This Is What You Are (II)
1 Peter 2:9-10 ESV
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.
Picking up where we left we have Peter turning back to his readers and concentrating on those who do believe. What in particular does he go on to say about those who believe? As I said previously, there are three points that arise for us to consider from verse 9 about those who believe. Those points answer the following three questions:
1. What are we?
2. How are we what we are?
3. Why are we what we are?
As I said then, it had been my original intention to cover those three points together in one sermon but I’ve decided that it would be best to just consider each of these points individually. So, picking up from where we left off “1. What are we?” we are going to once again concentrate on what we see in verses 9 and 10 about the answer to the question:
Part Two of: “What are we?”
The next thing for us to notice in verses 9 and 10 is that Peter doesn’t describe what we are as merely being a “race”, a “priesthood”, a “nation” and a “people”. Those collective nouns don’t stand alone. To each of those collective nouns he adds a further description. In each case he adds an adjective. So, we see that we’re not merely a “race”. We are a “chosen race”. We’re not merely a “priesthood”. We are a “royal priesthood”. We’re not merely a “nation”. We are a “holy nation”. We’re not merely a “people”. We are ”a people for his own possession”. For whose possession? Well, he goes on in verse 10 to describe us as “God’s people” so, we are a people for God’s possession.
From these descriptions we see four things about what we are. We can say that we are:
- Chosen by God
- Servants of God
- Set apart for God
- Belonging to God
Firstly, we see that we are CHOSEN BY GOD because Peter describes us as a “chosen race”.
We saw last time that those who are disobedient by not believing in Christ are appointed for destruction but those who believe in Christ are a “chosen race”. We’re not appointed for destruction but, rather, we are a “chosen race”. In Old Testament times the nation of Israel was God’s chosen race and, of course, that was an ethnic race. They were physically descended from Abraham through the patriarchs.
In describing believers in Christ as a “chosen race” Peter is not referring to another ethnic race. Why had the nation of Israel been chosen? It was to provide the line through which the promised Messiah would be born into the world. Once Jesus came the purpose of ethnic Israel had been fulfilled and God’s “chosen race” was no longer that ethnic race but a spiritual race consisting of those that He had chosen or elected in Christ from every tribe and nation.
Remember that right at the beginning of the letter Peter has described his readers as being “elect exiles”. That is, those who had been chosen by God. Paul said in Ephesians 1v3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him”. So, when Peter says that we are a “chosen race” he’s not referring to any earthly, physical, ethnic race. We are part of a race that transcends ethnicity. We are a “chosen race” in that we are a race that consists of those that God the Father chose in Christ before the foundation of the world. We’re chosen out of all the earthly races to be part of God’s new race in Christ.
Then we see that we are SERVANTS OF GOD because Peter describes us as a “royal priesthood”.
We’re not only a new race in Christ. We’re also a new priesthood. Remember that Peter has already mentioned this. Back in chapter 2v4-5 he had said: “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, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.
Believers in Christ are a “holy priesthood”. We serve God by offering Him spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ. Now, in verse 9, Peter is describing us as a “royal priesthood”. By that, he means that we are a priesthood that belongs to the King and serves the King. In ancient kingdoms, it was quite common for the king to have his own special group of priests. As we’ve seen believers in Christ are a “chosen race”. We are a new race. We’re members of the kingdom of God and its King is Jesus Christ. He is King of kings and Lord of lords and we serve Him as priests. So we’re chosen, not merely to be a new race but to be a race that serves King Jesus.
The next thing we see is that we are SET APART FOR GOD because Peter describes us as a “holy nation”.
In saying that we are a “holy nation”, Peter isn’t saying that we are a nation that is morally holy. He’s not saying that we are perfectly good and pleasing to God in all that we do. We are certainly called to desire that and to aim for it. Remember Peter’s exhortation back in chapter 1v14-16. He said: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy””. There, Peter was exhorting us to moral holiness but he wouldn’t have needed to do that if we were already holy in practice as God is holy.
So, in describing us as a “holy nation” Peter must be saying that we are holy in another sense. Rather than saying that we are a nation that is morally holy Peter means that we are holy in that we are a nation that is set apart for God or separated to God. That understanding seems to be confirmed by the next thing that we see that we are.
That is: we BELONG TO GOD because Peter describes us as ”a people for his own possession”. How are we to understand that? Surely there’s a sense in which everyone belongs to God. After all, He’s the creator of the universe. He owns everything so there is a very real sense in which everyone is God’s possession. But, Peter must be talking about something more than that here. After all, he isn’t talking about everyone. He’s talking about those God has chosen to be His servants and set apart for Him. That word ”possession” could have quite negative sounding connotations.
I recently saw the film “12 years a slave”. It certainly wasn’t easy or pleasant viewing. The brutality was shocking and the underlying attitudes were extremely disturbing. One clear message that was very evident was that many of the slave owners most definitely viewed their slaves as their possessions. The thinking was that they had paid for them and therefore they owned them in the same way that they owned any other goods or possessions. In view of that they considered themselves to have the right to do whatever they wanted with their slaves.
Now, when God speaks of us being ”a people for his own possession” He certainly doesn’t regard us as goods to do whatever He pleases with. I think we get a feel for what is really meant by ”a people for his own possession” if we look at 2 Corinthians 6v16 where Paul applies words from Leviticus 26v12 to believers in Christ. The verse says: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people””. Paul is quoting God speaking of “my people”, which is another way of saying ” my own possession”, and we see what God said about His people: “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them”.
This is reminiscent of the description we have of God walking with Adam in the garden. The picture here is surely one of belonging to God in the way that Adam did before he rebelled and fell. The idea is of being restored to that relationship of perfect fellowship and intimacy that Adam enjoyed with God before sin spoilt everything. So, the idea is not simply of God owning us but of communing with us and taking great delight in us.
In verse 10 Peter then goes on to sum that all up by describing us as “God’s people”. We are God’s people in that we are chosen by Him, servants of Him, set apart for Him and belonging to Him.
Next week: Part three of “What are we?”
Dr. Steve Orr
Dr Orr has served the Body of Christ in the United Kingdom for many years and in various capacities (preaching, teaching, etc.,). Steve is a regular contributor to the pages of Christ My Covenant. His insights into the Word of God will serve you in your personal study of God’s Word. Learn of Christ!