Growth is one sure sign of physical life, and the moment growth stops, all that we have is aging, degradation, decay and eventually death. However, when it comes to spiritual life, when growth stops, it doesn’t necessarily mean life stops. It means you don’t have spiritual life in the first place. This is not to say though that growth spiritually is always noticeable. Just like growth in the physical sense, the pacing or the rate of our growth is different for each individual. What’s important is not the rate of growth, but the fact that you are growing.
But how can we know we are growing? Or how are we to grow in our spiritual life?
The tragedy in churches today is that many don’t even bother to ask questions like that, just because one point in time they prayed the sinner’s prayer. But that’s it, growth is optional. Some even succumbed to a kind of spiritual fatalism that says “I can’t change because this is my personality. This is who I am. What will be will be. If I grow, I grow. If I don’t, I don’t, but I’m still going to heaven.”
Now to answer these questions and address the issue of spiritual fatalism in the church, we will look at 1 Peter 2:1-3.
John Piper defines spiritual fatalism this way:
“This spiritual fatalism is a feeling that genetic forces and family forces and the forces of my past experiences and present circumstances are just too strong to allow me to ever change and become more zealous for God (Titus 2:14), or more fervent (Romans 12:12), or more delighted in God (Psalm 37:4), or more hungry for fellowship with Christ (John 6:35), or more at home with spiritual things (Romans 8:5), more bold (2 Timothy 1:7), or more constant or joyful (Romans 12:12), or hopeful (1 Peter 1:13). Spiritual fatalism is tragic in the church. It leaves people stuck. It takes away hopes and dreams of change and growth. It squashes the excitement of living―which is growth.”
We may also call this spiritual fatalism as spiritual passivity. Passivity because instead of actively seeking the things of God, we just coast passively into eternity. Now in this text, God commands us to do the opposite of passivity, namely to actively do things that will result in our growth.
Peter starts with a conjunction “therefore” or “so” in 1 Peter 2:1, which means this is an inference from the preceding verses. We will look at how the logic works between 1 Peter 1:22-25 and 1 Peter 2:1-3 later, but for now let’s look at Peter’s conclusion. In verse 1 he says “So put away all malice, and hypocrisy, and envy, and all slander.” Literally the verb “put away” in greek means “to get rid of” or “to be done away with”. That is have nothing to do with such things. We are to get rid of old habits. But Peter is saying something more here. Namely when you remove the vices in verse 1, you have to fill your minds and hearts with something else. Don’t just leave it empty. The verb is actually a participle that is functioning like an adverb of time. It modifies the main verb in verse 2. Meaning, while getting rid of the vices, long for the pure spiritual milk. We are to fight deadly desires with cravings for things that would give us life. Otherwise the same filth will just return, and most of the time it comes back with a vengeance. So don’t settle for passivity after or while putting away old habits. Replace it with new godly ones!
Now in verse 2, Peter describes how we ought to long for the pure spiritual milk. He says “like new born infants long for the spiritual milk.” Some have argued that Peter was talking about new converts here and not the mature ones. But that is not the case. What’s being modified by the subordinate clause is the verb “to long”, and not the subject. That is, “long” or “desire” like a baby, or to be more literal, crave like a new born infant. All parents know this. Most of the time there are only two reasons why a baby cries at night. Either the diaper is full, or she’s hungry. And the crying won’t stop until you do something about it. Same thing with how are we to long for the pure spiritual milk in order for us to grow. Don’t stop craving.
Now you might be saying “I don’t feel the same zeal that you have for the things of God”, or that “I’m already at home with my own filthy sins, and it’s impossible for me to put them away.” But God is telling us, like babies cry our hearts to him until he grants us the pure spiritual milk.
You will say to me then, “My problem though is not that I’m lacking access to the pure spiritual milk, but that I don’t crave it. So how can God require of me things that I can’t do?” That’s a legitimate question right? After all, we don’t get to switch our desires or cravings on and off like switching the lights. We don’t have any control over it. We either hate or want things. Cravings, desires and emotions just happen to us. You can’t just decide it if the very desire to decide is absent.
Now that’s a problem not only with this command, but also to the very essence of all the commands of God in the Scriptures. The whole law hangs on the response of our hearts to God and other people. Meaning, it is not what we do primarily, but what we desire, want, crave and love first. In Matthew 22:36-40 Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So how can we obey these commands?
John Bunyan’s little poem shows the difference between the law and the gospel.
“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, God’s law does in fact require us things we’re unable to do. But the gospel is better because even though it require more impossible things(flying, that is changing our wills, our desires) from us, nevertheless God gave us the ability and empowerment to do what he wills. Through the gospel He created in us new godly desires.
Now remember what Saint Augustine said in his Confessions:
“O love that ever burnest and art never quenched! O Charity, my God, enkindle me! Thou commandest continence. Grant what thou commandest and command what thou wilt.”
The only way to obey God is to trust Him. Cry out to God as if you’re short of air to breathe. Not passively waiting, but instead actively pursuing God like your life is on the line, because it is really on the line. Notice that the purpose and the result of longing for the pure spiritual milk is that by it we may grow up. Grow to mature only? No! It is by it we may grow up “into salvation”. Life is on the balance, and we all know what is in the opposite end, death! The pure spiritual milk therefore is not just for new converts, it is for all professing Christians, because sanctification is a necessary prerequisite of glorification.
Now the nagging question is “what is this pure spiritual milk?” It is quite obvious you might say. It is definitely the word of God. It says so in NASB. Long for the pure milk of the word. But that’s not a translation of the greek, rather it’s an interpretation of the word “λογικὸν” which means reasonable, metaphorical or rational. The closest to a formal/literal translation is the word “spiritual” as oppose to physical or literal milk . But that doesn’t tell us what it is.
The clue is in verse 3. It says “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. ” That is to say you will only long for the pure milk if you’ve already tasted God’s kindness. So in other words, the goodness of God is the pure milk.
But is it wrong to say that the pure milk is also the word of God? The answer is no. Now is the time to talk about the logical relationship of 1 Peter 1:22-23 and 1 Peter 2:1-3. The reason it is not wrong to say that the pure milk is the word of God is because through the word of God we can experience and taste His goodness. The preceding verse tells us that we have been born again by the living and abiding word of God. To be precise 1 Peter 1:25 tells us that it is the gospel that was preached to us. Therefore if we indeed have tasted the goodness of the Lord through His word, we will get rid of what is earthly in us, and long for that same milk of God’s goodness through his word. Or to put it another way. God birthed us through his word, He will also sustain and sanctify us by His word. Therefore without growth, it is evident that we don’t long for God’s sustaining goodness and word, and without longing, it shows that we haven’t tasted yet the goodness of the Lord.
It has been said that Christ will not taste sweet to us until sin tastes bitter, but the reverse is more accurate. Sin will not taste bitter to us until Christ tastes sweet. So cry and plea to God until Christ tastes sweet to us so that sin will taste bitter. Ask the Father to grant us the desire to desire Him more through His word.