We learned last week that we are called to be living stones, imitating Jesus the living cornerstone, as we are built into a spiritual house. Jesus is the perfect cornerstone and our lives must align with him. We must be cut and molded to fit properly on the cornerstone of Jesus. In verse 9 we see Peter continue these thoughts about who we are as a people and where our identity lies.
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. (ESV)
Notice the contrast, “But you are….” This contrasts who Peter has been talking about earlier, “but for those who do not believe” and those who “disobey the word.” Those who do not believe, which is shown by not aligning our lives to Jesus the perfect cornerstone, are destined for disaster in life. They will fall on their face as Jesus has become a stone of stumbling. But that is not who we are. Peter gives five descriptions of who we are in these two verses.
A Chosen Race
All of these descriptions echo from Exodus 19:5-6. 5 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; 6 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. (ESV) As the Israelites were making preparations to receive the law at Mount Sinai, God tells Moses to say these words to the people. What we need to observe is that this language is used to describe Israel, the people of God. Let’s look in detail at each description provided for the people of God and see what we learn.
It is strange to see some commentators and scholars argue that the saved people of God is not Israel. Yet this is exactly the reason for Peter relating words that were originally applied exclusively to Israel. Peter is using the language that described what Israel was to be to the Lord and applied it to the saved, that is, the church. Christians are the chosen race. Christians are the new Israel. We are the living stones being built into the spiritual house. Being the chosen race means that we are to be a God’s community of people. This idea was established earlier by calling us living stones that are being built into the spiritual house. We are the family of God, a new community of those who God has chosen.
A Royal Priesthood
Previously Peter said that we were a holy priesthood. Now he declares us to be a royal priesthood. As Christians we know that Jesus is the king to whom we owe our complete allegiance. Jobes states, “The kingdom of God is composed of believers who must think of themselves as holy with respect to the world, set apart for purity and a purpose demanded by God. This is the priesthood that serves the King of the universe” (Baker Exegetical Commentary).
But the picture is deeper. As a collective, the people of God are a royal priesthood. We are to be teachers of God’s law to the nations. We are to be the lights to the world revealing the way to God. We are to be those who draw people to God and are not a hinderance to their acceptance of Jesus. We are set apart as a priesthood, so we are not acting like the world, but imitating Jesus. But this separation does not mean that we are not interacting with the world. Often Christians get the idea that we need to stay away from the world because of its sinfulness. But we are called to access the world, while maintaining our holiness. We interact with the world and show them the way to God, teaching God’s truths.
The idea is not just moral holiness, but that we are set apart for God. Israel was to be that holy nation, but it became like the world. Israel became indistinguishable from the surrounding nations. As Christians, as living stones, we are to be different, set apart for God. Do we look like the Israel God wants us to be or do we look like the Israel that existed in the past, blending into the world? I submit to you that we far too often are acting like the world and are being influenced and conformed to the thinking of the world. We are committing the same mistakes that the Israel of old committing by trying to blend in with the world rather than standing as light in darkness. We must look different. We must act different. We must think different. We must be different. We are to be a holy nation, not just like the nations.
God’s Special Possession
This image not only borrows from Exodus 19 but also Isaiah 43:20-21.
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; ESV)
The image shows us to be a people out of all the peoples of the earth that God claims to be his own. One of my favorite images that we are God’s possession. There is nothing more valuable that being God’s possession. Here is a great thought when we think about our identity. We are God’s and that makes us valuable. Notice that we are given a purpose: to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. Isaiah declares that when the people of God were delivered from Babylonian exile, they were to proclaim the praises and the mighty acts of God who had delivered them. As God’s special possession, we also are to proclaim the praises and the mighty acts of God to the world around us.
We need to make sure that our lives proclaim the praises and the mighty acts of God. Since we are God’s special possession we must proclaim the goodness of being God’s people. In being different and being set apart, we need to tell people what a blessing it is to live this way. It is not a weariness to be God’s special people. We want to tell people and show people that this is the good life. In fact, not acting as the people of God will cause people to stumble and fall on their face in life. But those who are God’s will not be put to shame.
God’s People Who Have Received Mercy
The final description is that we are God’s people who have received mercy. Peter says that they were once not a people, but now are a people. This has caused many to think that Peter is talking to Gentiles. Gentiles were not the chosen people of God, but now they are chosen and part of God’s family. However, if you remember the beginning of this study in 1 Peter we pointed out that Peter is writing to Jewish Christians, the elect exiles of the Dispersion. So what does Peter mean when he says that these Jewish Christians were once not a people, but now are a people?
This is a quotation from Hosea 2:23. To understand this quotation we need to look at the context of Hosea. The first 13 verses of Hosea 2 tells the nation of Israel that they are not God’s people anymore. They are full of idolatry and immorality and God was done with the people. The picture is vivid as God describes Israel’s acts as adultery and God was divorcing the people because of their unfaithfulness (2:2). Consider the chilling words of Hosea 1:9 —
And the LORD said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.” (ESV) They are not God’s people any longer. God says he would put an end to their joy and gladness (2:11) and punish them for their infidelity (2:13). Now read Hosea 2:14-23. It pictures God reconciling with his people. The imagery is that of courtship as God will woe his people and the people will answer like they did when they came out of Egypt. The blessings would return to the people. And then we come to the words that Peter quotes: “And 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.’”
Peter is saying that we, as living stones that are built into a spiritual house, are the fulfillment of this prophecy. We are God’s people. Before there was no mercy to be found. But now you have received mercy. But we learn something very important: when we are no longer acting like living stones and like a royal priesthood and a holy nation, then God has no use for us. Then we are not his people. God does not put up with us going our own way. We must be built upon the cornerstone of Jesus otherwise we are of not use. But Peter has confidence in this audience and in us that we are not that. We are the living stones and therefore we are God’s people. God was promising the restoration of his people. God was promising the restoration of his kingdom. God was promising the restoration of the relationship. God was promising the restoration of the covenant relationship with him. This promise was not simply to Jews, but to the nations, to all peoples. You are the people of God now.
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (ESV)
You are the people of God. You are not people of the world. You are God’s special possession who has obtained mercy. You are a royal priesthood. You are living stones. You are part of God’s spiritual house. You are a holy nation. We must abstain from the passions of the flesh. Don’t obey the clamor of the flesh. Do not give in to sinful desires. In short, you are God’s people — act like it! But it is a fight. In upcoming lessons we will examine what we should look like as the people of God.
- Know who you are.
- Know where your life value comes from
- Know it and live it!