This Is What You Are (III)
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 we have seen in the previous two posts we find that verse 9 begins with “But you”. Who does he mean by “you”? Well, in the immediate context, he meant his readers and they were believers in Christ that he was seeking to encourage. In saying “but you” he’s continuing to emphasise the difference between believers and “those who do not believe” and who will “stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do”. He’s now 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? There are three points that arise for us to consider from verse 9 about those who believe. Those points answer the following three questions:
- What are we?
- How are we what we are?
- Why are we what we are?
Now picking up from where we left off we’re going to particularly concentrate on what we see in verses 9 and 10 about the answer to the question:
Our last word on “What are we?
The third thing to notice is that these descriptions that Peter has applied to us as believers in Christ have been drawn from terms that are used in the Old Testament. They are either quotations from or allusions to Old Testament terms for Israel.
So, when Peter says of his readers “But you are a chosen race” he’s taking that from Isaiah 43v20-21 where we read: “The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise”. Peter is saying that believers in Christ, though scattered sojourners in this world, are the chosen people that God spoke of through Isaiah.
We read Isaiah 43 earlier and, in the immediate context, God was saying through Isaiah, that He was Israel’s redeemer and He promised to bring them out of exile in Babylon so that they could be seen to be His “chosen people” and so “declare my praise”. Of course, God did keep that promise in that they were brought back from captivity in Babylon but were they then a people who declared His praise? Did they show the glory of His goodness and grace? No, just like their forefathers they quickly pushed God aside, they did what was pleasing to themselves rather than what was pleasing to God and, just like the rest of mankind, fell short of the glory of God.
Peter is saying that God’s promise through Isaiah is only really, fully fulfilled in the people that He has chosen in Christ out of every nation. Through Christ we are redeemed, we’ve been brought out of captivity and, through Christ, we declare God’s praise in a way that Israel never did. Why? Because they were trying and failing because they were doing so in their own strength. As believers in Christ we don’t attempt to bring glory to God through what we are in and of ourselves or by our own efforts. We bring praise and glory to God because we have Christ’s righteousness and a new nature through being born again.
When Peter says that his readers are “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” he’s taking those terms from Exodus 19v5-6 where we read: “Now therefore, if 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. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel”. In the immediate context those words were addressed to the Children of Israel during the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. The promise that God made to them was “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”.
But, notice that it was a conditional promise.
God said that this would be true of them “if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant”. Did they obey his voice and keep His covenant? No. That’s why, after showing great mercy and longsuffering, God eventually sent them into exile in Babylon. The fact is that Israel never received the promise of being God’s “treasured possession” and “a kingdom of priests” and “a holy nation” because they failed to obey and keep the covenant. Peter is saying that believers in Christ have received that promise. Is that because we’ve been more obedient than the Children of Israel? No! It’s because Jesus has been perfectly obedient on our behalf.
Then, in v10, where Peter says: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people” he’s referring back to Hosea. Read Hosea 1v9: “and the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God”. That was to show that, because Israel had failed to keep covenant, they were no longer God’s people. Despite all their privileges, the reality was that they were no different from anyone else. They were effectively same as the Gentiles. However, in Hosea 2v23 we read: “and I will have mercy on No Mercy, & I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God’”. That was speaking of the time when those who were not God’s people would become God’s people.
Paul also quotes those words from Hosea and makes it clear that promise given through Hosea was not only for Israelites who’d become as Gentiles but also for those who are Gentiles by birth. Read in Romans 9v22-26;
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved. ’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.”
You see, Paul made it clear that promise that God made through Hosea that “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people‘” would be fulfilled by calling people “not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles”. So now, those who are “God’s people” are no longer an ethnic race. The Old Covenant nation of Israel was called to be “God’s people” but they failed abysmally. Now, rather than being ethnic race, “God’s people” are all who are chosen and called in Christ. In quoting those OT references Peter is showing that, in and through Christ, we are the culmination of God’s promise and purpose to have a people for Himself.
So, asked question “What are we?”
Answer is that we’re “God’s people” because we’re chosen by Him, servants of Him, set apart for Him and belong to Him. That means that, like Israel of old, we are called to be united together and to be different from those round about us. That’s why Peter will go on in verse 11 to say “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul”. Saying that, because we are “God’s people”, we are different. In the words of Jesus, we are “in the world but not of the world”. Unlike Israel of old, we won’t lose our status as God’s people because that does not depend on us keeping our side of a covenant. It depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf.
So, we’ve thought about the question “What are we?” Next time we’ll continue in verses 9 and 10 as we move on to consider the questions “How are we what we are?” and “Why are we what we are?”
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!