READ : 1 Peter 2:1-10
“We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” the apostle Peter exclaims ? God’s own people! So does that make us arrogant and vain, or humble and thankful?
Abraham Lincoln once described Americans as God’s “almost chosen people.” It was a wonderfully apt phrase, for it highlighted the fact that no nation on earth had been blessed as had America, nor was there any nation in the modern world that had a stronger sense of the hand of God upon its history and life. But still, said Lincoln, we’re not the chosen people, just the almost chosen people. Lincoln had too deep an understanding of biblical truth to fall into the trap of identifying any secular nation with the people of God.
Since the coming of Christ, no political or racial entity has an exclusive claim to a special relationship with God. The new reality is the church as the people of God:
- a spiritual, not a racial community
- a community that is multi-national, multi-ethnic, and universal
- a community where membership is offered to anyone, not because of where or to whom they were born; but simply on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. Americans aren’t God’s chosen people, believers are. That is the message of 1 Peter 2:9-10.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
1 Peter 2:9-10
A Chosen People
Peter’s ideas here in this passage are deeply rooted in scripture and in the identity of God’s Old Testament covenant people Israel. Listen to a passage like Deuteronomy 7:6-8:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you . . . .
For Christians, the first answer to the question “Who are we?” is that we are a chosen people, chosen, that is, by God to belong to him in a unique way, in a way that other people do not belong to him. Now I know that sounds terribly arrogant and insensitive in a pluralistic age like ours, but this is a truth plainly stated in the Bible.
The doctrine of choosing or election is not some esoteric dogma dreamed up by hard-nosed theologians. It is a foundation truth of biblical faith. We are a chosen people. If I belong to the people of God, that means that I have been chosen by God. Though it may seem like I choose him when I turn to faith in Christ and there is a sense, of course, in which I do choose him still, the deeper truth is that God chooses me first.
This truth gives every Christian hope and strength. One major purpose of the Bible’s teaching about election is to encourage us as believers by reminding us that our salvation primarily depends upon God’s firm, unwavering commitment to us rather than our own often wavering loyalty to him.
God chooses us without regard to anything in ourselves not because of our faith, not because of our moral superiority, not because of any ability we have or performance we offer him. “No, it wasn’t because you were such an impressive people that God chose you,” Moses reminds Israel. In fact, “You were the fewest of peoples.” God’s choice is an act of sheer favor. God chooses the undeserving simply because he loves them, and therefore he turns them into something special. “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
Peter also reminds us that God’s choice of his people is linked to his choice of Christ.
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house. (vv. 4-5)
Peter says that when we come to Christ, the living stone, we become living stones ourselves and are built together into a spiritual house. In other words, we become the new community of God’s people and the dwelling place of God’s Spirit when we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and are built together into his body, the church.
A Royal Priesthood
So “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” adds Peter. Here’s the second answer to the question of who we are as Christians. If “a chosen people” suggests what God has done for us, the “royal priesthood” points to what we are called to do for him. In case we are tempted to feel a bit superior based on the knowledge that we are the chosen and much-loved people of God, the apostle immediately points out that the point of being chosen is so that we may serve.
Don’t get the idea that being chosen by God is like being elected to an exclusive country club where the members lounge on the veranda all day and ring for service whenever they want anything. Election in the biblical sense is not like winning some kind of divine lottery and concluding you never have to work another day of your life. No, God’s call to belong to him as a chosen son or daughter is at one and the same time a call to ministry, the ministry of priests. In the Old Testament it was the priest’s awesome responsibility to appear before the Lord on behalf of the whole people, offering sacrifices for sin and presenting the people’s prayers before the throne of God.
Since the death and resurrection of Christ, all believers are called to be priests. We no longer need a special human go-between to help us approach our holy God. We don’t need any more sacrifices for sin beyond the one great sacrifice that Jesus offered when he gave his own body to be broken and his blood to be shed on the cross. He is the great High Priest. He is the one mediator, the go-between between God and humanity. So we do not function as priests in any atoning way; all that work has been done. No, our priestly service consists in a different kind of work. We are, writes Peter, “a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (v. 5). These include our worship and our obedience, the fruit of our lips and our lives, in fact, our entire selves which we offer as living sacrifices in grateful devotion to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2).
A Holy Nation
“You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” God told Moses in the wilderness (Exodus 19:6). “You are . . . a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession,” Peter echos in his letter to the first-century church. So there’s a third answer to the question of Christian identity: if we are God’s people and God’s priests, then we are also a holy nation.
In the Old Testament, the idea of being holy meant to be literally set apart by God for himself. This objective idea of holiness, of being set apart for God, also has a subjective side. God’s purpose in saving us is to make us actually holy, in and of ourselves, that is, to make us really different, different as in better, different as in Jesus-like. So the great priority of our lives must be to become in fact what we already are by faith, namely, a holy nation pure and good and humble and loving people in both word and deed.
A Missionary Force
So this is who we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation. And here’s the reason why. Here is the great purpose for all this work of God in and for us: “so that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” It is clear that one main reason why God has saved us is so that we may tell what he has done for us.
The question is, to whom are we supposed to proclaim these things? Is it back to God? That would make worship the purpose of redemption. When we understand who we are and all that God has done for us, then we will surely fill the skies with our praises of him, declaring over and over our thanks for the mighty acts of God on our behalf, proclaiming our love for our great Savior.
Or is it people who are the intended audience? Are we supposed to proclaim the wonderful salvation of our God to the nations of the world? That would make missions a major purpose of our redemption. We are not just a chosen people, and a royal priesthood, and a holy nation; we are also an evangelistic force. The privilege of belonging to God, of being his people, is balanced by the responsibility of telling others about Jesus’ saving work and inviting them to come out of the darkness into his marvelous light.
Well, the nice thing is, we don’t have to choose. As “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation,” we can not only offer to God on behalf of the world the worship that he deserves, we can offer to the world on behalf of God the message it needs to hear. Worship is primary, missions is secondary, but both are purposes for which the Lord has saved us and made us his own. So let’s get on with it!