TRUE CHRISTIAN IDENTITY
1 Peter 2:9-12, Key Verse: 2:9
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
I chose this as DuPage UBF key verse for 2021. It is because God moved my heart as we prepare the messages on Exodus, Esther and even Christmas messages. In the book of Exodus, God’s purpose of bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt was for them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Even though there was no God’s name in the book of Esther, God was behind the story, using people who had a clear identity as the people of God, saving the people of God from the evil plan and revenging their enemies. As we meditate on the word of God and pray for God’s people, I have sought what our members need in this end times, when the enemies of God are lurking to destroy God’s people with all kinds of evil plans. The more I meditate on it, the deeper I realize the importance of having a clear identity, which determines out attitude and action in life. Apostle Peter wrote this letter, encouraging the scattered and suffering Christians due to persecutions. Yet, he did not sympathize with their hardships but helped them to see their sufferings of life in God’s perspective, praising God for the living hope of God’s eternal kingdom through Jesus. Then, he encouraged them to live a holy life, holding onto the word of God, which endures forever. In the first part of chapter 2, he introduced Jesus living Stone that Christians are also living stones building the house of God as they come to God. In today’s passage, verses 9-12, he wants them to know their identity in Christ. They are not run-away criminals but a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s special possession. Let’s learn our true identity in Christ and how we should live with the identity.
True Christian identity (9a).
We, Christians, are living in identity crisis. In this generation, many Christians are persecuted even in America as they stand for biblical values. Christians who believe that Bible is God’s spoken words consider LGBTQ life as sin though we love them as God loves all sinners. In a public school system, such lifestyle is taught as norm and enforced by US government. Many Christian parents are hesitant to send children to a public school, as their children are confused with their identity among their school friends and in their school life. Moreover, many of their friends and teachers stand against the biblical values and true Christians, who would not compromise. A few years ago, one Christian bakery shop went to bankruptcy after being sued by a gay couple because they refused to make a wedding cake with a gay symbol. What is worse, even some Christian organizations and churches consider such lifestyle as norm as the people of the world. They are sodomized without shame. This reminds me of Romans 1:32, saying, “Although they know that God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” As Jesus predicted the end times, the world is getting bad to worse. I cannot but see more and severe persecutions are coming soon. In this situation, it seems that God has given us protection from bad influence of the world and precious time for our Christian parents to plant a true Christian identity to our children during this pandemic.
What is our true Christian identity in Christ? Look at verse 9a, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession...” The Apostle Peter believed that Christian identity is the same as that of the Jews, so he barrowed the verse from Exodus 19:5-6. God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt with his mighty hand, sprinkling the blood of the lamb and saving them from the last plague of death. God brought them to the Mount Sinai, telling them who they are in God’s sight, saying, “You yourself have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Ex 19:5-6) Yet, he added other part to reveal something deeper in Christian identity. There are four identities as a Christian. Let’s meditate on each one of them.
First, believers are a chosen people. God chose the people of Israel because of his choice for Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What does it to be chosen? How should we understand God’s choice? Here is an example. There was one young boy who was made fun of because he was adopted. When he came home sad and discouraged, his father who adopted him told him that he was chosen out of thousands, saying, “Therefore, you are very dear to us.” Then the boy felt honored to be chosen and studied hard to prove that their choice was right, overcoming his weaknesses as a special need student and entered the best music school, Juilliad, and Yale University graduate school with full scholarship. We feel honored when we are chosen to enter a prestigious school or chosen to be hired in a good company. After the US election, the President Elect chose his cabinet members. After being chosen, they say that they are greatly honored to be chosen to serve the country. How much more are we honored! We are chosen not by a mere human being but by God the Creator of the heavens and the earth! Thank and praise God for choosing us!
Then, why did God choose us? The US government cabinet members are chosen because of their proven skills, knowledges and abilities. But God’s choice is different. According to Dt 7:7-8, God chose the people of Israel because of his first covenant of love and the oath he made to their ancestors. Jesus also said to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you to go and bear much fruit, fruit that will last.” Jesus chose us because of God’s second covenant of love and his promise made in Christ. When I was a young believer, I thought that God chose me because I had a good business skill. But God broke my human pride and helped me to accept 1 Co 15:10 as my life key verse. Remember, Jesus also said that many are called but a few are chosen. It is only by the grace of God we are chosen, yet the grace of God should be accepted, sustained and finished in the grace to the end.
Secondly, a royal priesthood. After 430 years of slavery, the people of Israel were still living with slave mentality. When they had a little difficulty, they complained to God and to Moses. God provided bread from heaven, manna, but they complained that they had no meat. God provided quails until meat could come out of their nose. When there was no water, they complained and God provided water out of rock. Even though God showed his presence to them with fire at night and cloud during daytime, they constantly doubted and complained. Though they were still weak and vile, God had a great vision for the people of Israel. God wanted all of them to be royal priests. A priest is the mediator, interceding between God and man. God wanted them to intercede for each other. God also hoped the people of Israel to a kingdom of priests between God and the rest of the world, bringing the knowledge of God to them so that they might be saved.
Interestingly Peter added the word “royal” to priesthood. This means Christians should have kingly bearing in doing priestly work. In order to have a kingly bearing, children born in a royal family have to go through rigorous disciplines by strict teachers, beginning from eating and walking to eloquent way of speaking, called oratory. They have long hours of studying for many different subjects. Likewise, Christians may have to go through spiritual discipline by many teachers, beginning from a Bible teacher to an unseen teacher, the Holy Spirit. We may have long hours of Bible study, and even disciplined by the people of the world. Through many kinds of trials, we may have more compassionate heart to those who are sufferings in life. And our faith may be refined to be proved genuine and reveal the glory of God, (1 Peter 1:7) so that we are able to live as a royal priest, standing between God and the people.
Thirdly, A holy nation. What is holy? In the Old Testament, the word ‘holy’ is used when people set aside something for God. But when it is used for a human, it is not about status but dedication of a person. We call a holy matrimony when a couple marries in Christ, which means that they decide to devote themselves to God and to each other with all their hearts, minds and strength. (Dt 6:5) The Bible says, “Be holy because God is holy.” (Lev 19:2) This means God has fully devoted himself to us, so we should wholeheartedly devote ourselves to God. Christians are the people to whom God has devoted all of himself, even his life on the cross!
Yes, we want to devote ourselves to God. But how? How can we devote ourselves to God 100%? Leviticus 20:7 says, “Consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am the Lord God.” Here consecrate means sanctify, which means that a believer become a holy nation progressively. Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (Jn 17:17) As we are being sanctified through the word of God, we grow in the holiness of God. Practically speaking, we must learn to devote time to listen to the word of God. Maybe some of us devote two or three hours a week to God; one hour of Bible study and two hours of Sunday service. Three hours may not be small if we truly devote our hearts to God wholeheartedly. Yet, our devotion should grow more until we devote our whole heart and life to God, not necessarily in quantity but in quality until Christ lives in us, and our lives may glorify him. I pray that I may set aside 2 hours a day for prayer and meditation of God’s word at least; hopefully 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening.
Fourth, God’s special possession: Among all the possessions you have, which one is the most precious to you? Among the possessions, people think of something very precious mostly because they paid a big price for it, or they put a lot of effort and time for it, or have a special meaning in it. To God, each one of you are his special possession. God created the whole world and loves all peoples on earth because each one of them bears the image of God, but believers are God’s special possessions among all his creation. Why? It was because he paid a big price, his time and effort, to save us from sin and Satan. Gold or diamonds could not be the ransom price but the blood. So God had to send Jesus Christ to this world to suffer and shed his blood on the cross in order to pay the price for our salvation. (Revelation 5:9-10 and 14:4)
Could you sacrifice even your dog or cat in order to save a person who insulted you and robbed you? While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies, God loved us. We are special because God paid the big price, the blood of God’s one and only Son Jesus Christ. We are precious to our Father God because we were lost but now found. We are special because we become children of God’s heavenly kingdom through Jesus’ pain and suffering.
With such identity, God wants us to see ourselves in God’s eyes. Most human beings try to find their identity among peers or through their titles or positions in the world. But these identities are temporary or not even true. I remember the movie Lion King. After losing his father, Simba lost his identity. When he was trying to fit in, he was living like a pig. The moto of his life became Hakuna Matata, which meant ‘no worries,’ or que sera sera, whatever will be. But when he remembered the words of his father, he came back to his senses and realized his true identity. Then, he began to live upto his identity the king of the jungle. In this world, we may be nobody, but before God, each one of us is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. How precious and important people we are in God’s sight! Therefore, we must look at ourselves and at each other in God’s eyes. We are precious, not because what we have done but because who we are in God’s sight.
Three actions with the identity (9b-12)
In the rest of the passage, Apostle Peter encouraged believers to live in three ways with the identity. First, you may declare the praise of him. We should praise God for who he is, what he has done and what he will do: Our God is the Creator of heaven and earth. Our God is almighty. Our God is good, his love endures forever. Our God has done great things for his people Israel and for each one of us. Our God has provided and protected each one of us in 2020. Our God will do what he promised. Our God reigns, and he is the ruler of history even in this pandemic. Our Savior Jesus will come back as the judge for the living and the dead. Let us praise our God with all our mind, soul and strength. It is the heart of our true worship, giving thanks and praising God! It is God’s will for us to do in Christ. Amen!
Peter specifically mentioned one thing in praising of God. We should praise God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Why? It is the source of our true identity. If we forget who we were in darkness and who we have become in his wonderful light, we forget the grace of God. Once we were not a people of God, but now we are the people of God. Once we did know about the mercy of God, so we lived in selfishness, self-condemnation and constantly condemning others. But now we live in his mercy. Though we should have received God’s punishment for our sins, God has been merciful. Thus, we become merciful to others just as God has done for us. When we forget such grace of God, we do not know where we are going? It is like connecting two points, past and present, in order to make a clear line for future direction. In case, if you do not know where you are going, you may need to spend time to find these two dots and connect them to see a clear direction of your life.
This is what Apostle Paul did in his life, saying, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” Paul constantly remembered the grace of God upon his life. When he remembered the grace of God, he could not but humble himself. In fact, it was the power source of his hard work for Jesus’ kingdom. With the strength from the grace of God, he could share the gospel to the ends of the earth and raise disciples of Jesus. He could praise God while he was in prison, suffering and being beaten to death. Thus, the grace of God enabled him to overcome himself and live for the glory of Christ!
Secondly, abstain from sinful desires. Look at verse 11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” The scattered Christians were living in different places, going through different life of sufferings and hardships; some more and some less. They had different levels in their spiritual walk; some of them were new, and some seasoned. Yet Apostle Peter called them “Dear friends” or “Dear beloved” because they were his friends in the work of Christ and loved by God. In John 15:14-15, Jesus said to his disciples, “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” True friendship starts when we participate in our master’s business. When we love one another and pray together for his kingdom and make plans to speed his coming, we can overcome ourselves and bond in love because we have common purpose and goals in Christ.
In the eyes of worldly people, Christians are aliens and strangers. It is because we are not following the value of this world. We used to live sinful way of life, but after accepting Jesus as our savior our value system changed. So Peter encouraged the believers to abstain from sinful desires. In 2:1, Peter gave examples of sinful desires, saying, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander of every kind.” Of course, we do not want to live such sinful life, yet there is a spiritual warfare in believer’s heart because of sinful nature. Even the Apostle Paul confessed in Romans 7:21-24, “So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me… What a wretched man I am? Who will rescue me from this body of death.” But he did not stop here in despair but found the solution, saying, “Thanks be to God for our Lord Jesus Christ our Lord…. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” As Jesus promised, the holy spirit dwells in us and convicts us when we are being tempted. The only way to win the war is to come to Jesus for his forgiveness in our hearts and freedom from the law of sin and death.
Thirdly, do good deeds for God’s glory. Verse 12, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” How can we live such good lives? We must abstain our sinful desires and should offer themselves to God as instrument of righteousness so that we are able to do good deeds. (Ro 6:14) In the rest of his letter, the Apostle Peter gave practical examples; saying, submit yourself to every authority, live as servants of God, show proper respect, love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king and so on. Please, take some time reading and meditating the rest of this letter.
Why believers should live such a life, doing good deeds? It is not only for ourselves but also for unbelievers, who will see our good deeds and glorify God on the day God visits us. God’s visiting day may be Jesus’ Second coming or God’s vising the other unbelievers. Through our good deeds, they may glorify Jesus and accept him as their savior. There were three missionary families who were serving Muslims in a clinic in Afghanistan. When a civil war broke out, the native doctors ran away for their lives. But these missionaries did not go anywhere but remained in the war zone, serving Muslims faithfully. Some of Muslims in the village came to the clinic and asked about their faith, saying, “I want to believe God you believe” May God help us to live such good life, so that others may see our good deeds and come to Christ.
There was one young man. He found my identity in Christ, he lived like a pig. Since he found my identity in God in 1986, he began to live a different life. Though he was a student in a college, God reminded me his identity as a royal priest, praying and sharing the gospel to other students and even taught the Bible to one of h his professors. Though he was a delivery man when he came to US, God helped him to hold to my identity as a missionary and enabled him to invite students and professors on campus and people on streets, including the former president of the Cook County Hospital, who was a Jew but became a Christian. His identity did not change though he received a PhD and a good position in VA hospital. The grace of God enabled him to pray for and invite electricians and MDs, house keepers and PhDs to Bible studies, and God moved some of their hearts. May God help us to live like the Lion King with the true identity as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s special possession. Amen!
Through today’s passage, we learned the true identity of a Christian. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession. With such an identity, I pray that we may take time to pray for others, meditate on the word of God and share the gospel through the power of God’s grace. As we hold on to this key verse in 2021, I pray that God may help each one of us to grow in the holiness of God through meditating on the word of God and prayer life. With such identity, we may share the grace of God with others, abstain from sinful desires and do good deeds until unbelievers around us may glorify Jesus Christ and believe in him.