Who We Are
Topic: Topical Sermons Passage: 1 Peter 2:4–2:10
“WHO WE ARE”
1 Peter 2:4-10
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious.
And whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
There comes a time in the life of every local church when it should hit the pause button and take stock of who it is. Although founded by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and “built of the foundation of the apostles and prophet” (cf. Ephesians 2:20), each local assembly has its own unique identity...which is to say, that for which it is best known in its community and/or association of sister churches of which it is a part.
Much of our identity happens to us passively over time without us even being aware. It’s like those television commercials where the person wakes up one morning to realize that he has unknowingly morphed into an unwanted clone of his parent. Others have noticed the transformation taking place, but somehow the one undergoing it has been imperceptive to it all along. It happens with people, and it happens with churches.
Regrettably, churches sometimes lose the identity they want and were meant to have. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus said that He would build His church, but looking around we may be tempted to call in a fingerprint expert to determine where His hands have been. Far too often, churches bear little resemblance to the New Testament model. While God has made us in His image, man has at times made the church into his own likeness instead. So we shouldn’t be too surprised if the church looks a lot like us.
The Scriptures provide for us guidelines as to what the local church should be like, while leaving freedom for each local assembly to live within those guidelines according to its unique personality, distinctive setting, and individual giftedness. That being said, we are to operate from a divinely established pattern—a template, if you will—and not from our personal likes and dislikes. That is why when we unsure of something, we go to “the Book.”
The Bible is our sourcebook for “doing church.” It explains our identity and it establishes clear guidelines and instructions for living out our identity within the church as it gathers on Sunday, as well as when it scatters throughout the week,
In the passage we just read from 1 Peter 2, we are reminded that we are who we are because of the finished work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. As verses 4 and 5 explain, as He was “the living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,” so now we are “like living stones...being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God” in His name. In other words, we—like Christ— have been “chosen” by God to bear His image in the world. Briefly stated, that is our identity.
In verses 9 and 10, Peter fleshes that out a bit more concretely, and that is where I want us to focus this morning. For those of us who have embraced the Gospel, the Lord wants us to realize that salvation is more than a ticket to heaven or a lifeline to stuff in our pocket for safekeeping. The Gospel gives us a new worldview. It tells us who we are.
And just who are we? Look again at verse 9: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” These four phrases are summarized in verse 10, when Peter writes, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”
This morning, before coming to the Lord’s Table to acknowledge our oneness with Christ, I want us to spend a few minutes thinking about just who we are as the people of God.
In the first place, this verse says that...
We are “a chosen race” (verse 9a).
This particular expression is drawn from Isaiah 43(:20-21) where the Lord referred to Israel as His “chosen people, the people...(He) formed for (Him)self, that they might declare (His) praise.”
What that means is that God selected us. Out of all the options that were available to Him, He “handpicked” us. The word that is translated “race” (“γενοs”) might more appropriately be translated “family” or “posterity.” It is a term that could just as well be used in reference to the “Smiths” or “Joneses” as it would to a specific “race” of people. The Bible is not hesitant in declaring that God “chooses” those who are to be a part of His family.
The Gospel that saves tells an interesting story about being “picked.” Unlike being chosen to be the football quarterback or the leading lady in the school play, God’s selection is not based on any special talents or abilities on the part of those whom He selects. Instead, He chooses those whom the world would most likely cast aside. After all, as verse 4 of this passage reminds us, that is exactly what it did with Jesus.
We are chosen by God, not on the basis of who we are, but rather on the basis of who Christ is. We contribute nothing to God. He is not needful of us. There is nothing that He cannot get done without us. Nevertheless, He selects the last to be first (cf. Matthew 20:16) blesses the poor in spirit (cf. Matthew 5:3) with riches aplenty, and exalts the humble (cf. Matthew 23:12).
The next time you think that you came to Christ because of your own volitional choice, think again. Be reminded of Jesus’ words in John 15:6, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” The Scriptures are quite clear when they say, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Romans 9:16). And again, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).
As His church, we are who we are—a “family” of divinely chosen people—brought together by God’s sovereign selection. We are “a chosen race.” In addition, verse 9 goes on to say that...
We are “a royal priesthood” (verse 9b).
In Exodus 19:5 and 6, the Lord told Moses, “Now therefore, you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Peter’s next three descriptors of the church are drawn from these ancient words that the Lord gave Moses to pass along to recently-redeemed Israelites. Let’s take them one at a time.
“The priesthood of the believer” was one of major components and outcomes of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was the leading spokesman against the abuses of the Roman Catholic priesthood and argued that the traditional distinction between the laity and the clergy was an artificial one that had no biblical support. To this day, Protestants insist that direct access to God is granted to every believer through Jesus Christ alone, apart from any human mediation. He alone is our “great high priest...(to Whom) with confidence (we) draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16).
And while it is true that each individual Christian has been ordained to serve as a “priest” under the One who is our “great high priest,” the emphasis is upon our fulfilling that role collectively and corporately. Just as a person cannot be a “race” or a “nation” by him/herself, so that person cannot be a “priesthood” alone. Let us, therefore, be reminded that we serve together in this role, not in isolation.
Back in verse 5, we were likened to a “holy priesthood.” But here in verse 9 the modifying adjective is changed to “royal,” which brings it more in line with the phrase, “kingdom of priests,” found in Exodus 19. It is further because of our identity with Christ that we are linked not only to His priesthood, but to His Kingdom as well. We are “royal priests” who have been commissioned by our King.
Among other things, that implies that we are His ambassadors. The local church has been put in place to be His representative—“go-between,” if you will—who hs been charged by God take “the ministry of reconciliation” to the lost (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18) and commissioned to “make disciples of all nations” (cf. Matthew 28:19).
In former times, priests were needed to offer sacrifices on our behalf. Now that Jesus, the Great High Priest, has made atonement “once for all” (cf. Hebrews 10:10), we have become priests ourselves and granted full access to “the throne of grace” (cf. Hebrews 4:16). Indeed our bodies are now “temples” wherein He resides by His Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19), and we are free to pour out our lives on behalf of others—just as Christ did—in order that we might testify of His saving sacrifice.
So, who are we? We are “a chosen race” and “a royal priesthood.” What’s more,
We are “a holy nation” (verse 9c).
In each of these descriptors, the adjectives add emphasis to the nouns that they modify. In other words, we are not just any kind of “race,” “priesthood,” and “nation,” we are “chosen,” “royal,” and “holy.”
In terms of being “a holy nation,” the reference again comes from Exodus 19(:6), where the Lord Himself decreed His people to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The word for “nation” (“εθνοs”) is the same one Jesus used in Matthew 28:19 when He charged His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” While that term can refer to specific countries as defined by their geographical boundaries, it is better to understand it to mean a “tribe” or “distinct people group” that is identified by a common language and culture. In that sense, the Church is a “nation.”
When mission experts, for example, speak of “reaching the nations” with the Gospel, they are not referring to the 195 countries in the world, but rather to the more than 17,000 people groups of which more than 7,000 remain “unreached” with the Gospel of salvation through Christ. We as “a holy nation” have been given the mandate to deliver this “Good News” to those who have yet to hear it. The Church is “a holy nation.”
When the Lord said, “Be holy for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44 and 45), that was not just a command, but a promise. The idea of “holiness” is so central to biblical teaching that it is said of God, “holy is his name” (Luke 1:49). His name is holy because He is holy. Writing on the holiness of God, R.C. Sproul reluctantly said,
He is not always treated with holy reverence. His name is tramped through the dirt of this world. It functions as a curse word, a platform for the obscene. That the world has little respect for God is vividly seen in the way the world regards His name. No honor. No reverence. No awe before Him.
How sad...and yet so true. The church has been called to be distinctively different... “set apart” and separated from the world by God for the purpose of being “unique.” Or to use the word that the King James Version employs, we are to be a “peculiar” people.
To this we have not only been “enlisted, but also “equipped.” We can no more make ourselves “holy” than we can “add a single hour to (our) span of life” (cf. Matthew 6:27). If we are to be “holy” in any practical sense of the word, then God must do it for us. It is “the blood of Jesus his Son that cleanses us from all sin...(and) all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7 and 9). By bearing our sins in His body on the cross, Christ’s perfect “goodness” is applied to the account of those who acknowledge Him and yield to Him as Savior and Lord. The result is that we have been “set apart” from the condemnation that hangs over the world.
But it is important for us to realize that the death of Jesus was not just imputed to us, it was imparted to us as well. In addition to our position with God being altered, so was our practice. That means that we have been consecrated by our saving God, whose plans for us include demonstrating His perfect holiness to a world that is anything but holy. By His grace we are “a holy nation” constituted by God to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3).
Peter writes that we “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,” and finally that...
We are “a people for His own possession” (verse 9d).
Again, this hearkens back to Exodus 19:6, where the Lord declared His people to be His “treasured possession among all peoples.” We are able to grasp further significance of this statement from the words found in Hosea 2:23, where the Lord says, “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” Only in the complex depths of the sovereign plan of God can wrath-owed sinners become love-won children. Amazing!
Put simply, God owns us. In reality, He owns everyone, but He owns those who are His own in a special way. He marks them out, covers them, secures their future, and gives them an eternal hope. He sends His Spirit to indwell them, convict them, teach them, and comfort them. And what’s more, those whom Christ has purchased for the Father will never be lost (cf. John 6:39) or be forfeited (cf. John 10:28).
Think with me for a moment about your most “treasured possession.” To what lengths would you go to protect it? The most “treasured possession” of God is “the church...which he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). He was willing to sacrifice the life of His beloved Son to purchase and secure His people forever.
We should be careful to point out that while it is true that God deeply loves every individual Christian, the death of Christ was not in order to purchase a “person” for Himself, but rather a “people.” You and I need to understand that our identity in Christ is not founded primarily upon our individual status before God, but rather upon our corporate status as His Church...His people...His Bride. God saves us as individuals, but he does not save us to an individualistic faith. We are saved within the context of His covenant with his people.
In Ephesians 5:25 through 27 we read, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”
Alec Motyer has written, “We are saved into the whole company and family of the redeemed. We do not get converted and set about thinking of church membership; as soon as we are saved we are family members.”
Regardless of how we may feel about ourselves, that is who we are. More than eighty times in his epistles, Paul used the simple yet profound phrase, “in Christ,” to summarize the relationship believers enjoy with the Lord Jesus. The Church is “a people for his own possession.” That is who we are. Upon every local church that is true to Christ and is consistently faithful in proclaiming the Gospel as revealed the Scriptures, God has written with large, bold letters with His own blood, “Mine!”
In words similar to those written by Peter, in Deuteronomy 7(:6-9) we find the Lord pledging to His people as they prepared to enter the Promised Land:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.
Here is salvation by grace alone in the very heart of the Old Testament. God did not choose the Israelites because of their impressive credentials. He did so purely out of love and His sacred prerogative. In the same way, He did not choose those would comprise His Church because of any inherent worth on our part. He chose us because He loved us. And He loved us because He chose to do so. He has set His designs on us for no reason originating in ourselves.
God’s goal is to glorify Himself and to make His name great. The heart wants what it wants, and the heart of God wants people who are by nature His “enemies” (cf. Romans 5:10). He wants to take those who were alienated from Him, stir them, turn them, cleanse them, and fill them with Himself.
Jared Wilson has well described that throughout history and throughout the Scriptures:
God chooses the younger brothers, the shepherd boys, the schemers, the dreamers, the ghetto dwellers...the imprisoned, the impotent, the impatient, the foreigners, the fakers, the fighters, the short-tempered, the hypersensitive, the deep feelers, the dum-dums, the dullards, and the dry bones. So that in all things he might be glorified in saying to Not My People, “You are so my people. Yes, even you.”
One can almost hear the astonishment of John as he exclaims in his first epistle:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:1-3).
If that is who we are and will be, then what is that supposed to look like now?
- As “a chosen race,” we are to recognize that—as members of this local gathering of believers known as Temple Hills Baptist Church—we are a family selected and assembled by God Himself. We have covenanted with each other to live together in obedience to the Scriptures and in fellowship with one another and with care for one another. That will be seen in the manner in which we speak into one another’s lives and do community together. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples by our “love for one another” (cf. John 13:35).
- As “a royal priesthood,” we are to recognize that—as this local body—we have been called to “stand in the gap” (cf. Ezekiel 22:30) as “ambassadors for Christ,” imploring others “on behalf of Christ, (to) be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We do that, first, by “present(ing our own) bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1). And then we follow our Lord’s command to “Go...and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), beginning in our own backyard and then going as far as His will takes us. That, of course, implies that we ourselves have a biblical understanding of the Gospel, have been converted by it, and are able and willing to share it with others.
- As “a holy nation,” we are to realize our distinctiveness from the world, and to consistently live in a manner that denies ourselves, displays the glory of God, and declares the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although we live in this present evil age, we are not to be characterized by it. Just as we present our bodies as “a living sacrifice to the Lord,” so are we to “be transformed by the renewal of (our minds, so) that by testing (we) may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). That requires a disciplined life—both publicly and privately—one that can be scrutinized by self-examination and the assessment of others and shown to be authentic. By living differently from the world, we show where our priorities lie.
- And as “a people for his own possession,” we are to readily give Him the pre-eminence in all things (cf. Colossians 1:18), meaning that He deserves our wholehearted commitment and trust. We are to be stamped with His identity in everything we do, say, and think. That goes from our Sunday morning conversations after church to our Saturday night “tweets” and “facebook posts.” Jesus Christ did not surrender His sinless life to save individuals, but to purchase for Himself a Bride who would live with Him forever. The hymn writer puts it this way:
From heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride
With His own blood He bought her,
And for her life He died.
Praise God that is who we are. Verse 10 reinforces our calling to this role with words borrowed from Hosea 2: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” How amazing!
The remaining question, as we look introspectively is whether or not we are correctly imaging the One “who called (us) out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Knowing these things, this same Peter elsewhere leaves us with the challenge that I hope will echo in your minds as we approach the Lord’s Table: “What sort of people ought (we) to be in lives of holiness and godliness” (2 Peter 3:11)?