Having Been Born Again.. Through the Word of God

Sermon preached on 1 Peter 1:23-2:3 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/27/2011 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Peter 1:12-2:3

“Having Been Born Again.. Through the Word of God”

Christians are called to love one another. Yes, we are called to love humans in general. But, we are especially called to love one another. In other words, to love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. In our passage for today, Peter again gives this call so familiar to Christians today. We are to love the brethren. And yet Peter reminds us here that the call for this love is a result of our new birth in Christ. Our new birth in Christ should result in a genuine love for our fellow Christians. I like how Dr. Clowney spoke about this passage in his commentary. He said that Christian love is born as Christians are born. In other words, we don’t express Christian love in order to become a Christian. No, once we’re born again as a Christian, we are then enabled to have Christian love for others. We are first born again as a Christian, then Christian love springs forth.

So, today we’ll look first at this new birth. This passage talks about this new birth. It describes the doctrine we often refer to as our “effectual calling.” It talks about in conjunction with the Word of God. And so we’ll consider first today this new birth, and see how God effectually calls us through his Word. After that we’ll consider two commands that flow out of this truth about our new birth. In last week’s passage, we saw how Peter connected our new life in Christ with two commands. He continues the same thing this week with two more commands. In other words, chapter 1 starts off primarily talking about our new life in Christ. Then it finishes with four main commands or exhortations that flow out of that new life. We looked at two of them in last week’s passage. We’ll look at the last two today. The first of the two commands is in chapter 1, verse 22, where it calls us to fervently love one another. The second is in chapter 2, verse 2, where it calls us to desire the pure milk.

So let’s begin with considering this new birth, and related to that, our effectual calling. After giving the command to love one another, Peter says this in verse 23. “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.” This verse specifically uses the born again language. Christians today often identify themselves as born-again Christians. We see right here that this is scriptural language. A true Christian is one who has been born again.

Through what process is someone born again? We’ll, we’ve seen it happen from an external perspective. Someone is told the gospel. They are given God’s Word. They believe. We then say “Praise the Lord,” and tell them that they’ve been born again! In other words, we can witness the external happenings to someone being born again. But this passage tells us a little more about what’s going on in the inside. Verse 23 just connects what we see on the outside with what’s going on in the inside. It’s the Word of God proclaimed externally that has an effect on someone internally.

You see, verse 23, says it’s the Word of God that brings forth this new life in someone. By the way, for me to say this doesn’t take away from the Spirits work in this. Verse 22 talks about the work of the Spirit in us becoming Christian. So did verse 2 earlier in this passage. But, these verses especially bring out the role of the Word of God in bringing forth new life in us. Of course, it’s the Spirit who’s working that word in our life to bring about the change. But that’s not the focus here. Here the focus is on the efficacy of the Word to bring this about.
You see, verse 23 says that this Word is a seed in our lives; specifically an incorruptible seed! Verse 23 says that this seed brings forth this new birth in our life. Verse 25 tells us how this seed gets planted in our life. Someone preaches it to us. Someone proclaims the Word of God to us. Someone tells us about the good news of Jesus. That Word of God comes into our ears, and by the Spirit, into our hearts. When the Word makes its way into our souls, it is a seed that springs forth into new life. This word is creative! It’s this living and abiding Word that creates something in us. Just as a seed that’s planted in the soil springs up new life, so the Word planted in our hearts springs up new life. No plant will come from the soil, if there’s no seed. The same with Christians. We aren’t born into new life apart from the Word. The Word is the seed that brings forth new life. As the seed is planted in the right soil, it brings the new birth.

And so, this is what we call our effectual calling. We only become a Christian if this happens. Many people receive the calling externally, in the sense that many have the Word preached to them. Unfortunately, for many it falls on deaf ears. But some have the Word preached to them and it’s implanted in their hearts and springs forth a new life. It works new birth in them. When this happens, we say that person has been effectually called. And this passage shows us that it happens externally through the Word preached, and happens internally by the Word acting as a seed inside us to bring forth the new life.

This passage then proceeds to tell us a few things about this Word of God that’s taken root in our lives. What it tells us should encourage us, because it further describes the new life we have been born into. So let’s consider what it says about this Word. Notice first in verse 23, that it says that the Word from God is not a corruptible seed, but an incorruptible seed. What does this mean? Well, it’s further described in this same verse as a Word that is living and abiding forever. So the Word as an incorruptible seed is alive and lasts forever. What’s it mean for the Word to be living and abiding? Well, think of a simplistic example. When you eat yogurt, you might eat it because it is alive. There are living bacteria inside yogurt, that are beneficial. You eat them because they live inside you and have a positive effect on your digestive track. Of course, they aren’t ever abiding. They sometimes die off, thus we eat more yogurt. But with the Word, it is living, and it lives forever. It starts as a seed inside you that then grows inside you. That means that when this Word is implanted into us, the seedling that sprouts forth is alive and will always be alive. It will always remain in us, growing in us. As that alive yogurt that is working physical good inside us, the alive Word is working spiritual good inside us.

To be born again, then, is not like the first time we’re born. The first time we are born from our mother’s womb, we are born with corruptible seed. Yes, we are alive. But that life is fragile. It is subject to corruption and even death. But the second time we are born, it’s different. I’m talking about this new birth now. If we are born from above through the word of God, it’s a permanent rebirth. If the Word is really in us, then that seed won’t die off. This is why Peter back in verse 3 said we were born again into a living hope to an incorruptible inheritance. This new birth means that we have been given eternal life already inside us. Again, this all springs from the nature of the seed inside us that’s caused this new birth: the living and abiding Word of God.

And so Peter drives home this point with an analogy. That analogy is in verses 24-25. It’s actually a quote from Isaiah 40:6-8. Let’s read it again. Verse 25. All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the LORD endures forever.” There is a contrast going on here. On the one hand, it is contrasting vegetation with the Word of God. The grasses of the field grow up. At the height of their glory, they bear beautiful flowers. But what happens to that beauty? It dies. The flower falls off and dies. The grass itself withers. In other words, the vegetation is temporary, and its glory is fading. But the contrast with the Word of God shows the opposite. The Word of the Lord endures forever. It does not fade or perish. No, it is incorruptible, and does not fade. It remains forever.

But there’s another contrast in this verse too. It’s the contrast of humanity with the vegetation. It says, “all flesh is as grass.” It says, “the glory of man” is “as the flower of the grass.” Like the grass that withers, so the human flesh of man. It grows old, it wrinkles, it breaks down, and it dies. And the glory of man is like that beautiful flower. The best human achievements, are temporary. You might amass a glorious empire here on earth, full of fame and riches. But it will one day all come to an instant end. The glory of man in this earth is temporary. And so when man is brought into the equation, are they more like the fading flowers or the enduring word? It says that they are more like the fading flower and withering grass.

That is, until, our new birth in Christ. Do you see how wonderful the gospel is? It’s saying that our old life is corruptible and fading. It’s comparable to fading flowers and withering grass! But if we have become a Christian, it means that’s we been born into a new life with the unfading Word of God as our seed. At this point, everything is changed. At that point, we are no longer more like the fading flower. We are that point like the abiding Word, because it’s the Word inside us!

Peter’s quote from Isaiah is right on target as well. If you look back to Isaiah 40, what you’d find is that it’s announcing the coming of God to his people in exile. Isaiah 40 starts out declaring comfort for the exiled people of God, because God would come to grant them relief. The part that Peter quotes from this passage is then about putting hope in this announcement. They could trust in God’s Word that promises his future coming. That’s the Word of the gospel. This promise initially came to pass when Jesus came. It will come to its fullest completion when Christ comes again. It’s very fitting then for Peter to go on here in verse 24 and say that this is the same Word preached to us in the gospel. Isaiah 40 was announcing the gospel ahead of time. It promised that such a Word of God could be trusted. It was living and abiding. Already back then it could work comfort in their lives. Now it continues to work comfort and new life in our lives.

So to sum this all up. Christians have been born again. The Word is preached. The Spirit works the Word in our lives. This living and abiding word causes new life in us. The Word is then growing us from the inside. We’re growing from above. In the things of heaven. In incorruptible, unfading things. We’re growing spiritually to be like Christ. In light of this, Peter then brings this first commandment from our passage. Love one another fervently.

We see this is connected to our new life by the language in verses 22 and 23. Verse 22 starts out in our translation saying “Since.” Since this change has taken place in your life, you have a new goal. A goal to sincerely love the brethren; to fervently love one another. Verse 22 connects this specifically with the new birth. We love this way, it says, having been born again. The connection especially has to do with the end of verse 21. It says that we are to love from a pure heart. This can only happen if first, as it says, we have been purified. This purification happens in our new birth. In our new birth, we are given new hearts. These new, purified, hearts, can begin to love one another in the way described here. Apart from this new birth, we won’t be able to achieve the sort of love described her. To love from a pure heart, our hearts have to be made pure first. That change in our hearts happens in our new birth. That’s the connection between these ideas.

Chapter 2, verse 1, makes this same connection for us. It says, “Therefore.” What then follows is a flushing out of this call to love one another. Specifically, it describes how we are not to love one another. We are to lay aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking. In context, this is still dealing with how we are to love one another. We don’t love fellow Christians in these ways! Malice here is a general word for evil we do to others that hurt them. The word deceit here has to do with guile and deception and treachery. Don’t be deceiving one another for your own gain or their hurt. Similarly, the word for hypocrisy is about putting up a false front. Having a pretense you put up. You act like you love someone. Or you act like you have someone’s well being or concern in mind, but you really don’t. The word for speaking evil here, is simply the word for slander. It’s about talking negatively against someone. Defaming their name. Often this is done behind their back. Now surely we should not do these things against anyone. But the context here is especially that these things should not be done against fellow Christians. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, all born again through the same word. We ought to be loving one another. Of course, Paul found it necessary to mention these because they must happen in the church. People in the church sometimes do these things to one another. Peter says to instead love one another in the church and to lay these things aside. Of course, personal experience of us all probably confirms the existence of these things in Christ’s church today. This is, for example, something I even hear from unbelievers who used to go to church. So often, I’ll hear that they left the church because the people in the church slandered and gossiped and were hypocritical. This is to our shame, as this ought not to be so. It’s inconsistent with our new births. We ought to lay these evils aside.

Instead, Peter states positively what our love should be in verse 22. It should be brotherly love. It should be sincere love. It should be fervent love. It should be love out of a pure heart. Those are all such important descriptors. Brotherly love – especially in light of the fact that we are now all born again from God; that makes us spiritually brothers and sisters. Sincere love – not hypocritical love, just outwardly showing like you love and care for others, but really genuinely loving everyone in God’s family. Fervent love. That’s a rich word. Fervent love is earnest love, it’s deep love, it’s passionate love. It’s love that’s constantly loving. Love from a pure heart – love from deep within that only Christians can offer, because its love that springs forth from a heart and soul that God is purifying. This is the kind of love Christians ought to have. It should flow out of our changed lives.

The other main command in this passage is chapter 2, verse 2. Like newborn babes, desire the pure milk, that you may grow by it. It doesn’t say we are necessarily newborn babes. No, Peter is writing to a wide audience. Some would have been Christians longer than others. Some would have been newly born Christians, some would have been born again for quite some time. But Peter uses the analogy of newborn babes here to give this command. What do newborn babies desire and crave? They crave milk. The pure milk from their mothers. There is no placating a hungry baby. They scream and cry until the milk comes. They let the whole house know what they want. They are passionate about this.

This analogy is then applied to us as Christians. We are told to desire this pure milk. What is this milk that we are to desire? Well, in our pew bibles, the translation in verse 2 says it’s the word. Now let me clarify this a bit. I believe the translation of our pew bibles is being a bit more interpretive here on this verse than it normally is. In the original, it doesn’t have the word “word” here. And so it’s being a bit interpretive for us by telling us to crave the milk “of the word.” Many English translations won’t have the word “word” here. That’s a helpful thing we have, so many different English translations that we can compare against. But as a Pastor I have the benefit of taking time during the week to study these from the original languages and bring that to you. So, the point then is that this verse doesn’t explicitly tell us what this pure milk is. That being said, the context makes it clear. It actually is, in part, to crave the word of God. But I’d say it’s more than that. People will use the context and go back to the preceding verses to see that he just talked about the word. They’ll then say that must be what Peter’s referring to here in verse 2. But, I think we also have to look to the verses to come as well. In fact the very next verse is very to the point. Verse 3, “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” Verse 3 is talking about the Lord Jesus. It’s still using the metaphor about craving the pure milk. If you’ve tasted that the Lord is good, then drink up! And the chapter goes on to describe how we ought to be going to Jesus and be built up through him.

My point then is that the pure milk analogy is more than just craving the word. It’s craving Christ. This last command is to be continually taking in all the grace that comes from Jesus. Certainly that will include his Word. That’s one of the ways he gives us grace. Surely that’s a huge part of this. But, we should take in all the ways God grows us in Christ. That includes the Word. That includes prayer. That includes the sacraments. That includes the fellowship of the saints. Crave and desire all of this. Crave it like a newborn child. Demand it! Need it! Yearn for it.

Elsewhere in the New Testament, an analogy of milk is given in a bit of a negative sense. In both 1 Corinthians and in Hebrews it’s said that those churches were not yet ready for solid food; just milk. In those places it’s meant as a challenge and a bit of a rebuke. But that’s not how Peter is using it. Peter is simply saying that we need to be growing. Just as newborns grow through milk, and we see their passion for that milk. We too are to be passionate about growing. And he’s saying that this growth is through all the graces that come from Christ. Taste and see that the Lord is good. If so, then you should hunger for him and his graces. You should have an appetite for the Lord and all his mercies. This world is full of TV, radio, and internet advertising appealing to your appetites. There are so many things to fill your mind and bodies with. But this passage calls us first to hunger for Christ and all his graces. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.

In other words, this final command is to see that to live godly, we have to be growing. But the growing comes from the Lord. This makes sense though. This chapter has made it so clear. We are born again from God. God has made us born again. This passage told us it happened through the living Word being implanted in us. Now we must continue to feed that new life in us. As we feed it, we grow. Let us feed upon Christ, through his Word, through his sacrament, in prayer, in our fellowship. Let us crave the nourishment that comes from above. Our new life starts by God’s grace, and it is grown by God’s grace.

Isn’t this encouraging, brothers and sisters? Have you tasted of the goodness of God even through this first chapter so far in Peter? This chapter spent so much time telling us about our new life in Christ. It spent so much time telling us about the significance of this new life. Finally toward the end we were given four main commandments. These commandments flow out of this new life. The first two we looked at last week. They commanded us to be sanctified in mind and action, to be just like our heavenly Father. The third command we saw today was to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so isn’t this such a fitting final command to end out this first main section of the book? This fourth command again points us to the fount of grace. This fourth command brings us back to how we will accomplish all the commands he gives us. By his grace. He nourishes us and grows us. He’s the source of our sustenance.

If we are to be holy in mind and action, it will be through Christ who grows us. If we are to love one another fervently, it will be through Christ who grows us. If we are to find joy even amidst the trials of this life, it will be through Christ who grows us. If we are to persevere in faith as pilgrims scattered throughout this world, it will be through Christ who grows us. It is his living and abiding Word that begins the new life in us. It is his living and abiding Word and his presence in our lives that continue to grow us by his grace. And so crave and desire Christ and his grace. Look to God as your Father who has bore you. Look to God as your mother who feeds you milk.

Let us not be malnourished, brothers and sisters. The milk is here. God has it for us. If we crave and desire it, he will not leave us hungering. He will feed us. He will grow us. Amen.

Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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