After Peter exhorts his audience to fervently love the Church from a pure heart, Peter begins to address his audience with another exhortation to grow into salvation by longing for pure spiritual milk and by putting off the old man.
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk that by it you may grow up into salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
1 Peter 2:1-3
Put Off the Old Man
Since the audience Peter addresses are born again through the living and abiding word of God (cf. 1 Peter 1:23), Peter exhorts them to remove the sins that are contrary to their new nature in Christ and which is contrary to the fervent brotherly love to which they are called (cf. 1 Peter 1:22). As is the pattern of the other apostles, Peter reminds his audience of what has been done for them by Christ (the indicative statements of chapter 1) before he exhorts them to proper Christian conduct. This is an important point to emphasize because it states that the ground for Christian conduct is our regeneration, not the other way around. Peter does not tell believers to turn away from their former sins to prove that they are born again; but rather, he tells his audience to turn away from their formal sins because they are born again. The emphasis here is that the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit empowers this activity.
This also fits the picture that Peter is depicting here. Peter specifically tells believers to lay these sins aside, which gives the impression that this is an unnecessary burden unfitting for regenerate men (cf. Hebrews 12:1). The picture given here is of a clean person who is wearing filthy, unclean clothing, which is a symbol of the old man; the exhortation here is to lay aside these worn-out clothes and never wear them again. This would be similar to a man who has spent the entire day working in the field. Undoubtedly, this man would be dirty from his labors and his clothes would be dirty due to his activities. Eventually, this man will take a long shower to properly clean himself off. Now, it would be nonsensical for this man, who has been made thoroughly clean, to put back on the clothes that he used in the field. Moreover, it is foolish to tell this man, filthy from his labors and deeds, to put on clean clothes before he has thoroughly washed himself. This is an analogous picture for the Christian, but the reality is far greater. We were thoroughly dead in our sins and our lifestyle (i.e. our grave clothes) reflected our nature. It was an impossibility for us to subject ourselves to the law of God while we were still dead in our sins (cf. Romans 8:7). However, our inward man has been made thoroughly clean by the regenerating work of the Spirit through the Word of God. Therefore, we are exhorted to put away our old clothes (i.e. our old man) and to put on our new clothes (i.e. the likeness of Christ). The same metaphor is used by Paul in Ephesians 4:17-22
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirits of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Paul makes the same point as Peter. If one has been born again, then we are charged to put off our old self (our former manner of life) and to put on our new self (the likeness of Christ in holiness). This doesn’t have implications just for our individual spiritual life, but it has implications towards the life of the Church as a whole. In particular, the old man contradicts the exhortation to brotherly love that was previously given. So, it can be said that each of the sins which characterize the old man (malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander) mentioned by Peter are sins against the command to fervently love the Church.
The chief sin mentioned in this list is malice and it is the sin that the other sins flow from. Out of malice springs guile; out of guile springs hypocrisy (which is the opposite of genuine, fervent love); out of hypocrisy springs envy; and out of envy springs slander. Here, the deposition of the old man is guile and malice whereas as hypocrisy and slander are the acts flowing from it. In contrast, since we are born again, we are called to be guileless (or without duplicity). Augustine phrases this passage as follows:
Malice delights in another’s hurt; envy pines at another’s good; guile imparts duplicity to the heart; hypocrisy imparts duplicity to the tongue; and evil-speakings wound the character of another.
This is a cascading list of sins, but as stated before, this is not the way we have learned Christ. This is the outworking of the old man that needs to be destroyed. We are told to love each other by putting off our old self and putting on our new self.
Putting On the New Man
Based on Peter and Paul, we are exhorted to put off the old man and the put on the new man, created after the likeness of God and the imperishable Word of God. Peter states that we put on the new man by longing for the “spiritual milk”. What is this spiritual milk? Some modern translations (such as the MKJV and NASB) state that the spiritual milk is the Word of God, whereas other translations (such as the ESV) suggest that the spiritual milk is connected to tasting the goodness of God. Both definitions are correct and give a full picture on how believers put on the new man. We all have tasted the goodness of the Lord through the gospel, which is the Word of God. We were born again according to God’s kindness through the Word of God. So, it can be said that the spiritual milk is God’s goodness experienced through the Word of God. God’s everlasting and sustaining Word is the means by which we receive the kindness of the Lord. The emphasis here is that believers were born again by the Word and now we are exhorted to long for that Word by experiencing (i.e. “tasting”) His kindness through it. Perhaps Peter gained this perspective by meditating on Psalm 34:8-10.
Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him! Oh fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
This is a passage worth meditating on and a promise worth receiving by faith. Everyone who has fled to Christ has found a strong refuge in Him. Everyone who seeks God will not lack any spiritual blessing prepared for them (cf. Ephesians 1:3; 2 Peter 1:3). The unregenerate sinner has no spiritual taste because his taste has been corrupted by sin. To him, sin is sweet to his soul and he rejects everything that is spiritual. However, to the regenerate man, the Word of God is savory to him. To him, sin is exceedingly distasteful and Christ is exceedingly precious. This is not a superficial theoretical concept, but it is the witness to everyone who has indeed tasted of the Lord. There are many hypocrites who claim to be have tasted His goodness and have become dissatisfied, but everyone who has drunk deeply from Christ has found delight and satisfaction.
So how often should the Christian taste God’s kindness? A quick response would be: as often as a newborn infant desires and needs milk. Those of us who have young children know how often our children need milk. I can’t imagine my daughter going 2-3 days without milk, and yet I consider how long I go without tasting His kindness and steadfast love in the Word. However, there is great encouragement in Peter’s writing. If the Word of God is powerful enough to create new Christians (through the new birth), then the Word of God is powerful enough to create desire in languishing Christian souls. The power at work within us is the same power that raises the dead (cf. Ephesians 1:19-20). Surely, it can and it will create a longing for His Word in the hearts of believers. This Word is also powerful enough to destroy the works of the old man mentioned above. As we continue to drink deeply from the Word of God, the controlling desires of malice, guile, hypocrisy, envy, and slander are also destroyed. Conversely, as we continue to lay aside our old self, our craving and longing for God grow stronger.
Implicitly, Peter implies that the old self (corrupt through its deceitful desires) and the new self (created by the Word of God) cannot flourish and persist in the same heart. The desire to taste and enjoy God’s kindness cannot thrive in the same heart with malice, guile, and hypocrisy. Therefore, we must fight to destroy the desires of malice, guile, and hypocrisy, and fight to taste God’s kindness in His Word.
Growing Into Salvation
The result of these exhortations is given in verse 2: “by it you may grow up into salvation”. Thus, the goal of putting off the old man and putting on the new man is to grow into salvation. Contrary to popular belief, salvation is not a decision that we make at the front of a church during an altar call. This does not mean that a person earns his salvation by his lifelong performance, but it does mean that we are called to work out our salvation through our life, knowing that God works in and through us to accomplish it (cf. Philippians 2:12-13). Even though justification by faith alone is the basis and root of our salvation, we must grow into maturity (cf. Ephesians 4:15). The Word of God (specifically the gospel) is the appointed means for our spiritual growth. It is primarily through the Word of God (in all the ways that the Word is proclaimed) that we increase our faith and grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:18). Moreover, we are progressively sanctified as we come to receive God’s truth as revealed in His Word (cf. John 17:17). Therefore, we should not ask when a person made a decision for Christ, but the correct Biblical question to ask is whether or not they are growing. Ultimately, full salvation is reached by growth into godliness and into the image of Christ.
This point is made in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. In the Great Commission, we are not given the charge to make converts of all nations, but we are charged to make disciples of all nations by teaching them to observe all that Jesus has commanded. This means that the primary goal is not merely to determine whether or not one born again, but the emphasis here is to teach and train those who are born again to reach maturity by obeying what Jesus has commanded. The Biblical command is to preach the Word so that unregenerate sinners may be born again through His Word and to lead them to maturity. Although this is a command for each individual Christian, this is the commission of the Church. We are called to grow into our salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit within us and to teach others to do likewise.
Perhaps there may be some who read this blog and come to the conclusion that they aren’t truly born again because their desires for God are waning. There may be some who read this blog and get the impression that they will never be as passionate for God as He desires me to or as other Christians are. John Piper preached a sermon on this concept and he called this spiritual fatalism (here’s the sermon link). I want to encourage the reader to never settle for this. You will grow in godliness not because of your inherent righteousness, but because of the Word of God within you. It’s powerful enough to save you and it’s powerful enough to produce a deep longing for God. Here’s a brief excerpt from this sermon that I believe will be a blessing.
Can you imagine such a thing—commanding a lame man to walk? Who could do such a thing? Or how about commanding a lame man to fly? Do you think God might command that?
I was listening to a talk by Corrie Ten Boom yesterday and heard her recite a little poem by John Bunyan. It’s one of the best statements I have ever heard about the difference between the law and the gospel. You’ll see how it relates.
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands,
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
In other words in the old covenant God gave commandments, but by and large did not give the divine enablement that overcomes the deadness and depravity and rebellion of the heart. But in the new covenant, which God set up at the cross of Christ, God gives even harder commands, but he also gives the power we need to fulfill them through faith.
Run, John, run, the law commands
But gives us neither feet nor hands
We are duty-bound to run, even though our feet are willfully frozen in the ice of sin. We can’t run in ourselves, and so the commands of the law condemn. And the gospel is not different in having no commands, no conditions. Flying is harder than running.
Far better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.
This is powerful deliverance from spiritual fatalism. The fatalist says, “I can’t fly. I can’t even run. My feet are frozen in my genetic makeup and my dysfunctional family of origin. And besides that I don’t have any wings. I cannot fly. That’s the way I am.” But over against that fatalism, the gospel says, “Fly!…
What this says is that just as essential as having the desires for the Word that we are supposed to have is having the trust in God that he gives what he commands. If God says to desire, when we don’t desire, then we trust him that he must know something we don’t know. He must have some power we don’t have. There must be a way. That’s the opposite of spiritual fatalism. God commands it. So there must be a way. I will not settle for less than what God commands, even if it is a command to fly… Do not settle for spiritual fatalism. It is not God’s will for you.