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Knowing Who You Are

1 Peter 2:9-10

Bryan Craddock – June 23, 2024

Peter presents six truths about born-again believers to help us know who we are. We are: (1) united by God’s choice; (2) ruled by his presence; (3) identified by his holiness; (4) purchased for his service; (5) commissioned by his light; and (6) reconciled by his mercy. This sermon is part 11 of “A Fisherman’s Hope,” Bryan Craddock’s series on 1 Peter 1:1-2:10. 

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It’s a common storyline. Someone hits their head and loses all memory of who they are. Real amnesia does not work that way, but the fictional version still captivates our imagination. What would it be like to forget all the things that shape your identity? Would instinct guide you to become the same kind of person? Or would you become someone entirely different?

It seems to me that Christians often suffer from spiritual amnesia. We forget the truth about who we have become in Christ. Thus far in our study of 1 Peter we have learned that we have been born again through the resurrection of Christ to a life of hope, holiness, love, and honor. But when we forget this powerful change, the sinful instincts of the old life take over. We become someone very different from who God designed us to be.

So, in 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter presents six truths about born again believers to help us know who we are. He says,

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.

This powerful passage is the finale to the opening section of Peter’s letter. In verse 11, he will move on to explain how his readers should respond to various types of opposition. The ideas here in verses 9 and 10 sum up what he has already said and lay a foundation for where he is headed. They are all drawn from the Old Testament, where they were used to speak of Israel. So, their application to the New Testament church requires careful consideration. But understanding them equips us to fulfill God’s purpose and plan.

United by God’s Choice

Olive trees can live for hundreds of years. One in Lebanon is thought to be over 1,000 years old. But sometimes an old tree with strong roots stops bearing fruit. One solution is to graft in shoots from other trees that are of a different variety. This process can result in a new hybrid that is more resilient.

When Peter speaks of New Testament believers in 1 Peter 2:9 as a “chosen race,” he has something like this in mind. To our ears the expression may sound like something from the detestable assertions of racial superiority that have spawned hatred and hostility throughout history. But Peter is saying the exact opposite. As a chosen race, people from all sorts of racial and cultural backgrounds are brought together as one, united by God’s choice.

Instead of “race,” some translations say “generation.” But we associate a generation with a given time, and that is not the idea here. Others use the word “people.” But there is a different Greek word for people that Peter uses later in the verse. “Family” or “offspring” is closer to the meaning. But the Greek term that Peter uses pictures an entire family tree.

In the Old Testament, God chose the offspring of Jacob, the Jewish race. In fact, Peter almost certainly drew the phrase “chosen race” from the Greek translation of Isaiah 43:20. We will look at that passage in a moment. Isaiah spoke of the Jews as a chosen race, but Peter sees born-again believers as having been incorporated into the same lineage.

Paul uses the agricultural practice of grafting to explain this relationship. In Romans 11:17-18, he writes,

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.

So, as the keeper of the family tree, God has chosen to graft in believers who are not of Jewish descent and to cut off unbelieving Jews. As Paul says, that should lead those of us who are grafted in to be humble. We should be grateful for the honor of sharing in God’s promises through faith in Christ. We should recognize that God wants to bring people from every race into the family, and we should welcome them and embrace them no matter what their background may be. We are united by God’s choice.

Ruled by God’s Presence

Numbers 1:46 reports that after the Exodus there were 603,550 men aged twenty and older among the people of Israel. With women and children added in, they had a massive encampment. Each of the twelve tribes had their own location. But at the center of that huge sea of people was the Tabernacle, and in the innermost chamber of the Tabernacle, the glorious presence of God was manifest.

Aaron and his sons were chosen to enter the Tabernacle as priests. But in Exodus 19:6, the Lord referred to the entire camp as a kingdom of priests. They had a special relationship with God that other people did not. He was present, ruling over them as their judge, lawgiver, and king. Moses emphasized this incredible privilege in Deuteronomy 4:7-8, by saying,

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses the same title, kingdom of priests or royal priesthood, to describe who we become through faith in Christ. As he said in verse 5, we are being built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood. Through Christ’s atoning sacrifice we can draw near and offer spiritual sacrifices that express our thanksgiving and devotion. By describing born-again believers as a kingdom, however, Peter shifts his focus to God’s reign. Like Israel, we are ruled by his presence but in a better way.

One of the problems in the Old Testament was that God’s reign was external. He was present in the Tabernacle, and he revealed his Law to guide people, but these things did not change their hearts. So, the prophets foretold the coming of a New Covenant in which the Spirit would dwell within God’s people. This new ministry of the Spirit began on the Day of Pentecost.

Paul compares the old covenant with the new in 2 Corinthians 3. He says that as glorious as the Law is, people’s hearts were veiled to it. But the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives changes that. In verse 18, Paul says,

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

When Jesus returns, he will reign over the entire world. But until then his rule is expressed in the lives of those who walk by the Spirit. We live under earthly governments, and Peter has more to say about that later in chapter 2. But we are called to represent our king by displaying the glory of his rule in our lives. We are a royal priesthood.

Identified by God’s Holiness

Most of us probably identify nations as territories on a map. They are marked with clear borders and bright contrasting colors. They typically have a government and a flag. They even show up in the parade of nations at the Olympic Games. So, we expect everyone who lives in that space to be a part of that nation. But that’s not necessarily how people identify themselves.

History shows that borders shift and move. People also migrate. So, national identity has more to do with culture than location. That understanding helps us grasp what Peter means when he refers to born-again believers as “a holy nation.” We should be identified by God’s holiness.

Here again, the title “holy nation” in 1 Peter 2:9 comes from Exodus 19:6. At that point, the people of Israel were a group of escaped slaves in the wilderness. They lacked many of the things that we associate with national identity. They had no territory and there was no government. That would all come to them later, but the Lord began by giving them his Law.

Obedience to his commands was supposed to define their national identity. It would set them apart from every other nation on earth. So, as Moses prepared the next generation after the Exodus to enter the land, Deuteronomy 28:9-10 tells us that he said,

The LORD will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in his ways. And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you.

In what sense, then, are believers in Christ a “holy nation”? The New Testament does not associate the church with a particular territory or command it to seek governmental authority in the world. We find instances of people attempting to do both throughout history, but Matthew 28:19-20 tells us that Jesus said,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Christ’s followers are called to reach out within every nation on earth. We should proclaim the gospel so that people can be saved. Those who respond in repentance and faith should then be baptized and should learn to obey the Lord. Of course, they can only do so because of the Spirit’s work in their lives as we saw a moment ago.

This spiritual transformation should set them apart within their nation, so that they develop a distinct identity. So, in his letter, Peter refers to Christians as part of a holy nation that is scattered throughout the world as sojourners and exiles waiting for the return of our king. We should be identified by God’s holiness.

Purchased for God’s Service

Thirty silver shekels was the price of a slave. At least, according to Exodus 21:32, a slave’s master was supposed to be given that amount if the slave died in an accident. I cannot help but wonder what the people of Israel thought about that value. They themselves had been slaves in Egypt just a few weeks earlier.

Of course, the Lord did not compensate the Egyptians when he set his people free. The Egyptians didn’t deserve it! They had exploited and abused the Israelites. In fact, the Lord made the Egyptians pay as they suffered through the ten plagues. Nevertheless, the Lord still used the terminology of ownership in relation to his people. They were purchased for his service. In Exodus 19:5, he tells them, “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…”

The Lord is the true owner of everything because he created it all. Everyone belongs to him, but the people of Israel became his treasured possession. He invested in them and had expectations of them. He related to them more as sons than slaves. Even when they strayed far from him, he still thought of them this way. Malachi 3:17 looks to the future and says,

They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter applies the same expression to New Testament believers. We are “a people for his own possession.” In fact, Peter’s exact wording in Greek is closer to the Greek translation of Malachi 3:17 than it is to the translation of Exodus 19:5. Perhaps he saw the church as a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy.

So, what did God pay to purchase us? Thirty shekels of silver was the price that Judas was paid for betraying Jesus, but the life of Jesus was worth infinitely more. Back in verse 17 of chapter 1, Peter talked about how precious his blood is. He gave himself and shed his blood to pay the price that would set us free from our slavery to sin and death.

Shouldn’t we devote ourselves to serving Christ then? Paul makes this point in Titus 2:14 by speaking of Jesus as our Savior, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Do we live as his possession? Are we zealous for good works? Don’t forget that we were purchased for God’s service.

Commissioned by God’s Light

You can be surrounded by spectacular beauty in creation. But on a dark, cloudy night you would be completely oblivious to it. It is not until the sun rises and the clouds part that you see what you have been missing. Once you do, you feel as if you cannot keep it to yourself. You are compelled to share it with someone.

Peter presents a similar idea in relation to the glory of God. We are commissioned by God’s light. In 1 Peter 2:9 he says,

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.

When the glory of God appeared to the people of Israel during the Exodus, they saw light, a great fiery cloud. But their experience was not described in the terms that Peter uses here. This imagery comes from Isaiah. In verse 2 of chapter 9, he says that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Then in chapter 42, we learn that the Lord’s Servant carries out this work. In verses 6 and 7, the Lord says to him,

I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

Our natural condition is one of spiritual blindness. But just as Jesus healed men who were physically blind, so he can open the eyes of our hearts. John 8:12 tells us that he declared himself the light of the world. Those who follow him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. In 2 Corinthians 4:6, Paul says that when God shines in our hearts we are given the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Peter links this experience to proclamation. This was the Lord’s intent for Israel as well, but they often strayed from this purpose. They failed to glorify the Lord and turned to false gods instead. The Lord raised up the prophets to confront them, but Isaiah 43:19-21 gives them hope that all creation would one day respond to the glory of God. The prophet says,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. 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.

Peter seems to have drawn upon this passage in speaking of a chosen race formed for proclamation. That response seems even more fitting for those whose eyes are opened through Jesus Christ. Once we have witnessed God’s marvelous light, we should speak of it. We should tell others who cannot see it yet.

We should declare his praises, his excellencies, his virtues, his attributes. This is why born-again believers are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession. It’s all about his glory. Are we fulfilling our mission, declaring his glory, and shining his light?

Reconciled by God’s Mercy

The Prophet Hosea opens the book that bears his name by saying that the Lord commanded him to take a “wife of whoredom.” This action would demonstrate how God felt about his covenant relationship with Israel as they forgot him and worshiped idols instead. So, Hosea marries a woman named Gomer, and they have three children. But she returns to her immoral behavior.

Hosea and Gomer’s children were wrapped up in this painful object lesson too. Their daughter was named Lo-Ruhammah which means, “No mercy.” Their youngest son was named Lo-Ammi which means, “Not my people.” These children served as signs that God would show no mercy as he brought judgment upon the kingdom of Israel. They would not be his people.

But the Lord calls Hosea to keep loving Gomer. He goes and buys her back, perhaps from some sort of slave market, and the Lord pursues Israel in the same way.  They would be reconciled to him by his mercy. In the second part of Hosea 2:23 he says, “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 alludes to this story in 1 Peter 2:10 by paraphrasing that verse. Back in verse 3 of chapter 1, he said that God caused us to be born again according to his great mercy.  We must not forget that we do not deserve the blessings and honors of salvation–being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession to proclaim his excellencies. We are only reconciled by God’s mercy. Peter says, “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.”

So, we should be humble. We should not take God’s mercy for granted. We should recognize that we are still tempted to be unfaithful to the Lord through the worship of idols, though perhaps not in the religious sense that Israel was. In Colossians 3:5, Paul tells us, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”

Every sin is tantamount to idolatry because it exalts our desires above God’s will. Don’t be unfaithful to the Lord. Since he has reconciled us to himself by his mercy, put aside sinful desires and love him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

__________

Do our actions reflect who we are in Christ? We are united by God’s choice, ruled by his presence, identified by his holiness, purchased for his service, commissioned by his light, and reconciled by his mercy.

Have you received his mercy? We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but he sent his Son to die in our place and to pay the price for our sins. Place your faith in him. Begin to follow him. If you want to learn more about God’s mercy, Romans 11 would be a good chapter to read.

If you are a believer, it might be helpful to select one of these truths for special focus. Meditate on some of the passages that we have considered and let them shape how you think about yourself. We could certainly all grow in proclaiming God’s excellencies and shining his light. May we live for him!

Reflect

Which of these truths are most familiar to you? How have they shaped your life in the past?

Which of these truths are least familiar to you? How should they shape your life moving forward?

How might these truths clear up misconceptions that unbelievers have about the church?