“Why the Church Exists”
1 Peter 2:9
This is a manuscript of a sermon delivered on Sunday, May 27, 2012.
Please open your Bibles to Peter’s first letter chapter 2 and also put and keep your finger in Exodus chapter 19. Though we shall focus upon the 9th verse of 1 Peter 2 this morning, I wish to read verses 4-10 of the second chapter – if only to be reminded of the context.
The questions of the day are these: “What, or who, is the church?” & “What is her purpose?” “What is she for?” “Is the church for us?” “Is she to be used as if married to a selfish husband seeking his own gratification?” “What is she for?”
Having spoken of the destined disobedience and stumbling of those who reject Christ, Peter turns to address those to whom he writes, saying in the beginning of the ninth verse “But you are…” The ‘you’ is, of course, the elect, scattered over a wide geography. Having been born again to a living hope, they love Christ, believe in Christ, and are marked by a continual coming to Christ. They are those for whom Christ died, having been redeemed by His precious blood from a sinful, godless way of life. In other words, the apostle is here addressing a very specific group. He is not concerned with addressing all men without exception. His letter is not addressed to everyone. He is not even addressing – for a reason that the apostle makes plain to us – the church visible [i.e. the professing church as opposed to the real deal, if I may put it this way]. Peter here addresses not an undefined, unqualified group of people. It is of extreme importance to understand the apostle writes what he writes to the church.
What he writes to the church is somewhat astonishing if not remarkable. Least of all, it ought jar us, make us sit up, and ask certain questions, the answers of which demand that most of the evangelical world and perhaps some of us change our concept of what or who the church is. Listen carefully to what he writes. To the church, he says “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” Now, for those of you who know your Bibles, or if you’ve been around me on Sunday mornings for the past several years, will know Peter here uses terminology first addressed to the nation of Israel at Sinai. What one discovers as he compares the Old Covenant stipulations & phraseology in Exodus 19 with 1 Peter 2:9 is that the language is essentially the same. However, there is one major difference marked by two minor words. Exodus 19: 5 (NASB): “Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession…” and so on & so forth. Do not miss what so many apparently either miss or choose to ignore. Notice the words “if” and “then.” To the sons of Israel, God said, “If you obey Me, if you keep My covenant, then you shall be My treasured possession & a kingdom of priests & a holy nation.” There is a conditionality to this. The blessings and privileges of the Old Covenant were conditional. They hinged on Israel’s obedience.
Now jump back to Peter. What he says in the 9th verse to the church is not prefaced by the words “if…then,” but rather the words “you are.” In other words, the church is what the nation of Israel as a nation never was nor ever could be. This is not to say that the church came to be because Israel did not keep the covenant. This is not to say that the church is because Israel was disobedient. The law was never designed to save but only to condemn “for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.” But this is to say, however, that the church, as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession is the ‘bringing to pass’ of that covenant to Israel. As one noteworthy Bible teacher wrote:
It is impossible not to see 1 Peter 2:5-9 as the word-for-word fulfillment of the promise made to Israel at Sinai in Exodus 19:5, 6.
He goes on to say:
We, as the Church, are the true fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and his seed concerning a great nation. The ekklesia of Christ is the true nation that was promised to Abraham.
I make much of this because it is of utmost and extreme importance in addressing the question of the church. What or who is the church? Our answer and conceptions of the church must not be obscured by any theological presuppositions, but rather be couched in terms expressive of what the apostle has laid before us. After all, what the apostle writes is a message from the Lord of the Church Himself. According to the apostle, the church is not the same as Israel. Peter has made it abundantly clear that there is a discontinuity, a break, a difference between the church and the nation of Israel. That difference is of course manifested by the “if…then” of Exodus and the “you are” of verse 9. In other words, what Israel under the Old Covenant failed to be, the church in fact is. Therefore, any theological system that does not make a clear distinction between the church and national Israel does not reflect the Scriptures nor holds a Biblical view of the church.
Consider the following conception of the church, written by Dr. Morton Smith, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. This is a rather long quote, but I think helpful and needful for at this point. Says Smith:
The term “church” … means “assembly” or “congregation.” It may mean such without reference to religion, but with the Septuagint [or Greek OT] use of this term to designate the congregation of the Israelites, especially as gathered before God for religious purposes, it has taken on a more technical meaning, which is the general NT usage. There it is used of the congregation that the living God assembles around his Messiah, Jesus. William Childs Robinson defines the Church as ‘the spiritual family of God, the Christian fellowship created by the Holy Spirit through the testimony to the mighty acts of God in Christ Jesus.’ Robinson’s use of the language “Christian fellowship” is not intended to limit this definition only to the NT era. Rather, he goes on to say: ‘The existence of the church is a revelation of the gracious heart of God. The Father chose his eternal Son to become the Saviour of sinners, the Messiah of the whole Israel of God. In him God chose the people for his own possession and called individuals into this fellowship. [the kicker…] This one people of God includes the patriarchs, the congregation of ancient Israel, Jesus and his disciples, the primitive community of his resurrection, and the Christian church.
In other words, the Reformed, Covenant view of the church is one that includes Old Covenant Israel as a nation as well as the New Covenant church. Lay this side by side with the “If…then” of Exodus and the ‘You are” of Peter and the conclusion that must be drawn is that Smith and Robinson are wrong. The church is not the same as Israel. They cannot be equated without clarification. There is a marked discontinuity between the nation of Israel and the church. They are not one and the same.
On the other hand, the apostle likewise makes it equally clear that there is a relationship of continuity between Israel and the church, for the church is the fulfillment of what was conditionally promised to Israel in Exodus 19. Therefore, any theological system which fails to see this fulfillment relationship between Israel and the church is equally wrong. The church is not, in other words, a Plan B. Nor does God have some other grand purpose for the nation of Israel in the future apart from grace alone through faith alone in and because of Christ alone. God has one people saved by one manner.
What, or who, is the church? To sum up by way of paraphrasing another’s words and to say what the church is and is not: The nation of Israel was not the church no more than it is the church today. But the church is to be sure, spiritual Israel. The church is the spiritual fulfillment, the spiritual nation of which the physical nation of Israel was only a type.
How is this related to why the church exists? It is related this way: The purpose of the church will not be achieved by that which is not the church. Only the church, only the true, spiritual nation of Israel will engage itself in that for which it was made. Why does the church exist? It exists to declare the excellencies of God. ‘You are…a people for his own possession,’ writes Peter, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Two things are noteworthy. Number one: The purpose of the church is the proclamation, or even the publication, of the excellencies of God. Number two: Only the church as the true, spiritual Israel is able and will so publish the excellencies of God. Why? Because only the church has been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, a point to which we shall return in a just a moment.
To say that the purpose of the church is to proclaim, or tell of, the excellencies of God, is to say no small or insignificant thing. It is no small thing because it is to say the church exists for the same reason God does everything that he does and for which God is supremely jealous. To proclaim the excellencies of God is to declare, publish, announce, and speak of anything and everything which makes God great and glorious, namely the perfections of His person and the awesomeness of His work. So where do we start?
Well, we start where the Bible starts, in the beginning. Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God…” Herein is revealed both the sovereignty and sufficiency and eternality and even the holiness of God. He was before anything was. He was before creation, even the creation of time itself. Thus, ipso facto, by that very fact, God is shown to be sufficient in Himself, in need of and dependant upon absolutely nothing outside Himself, existing outside of time itself and thus is eternal. Further reflection upon these first four words yields the discovery that God is sovereign, that He is mighty over all that He made since he Himself made all that is made; that He is the One from Whom and through Whom are all things. His holiness is also here revealed in His set apartness, His separateness from all that He made. That God was before creation means that God is totally other than His creation, having existed before creation.
Add the next few words to learn something of God’s incomprehensible perfection of power: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Did you know that light travels almost 6 trillion miles a year and that our galaxy, The Milky Way, is about 100,000 light-years in diameter (or some 587,000 trillion miles across)? And did you know that The Milky Way is but one of about a million galaxies scientists are able to see with the most powerful telescopes ever made? “I, the Lord, am the Maker of all things,” He says. “Stretching out the heavens by Myself” (Isaiah 44:24). The whole universe testifies to the awesome, fearful excellent perfections of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who not only made all things, but upholds all things by the word of His power! Incidentally, it is instructive for us to take note that it is not the purpose of the church to force others to believe these things. Whether or not the perfections of God are cherished or even accepted is not our business. Our business is the faithful and accurate declaration and proclamation of God’s excellencies, not ensuring the reception of those excellencies.
But we make such declarations because God is a God of truth. He does not lie. His word is absolute. He is a God who has spoken. He does not change. With Him there is no shifting shadow. He is immutable. Neither is God capricious but is impassable. That is, he is not given to mood swings. As a thrice holy God He is a God of justice and wrath, a God who has shown and who even now displays His own righteousness and holiness in various judgments upon men and has demonstrated His righteousness at Calvary upon His Son. This is the purpose of the church! In a word, it is to publish the glory and splendour of God. It is to show forth God in all His power and sovereignty and in all His kindness and severity. It is to sing with our entire being “Who is like Thee among the gods, O Lord? Who is like Thee, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders” (Ex. xv.11; NASB)? Anything less than this is not our purpose. It is not our purpose to come up with new and creative ways to make the pill of truth of Christ easier for the postmodern man to swallow. Neither is the church to be in the business of structural engineering, as if the structure in which it meets means anything to God. Not that the structure is unimportant; it has its place. But building the church has nothing to do with hammers and saws.
One might rightfully ask why the apostle says this at this point. Again, be mindful of those to whom he writes. Rather, be mindful of the situation into which he writes. He writes to those who were suffering for the sake of righteousness. As an elder among elders, a shepherd of the sheep, a pastor among pastors, Peter writes to those who were maligned for their stand as Christians, to those who were harshly treated, suffering for doing what is right according to the written and revealed will of God. He says to them ‘You are who you are, you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession so that you declare and proclaim the glorious excellencies of God.’ In light of the frowning providence in which they found themselves, is it not possible that those to whom he writes were at least a wee bit tempted to shrink back from such a purpose? When ridicule, hardship, and opposition mount against us, do we not at least toy with the idea of sanding down and smoothing the so-called rough edges of God, perhaps even to the point where He is rendered toothless with no real bite? It’s far easier to make God less glorious and proclaim a far less excellent god by making Him more like us, is it not? Less holy to tolerate sin. Less sovereign to allow for ‘free will.’ More loving to make Him less severe. More friendly and less powerful to remove all that makes Him fearful.
When the excellencies & perfections of God are shown forth both in our talk and our walk, even and especially at the cost of much persecution, He is seen by the world as a most glorious and most treasured God. God is glorified through us when we not only speak of His perfections with our lips, but also suffer for Him with our lives. As Alexander Nisbet put it, believers proclaim His perfections
by their hazarding upon affliction rather than sin; demonstrating His terror to be above the terror of the flesh; and by their patience and cheerfulness under crosses and trials, proclaiming to discerning beholders that His power is great that sustains them, and His consolations sweet that do refresh their hearts under afflictions and make up the bitterness of them – all this is here set down as the end [or purpose] of all the fore-mentioned privileges…
Here is both a sweet and sobering thought: When believers suffer on account of and for Christ, the purpose of the church is accomplished. No scheme of man or power of hell can ever thwart God’s wonderful plan and purpose for His own glory. There is glory in suffering. God is glorified in us when we suffer for Christ.
That was point number one, the purpose of the church. Point number two is that only the church as the true, spiritual Israel is able and will so publish the excellencies of God. Why? Because only the church, the true Israel, has been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. Verse 9 again, collapsed version:
But you are a chosen race…a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
There are several things I want you to notice here, the first thing being that out of which and to which those to whom Peter writes were called. They were called “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” They were not called out of Egypt into Canaan. This is not a mere change of address. The calling here was not from one country to another country. This is a calling not out of Egypt but out of darkness. In other words, this was no mere calling from a geographical location, but out of [from] a spiritual condition. [From darkness to light] Peter thus provides us with another reason why the nation of Israel is not the same as and ought not be viewed as the church.
A quick survey of Scripture sheds much light on what this darkness is. Darkness is that in which men live. Isaiah 9:2 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Matthew 4:15, 16 – “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordon, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light…” In John 3:19, Jesus speaks of darkness as the affection of men’s hearts: “…this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” Acts 26:18 is highly instructive, linking darkness to the power of the devil. It says: “to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God…” Romans 2:19 speaks of darkness as spiritual blindness. It says: “…if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness.” Romans 13:12 exhorts the church to “lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.” Second Corinthians equates darkness with lawlessness. Ephesians 5:8 is more astonishing. Paul there says to the Ephesian church “for you were formerly darkness,” darkness here describing the people themselves. And then there’s Colossians 1:13 which says “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Here darkness is a domain, an authority and power that governs and rules in such a way that all it commands must be obeyed by those under it. And all that darkness commands is darkness itself, i.e. deeds of lawlessness, sin. Here lies the spiritual condition of every man, woman, and child born in every nation upon the earth. They are born as you and I were born spiritually blind, spiritually dead, not free but bound, and happily bound to the commands and dictates of lord darkness, and thus children of wrath by physical generation [i.e. birth].
That is what the church is called out of. It is called, however, into God’s marvelous light. Two texts of Scripture: First text is 2 Corinthians 6:14. “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” The structure of this verse suggests that lawlessness is darkness // and light is righteousness, or godliness or godly obedience, the opposite of lawlessness. Light is righteousness. It is that for which these elect pilgrims to whom Peter writes are suffering.
Second text is big. 2 Corinthians 4:6 – “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This is what the church has been called into. It has been called into the marvelous light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! This knowledge is not merely a knowledge about the glory of God in the face of Christ. It is not merely holding the right doctrine about the glory of God in the face of Christ, though right doctrine is absolutely indispensable. This knowledge is an experiential, experimental knowledge. It is to see and taste and savor and cherish and love and be awestruck by, overwhelmed with, and transformed by the glory of God in Christ Jesus and even the glory of that into which angels long to look, i.e. the gospel of the glory of Christ, His suffering and His exaltation, the gospel of sovereign grace. Not grace only, but sovereign grace. Sovereign grace because sovereign grace is the gospel. Sovereign grace because sovereign grace is a victorious, triumphant grace. Sovereign grace because sovereign grace actually accomplishes and achieves and effects its desired ends, i.e. the calling out of and accomplished deliverance from the powerful, authoritative domain of darkness to his marvelous light. It is no small matter to observe the fact that those who were so called were no longer in darkness. The fact that they were ‘in light’ attests to the undeniable reality that this calling was no mere invitation, unable to achieve its desired aim. No. This was a calling that was effective, effective because it was the calling of that triumphant, victorious, powerful, hope-producing, life-giving grace which is sovereign, able to loose the chains of the one bound in the prison cell of lord darkness. Does this describe you? Are you awestruck by, overwhelmed with, and being transformed by the glory of God in the face of Christ? Or do you love darkness? Do you even know that you love darkness in your blindness? Do you even see the excellencies of God? Do you see the glory, and the glories, of Christ? Do you savor them? Or are you playing church? If so, it’s high time you quit. Stop deceiving yourself. Choose this day whom you will serve, darkness or light! The church is not yours to gratify your hopes and satisfy your needs. She is not your possession to sing your praises. She is God’s to sing His! But where? Where and when and to whom?
In Hebrews 2.12, the inspired author ascribes these words from Psalm 22.22 to Jesus- “I WILL PROCLAIM THY NAME TO MY BRETHREN, IN THE MIDST OF THE CONGREGATION I WILL SING THY PRAISE.” First and foremost, front and center, the church exists to proclaim and sing the perfections of God to God with God’s people! THAT is why the church exists. THAT is what the church is for! Is that enough for you? Do you understand this? And do you understand Heaven is chock full of this very thing? From beginning to end, the book of Revelation is replete with the praises of Him who sits upon the Throne! So, why, o sinner, why do you think you have a place reserved in heaven amongst God’s people there if you have no interest in the church here? I tell you, you do not. I appeal to you; you must change your mind. Get a new heart! Today, if you hear His voice, make it right. The church is Christ’s bride. Don’t use her. Respect her. She isn’t yours. She belongs to God. She’s His, called to make much of Him. So, let’s make much of Him.
 John G. Reisinger, Abraham’s Four Seeds: A Biblical Examination of the Presuppositions of Covenant Theology & Dispensationalism (New Covenant Media, 1998), 116.
 Dr. Morton Smith, The Church and Covenant Theology, available at http://www.apuritansmind.com/Baptism/SmithMortonCovenantTheology.htm
 Reisinger, p. 19.
 From John Piper, Let The Nations be Glad, 13.
 Alexander Nisbet, 1 Peter (Banner of Truth), 81.