“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Introduction

Let me borrow the words of John Calvin’s commentary on the epistle of 1 Peter 2. He wrote, “The design of Peter in this epistle is to exhort the faithful [i.e. Christians] to a denial of the world and a contempt of it, so that being freed from carnal affections and all earthly hindrances, they might with their whole soul aspire after the celestial kingdom of Christ, that being elevated by hope, supported by patience, and fortified by courage and perseverance, they might overcome all kinds of temptations, and pursue this course and practice throughout life.

“At the very beginning he proclaims the grace of God made known to us in Christ; and at the same time he adds, that it is received by faith and possessed by hope, so that the godly might raise their minds and hearts above the world. Therefore, he exhorts them to holiness, lest they should render void the price by which they were redeemed, and lest they should suffer the incorruptible seed of the word by which they had been regenerated into eternal life, to be destroyed or to die.

“And as he had said, that they had been born again by God’s Word, he makes mention of their spiritual infancy. Moreover, that their faith might not vacillate or stagger, because they saw that Christ was despised and rejected almost by the whole world. He reminds them that this was only the fulfilment of what had been written of him; that he would be the stone of stumbling. But he further teaches them that Jesus Christ would be a firm foundation to those who believe in him. Hence, he refers to the great honour to which God had raised them, that they might be animated by the contemplation of their former state, and by the perception of their present benefits, to devote themselves to a godly life.”

After that lengthy quotation that introduces and summarises the entire chapter of 1 Peter 2, let us now turn to our text (1 Pet. 2:9) and divide it into 3 distinct points which clearly show who we are in Christ Jesus; namely,

  1. Who we are (our identity)
  2. To what end
  3. Practical exhortations
  1. Who we are (our identity)

Peter is identifying Christians in our text. From the introduction it is very clear that this is who you are if you are a Christian.

First, there are four ways of describing your identity as we consider who you are.

  • You are chosen. Verse 9: You are a chosen people (race).

The Apostle Peter is describing the church—the true Israel. But the implication is individual, because this race is not racial. The chosen race is not black or white or yellow or brown. The chosen race is a new people from all the peoples–all the colours and cultures–who are now aliens and strangers in the world. See verse 11, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers…”

What gives us our identity is not colour or culture but the election of God. Christians are not the white race; they are the chosen race. Christians are not the black race; they are the chosen race. We are the black chosen and the white chosen and the yellow chosen, and the brown chosen. Out of all the races we have been chosen–one at a time, not on the basis of belonging to any group.

That is why this amazing phrase is individually crucial for you; you are part of the “chosen race” because the race is made up of individuals who were chosen–from all the races. So your first identity is that you are chosen. God chose you. Not because of your race or for any other qualification. Who am I? I am chosen. I do not know why. It was nothing in me of value above other humans. I did not earn it or merit it, or meet any conditions to get it. It happened before I was born. I stand in awe of it. I tremble with joy at it. I bow and accept it. I long to be faithful to its purpose. I am chosen.

 

  • You are a royal priest. Verse 9: “You are a…royal priesthood.” (Referring to Exodus 19:6)

You are chosen by God and are royal priests to God.

  1. The point here is that you have immediate access to God. All believers are priests and need no mediator other than Jesus Christ. You don’t need another human priest as a mediator. God himself provided the one Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. You have direct access to God, through Christ.
  2. You have an exalted, active role in God’s presence. You are not chosen just to squander away your time doing nothing. You are called now to minister in the presence of God. All your life is priestly service. The priest is one who himself had access to God and whose task was to bring others to him! You are never out of God’s presence. You are never in a neutral zone. You are always in the court of the temple. The priest also brought sacrifices. In the Old Testament, it was animals or grain; but in the New Testament it is spiritual sacrifices. We make our work an offering to him, our worship, our bodies, and our most menial tasks—our everything! And your life is either a spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1-2) or it is out of character.
  • The duties of a Priest which we are to reflect include:
  1. Holiness: A priest was to reflect Gods holiness.
  2. Intercession: A priest interceded through praying for others.
  3. Representation: A priest represented God to the world.

 

  • You are holy. Verse 9: “You are a…holy nation.

You have been chosen and pitied and possessed by God; and therefore, you are not merely part of the world any more. You are set apart for God. You exist for God. And since God is holy, you are holy. You share his character, because he chose you, and pitied you. You are holy. If you do not live and act in a holy way, you live and act out of character. You contradict your essence as a Christian. For your identity is holiness to the Lord: you are holy.

 

  • You are God’s own possession. Verse 9: “… a people belonging to God.

We are a people of his own private possession. Often, the value of a thing lies in the fact that it belonged to someone important (e.g. celebrity homes, an outfit Elvis Presley wore, a Michael Jackson jacket, etc.) They can be very ordinary things: clothes, a pen, books, furniture, but if they were owned by some great person they take on greater value. So it is with the Christian, he acquires a new value because he belongs to God!

Verse 10a says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…” You are chosen by God; God takes you to be his own possession. Now, God owns everything, so in one sense everyone is God’s possession. So this must mean something special. And, of course, it does. You are God’s inheritance. You are the ones he aims to spend eternity with. God says (in 2 Cor. 6:16), “I will be their God and they will be my people [my possession].” What he means is “I will dwell with them and walk among them.” You are chosen; you are God’s possession, the ones he will walk among and reveals himself to in a personal relationship forever.

 

  1. To what end are we “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God”?

To what end has God chosen, pitied, and possessed us? In the language of our text it is sothat you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

So, your identity and the fact of who you are leads directly to the question, “What are you here for?” Your identity leads to your destiny. D.A. Carson calls it our purpose. You are chosen, and holy, all for a purpose; to minister as priests. And the heart of that ministry Peter describes for us very clearly.

 

What is our purpose?

It is to proclaim God’s excellences (or praise). This identity is not for pride or for self-righteous snobbery. The language is drawn from Isaiah 43:20-21.Two details:

  • The sheer God-centeredness of this purpose: to make known God’s identity

Who am I? Who are you? You are a God-chosen one, a God-pitied one, a God-possessed one, and a God-sanctified one. The very language of our identity in this text necessitates that God be included as the one who acts. Our identity is not an end in itself, but for the sake of priestly service, which Peter defines as proclaiming the excellences of the one who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.

God made us who we are so that we might proclaim the excellence of his freedom in choosing us, the excellence of his grace in pitying us, the excellence of his authority and power in possessing us, and the excellence of his worth and purity in making us holy. In other words, he has given us our identity in order that his identity might be proclaimed through us. God made us who we are so we could make known who he is. The meaning of our identity is so that the excellence of God can be seen in us.

Therefore being a Christian and making the greatness of God known are almost identical. We do it in words and actions. We do it in church services with preaching and singing and praying and reading. We do it in our small groups as we go out for outreach, or we can do it at work as we tell our workmates what we love about God and why we think he is great. And we can do it in a thousand different ways of love that suit our situation and personality and station in life.

  • The sheer privilege of this purpose when we have seen what he has done—He has called us out of darkness into his wonderful light.

It is a wonderful light because we never preferred it nor did we ever deserve it. We were groping in darkness, lost, dead in sin and trespasses; so that when the light of God’s grace appeared to us, O what a difference that brought and in his light we saw light. We saw who we were and we also saw who God was. Therefore the light we must show forth to the world surely must be the light of who God is and what he is to this dying world. It is all about Jesus.

  1. Practical exhortations
  • As you come to Christ, “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). This is the central text on the great doctrine of the priesthood of every believer. There is no such thing as a Christian priesthood of just a few who are ordained to ministry. In the Old Testament, only the priests could draw near to God by offering sacrifices and incense on his altar. Only the high priest, and that only once a year, could enter the Holy of Holies to make atonement for the people. But now, Christ our great high priest has offered himself once for all as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. As believers we are now all priests. We all have direct access into God’s presence through Christ, our Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). We need not go through any human priest. We need not bring a blood sacrifice, since Christ’s offering of himself once for all is sufficient. But we offer up to God other spiritual sacrifices as priests. Notice further that the offices of royalty and priesthood were jealously separated in Israel, but Jesus, who is our king and priest, has brought them together for his people. Our text says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” What an incredible privilege New Testament believers possess in Christ! In the Old Testament, even the kings of Israel did not serve as priests, and God punished the one who tried to do so (2 Chron. 26:16-21). It is not so for New Testament believers who are of royal lineage in Christ the King of kings.
  • What are these sacrifices? Romans 12:1-2 tells us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to God. This means that everything we do must be done to God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31). In Rom. 15:16, Paul says that he was ministering as a priest of the gospel of God, that his offering of the Gentiles might become acceptable. He wanted “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles with the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit”. Thus sharing the good news of Christ is a sacrifice we can offer to God. The Philippian church took up a collection and sent it to Paul to meet his needs. He called their service “an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God” (Phil. 4:18 also Phil 2:17). Heb. 13:15-16 instructs us, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” This relates to all you do in your Christian life. Everything you do should be a thank offering to Christ. Do you work with young people, help with social activities in your communities, help at church, usher, call on or take a meal to the sick, give money, sing, pray, lead a Bible study, or counsel? Whatever you do should be done as a sacrifice to Christ. It ought to be done while asking yourself the question, “Lord, does this please you?” Your motive is not human recognition, but gratitude to the Lord.

 

References:

  1. John Calvin, commentary on 1 Peter 2
  2. Adam Clarke Commentary on 1 Peter 2
  3. Matthew Henry commentary on the Whole Bible
  4. Sermon No. 2765 by Spurgeon on 1 Peter 2:9 entitled “Marvellous Light” Delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle.
  5. Sermon by John Piper, Pastor, Bethlehem Baptist Church: “Christian identity and Christian destiny” (1 Peter 2:9-10)
  6. D.A. Carson Notes on 1 Peter 2:9-10
  7. John Gill online commentary on the whole Bible (1 Peter 2)
  8. John MacArthur Study guide; p.18