July 12, 2020
Steven Lee (North Campus) | 1 Peter 2:9-10
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. 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.—1 Peter 2:9–10
I remember the terrifying feeling when I thought my identity had been stolen. I had requested my free credit report, and as I opened it, I saw credit card after credit card that I had not opened. I saw car loans that did not belong to me. I saw debts that I never initiated. It had my name on it, but all the records, debts, and numbers were not mine. That terrifying feeling turned to relief when I realized that even the Social Security number was wrong. In fact, I had the credit report of a different “Steven Lee” who lived in the apartment directly next door. True story.
Identity theft is one of those things that feels so personal. Almost an attack on who we are. Why? It’s not just the unethical and illegal use of someone’s Social Security number or credit card information, but it attempts to steal our most precious and unique quality: our identity.
Our identity is so vitally important for life. In it, we find the answer to the age old question, “Who are you and why do you exist?” Knowing our identity is essential to living a life with meaning and purpose. It functions as our operating framework and the foundational circuitry of our lives.
If we don’t understand who we are, then we lack purpose and meaning. Peter understands how important it is for his readers to know without a shadow of doubt their identity, which leads to living out their purpose.
Peter has already touched on identity throughout his letter: elect exiles (1:1), born again (1:3), obedient children (1:14), newborn infants (2:2), and living stones (2:4). In our passage today, 1 Peter 2:9–10, he zooms in on the believer’s identity, contrasted with those who stumble over Jesus the cornerstone. Verse 9 indicates this contrast with “But you are a chosen race …” There are those who stumble over Jesus and who disobey the Word. In contrast to those people, you are those who do not stumble, but have believed in him, built your life upon this cornerstone, and do in fact obey the word of God.
The main point of our passage this morning is that believers have been given a new identity and purpose as God’s people who proclaim his excellencies.
So, in verses 9–10, we get five descriptions of Christian identity and one purpose. Our plan is to walk through those five descriptions, ask what does this identity produce, and then end with the purpose.
Peter begins by drawing upon language from the book of Isaiah, which recounts Israel’s deliverance from exile in Babylon as a forerunner of deliverance that Jesus would bring. The phrase “chosen race” echoes Isaiah 43. Let’s look at two passages.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God.”—Isaiah 43:2–3
“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.”—Isaiah 43:20–21
Though Israel experienced trials and suffering in the Babylonian exile—waters, rivers, fire, desert wanderings—God protects and provides for his chosen people. Peter takes that imagery, and applies it to believers because Israel is a foreshadowing of the greater deliverance that would come in the person and work of Jesus. In the same way we look back to the Exodus, or to exile, Peter says, we have a better deliverance and rescuer today in Christ. Therefore, Peter says that whatever you’re going through—waters, rivers, fire, desert wanderings—don’t forget that you are God’s chosen people.
Peter is also showing them that Christians—no matter their ethnic identity, racial identity, or regional identity—they are form one new race among humanity who are born again. All those who believe in Jesus—Jew, Gentile, Greek, Roman, Cappadocian, Bithynian or whatever else—are part of God’s new people. Not physical bloodlines but spiritual bloodlines in Christ.
Tracing one’s lineage has recently come in vogue with various companies where you get your DNA with a cheek swab and then send it in, and they trace it back to discover your ancestry, genealogy, and family tree. Or there are companies where you send in your DNA, and they’ll do genetic testing and show you what diseases you might be predisposed to or reveal any hereditary traits. That is all good and fine, but Peter is saying what is more important than your genetic material, is the spiritual family and the spiritual heritage that you now possess in Christ. You follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, King David, Jesus, and the Apostles.
In a world fractured along ethnic and racial lines, the church has an opportunity to display the unifying power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church of Jesus Christ transcends all ethnicity, race, class, and culture to establish new bonds held together by shared allegiance to Christ, composing a new Christian community.
This identity is not an individualistic identity but a corporate identity along with all of God’s people. Peter’s point is that though you’re all exiles, you are part of this singular global race united under the lordship of Christ.
Peter harks back to language from 1 Peter 2:5 where believers are living stones and holy priests who mediate God to the nations. He also echoes language from Exodus 19:5–6.
“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.”
Peter reiterates that God’s people are both royal and priestly. Israel failed to reveal God’s glory and holiness because of their disobedience. But now, in Christ, all believers embody the holiness of God as those who are set apart for his glory. For a people asking questions about their identity and calling, this would have been a stunning image. You have been consecrated and ordained by God to a role of royalty and priestly duties in service of God together with fellow believers.
The only way to become part of the royal lineage or the priestly tribe is through birthright. You have to be born into the right family. But not anymore. Gentiles, exiles, and sojourners, you too now become priests who minister in a new kingdom of great glory and whose reign will never end.
God’s kingdom of priests, now comprised of the church, mediate God’s blessings to the nations through proclaiming the gospel. We have a corporate calling to reflect God’s glory. And because we are all priests through Jesus—the Great High Priest—all believers now all have full and unfettered access to God.
In each of these descriptions of believers’ identity, there is a broadening effect. What was once true of the nation of Israel—ethnic Jews only—through birthright and was highly exclusive, has now become broad in scope. God’s people are comprised of all believers, through the blood of Jesus, from every ethnicity—no matter one’s physical bloodline—they can be grafted in through Jesus’ blood to be one new people.
Drawing upon Exodus typology, Peter shows that the church now becomes the new Israel. Israel was rescued from Egypt and God established a covenant with them at Sinai. But now, through Christ, the new Israel is under a new covenant, comprised of Jew and Gentile, to be a singular new nation. This new nation is called holy, to reflect God through their obedience and sanctification. They are set apart.
This identity of being a holy nation combats the possible accusation that Peter’s readers were hearing. It’s likely that their suffering is partly due to appearing treasonous to the culture and nation around them. Christians in Peter’s day abstained from commonly held social practices such as idol worship, offering sacrifices, gladiatorial combat, and other pagan rituals or practices. The society around them hates them because faith in Christ takes precedent over their national allegiances. Peter reminds them that their allegiance is to this new holy nation under God.
Christians today are called to be Christ-first people. Not America first, not globalization first, not capitalism first, and not security and protection first. We live to display that Christ is first. Our obedience to Christ may someday be seen as treasonous to America. This is already true of believers in places like China, Russia, North Korea, and many other nations around the world. Will you be loyal to your country or to Christ first? Peter is reminding his audience that Christians—no matter the accusation—are to have Christ and his kingdom as their first and superior allegiance.
In a sense, each of us holds dual citizenship—with one passport from our earthly country and one passport from our heavenly dwelling place. We are exiles, aliens, and sojourners on an extended stay but never forgetting where we are headed. There may be a point of crisis where we must relinquish one of our passports in allegiance to the other. Will we hand over our US passports or our Kingdom passports? Don’t forget brothers and sisters, we are true and lasting citizens of a heavenly country.
The idea here is that we are God’s special people, his possession. We belong to God. Like Israel, God’s chosen people, now applied to all believers, enjoying his presence and favor. Again there are echoes from Exodus 19:5 where he calls them “my treasured possession among all peoples.”
Remember what God says to Israel when he called them out of Egypt to be his chosen people? Let me read Deuteronomy 7:6–9.
“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.”
What is God doing here in Deuteronomy 7? He tells the Israelites their new identity—people holy to Yahweh, his chosen treasured possession, beloved by God—and tells them of his identity—God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love to those who love him. Peter now says you have that glorious and exalted place through union with Christ—now as God’s especially beloved people. Nothing is more important than know who God is and who God has called us to be in Christ. Believer, you together with all believers, are a treasured possession.
Let’s for a moment skip over the purpose clause that we see in verse 9, and we’ll come back to that. In verse 10, we get the fifth description of the identity of God’s people. This draws upon the book of Hosea, a stunning and disturbing story. The prophet Hosea was to portray and live out a parable to convey God’s judgment on the nation of Israel. Hosea marries an unfaithful wife, Gomer, and has three children who are named Jezreel, No Mercy, and Not My People. The naming of his children was commentary on Israel and the judgment God was bringing because of their unfaithfulness and idolatry.
The stunning image in the book of Hosea is that God is the faithful husband that will win back his faithless Bride, sanctify her, and restore her in righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and mercy. It is a living parable of God’s love that stoops low to save an undeserving people that have been faithless and idolatrous. In Hosea 2:23 the Lord says, “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” The rejected children of Israel will be restored through the undeserved mercy and grace of God.
For Peter’s audience of Jews and primarily Gentiles, formerly living in darkness, objects of wrath, who were to stumble over the cornerstone, God graciously and gloriously displayed his mercy to save them. They have been wondrously brought into God’s family to be recipients of mercy, objects of God’s grace, and not of his wrath. Peter already mentioned mercy in 1 Peter 1:3, saying “according to his great mercy, he has cause us to be born again to a living hope.” Our identity is as those who are God’s people and who have been shown mercy.
If these five things describe our new identity, so what? What is this new identity supposed to do? What is supposed to produce in us? Identity informs our living. Our identity produces in us attitudes in step with our new identity. Let me mention two things.
Christians should be some of the most humble people you know. We were chosen apart from anything we could do to earn God’s favor. We didn’t save ourselves. We didn’t deserve salvation. We didn’t earn our rescue. God alone saved us. There is no room for arrogance, no room for pride, no room for being judgmental of those without Christ or of those struggling. We are recipients of mercy!
Let me try to illustrate. When Stephanie and I first started dating, I took her to one of the fanciest restaurants I could afford in La Jolla. We were young college kids. So when the waiter comes by, it’s clear to me he’s a little annoyed with us, probably thinking we’re college kids who will give him a small tip (he wasn’t wrong). So for the night, his service was a bit arrogant and impatient, because we were not the typical cliental he was accustomed to. But for Christians, who serve as priests to our God, we are to possess the attitude of those who are stunned and amazed that we have these privileges. No arrogance or pride, thinking we’re better than others. Are you overwhelmed with humility that God would save you and then be willing to use us for his glory and purposes?
Christians should never outgrow stunned amazement at God’s undeserved mercy. We were not a people. We did not deserve mercy. But God showed it to us. Consider how you would have made a complete shipwreck of your life if God had not intervened, gripped your heart by grace, and arrested your affections so that you would belong to Christ. I think of all the pitfalls of this life: alcoholism, sexual sin and adultery, greed, deception, anger, seeking vengeance, oppressing others, dulling our fears and anxieties with chemicals, the relentless pursuit of power, fame, and recognition, or deep despondency, feelings of being overwhelmed, and being paralyzed with fear. I can see myself shackled by any one of them, with my life in a tailspin. But God showed his great mercy to me. God showed his great mercy to you. What does our identity produce? A humble and amazed people.
For those who have no categories of stunned amazement when it comes to Christianity or Jesus, we want to welcome you in. Come and see. There are hundreds and thousands and millions of believers across the ages who have built their entire lives upon this cornerstone. We invite you to come and see the superior satisfaction that is found in a life given over to Christ. All you have to do in come to Jesus and ask for him to show you mercy, and to surrender your own way of living. We want nothing more than for you to be called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light, filling your heart with unspeakable joy.
So I said we could come back to the purpose clause in verse 9, which reads, “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our new identity is for this purpose: the proclamation of Christ’s greatness and glory. If awe, wonder, praise, and amazement are to characterize our lives and faith, it should overflow in proclamation of Christ’s good news.
“Excellencies,” could be translated as “wonderful deeds” or “praises.” The perfections of God are to be enjoyed and declared. Our identity in Christ transforms how we speak, think, and live. We have been given a purpose: to declare and proclaim the goodness, beauty, and glory of God in Christ.
We actually saw this earlier in Isaiah 43:21 where it says, “my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” The point is to declare Yahweh’s praise through being a newly chosen people for God. This isn’t to be narrowly understood as singing songs, but an expansive image of declaring God’s greatness through praise, worship, evangelism, and spreading the good news of God’s saving work near and far.
We also get the stunning language of darkness and light, echoing creation. Paul uses this same imagery in 2 Corinthians 4:6 where God shines the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We are those who have been transferred and rescued out of deep debilitating darkness, where sin hides and evil kills, to now walking in the light of the knowledge of Christ. We dwell in this light—and someday we will bask in the light not of the sun, but of the Son, for there will be no more need for the sun.
How do you define yourself? What comes to mind first? Is it your ethnic identity, your vocational identity (engineer, factory worker, educator, stay-at-home mom/dad, student, medical worker, consultant, landscaper), age and stage of life (single, married, parent, grandparent, widow/er, retiree, teenager), national identity, political identity, or generational identity (Boomer, Gen X, Millennial)?
Christians don’t define themselves. God defines them. Christ ransoms us from futility not with perishable things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. Our rescue by Jesus is what defines us for all eternity. Our identity is obtained by being in union with Christ, united and gathered together with this one people across time and space. We do not live for ourselves, we do not define ourselves, we do not have to create our own identities, but they are gloriously given to us by Jesus. You are beloved, chosen, precious, holy, special, God’s people, and shown mercy so that we could declare his praises and proclaim his excellencies—so that many might likewise receive a new identity and purpose in Christ.
Main Point: Believers have been given a new identity and purpose as God’s people who proclaim his excellencies.
Intro Question: What you’re asked “Tell me about yourself?” how do you typically respond and what do you typically share?
Praise God for giving us a new identity as his chosen people because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross. Confess any sins of embracing a wrong and insufficient identity, rooted in ourselves, in idolatrous things, or in our own accomplishments or failures. Thank God that we have been shown undeserved and unmerited mercy in Christ. Ask God for help to declare and proclaim his excellencies to those around us in need of the Good News of Jesus.