Peter describes the effect of obedience to the truth: ‘Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.’ What does he mean by ‘obedience to the truth’? Does he mean their initial response to the gospel or does he mean their ongoing way of living? I think he means their initial response to the message of salvation.
In this verse, Peter wants his readers to recall what had happened to them when they were converted. They had responded to the Word of God by believing in Jesus and something wonderful had happened inside them. There had been a great change, a renewal of their outlook, they had been cleansed. The Word of God, which he likens to a seed producing life in the following verse, is like a river of water that penetrates into each part of one’s inner life and immediately brings about a marvellous inner cleansing.
This is a reminder of the impurity of the human heart by nature. The Saviour taught the disciples this truth when he said in Matthew 15:18-20: ‘But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.’ Within our hearts by nature, love to God and his kingdom does not exist. That was true of Peter’s readers as well. Yet into their hearts came the Word of God and their minds and hearts were changed – they began to think clean thoughts and love good things.
One goal of believing in Jesus is ‘sincere brotherly love’. The idea of brotherly love fits in with what Peter is about to say about new birth – having been born into God’s family the goal is to love all the family members with a sincere love. Having come to know God through Jesus in the message of the gospel, they now regard other people in a new, clean way. Such a goal is not merely a long-distant aim. Peter tells his readers to show love to other family members in an earnest way (the same word ’earnestly’ is used of Jesus as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane). And they would receive this energy by continuing to use the Word of God.