Importance of Obedience to the Truth
In Romans 2, Paul the apostle said, “There is a day coming when God will render to each person according to their deeds. To those who by perseverance in doing good are seeking for glory and honor and immortality, He will render eternal life. But to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, He will render wrath and indignation…. whether Jew or Greek. For there is no partiality with God.” It’s that phrase “obey the truth” that I want us to think a little about as we begin. The day is coming, said Paul, when everyone will realize that obeying the truth mattered infinitely more than anything else that they thought mattered. Because whether we obey the truth or not, determines whether God will render us eternal life or not.
In II Thessalonians 1 he describes it this way. He says the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, but He will be glorified and marveled at among His saints. Obeying the gospel, I think, is the same as obeying the truth. The gospel is simply the message that Jesus has brought the world about salvation, the message about what it is, how it’s been provided, and how to be a part of it. And obedience to its demands, Paul says, determines what the Lord will do with us at His coming.
Now sometimes, we in this church, ask people a common question to see if they’ve come into a saved relationship with the Lord. We ask them, “Have you obeyed the gospel?” We seem to prefer that question over the more commonly asked question in many other churches, which is something like, “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal Savior?” We prefer, “Have you obeyed the gospel?” because we recognize that it’s a common misconception today that one can receive Jesus as their savior without obeying the demands of the gospel. We want people to know that you cannot receive Jesus as your Savior unless you also receive Him as your Lord; unless you decide He will be King of your life now, you will submit to and follow Him, and with that faith and commitment, you do as Jesus commands would-be followers to do, and you are baptized in His name and that initiates you into forgiveness of sins and a saved relationship with Him (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:3-4; Galatians 3:27; Colossians 2:11-12; I Peter 3:21). So many of us prefer, “Have you obeyed the gospel?” because we want to help people see that there’s more to becoming a Christian than acknowledging certain realities about Jesus and requesting salvation. And I think that’s a fine question.
Yet sometimes we may give the impression, or maybe even think to ourselves, that obeying the gospel is something that you are done with once you’ve done it. It seems to me that we always speak of it in the past tense, “Have you in the past, obeyed the gospel?” In the scriptures I mentioned and others in the NT, obeying the gospel or obeying the truth is not a one-time thing. It is something Christians continue to do. It is a way of life that we enter in to, through faith, repentance, and baptism, and that we continue to walk in that leads to eternal life.
So, “Are you still obeying the gospel?” is probably an even better question to be asking ourselves. And Paul says that matters infinitely more than anything else we might think matters because Jesus is coming, and He is coming for you if you are obeying the gospel. And He is coming against you if you are not.
Well, I want to make sure I am on that path of obedience. And I hope you do too because we’re going to look at a text in I Peter that begins with (I Peter 1:22)…
Two Aspects of Obedience to the Truth
If you have been obedient to the gospel, then these are two things that are true of you. The first part of 1:22, “Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for [into] a sincere love of the brethren…”
Obedience to the truth results in these two things: Purifying your soul and a sincere love of the brethren.
Let’s think about the first one. Purifying your soul. The word for soul can also just mean yourself or your life. Sometimes that’s how it’s translated. If you obey the truth you purify yourself, your life, your soul. You might think that he’s talking about being forgiven of your sins (God erasing the stain of your sin from your soul). But usually when you find the language of cleaning yourself or purifying yourself it involves ridding yourself of moral and ethical filth. For instance, if your Bible is like mine, you can look over at the page just before at James 4:8. If you’re Bible is not like mine you might have to flip a page or two. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded.” See there, cleansing and purifying are talking about removing the filth of sinful attitudes and behaviors. If you flip a few pages the other direction to I John 3:3 it says, “everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” That means you clean yourself up morally, ethically.
More specifically, what’s the filth that we cleanse ourselves of? What kind of dirt and grim exactly are we talking about? Jesus said (Mark 7:21-23), “[Here it is. This is what defiles the man. This is the filth:] evil thoughts, fornications [which just means sexual activity with anybody other than your husband or wife], thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting [or deeds of greed, neglecting or cheating or abusing people because you want more] and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these things proceed from within and defile the man.” Obedience to the truth involves purifying ourselves of such things.
But something I notice in I Peter is that we’re not considered disobedient to the truth and defiled before God necessarily if we’ve missed some spots; if there’s still a bit of dirt and grim clinging to us that we’ve overlooked. Like me today, I was working outside all day yesterday and had rebar dust and saw dust and dirt all over me and my wife even accused me of having B.O. So I decided for your sake to take a shower last night and I got most of it off. But when I look at my hands, I’ve still got stuff in the deep grooves of my hands and under my fingernails. And I tried to get the B.O., at least I hope I got the B.O., but I might be kind of nose-blind to myself. If that’s how we are spiritually, God accepts us. Because if you notice at 1:22 he mentions, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth… [you’ve got yourselves cleaned up morally and ethically]” And then at 2:1 he says, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander“. So Peter says they’ve cleaned themselves, and yet he realizes that they may have missed some grim still clinging to them, and that’s acceptable as long as they’re honestly trying to be clean.
Now, the second indication of obedience to the truth is a sincere love of the brethren. This is the word in the original text, philadephia. It’s the sort of affection, kind of love, that you have for your close friends and family members. The feeling and attitude you have toward the ones you’d call your loved ones is this love. Followers of Jesus have that sort of affection toward other followers of Jesus.
Sincere means non-hypocritically. It means you don’t just say or pretend that you care about the brethren. You’d do stuff for them even when there’s nothing in it for you. It means that you truly, honestly from your heart love them. It means you pray for them when people won’t know that you do it. It means when it’s not Sunday morning, and there’s a church thing, a class or get together, and you don’t have to go and nobody would think less of you if you didn’t, you go to the church thing not because of what’s in it for you but just so that you can get to know other Christians better and so you can encourage them and find ways to serve and help them. Or it means, that you help a brother or sister in some need, perhaps you give some money to help them and you don’t tell anybody about it and maybe even do it in a way in which the person receiving it doesn’t know who it came from (because you sincerely love them and want the best for them). You do things for them when there’s nothing in it for you.
Philadelphia is not just a feeling inside. It’s something that drives you to act for the other’s good. I know what it looks like from receiving it. Philadephia is when you see that the handle on the driver’s door of a brother’s 2007 Suzuki vehicle is broken off and to get in he’s got to open the back door and reach over the seat and open the driver’s door from the inside. And you’re pretty handy with cars and on your own initiative, you get online and order a new handle for it. Then during potluck on Sunday you go out in the parking lot, real sneaky like, and fix his door handle without him knowing. Then when he figures out you did it and wants to pay you for the door handle you won’t let him. Philadephia is when a brother has preached some ideas that you don’t agree with, and you’ve talked about it with him in person and you still don’t agree on the matter, but you have him and his wife over for a very nice dinner with dessert and pleasant conversation on topics other than the topic of disagreement, to show them that that disagreement is not going to come between you and them. Philadephia is when a brother’s kids do some naughty things at your pig roast and you talk with that brother about what his kids did and come up with an agreement that said kids are going to come over and clean the chicken coop to sort of make up for what they did, even though you know it’s really going to be more work for you to motivate and monitor the kids cleaning the coop than it would be to do it yourself. You do that because the kids need it. And then, so it’s easier on the parents, you take the time to feed those kids lunch and drive them back to their home. Philadephia is making the problems of a dumb brother, who moved from a fine house to a fixer upper in the country, your problems. And you let him use your tools and your trailer and come over to give advice and a hand here and there.
I heard something not too long ago from someone who has been a member here for a long time, that made me wonder if I have not done a good job at communicating how fundamental and central our love for the brethren is and what that is, or if I’ve not given it the emphasis it deserves. I heard, “I don’t know why I need to go to church. There are some people there I really don’t like and I don’t enjoy being there and I don’t get much out of being there. I still read my Bible and pray and live morally. I don’t see why I need to go to church.” Do you sincerely love someone like a close friend or family if you don’t want to spend any time with them? Do you sincerely love the brethren if it wouldn’t be much of an inconvenience to encourage them with your presence and your words, to greet them, see how they’re doing, listen to them, show them you care, find out how you could help them, say something in class that might be helpful, just be a blessing to them, but you would rather stay in your pajamas and watch football?
I want to just take a moment here and try to show you how fundamental, how central, how primary this loving the brethren thing is to the will of God.
- I John 3:10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God [in other words anyone who hasn’t gotten cleaned up of moral and ethical filth is not of God], nor the one who does not love his brother.” He says one cannot be a child of God and not love other Christians.
- I John 4:20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” I think this is because our brothers and sisters in Christ, if that’s what they are, they bear the image of God more than most people in the world (I John 4:19) and they are growing more into His image. So if we don’t love those images of God that we see, then we cannot love God whom we have not seen.
- I John 5:1, “… whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.”
In many of Paul’s letters he begins with a statement about how he thanks God for the salvation of his readers. Then he gives a couple statements about why he’s confident they are saved. And more often than not he mentions how he remembers or has heard about their love for one another or their love for all the saints (Ephesians 1:15; Colossians 1:4; I Thessalonians 1:3, II Thessalonians 1:3; Philippians 1:5). To Paul, sincere love for the brethren was a telltale sign that one was on the path of obedience and in the family of God. To be a Christian is to be a follower, imitator of Jesus, and Jesus laid down His life for the church. Following Jesus is laying down your life bit by bit, a bit of time here, a bit of money there, some effort and energy here and there, to help them walk this path to eternal life.
Have you obeyed the gospel? Are you obeying the gospel? Are these two things true of you? Have you been cleaned up morally and ethically? And do you have a sincere love for the brethren? I think most of you have. You’re living rather clean lives. And multiple visitors have told me, to my great delight, when it’s just before or after our worship and study time, when we’re just visiting, “It’s noisy in here and happy and vibrant. It’s like people really like each other here.” There’s philadephia here. Many of us have sincere love for one another. Well, now what? Peter says here’s a primary thing you should do now. If in obedience to the truth, you have purified your souls into a sincere love of the brethren, now do this:
“Fervently love one another from the heart”.
The word translated “fervently” literally means to be stretched out. And it suggests in doing something that you stretch yourself in it, you exert yourself, put a great deal of effort into it, you push yourself farther. He’s saying, “I know you already sincerely love the brethren. But now stretch yourself; push yourself to love one another more.”
I bet there are some Christians here you don’t know that you could get to know. I bet there are people here that could really benefit from your unique expertise in an area if you conversed with them much. I bet there are lonely people here who would just be thrilled to be invited over for dinner. I bet there’s an evening or morning or sometime you have free where you could offer to watch a couples’ kids so parents could have a break. Or you could arrange some get together with the Christians around where you live that would help you all to grow closer together. I bet there’s some dumb brother here building a house in the country who could use your electrical expertise.
Sometimes I hear, “Well, I’d be willing serve and help but there’s just nothing really for me to do at this church.” And this is not to say that we don’t need to get better organized and be more diligent about getting people plugged into various ministries, especially where they’re gifted. But I really think there is more than your plate can hold for every one of us to do at this church, because this church is full of struggling people and you have a voice that can speak words of encouragement and advice, you have hands that can serve, you have resources and intelligence and abilities. There are people all around you who could really use what you have to give, who could really use visits, calls, cards, invitations, prayers, counsel, guidance, teaching, more Christian friendships, everyday life Christian examples, help with their homes and cars and animals and kids…. There is never nothing for you to do. It’s just that we need to stretch ourselves to love one another more; stretch ourselves to think less about ourselves and more about those around us and determine to be more like Jesus in laying down our lives for the church.
And Peter gives us a perspective to help us stretch ourselves in love for one another in verses 23-25, and I’ll close with this. He says, “for you [all of you who are Christians] have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. For [quoting from Isaiah 40], ‘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.”
Your mom and dad and your physical brothers and sisters and children are not your true family, though they could be part of your true family. The genetic seed that connects you with them is perishable. Those physical connections are not going to last. From God’s perspective and what will be our perspective in the hereafter as we look back on this life, those physical connections will look to us then like the grass and flowers of the field look to us now. They’re so short lived. They so soon wither and fade away after they spring up. We will realize that mom and dad and siblings and children there on earth were not really our family (though, hopefully, they are part of your true family).
Your true kin are these people around you. The heavenly Father has planted His seed deep in the hearts of every one of us who are Christians. His seed is His word. It has entered our hearts and germinated and grown and has begun to produce within us the likeness of our Father. That’s why I think Peter calls God’s word here living, because it works in us, changing us, making us like our parent and gives us spiritual life.
Peter says that living word which has been planted within us endures forever. I don’t think he just means the Bible will always be around. I think what he means is that the living word, the seed of the heavenly father within us, will never die. It will never cease to keep us alive and like our Father and keep us family, as long as we don’t reject it.
So the seed and the connections that we have with one another are infinitely more significant and lasting than the seed and connections we have with our earthly families.
And what do you do for the members of your earthly family? Do you share meals with them? Do you call them? Do you check on them? Do you watch the grandkids? Do you drive them to the places they need to go? What if a member of your family is hurt or struggling, is it your concern? Our Father’s will is that His children realize that they are true kin and that they feel for and treat each other as such.
Have you obeyed the gospel? Yes, that involves being baptized. But that’s just a little element of it. Have you purified yourself of moral, ethical filth? And have you come to a sincere love of the brethren? And are you still obeying the gospel? Are you trying to wash, as you see new spots that you’ve missed and as you collect new grim? And are you stretching yourself in love for your true family?