STUDY EIGHT: 1PETER 2:9-12 – A PEOPLE BELONGING TO GOD

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

A. ISRAEL – GOD’S HOLY NATION

In 1Peter 2:9 Peter describes Christians as:

‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.’

This is very similar to Exodus 19:5-6, where God tells the Israelites whom he has just delivered from slavery in Egypt, that this is what they have the potential to be:

‘Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’

For the Israelites this was only a possibility, conditional on their keeping the covenant [verse 5].

It had already become obvious that in those 2.3 million people there were only a few who had true faith in God.

What evidence of unbelief is seen in these texts?
Exodus 14:10-14

Exodus 15:24

Exodus 16:1-12

Exodus 17:1-7

Exodus 32:1-18

Numbers 14:6-9

Although God had worked on their behalf, overcome Pharaoh’s opposition, and brought them out of Egypt they cowered in fear as they stood on the banks of the Red Sea, as the Egyptian army came nearer and nearer. Although God brought them miraculously through the Red Sea and then destroyed the Egyptian army in that sea, they grumbled when they were thirsty, and they grumbled when they were hungry, despising their recent deliverance by God’s almighty hand.

In both of these they would, they said, rather be back in Egypt, they would rather be slaves.

Then before long, it became even more obvious:

Although God, in the plagues of Egypt had demonstrated the powerlessness of the gods of Egypt, yet the people yearned for gods they could see, and so made for themselves gods made of gold and worshipped them, praising these man-made gods for their deliverance from Egypt.

And later again, only Caleb and Joshua believed God and were ready to enter the promised land.

In all of this the nation as a whole demonstrated that they did not believe in the one true God. Their hearts and minds did not align with God and with the covenant. And this failure remained throughout their history. While the nation was always God’s chosen nation through whom he revealed his saving purpose, and out of whom the Messiah came, there were always only a small number within the nation who had genuine, saving faith in God.

 

B. THE NEW TESTAMENT PEOPLE OF GOD

And this raises the question: how can Peter say with such confidence that his readers are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’? How can he be so confident, when all God could say of the Israelites was ‘If ...’ - ‘If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession ... a kingdom of priests, a holy nation’.

Peter’s confident affirmation is not based on human ability to remain faithful but on God’s ability to save and keep saved. We have already seen that

Peter is writing to people who:

Have been sanctified (set apart for God) by the Holy Spirit [1:2].
Have been sprinkled (cleansed from guilt) by the blood of Christ [1:2].
Have been given new birth through the resurrection of Christ [1:3].
Have a salvation that is imperishable and secure, guarded by God [1:4].
And are themselves shielded by God’s power [1:5].

Peter’s certainty about the genuineness and endurance of real Christian faith is grounded solely in the truth that God is at work. If a person really believes in Jesus Christ, that faith has its origin in God and that faith will remain. If it does not remain it did not have its origin in God.

How do these texts express the same kind of certainty of salvation?
John 6:37

John 10:27-29

Romans 8:1, 31-39

Philippians 1:6

2Timothy 1:12

Revelation 1:5,6

Revelation 5:9,10

All of these verses affirm a certainty similar to that expressed by Peter. This certainty depends not on the worthiness of the believer but on the worthiness of Jesus Christ. Because Christ is who he is and has done what he did, those who truly believe in him are now, and always will be, a chosen people, a holy nation, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God.

 

C. OUR NEW IDENTITY

In these descriptions of those who believe in Christ, Peter is referring to the Church corporately. The true Church (the sum total of all who genuinely believe in Jesus Christ) now owns the identity which was promised to the nation of Israel conditional on their believing in the Almighty God. Each aspect of this new identity is mutually synergistic. Each one aspect implies all other aspects.

C.1 A chosen people
Those who have believed in Jesus Christ and have through faith been united to him are called ‘a chosen people’. Chosen by God. Chosen for God. Chosen for a purpose. Please revisit Study 1 for a detailed discussion of this concept.

C.2 A royal priesthood
Or, as Peter has expressed it in 2:5 – ‘a holy priesthood’; or, as expressed in Revelation 1:6 ‘a kingdom and priests’. The key thought is that of priesthood.

Check these Old Testament statements about the role and functions of priests. Suggest in what way and to what extent these are true of those whom Peter calls ‘a holy priesthood’ and ‘a royal priesthood’. [Also indicate those that are true, not of believers, but only of Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest.]

[1] The priests were set apart to serve God – Exodus 28:1

 

[2] To serve God they had to wear sacred garments – Exodus 28:3-5

 

[3] They filled an essential role in the offering of sacrifices of atonement – Leviticus Ch.1; Ch 4-7

 

[4] The high priest carried the names of the tribes of Israel on his shoulders, before the LORD – Exodus 28:9-12

 

[5] Similarly, he carried these names over his heart before the LORD – Exodus 28:22-31

 

[6] The high priest wore a seal engraved with ‘Holy to the LORD’ – Exodus 28:36

 

[7] The high priest bore the guilt of the Israelites – Exodus 28:38

 

The function of the Old Testament priesthood was to mediate between a sinful people and God. This was true of all the priests in their daily roles and responsibilities in the Tabernacle, and of the High Priest in the specific role he fulfilled on the Day of Atonement. Only he was permitted to enter the Most Holy Place, only one this one day every year, and having first prepared himself according to strict ritual instructions.

It is clear that Jesus Christ is the reality all of these symbolised by all of these predictive rituals. Hebrews 4:14 – 10:22 repeatedly stresses this. But Peter (and John in Revelation) also teach that those who believe in Jesus Christ are ‘a priesthood’ – both a holy priesthood and a royal priesthood.

This priesthood of believers, although symbolized in the Old Testament priesthood, is distinct from that old priesthood on several counts:

C.2.1 All who believe in Christ are members of this priesthood
Every genuine believer is a member of this priesthood, in contrast to the Old Testament priests who were only from the tribe of Levi.

C.2.3 As believers in Christ we do not offer sacrifices for atonement
Christ in his substitutionary, atoning death has completely fulfilled the prophetic symbolism of the Old Testament sacrifices. He is the one, real, ultimate sacrifice. There is no more sacrifice for sin, because we possess permanent forgiveness through the death of Christ [Hebrews 10:17,18]. We do not need to offer sacrifice for our own sins; nor do we offer sacrifices on behalf of others.

The priesthood of believers serves God by ‘offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’ [1Peter 2:5]. These are never sacrifices for sin aimed at gaining forgiveness, but sacrifices of praise and obedience – gifts of love given to him who loves us, to him who alone is worthy of our praise and our obedience.

From the texts below suggest what Peter means by ‘offering spiritual sacrifices’
Psalm 51:16-17

Romans 12:1-2

Ephesians 4:1

Philippians 2:17

Philippians 4:18

An important truth:
In 2:5 Peter tells us that the spiritual sacrifices we offer to God are ‘acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’. We do not need to fear that we or our spiritual sacrifices will be rejected. There is no need to fear these sacrifices are not good enough, or not big enough, or not offered with enough love or devotion. They are acceptable, not because of what they are or what we are, but through Jesus Christ.

C.2.3 We have permanent access to the presence of God
The Levitical priesthood had only limited access to the symbolic presence of God. Only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and that only one day a year, having ensured his ritual cleanness, and having offered atoning sacrifices for his own sin [see Leviticus 16]. Entry to the symbolic presence of God was forbidden him on all other days, and was totally forbidden for all other priests. But the priesthood enjoyed by all genuine believers involves permanent and present access to the real presence of God. Never at any time are we banned from his presence.

Check these texts. How do they express this freedom to stand in God’s presence?
Ephesians 2:6

Ephesians 2:18

Hebrews 4:14-16

Hebrews 10:19-22

C.2.4 We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ
The Levitical priests were required to wear special garments whenever they entered the Tabernacle and served in the Holy Place [Exodus 28]. As those who believe in Jesus Christ we are clothed with his righteousness – permanently qualified to stand in the presence of God.

How do these references express this permanent qualification?
Isaiah 61:10

Romans 4:6

1Corinthians 1:30

Colossians 1:12

Colossians 1:22

C.3 A holy nation
To be ‘holy’ means to be set apart by God for God. Peter has already referred to this in 1:2 when he wrote of ‘the sanctifying work of the Spirit’ – that regenerating and saving action of the Holy Spirit by which he set us apart for God, by which he set us apart as God’s special possession, by which he set us apart for God’s special purpose.

These three things all refer to the same positional, salvation truth:

Holy.
Sanctified.
Set apart.

This concept of holy/sanctified/set apart is very obvious in the Old Testament where the Tabernacle, its furnishings and equipment, its priests, and even the recipe for the incense, were deemed ‘holy’ [‘sacred’ in some translations] – not because of any moral quality but solely because they were set apart for God, set apart for the use specified by him, and no longer for common use.

To check this out, study these texts:
Holy garments: Exodus 28:2,4; 29:6,29

Holy altar: Exodus 29:37

Holy oil: Exodus 30:25,31

Holy utensils: Exodus 30:26-29:

Holy incense: Exodus 30:34-38:

All of these things God declared ‘holy’. They were not holy in themselves. They were ‘holy’ by God’s decree.

This same declaration of ‘holy’ has been made about all whom God has saved through the death of his Son. By God’s decree and by God’s action those who believe in his Son are ‘holy’ – set apart, sanctified, sacred, for his special use and purpose.

 

D. A NEW PURPOSE

Over the millennia of human existence two questions that are frequently raised focus on the identity and meaning/purpose of human life:

“What is ‘human’?”
And “What are we here for?”

Regardless of our social and educational standing, from the famous and influential philosophers of ancient Greece to the unschooled people of Papuan jungles, these questions puzzle us.

Our contemporary culture, deriving its answers from secular, materialistic, naturalistic science, concludes that to be human is really nothing special: we have no purpose, we are here as a chance result of billions of unplanned, unpredictable, random changes over billions of years. And if life survives on this planet for enough years we too will have evolved into something different.

But the Bible gives completely different answers to our questions:

To be human is to be created by God in his image.
To be created in his image is to be created to reflect his glory.

There is no randomness or meaninglessness here. Rather, there is divine intention here – a deliberate, divine decision to create a specific being with specific qualities and characteristics in and through which the divine glory can be seen. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that. This creation in the image of God endows ‘human’ with identity and purpose – a glorious identity and a glorious purpose.

But this identity and this purpose are only possible when we are in a right relationship with God. That relationship was present in Genesis 1 and 2. But in Genesis 3 it was severed. When we, in our ancestors Adam and Eve, rejected dependence on God and grasped for autonomy, we also robbed ourselves of our God-given identity and purpose. With our backs to God we could no longer image God. From Genesis 3 onwards we have been what the Bible calls ‘lost’ – not knowing who we are or what we are, not knowing who we belong to, and not knowing what we are here for.

Then Jesus came. Jesus, the image of God. Jesus, the one who could say ‘I have brought you glory on earth’ [John 17:4]. Jesus, through whom we are reconciled to God and our relationship with God restored [2Corinthians 5:19]. Jesus, who by his Spirit is gradually transforming us, restoring us into the image, restoring us to glory [2Corinthians 3:18].

Read these texts. How do they define our human purpose?
Isaiah 43:7

Colossians 1:27

Ephesians 2:10

Matthew 5:16

1Corinthians 10:30

Now read 1Peter 2:9b. How does Peter define the Christian’s purpose?

 

When Peter wrote to his Christian readers he first told them who they were: ‘you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God’ and then he told them why – why God had saved them: ‘that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ [2:9]. And he repeated this purpose a few verses later: ‘live such good lives among the pagans that ... they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ [2:12].

This is the Christian mandate: that we were created, and re-created, to glorify God.

God saved us – to the praise of his glorious grace [Ephesians 1:6].
God saved us – so that we might be for the praise of his glory [Ephesians 1:12].
God saved us – to the praise of his glory [Ephesians 1:14].

The responsibility is great, but it is also glorious.

 

E. THE CONTRAST

In Peter’s understanding, as in Paul’s, once a person has been united to Christ by faith, it’s a whole new world. Nothing can ever be the same again. To be reunited to God is to have not only a new life-giving relationship with God but also a new outlook on life and meaning. In the words of the Old Testament prophets, it is to have a new heart, a new spirit, and a new mind:

Read these texts. Describe the change wrought by God when a person is saved.
Ezekiel 36:26
Jeremiah 31:33

Now read these verses from 1Peter. Describe the strong contrasts that Peter identifies between our identity as believers and our identity before we became believers.
1:1; 2:11

1:2,18,19; 2:9,10

1:8,21; 1:2

1:2; 2:24

1:3, 13

2:9,10

1:3; 2:10

2:9

2:25

Once we identified with the unbelieving world: now we are strangers in the world [1Peter 1:1; 2:11].

Once we did not belong to God: now we have been purchased and set apart by God as his special and treasured possession [1:2,18,19; 2:9,10].

Once we were among those who rejected Christ: now we have believed in him [1:8,21] and acknowledged him as our Lord [1:2].

Once our sin and guilt was held against us: now we have been sprinkled by his blood, our sin and guilt borne by Christ [1:2; 2:24].

Once we were without hope: now we have a living hope through the resurrection of Christ [1:3, 13].

Once we were not a people: now we are a chosen people, the people of God [2:9,10].

Once we had not received mercy: now we are the recipients of God’s great mercy [1:3; 2:10].

Once we were in spiritual darkness: now we live in God’s wonderful light [2:9].

Once we were like sheep, going astray: now we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls [2:25].

Along with this radical new identity and radical new relationship with God, we who believe in Jesus Christ also have a new reason for living and a new perspective on life. Our new relationship with God means that God is now at the centre of our lives. We need no longer be self-focused, self-centred, self-serving. We now know that all that we are and have is from God. God has supplied in Christ everything we need to secure permanent acceptance in his presence. We no longer need to trust ourselves, to depend on ourselves, to seek to establish our own merit. We no longer need to be forever worried whether or not we are good enough, or praying enough, or serving enough. We no longer need to work to gain or maintain our relationship with God.

Because we now trust in God, not in ourselves.

Everything we are and have is from his mercy. All of this amazing salvation of which the New Testament speaks. All of this incredibly secure and permanent relationship with God in and through Christ. It is all, completely, sheer grace, sheer gift. It is all from God. It is all ours in Christ.

Because of this we can live for him freely without any thought of merit or gain, but simply because he is our great, loving and merciful God, worthy of our praise, worthy of our love, worthy of our trust, worthy of our obedience.

As Peter says ‘your faith and hope are in God’ [1:21].

And in this trust there is another contrast:

Once we were burdened by a fearful awareness of our own inability and failure to gain God’s approval: but now we are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because our salvation both now and in the future is secure, absolutely secure [1:3-6,8,9].

 

F. LIVING OUT THIS NEW IDENTITY

In 2:11,12 Peter encourages us to live out the reality of this amazing new identity that we have by God’s mercy been given.

Read 2:11,12. Answer these questions:
[1] What does Peter say that distinguishes us from the world and its values?

 

[2] What does he command us to abstain from?

[3] Why?

[4] How does he describe the potential impact of Christians living good lives?

[5] How does this connect with Section D above (commenting on 2:9b)?