But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY (1 Pt 2.9-10).
We could hardly find a better text to describe the church than 1 Pt 2.9-10. Peter piled up some of the most pregnant Old Testament terms to explain who the church is (“you are”) and what she does (“so that”). And a timely word it was.
He wrote to a people who worshiped a King they’d never seen (1.8), wouldn’t retaliate against their enemies (2.13-25), who valued women equally as men (3.1-7), who received suffering as God’s blessing (3.8-9), and who weren’t in the least bit “fun” (4.1-6). They rejoiced in weakness while governing themselves in humility and love.
They also considered themselves part of an eternal kingdom (2 Pt 1.11) invested with God’s power (1 Pt 1.5; 2 Pt 1.3, 16).
Kingdom? What possibly gave the impression they were part of a powerful kingdom? They had no army but talked about weapons. They had no wealth but talked about having riches. They were weak but talked about their strength. They had no capital or throne but praised their King. They had no visible god but talked about a temple. They had no priests but talked about sacrifices. Their God called them to suffer rather than ease.
The church may have been many things, but a divine “kingdom” would not have been the last word to describe them. How could they talk about eternal glory when there was little-to-no apparent glory among them? If the church is God’s glorious institution then he has a strange way of showing it.
To a people largely irrelevant, overlooked, lampooned, disregarded, anemic and unimpressive comes Peter’s word of encouragement. In contrast to the stumbling world (1 Pt 2.8) the divine “but” (v9) resounded to distinguish God’s people from all other people. Like her Jesus, the church may not look like much now; but just you wait (Col 3.4).
Peter used Old Testament terms once describing national Israel to now apply to the new covenant church. The church is what old covenant Israel would never be. Jesus is the true Israel and therefore all those united to him constitute the new covenant people of God. While the old covenant provided us the categories of redemption, atonement, mediation, obedience, grace, judgment and salvation, Jesus would be the one to fulfill all of them and forever define God’s covenant family.
To a people who gladly looked like the most “unchosen” sort of people, Peter announced that the church is “a chosen race.” That is a way of saying the church would have never existed or continue to exist unless God chose to create and sustain her. There would be no believers in Jesus and therefore no “people” unless God chose to have both.
Peter could have alluded to a number of texts but he was particularly interested in Deuteronomy 7.6-8:
“For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which he swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
Israel was no more likely to be chose by God than any other nation on the planet. In fact, there was no such thing as Israel until God chose a polytheistic pagan from Ur to be the father of the nation. God created Israel out of thin air.
What God did with Israel in the Exodus was a preview of what God would do with the church in Christ. As the fulfillment of true Israel, the church is no more likely to exist than Israel was apart from God’s will. There are no Christians or church unless the Father first gives Jesus a people who will most certainly come to him.
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out (Jn 6.37).
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6.37, 44).
God would not stake his name and glory on a roll of the cosmic dice, hoping he rolls a seven and somebody believes. We know this as Christians. Why in the world am I a Christian? Is it not because God invaded my rebellion, changed my heart and made me a Christian by granting repentance and faith in Jesus? He doesn’t do that with/to everyone. We will join the sacred throng to spend eternity basking in the peculiarity, eternality and inexhaustibility of his love for the likes of you and me.
Peter says as much in v10, where he quoted from Hosea 1.10; 2.23. He used the story of Hosea to illustrate how it is the church is a chosen people. Hosea pursued his adulterous wife to the red-light district, redeemed her, brought her home and purified her “’til death do we part.” That is what God has done with all who are Christians and part of his Bride. He chose us.
This makes many uncomfortable. In world where everyone should get a trophy, we find it discriminating that God would have a chosen people. That necessarily requires there be those who are unchosen and God would not be so unfair.
However, that God chooses a people for himself makes those uncomfortable who think everyone is worth being chosen. How dare God not choose anyone who is obviously fit for his kingdom? And by “anyone” we, of course, mean ourselves and our children.
But, if Dt 7.6-8 was not enough, we should remind ourselves again who exactly it is God chooses:
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom 3.10-12).
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6).
“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom 5.8-10).
“. . . the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1.28-29).
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest” (Eph 2.1-3).
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive together with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Col 2.13).
These are the sorts of folks God chose. If you want to populate a invincible, universe-filling, awe-inspiring kingdom you don’t do with it people like us: godless, goodless, useless, helpless, sinners, enemies, dead, wrathful. God chose to make a people for himself not just out of runts and rascals, but out of downright enemies who would otherwise remain dead in their sins.
None of us are just as good as the next guy. All of us are as bad as the next guy. And when you know you’re the worst player in the backyard you don’t protest when the captain picks you first. You rejoice. You don’t whine about his unfairness. You worship.
When you join the local church you don’t join a mailing list or Facebook page. You join former enemies of God who, from eternity past, were loved by God and saved in Jesus Christ. People, well, like you.
God has not chosen any other people to be his people. Not Americans. Not Microsoft (or Apple, believe it or not). Not the Tea Party or astronauts or vegans or white folk. And definitely not Cubs fans. There is only one chosen race and it is the church of the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before him” (Eph 1.3-4).