June 2 – The New Nature

Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.

1 Peter 1:23

When we become Christians we are not remodeled, nor are we added to—we are transformed. Christians don’t have two different natures; we have one new nature, the new nature in Christ. The old self dies and the new self lives; they do not coexist. Jesus Christ is righteous, holy, and sanctified, and we have that divine principle in us—what Peter called the “incorruptible” seed (1 Pet. 1:23). Thus our new nature is righteous, holy, and sanctified because Christ lives in us (Col. 1:27).

Ephesians 4:24 tells us to “put on the new man,” a new behavior that’s appropriate to our new nature. But to do so we have to eliminate the patterns and practices of our old life. That’s why Paul tells us to “put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Col. 3:5).[1]

1:23 Again Peter takes his readers back to their new birth, and this time to the seed of that birth the word of God. The exhortations in 2:1–3 will be based on this.

The new birth is not brought about by corruptible seed, that is, it is not produced in the same way as a physical birth. Human life is brought into being by means of seed that must obey physical laws of decay and death. The physical life that is produced has the same quality as the seed from which it sprang; it too is of a temporary character.

The new birth is brought about through the word of God. As men hear or read the Bible they are convicted of their sins, convinced that Christ is the sole and sufficient Savior, and converted to God. No one is ever saved apart from the instrumentality in some way of the incorruptible word of God.

Samuel Ridout notes in The Numerical Bible:

… the three “incorruptible” things we have in this first chapter—an incorruptible inheritance (v. 4), an incorruptible redemption (vv. 18, 19), and an incorruptible word by which we are born (v. 23). Thus we have a nature which is taintless, fitted for the enjoyment of a taintless inheritance and on the basis of a redemption which never can lose its value. How the stamp of eternal perfection is upon all, and what a fitting companion to these is that “incorruptible” ornament of a meek and quiet spirit (chap. 3:4).

The word lives and abides forever. Though heaven and earth pass away, it will never pass away. It is settled forever in heaven. And the life it produces is eternal also. Those who are born anew through the word take on the everlasting character of the word.

In the human birth, the seed which produces a child contains, in germ form, all the characteristics of the child. What the child will eventually be is determined by the seed. For our present purposes, it is enough to see that as the seed is perishable, so is the human life which results from it.[2]

  1. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

Why should we love one another? Says Peter, “Because you have been born again.” Note that in the process of rebirth, the believers are passive. That is, God brings them through spiritual birth into this world. Once they are born again, the believers are active in the process of purifying themselves (v. 22).

When Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4), Jesus teaches him about spiritual birth. In the first chapter of his epistle, Peter mentions spiritual birth twice (vv. 3, 23). The verb born again means that God has given us spiritual life that is new. Without this new life, we are unable to enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). We demonstrate that we possess this new life through faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:36; 1 John 5:11). Moreover, the Greek text indicates that our spiritual rebirth occurred in the past and has lasting significance for the present and the future.

“Born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable.” Peter describes rebirth first in negative and then in positive terms.

  1. Negative

One of the characteristics of seed is that it is designed to die; that is, seed loses its own form in the process of generating life. Jesus put it graphically to Philip and the Greeks: “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 2:24).

  1. Positive

Interpreting the parable of the sower for the benefit of his disciples, Jesus said, “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11). The Word of God is imperishable; it regenerates, gives life, and nurtures, yet in the process remains unchanged. God provides the imperishable seed through his Word (compare John 1:13; James 1:18). In his first epistle, John mentions that after spiritual birth (being born of God) has taken place, God’s seed endures. He writes, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him” (3:9). The seed is God’s divine nature that resides within the child of God. Peter links the imperishable seed to the Word of God, which is living and enduring.

“Through the living and enduring word of God.” Because of the position of the adjectives living and enduring, the Greek text can be translated in two ways. Here is another version: the “word of the living and eternal God” (JB).68 This version not only is grammatically correct, but also has a parallel in Daniel 6:26, “For he is the living God and he endures forever.” Nonetheless, scholars favor the first translation. They point out that the two adjectives describe the noun word better than the noun God (compare Heb. 4:12), especially when Peter supports this text with the quotation “but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8). With these adjectives Peter calls attention not to God but to his Word.[3]

Why Should Believers Love?

for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls off, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word which was preached to you. (1:23–25)

Believers are to love one another to the fullest extent because it is consistent with new life in Christ. The apostle John wrote, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (1 John 5:1–2; cf. 3:14; 4:7).

It is almost as if Peter anticipated his readers’ asking why they should love the way he had commanded them. He therefore told them they should be expected to love that way because they had been born again. The perfect tense of the participle anagegennēmenoi (have been born again) emphasizes that the new birth occurs in the past, with ongoing results in the present. One of those results is that believers will show love for one another.

Paul defined this transformation as a death with subsequent new life in Christ:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Rom. 6:3–4)

The truth of that text is actually a “dry” one. That is, Paul is not speaking of water baptism, but of spiritual immersion into Christ Jesus, symbolized by water baptism. Immersion into Christ means believers are placed into His death, by which they die to the old life and God considers them as participating in Christ’s resurrection, by which they share new life in Him. Thus the new birth entails a complete, radical, decisive transformation that has to be described in the extreme terms of death and new birth (2 Cor. 5:17). Believers “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:24; cf. Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:10). Those who are born again go from being godless, lawless, and selfish (Rom. 3:9–18; 8:7–8) to manifesting genuine repentance, trust, and love. The Holy Spirit enlightens them to discern spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14–15; 2 Cor. 4:6) and empowers them to serve the law of God (truth contained in His Word) rather than the law of sin (Rom. 6:17–18).

The new birth is monergistic; it is a work solely of the Holy Spirit. Sinners do not cooperate in their spiritual births (cf. Eph. 2:1–10) any more than infants cooperate in their natural births. Jesus told Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8; cf. John 1:12–13; Eph. 2:4–5; Phil. 2:13).

Seed represents the source of life. Everything that comes to life in the created order begins with a seed, the basic life source that initiates plant and animal existence. But nothing in the material world has the capacity to produce spiritual and eternal life. Thus God did not effect the new birth using seed which is perishable. In contrast to how an earthly father initiates human birth with his corruptible seed, God initiates the spiritual birth with an imperishable seed. Everything that grows from natural seeds is a sovereign creation of God (Gen. 1:11–12), but it all eventually dies (Isa. 40:8; James 1:10–11). However, sinners born again of God’s Spirit gain eternal life. That is because He uses the imperishable seed of the living and enduring word of God. Peter’s words echoed what James earlier wrote to his readers about the new birth, “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18; cf. Rom. 10:17).

To strengthen his point, Peter quoted from Isaiah 40:6, 8, which contains a familiar biblical principle about life’s transience (cf. Job 14:1–2; Pss. 39:4; 103:15; Matt. 6:27, 30; James 4:14). All flesh refers to all humans and animals, and grass refers to the wild grass of the typical Middle Eastern countryside. The phrase glory like the flower of grass denotes the beauty of that scenery in which colorful flowers (cf. Matt. 6:28–29) occasionally rise above the grass. So Peter noted that whether something is as common as grass or as uniquely lovely as a flower, it eventually withers or falls off—it dies. Human life is brief in this world. People pass away like dry grass under a withering east wind. In their graves, the poor and illiterate of no influence are equal to the wealthy and highly educated of great influence (cf. Job 3:17–19). In Christ, however, whether people are common or uncommon, they will never deteriorate or die spiritually. Instead they are like the word of the Lord which endures forever.

That saving word is the gospel, as Peter’s choice of words indicates. He used rhēma for word (rather than the usual logos, the more broad reference to Scripture), which denotes specific statements. Preached is euangelisthen, from the same root word that means “good news,” or “the gospel.” He is referring, then, to the particular message of the gospel, that scriptural truth which, when believed, is the imperishable seed producing new life that also endures forever.

Though believers possess new life in Jesus Christ and the capacity to love in a transcendent, godly manner, the continued presence of their unredeemed flesh (cf. Rom. 7:14–25) causes them to fail to love as they should. Thus, as in all matters of obedience, the New Testament contains a number of other exhortations for believers to genuinely love (John 13:34; 15:12; Rom. 12:10; Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9; 2 Thess. 1:3; 2 Peter 1:7; 1 John 3:23; 4:7, 21). Those are admonitions for the church to do what it, by God’s grace and power, is already capable of doing. The call in this text is for saints to manifest an undying love for fellow believers, which is consistent with an imperishable new life in Jesus Christ by the power of the gospel word which is itself imperishable.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 171). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2256). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 72–73). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 91–93). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

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