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. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. – 1 Peter 2:9-12 ESV
Sometimes we can become forgetful. Life has a way of distracting us and causing us to lose sight of where we have come from and where we are going. As a result, we live as though this life is all there is. Our present circumstances become the only lens through which we view life. But Peter would have us remember our past, not avoid it or wipe it from our memories, so he tells us, “once you were not a people.” He reminds us that “once you had not received mercy.” Paul said something very similar to the Colossian believers: “once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21 ESV). We should never forget pre-Christ condition. It is against the dark backdrop of our sinful past that the mercy of God shines the brightest. The very fact that we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and a people for God’s own possession is all that much more amazing when we consider what God had to work with when He saved us. Paul told the Gentile believers in Ephesus, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12 ESV). Then he uses the same two power-packed words that Peter uses: “But now…”
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13 ESV
And Peter tells us that in spite of our past spiritual darkness, things are different now. At one time we were living in darkness and incapable of seeing our way out of our hopeless circumstances. We were outside the family of God, spiritual orphans longing for adoption and the love of someone who might find value in us and make us their own. Mercy was in short supply. No one was willing to do anything about our helpless condition. But now…
…you are part of God’s family
…you are the beneficiary of His mercy
…you are living in the light
…you are part of a chosen race
…you are a priest in the Kingdom of God
…you are a citizen of a holy nation
…you are God’s personal possession
Needless to say, our circumstances have changed dramatically. We were…but now. Things used to be…not now. Our past provides a stark contrast to our present reality. It allows us to fully appreciate just how incredible our new condition really is. From homeless to adopted and loved. From hopeless to mercy-drenched. From debilitating darkness to liberating light. From discarded to chosen. From sinner to priest.
Like the people of Israel, we have been called by God to make a difference in the world in which we live. “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” (Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV). The Jews, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament, were to have been a light for the nations. They were to act as lights to the blind and to provide freedom to those living in captivity to sin. But they failed. Instead, they chose to live like the nations around them. Rather than having an influence on the world, they became infected by it. Instead of modeling godliness, they mirrored worldliness. And we risk doing the same thing. If we lose sight of what we used to be and stop being amazed at what God has made it possible for us to become, we will lose our influence.
We can never afford to forget that we are God’s people, and as His people we are obligated to live like who we are. We are to abstain from the passions of the flesh, or as the New Living Translation puts it, we are to “keep away from worldly desires.” Our conduct among the lost of this world is to be honorable. The Greek word Peter uses is καλός (kalos) and it means, “commendable, admirable, morally good” (G2570 – kalos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon. Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). The lost should be able to look at our lives and see something dramatically different about the way we conduct ourselves. In this passage, Peter echoes the words of Jesus Himself from His Sermon on the Mount: “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).
Our conduct should be in keeping with our new character. We are members of a chosen race. We are priests. We are part of a holy nation. We belong to God. We live in the light. We have enjoyed the mercies of God. And Paul sums up just exactly what those mercies entail when he writes, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son … And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30 ESV). We have been showered with the mercy of God. As a result, we should long to live in such a way that our lives reflect our new God-given nature. We need to be who we are. We need to live out what we have become. Our actions should reflect our attitude that we are new creations who enjoy a new relationship with God and the transforming power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.