not turn away esteem; and they deliver the orphan from him who treats him harshly. … And whenever one of their poor passes from the world, each of them according to his ability gives heed to him and carefully sees to his burial … And if there is among them any that is poor and needy, if they have no spare food, they fast two or three days in order to supply to the needy their lack of food.”
What an amazing report: “Behold how they love one another.” The way those early Christians treated each other was a powerful witness to people in the early Roman Empire, and thousands became Christians, as they saw the love the church had for each other.
And in the same way, if we will love each other like Jesus said, it will be the most powerful witness we can have in our town. That love will do more than any new building; it will do more than any event or program we can have. LOVE each other, with real, selfless, sacrificial love like Jesus showed you. Put other people ahead of yourself. God says, THAT is the goal. THAT is what we are shooting for. A mature, growing Christian isn’t just someone who knows a lot of things about the Bible. It is someone who really loves, who puts others in the church ahead of themselves. THAT is what we are aiming for, in “The Growing Christian Life.”