As Peter invites his Asia Minor readers, who are resident aliens and temporary residents, to live the Christian life surrounded by non-believers, how does he define the gospel? One place to begin to answer that question is with 1:22-25. His answer is holistic and missional.
Soul-purification, Peter says, occurs by obeying the truth — and that truth has to be connected to Peter’s general message of the redemptive work in Jesus Christ. “Truth” just might be his capsule summary of 1:3-12, the new birth through the resurrection.
Soul-purification leads to authenticity in community relationships. The community love (the Greek term is philadephia) is not to be tainted or damaged by being insincere or inauthentic.
Soul-purification now shifts a bit to “new birth” (1:23): here Peter draws on 1:3. The new birth of 1:3 was connected to the resurrection; here it is connected to the incorruptible seed through the living Word of God (Jesus) — supported here by appeal to Isaiah 4o:6-7.
And Peter says “this” is the “word” with which we “evangelized you”.
What is that “word”? That word is the declaration of Jesus Christ who purifies souls so that a community is formed that authentically loves one another.
The heart of this paragraph is found in 1:22b: “Love one another strenuously out of a purified/cleansed heart.” Soul-purification has its goal in loving one another and the means of that purification, the new birth, is the ground out of which this love grows. In this verse we find the center — grammatically and notionally — of the passage: new birth creates a community that loves one another. Peter has a community gospel.
How, then, will they live in the Roman Empire as a sectarian community? It begins by loving one another through thick and thin. And Peter is not messing around here with some romantic, idyllic sense of community: the word he uses is “strenously” (ektenos): the notion is stretching one’s neck as one strains for the finishing line, or straining one’s efforts to get the job done, or working at it because it is hard.
Loving one another sounds good on paper. To ape the words of CS Lewis: “Loving one another is a great idea, until you have someone you don’t like that you are summoned to love.” Peter knew this, and he made it the goal of what the redemptive work of the gospel accomplishes.