The New Birth in 1 Peter

Peter touches on the theme of the new birth at two different times in his first letter. In both places he adds some new and vital information for understanding regeneration. These two texts of Scripture will serve to round our perspective on the subject even more.

1 Peter 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again (ἀναγεννήσας) to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this short text Peter describes for us the cause, the means, and the purpose of the new birth along with the appropriate response to it. In other words, these three verses form a tightly compacted statement about some of the essentials of regeneration.

Cause: Born again because

Peter locates the cause of the new birth in nothing other than the mercy of God. Regeneration, according to Peter, is in accord with his mercy. That is, it flows out of the stream of his mercy, finds its source in that mercy, and can be attributed to nothing besides his mercy. The new birth is something we do not deserve and cannot produce. Peter is not saying something new here. He is just stating it in his own way. God alone gives the new birth. He determines the who, when, why, and how. If we have been born anew it is because of the mercy of God alone.

Means: Born again through

Peter tells us that we are born again through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The conquered grave is therefore the means by which we receive new birth. New life in the New Testament is most often connected to the resurrected life of Jesus. If Jesus would have remained in the tomb we would still be in our sins and there would be no hope for regeneration. We saw in John 3 that the new birth is the fruit of the cross. Here we see the equally vital role of the resurrection. Regeneration is an impossibility apart from the complete work of Christ in his death and resurrection.

Purpose: Born again to

Peter tells us that there is purpose behind the regenerating work of God. New birth is not an end in itself. We are born again to something. Peter pulls out two purposes of the new birth in this text. First, he tells us that we are born again to a living hope. This gracious work of renewal rips us out of our hopeless situation and gives us hope. This hope, however, is categorically different than any hope we had known prior. Apart from Christ all hope is dead hope. Every hope of the man who rejects Christ will inevitably be crushed. Without the intervention of the Triune God we are all on a path to the land of hopelessness and despair. The new birth brings with it a genuine hope, a certain hope, a living hope. It is a hope that does not disappoint. It is a hope we can bank our existence upon (1 Pet 1:13). It is a hope centered in the living God and therefore a hope that cannot die. Peter tells us that the purpose of our regeneration is this hope.

The second thing we are born again to is an inheritance. I think Peter is fleshing out the living hope we just touched on. The work of regeneration places in our hands the rights to an inheritance.Peter uses three potent words to describe this inheritance. It is imperishable. It is undefiled. It is unfading. In other words, it is an inheritance that will know no end, no corruption, and no loss. This is an indestructible inheritance that cannot be taken from us and cannot be ruined. This is certainly a piece of the secure living hope that awaits us. Peter tells us that this inheritance is kept in heaven for us and protected by God. The hope and inheritance that Peter is discussing is tied to our certain future. The hope of heaven, the hope of the new earth, the hope of life with the Triune God, the hope of life with God’s community, the hope of complete rescue from sin, death, satan, and ****—all of these are contained in this living hope and immutable inheritance. Regeneration gives us this hope and hands us this inheritance.

Response: Blessed be God

What else can a man do when being confronted with such lavish grace but fall on his face and worship. Peter models just such a response for us. He is clearly overwhelmed by the mercy of God in regeneration as he bursts forth in praise. He blesses the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He lifts him up and extols him precisely because of his mighty work of regeneration. As he considers the resurrection of Christ, the new birth, the living hope, and our certain inheritance he is caught up into a wave of exaltation. The only proper response to regeneration is worship.

1 Peter 1:22-25

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again (ἀναγεγεννημένοι), not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding 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, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 

Peter tells us two clear things about regeneration in this text. First, he tells us that sincere love for our brothers flowing from a pure heart is produced by the new birth. Peter affirms what we have seen elsewhere, authentic love for other people is the fruit of God’s life changing work within us. Peter calls on believers to love others because they have been born anew. The new birth is therefore one ground of moral imperative in the New Testament. Regeneration is of fundamental significance to a life of obedience.

The second thing we learn from Peter is very important. He shows us the mechanism of the new birth. We know the new birth is a divine work of the Triune God. We know it springs forth out of mercy. We know it produces many fruits in the life of its recipient. But how exactly does God bring it about? What is the mechanism. Peter tells us it is the Word of God that ignites the act of regeneration. He is very specific about the nature and content of this Word of God. In terms of its nature it is a word that is living, abiding, and imperishable. It is a word that outlasts the created universe. This is a strong, powerful, and indestructible word. What are the exact contents of this word? Peter tells us that it is the gospel. It is the good news of Jesus the Christ, his cross, and his empty tomb. When this word is preached the Spirit works in and through that gospel to bring about the new birth. God brings men to life by his gospel. It is the power of God for salvation—starting with regeneration.

The implications of this are significant. God’s chosen mechanism for bringing about the work of regeneration is the Word of God. The Father and the Spirit will not produce this new birth in a person apart from the hearing of the gospel. The gospel must be heralded if men would be made new. There is a vital link here between the Spirit and the word. He never works this divine miracle apart from the proclaimed word. The gospel made public to the ears of men is a fundamental piece of the work of regeneration.

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