A New People with a New Purpose
Passage: 1 Peter 2:9-10
Last Sunday we studied vv. 4–8, and I mentioned that vv. 9–10 are closely related. In fact, they repeat some of the same language that is used in vv. 4–5. Because of that, I’d again like to read the entire text before we study vv. 9–10 (read).
Last Sunday I referenced several times how Christianity and Christian morals are increasingly marginalized in our culture. That’s not something new. We can all see it, and it’s been incredible to observe the building momentum against biblical values in just the past few years. It’s sobering, for example, to listen to the radio and to hear a talk show host castigate you as hateful and evil. No one likes to be hated, and it’s especially frustrating when that hatred is filled with inconsistencies and logical fallacies. How do we respond? The natural response is to fight, to try and win back the culture to a so-called “Christian America” where we are the power brokers in society and are highly respected. Some of those efforts are very good. The Bible consistently teaches that Christians should work toward promoting righteousness in the culture and that we should pray for and pursue a government that allows us to “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence” as 1 Timothy 2:2 states. God wants us to be good citizens who are salt and light. But the NT doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for cultural transformation. It is very hopeful regarding the power of the gospel to change lives and to build the church, but not for widespread cultural transformation. Instead, the NT consistently sounds the kind of warnings we studied last week. Verse 7 notes that the builders or unbelieving people rejected Christ, and v. 8 says that they stumble over him and are disobedient to his gospel. It even goes so far as to say that this rejection fulfills God’s sovereign will. Peter says that most people are going to reject Christ and by implication, his disciples as well. What then are we to do? Where do we find rest in an increasingly hostile world? Peter’s original readers were asking this very question, and Peter provides an invaluable answer in our text. His answer is that Christians must rest in their communion with God and each other, and we must praise God for bringing us into this fellowship.
I’d like to unpack Peter’s answer by drawing three principles from this text. The first is…
God has called us into a special fellowship (v. 9a).
Peter is clear that this fellowship is very different from the state of unbelievers around us. The “but you” that begins v. 9 sets off what Peter is about to say regarding the universal church as being in strong contrast to what he has just said regarding the lost. Again, vv. 7–8 state that unbelievers rejected and stumble over Christ, and they do so because this is God’s sovereign will. The majority of people are far away from God, BUT you (speaking of Christians) enjoy a special fellowship with God and with each other. Peter makes this point through four phrases that are all drawn from OT references to Israel’s special relationship with God.
First, Peter describes the church as a…
Chosen Generation: This designation is used of Israel several times in the OT. The idea behind “generation” is that of a people with a common ancestry and heritage and that common heritage binds them together. We all know how we are naturally drawn toward people who share a common heritage as we do. For example, I grew up on a farm in Illinois, and so when I meet other people who grew up in a similar setting, I immediately get excited and feel a connection to them. Maybe you’ve felt that connection when you have travelled and met someone from back home or when you meet someone in a similar line of work. Similarly, we as Christians share a common heritage through the new birth. As we sang earlier, we were all once “lost in darkest night,” we “had no hope,” and we “refused” God’s love. But then God opened our eyes to the glory of Christ and the gospel, and we went from being lost to knowing “grace.” Now “all we know is Christ.” This common experience and heritage makes us a new nation. This phrase also notes that we are ultimately in this nation, not of our initiative but by the sovereign work of God. He chose us. This idea is in strong contrast to the appointed destiny of the lost in v. 8 and it again reminds us that even though it may appear like we are on the losing side, God is sovereignly fulfilling his will. He is calling out a people for himself.
The church is a chosen generation. Second, we are…
Royal Priesthood: The next two phrases come from a rather significant text in Exodus 19:5–6. Israel had escaped Egypt 3 months earlier and had just reached Mt. Sinai. God was about to give Israel the Law, which would give them their national identity (read). According to v. 5, God chose Israel out of all of the peoples of the earth to be his special treasure. He says that Israel was to be “a kingdom of priests.” Similarly, Peter describes the church as a “royal priesthood.” Verse 5 already described the church as a “holy priesthood.” We said last week that the significance of a priesthood is that we have been set apart to God in order to worship him by bringing spiritual sacrifices. Therefore, the idea in v. 9 is that God has called us out of the world to be a people who bring him sacrifices of praise.
Holy Nation: Again, this phrase comes from Exodus 19:6. In this context, holiness highlights the fact that God has set the church apart from the rest of the world as his special people just as he set Israel apart from the rest of the nations. The church has a unique relationship to God that the rest of humanity does not enjoy. This phrase especially points to our relationship to God, but it also describes relationship Christians enjoy with each other in the universal church. We are a nation that is united together by a common heritage and a common love for God. Christ hasn’t just united us with the Father; he has also united us to each other.
Finally, he calls us…
His Own Special People: Both Isaiah 43 and Exodus 19 describe Israel as a “people” who are God’s special possession, and this phrase again points to our special relationship with each other and with God.
Summary/Application: Within the overall flow of 1 Peter, vv. 4–10 are transitioning the book toward a practical discussion of how we are to respond to the world’s rejection. Peter notes that we shouldn’t be surprised by this rejection because the world rejected our Savior first. But what Peter really wants to emphasize is that while we may feel like outsiders in the world, we can find rest and security in our standing with God and with each other. This is an important thought for us to remember in our day. As I mentioned in my introduction, we can easily spend all of our time straining to regain a place of prominence and respect in the culture. We long for the world to see us as intelligent and virtuous. And especially during election seasons, we can put all of our hopes in recapturing a power and influence that will dramatically reshape our society. Again, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight for justice, life, and a healthy society, but we’ve got to make sure that we are seeking our hope and contentment in the right places. Folks, God has given us an incredible gift. If you have been born again, God has rescued you from darkness, and you are now a part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s own special people. The world’s rejection ought to drive us to God and to each other. We ought to long for the fellowship of the church where we are united with our true family and our true brothers and sisters and where we together fellowship with the God who set his love on us and brought us together. Praise the Lord for new life in Christ and the fellowship of his people.
Argumentation: Before we move on, we need to address a significant theological debate regarding this text. Since Peter uses language originally applied to Israel in reference to the church, is Peter saying that the church has replaced Israel within God’s purpose. Those who hold to covenant theology often use this text as proof that the promises and blessings God originally made to Israel in the OT have all been transferred to the church and that they will not be fulfilled through national Israel. For example, the OT prophecies that one-day God will bring a spiritual revival of Israel and that he will give them a great kingdom. But covenant theology uses passages like our text to say that these promises have been transferred to the church and that the kingdom God promised Israel is being fulfilled spiritually in the church. One scholar I read said that vv. 9–10 close the door on any sort of future for national Israel. If you look at these verses alone, I can certainly see why someone would come to this conclusion, but the problem is that Peter doesn’t actually say the church has replaced Israel, and other NT passages clearly look forward to an Israelite future. Romans 11 says that God will bring a national revival to physical Israel, and Revelation describes the fulfillment of the promises made to Israel through the Tribulation and the Millennial Kingdom. In keeping with these passages, Peter does not say that Israel’s promises have been transferred to the church; he only says that the church enjoys a relationship to God that parallels Israel’s relationship to God. And certainly this is something for which we should be profoundly grateful. God has reached out us who were far off and brought us near.
Verse 9 follows these four phrases with a purpose clause that provides the second principle from this text.
We must respond by declaring God’s goodness (v. 9b).
This statement also comes from Isaiah 43, and it states God’s purpose in delivering Israel from bondage and reforming them as a people. Peter uses it here clarify God’s ultimate purpose in establishing the church. God has done an incredible work in calling us out of the world and to himself. He did so at an incredible cost. It cost him the life of his Son. The Scriptures teach that there are several reasons why Christ died and why he saves us from sin. God did so because he loves the world and because he doesn’t want anyone to perish. God values life and righteousness. But the primary reason God has called us and saved us is that we “may proclaim the praises of God.” In other words, God saved us that we might glorify him.
Praises: The word translated “praises” is in the plural, and it points to an individual’s virtues, attributes, and deeds. In this context referring to God, it is focused on God’s mighty and good deeds. Specifically, Peter has in mind the work he has just described. God has demonstrated his sovereign power and his great love by calling us out of the world and uniting us in his church.
Proclaim: And it is God’s will that we would respond to this great work by proclaiming his praises. We are to declare with boldness and conviction the greatness and goodness of our God. First, we are to do so to one another. We are to declare God’s praises as we sing together, as we share testimonies of God’s grace, and as we talk together in private settings. We are responsible to glorify God to each other. But we are also to declare God’s praises to a watching world. We are responsible to let the world know how mighty and good our God is and what all he has done for us.
Application: It’s good for us to reflect on this responsibility even though it is a familiar concept. You’re not on this earth to make a lot of money, to experience as many pleasures as possible, or to fulfill your dreams. If you are a Christian, God saved you to declare his praises. How are you doing? Do you speak often of God’s gracious works? Do you build your family and this church by speaking often of God’s grace? How have you praised God to a brother in Christ in the last few days? What about unbelievers around you? Are you bold in taking opportunities to tell them what God has done in your life and what he can do in theirs? You don’t have to share the entire gospel every time to fulfill this responsibility; rather simply talk often of God’s grace and the blessings you enjoy. We must not be quiet about the work of God’s grace. Rather, we must praise him openly and boldly.
Peter then backs up this challenge by reflecting further on the incredible grace we have received. The third principle in this text is that…
God accomplished a marvelous transformation (v. 9c–10).
Our text concludes with three contrasts between our life before Christ and our life after receiving Christ. The emphasis in all three phrases is on God’s initiative in bringing us to himself. On the one hand, the Scriptures are clear that justification is applied by faith. We must make a decision to follow, but they are also clear that we would never make this decision on our own initiative. God reached out to us when we wanted nothing to do with him.
First, Peter states that God “called…”
Darkness to Light: The Scriptures frequently describe those without Christ as being in darkness. Total darkness is very unnerving isn’t it? When I was in high school, our family visited Hannibal, MO, which is the hometown of Mark Twain. During our visit we took a tour of the massive cave system outside town, which came up in the story of Tom Sawyer. The guide took us down into the cave and it was filled with different holes and paths. If you didn’t know where you were going, it would be very easy to get lost and never find your way out. When we were deep in the cave, the guide shut off all of the lights, and it got dark. He had us flick our fingers right in front of our faces, and you couldn’t see a thing. That kind of darkness inside a maze of pathways is unnerving. The Scriptures describe the life of unbeliever as being in this kind of utter darkness. They cannot see God for who he truly is, nor can they see their own hopelessness. They will never find their way on their own. And Peter reminds us as believers that this is where we once lived. We were lost in complete darkness, but then God called us out of darkness. Think of a knowledgeable guide who grabs you by the hand and leads you out of the total darkness of the cave and then into the light. Peter describes God’s work of salvation as bringing us into the “marvelous light” of God. The concept of light emphasizes the clear vision or understanding that God gives to his people. We can see God for all that he truly is. We understand his true holiness and justices as well as his love and grace. And we understand the full significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. And seeing God and the gospel clearly allows us to see the rest of life with a proper perspective. What a blessing to have our eyes opened to the glory of God. The next contrast is given in v. 10.
Not a People to the People of God: This statement draws on language from Hosea 2. The prophet Hosea was a contemporary of Isaiah, and he prophesied to the Northern Kingdom in the 700s before the Assyrians defeated them. Israel was in a terrible state of sin. The nation was wrapped up in idolatry and all sorts of ungodliness. And God called on Hosea to take a rather strange step to illustrate the judgment that was coming. He asked him to name his second son Lo-Ammi, which in Hebrew means “not my people.” How would you like to have that name. Can you imagine introducing yourself? “Hi, my name is not my people, what’s yours?” Hosea was to give his child this name as statement of God’s rejection of Israel because of their sin. He was about to abandon them to judgment because they had abandoned him. However, God is full of mercy and so he promised that his abandonment of Israel would not last forever. He states in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not my people, ‘you are my people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’” Peter states to his Gentile readers that they also had once been far away from God. But through conversion they had become the people of God. This statement speaks to ownership and our special relationship with God. We belong to God, and he is near to us. Like Israel, we have been given a great gift rooted in God’s great grace.
Peter concludes with a final contrast.
No Mercy to Obtaining Mercy: The verb translated “obtain mercy” appears twice in this statement, and it is in two different Greek tenses that are important for seeing the full import of what Peter intends. The first time it is in the perfect tense that indicates a past, continuing state. Before Christ, the readers had lived in a state without mercy. Similarly, Ephesians 2:3 describes Christians as previously being under the wrath of God before believing on Christ. Apart from the gospel, man does not enjoy the mercy of God. Before I believed on Christ, I was under his wrath. But the second usage of the verb is in what’s called the aorist tense, and in this context it points to a definitive moment when I received mercy. According to the book of Romans, when I believed on Christ, his work on the cross was applied to my account. I was forgiven of my sin and credited with the righteousness of Christ. I went from a state of wrath to a state of mercy. If you have been saved, God did the same work in you. He extended mercy and grace.
Summary/Evangelistic Appeal: The point of these three contrasts is to highlight the sovereign work of God’s grace to draw us to himself and to each other. We may be rejected by the world. Verse 11 calls us “sojourners and pilgrims,” but we have a fellowship that the world cannot match. We are the people of God, and the love of God binds us as the church together in a wonderful fellowship. But while these contrasts are a source of great hope for those who know Christ, they ought to be troubling for anyone who has never put his or her faith in Christ for salvation. Maybe you are wondering which side am I on. Am I in darkness or light, am I part of the people of God or nor, and have I received mercy or not? This is a very important question to ponder because Peter is clear that there are two groups of people in the world. Just like Peter’s readers had to at some point receive mercy, so do all of us. The Scriptures are clear that none of us are born into the world with a right standing with God. As I mentioned earlier, we deserve his wrath and judgment. But Christ took our punishment on himself, and his death can be applied to you if you will call on the Lord for salvation. If you have never cried out to God for salvation, then I want to urge you to do so today. Don’t remain in the darkness. Call on Christ for salvation today. If you would like to know more about this good news, I hope that you will talk with me afterwards. Nothing is more important than receiving this gift of mercy.
The message of this text is that we must respond to God’s sovereign work of grace by proclaiming his goodness. For those of us who know Christ, we have been brought into a wonderful fellowship, and we need to glorify God accordingly. Let’s be intentional today and this week about declaring his praises to each other and to a lost world. This is Thanksgiving Week, but sometimes our thankfulness can be very man-centered. Let’s make sure that our thanks this week is about declaring the praises of God for his grace in our lives. God has been good to us, and we must rejoice in his grace, and ultimately, within the broader argument of 1 Peter, we must also run to this grace and to our fellowship with each other as we feel the pressure of a dark world. The world may reject us, but we are accepted by God and his church. It can be a lonely and dark world out there, but in our fellowship with God and each other we have an anchor where we can rest and rejoice. Praise the Lord!
Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes. Before I pray, I just want to ask if there’s anyone here who doesn’t know that they have received mercy but you would like to know how you can be saved. I’d love to follow up with you afterwards, and if you would like to talk, just slip up your hand so that I can know who you are. Is there anyone like that?
In a moment we are going to stand and sing #276 “Jesus Paid It All.” This is a wonderful song that reflects on the forgiveness available through the work of Christ. But it also calls on us to respond. He paid it all, and now “all to him I owe.” I hope that’s the intention of your heart. Let’s stand and sing the 1, 2, and 4th verses.