9 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. 10 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.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 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
It seems that the recipients of Peter’s letter were suffering from some kind of an identity crisis. It’s a common problem among Christians. Like us, they enjoyed status as new creations, adopted sons and daughters of God, recipients of His grace, and the beneficiaries of Christ’s life-transforming atoning work, and the possessors of God’s all-powerful Spirit. And yet, they were living in a culture that questioned everything about them. They were constantly bombarded with doubts and accusations, sent their way by an overly eager enemy who the Bible refers to as: “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). They were surrounded by old friends, relatives and fellow citizens who didn’t share their belief in Jesus or their newfound membership in God’s spiritual family. These people proved to be constant sources of temptation and, in some cases, persecution. And in the midst of all the pressures of life, it was easy for them to forget who they were. They could fall back into their old ways of living and the comfortable habits that used to make up their former lives. But Peter isn’t about to let that happen and has already told them “don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires” (1 Peter 1:14 NLT). He has reminded them that “God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors” (1 Peter 1:18 NLT). And now, Peter drives home his point. They are not to be like those who reject the Word of God and His gracious offer of salvation made possible through His Son. They are different, and Peter spells out just how different they really are:
“…you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession…” – 1 Peter 2:9 NLT
Notice that Peter says, “you are.” That is significant, because he doesn’t say, “you must become.” From God’s perspective, they already are a chosen people. They already have the title of priests. They currently are members of a holy nation, and enjoy a present-day status as God’s own possession. These things are not to be aspirational, but actual and indisputable. Peter has just described who they are – their actual identity in Christ. And that identity should change the way they live.
I love the quote from C.S. Lewis that so aptly describes the state of far too many of us as Christians.
“It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he can’t imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
Peter wasn’t willing to let them miss out on the unbelievable reality of who they were in Christ. He knew if they could grasp their new identity in Christ, it would make a powerful impact on everything about them, including their behavior. He was fully convinced that their lack of godly behavior was the result of their lack of confidence in their godly status as children of God. It they could get their heads around who there were, they would be more willing to “show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9 NLT).
The problem was that they were like a blind man who had miraculously had his sight restored, but who refused to open their his. For all intents and purposes, he thought he was still blind. Nothing had changed. His world was still dark. It reminds me of one of the many miracles Jesus performed. A blind man was brought by his friends to Jesus and they asked Jesus to heal him. The text tells us, “Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Then, spitting on the man’s eyes, he laid his hands on him and asked, ‘Can you see anything now?’” (Mark 8:23 NLT). Now, this is where the story gets interesting. In response to Jesus’ question, the man answers, “Yes, I see people, but I can’t see them very clearly. They look like trees walking around” (Mark 8:24 NLT). As far as I know, this is the only partial healing Jesus ever performed. Was He surprised at the man’s answer? I don’t think so. Did Jesus not have enough power to heal the man the first time? I doubt it. But for some reason, He chose to give the man incomplete or impartial sight. The man could see, but not clearly or perfectly. Everything was a blur. He had sight, but it was faulty at best. Yes, it was better than blindness, but it was not what Jesus had in mind. So, Jesus touched his eyes again “and his eyes were opened. His sight was completely restored, and he could see everything clearly” (Mark 8:25 NLT).
That is what God has done for us. He has not partially saved us. He has not half-way adopted us. We are, completely, fully, and at-this-very-moment, His chosen people, His royal priests, His holy nation and His very own possession. But the problem is that we tend to act as if we’re only partially there. So, rather than enjoying our holiday at the sea, we content ourselves with making mud pies in the slum. We are far too easily pleased.
And so, Peter, quoting from the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, reminds them once again of the miraculous transformation that has taken place in their lives that has transformed their identity and should show up in their behavior.
“Once you had no identity as a people;
now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.” – 1 Peter 2:10 NLT
There it is again: Once you had no…now you are. Once you receive no…now you have. They have a new identity. They have received God’s mercy. In full. And because that is the case, Peter warns them to “keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls” (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). They had no business playing in the slums. They needed to open their eyes to the reality of their new identity in Christ. They were royal priests and, as such, they were to keep themselves pure, so they could do their jobs well. They were a holy nation, set apart by God and bought with the high price of His own Son’s life. So, they were to live in keeping with the will of the one who purchased their freedom from slavery to sin.
Peter warns them to watch the way they live among their unbelieving neighbors. They were to monitor their behavior, knowing that they might be misunderstood or even falsely accused. But if they behaved in keeping with who they were in Christ, their lost friends and neighbors might see their honorable behavior and, one day, “give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:12 NLT). Our behavior matters. It has an impact on those around us. We never know how the lost may respond to what we do. They may ridicule and reject us. They may persecute us. But they may also be persuaded to believe because of the way we behave. I love the way Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesian believers.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 NLT
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, for the light makes everything visible. – Ephesians 5:10-14 NLT
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. – Ephesians 5:15-17 NLT
Imitate God. Do what pleases Him. Be careful how you live. Understand what God would have you do. In other words, live like who you are, in keeping with your new identity. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession – behave like it.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.