For most of us, especially when we were young, the word “obedience” had a rather somber sound. It suggested restriction, rules, lack of freedom, a gloomy outlook on life. But in reality, obedience is God’s way of providing us with a life rich in joy and deep satisfaction. Granted, we don’t tend to think of it in just that way but what we think does not determine what is true. God knows – and experience will prove – that obedience, in directing us away from the path of self-indulgence, saves us from sadness and regret.
In the opening chapter of his first letter Peter speaks of “purifying ourselves by obeying the truth” (vs. 22). But how could that be? How could we actually make ourselves pure? We know in our heart that we need to be cleansed on a continuing basis but isn’t that something that only God can do? Peter’s fellow disciple, John, has taught us that if we confess our sins God will forgive us and as a result we will be clean (1 John 1:22). For the sensitive believer, confession and cleansing is a continuing experience in life. We do the confessing, he does the cleansing.
But Peter is talking about us “purifying ourselves.” The NIRV clearly says, “You have made yourselves pure by obeying the truth.” But how can we do that? Obviously we could pronounce ourselves forgiven but in that case nothing would happen because cleansing is God’s prerogative.
So let’s look at Peter’s statement in a slightly different way. Whenever you do something you know to be wrong, how do you feel? Most of us would confess an uncomfortable sense of guilt, the need for cleansing. And how do you feel when you have done something that is obviously the right thing? Quite the opposite – clean and washed. Think about it for a moment! I spoke a bit sharply to a waitress who was slow in bringing me my order. How did I feel about that when I realized that all the other waitresses were on break? I helped a lady struggling to get all her groceries into her car and months later I learned that she couldn’t forget that simple act of kindness. There is a very real sense in which obedience serves to cleanse us in a personal and experiential sense. We feel clean when our actions are in accord with our conscience. Or, as Peter puts it, we are “purified . . . by obeying the truth.”