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
Two days ago, for the 44th time in our nation’s 232-year history, our country reenacted the repudiation of an age-old philosophy. For millennia, men and women ruled peoples on the basis of what came to be called the “divine right of kings.” By its premise, authority was conferred on the basis of divine will. Consent was needed from no one else.
With the American Revolution in the West came the crystallization of an alternative notion that had been brewing for some time. Now authority would be conferred by those who were governed. No one would rule unless those who would be ruled granted them that right.
That’s why Peter’s words to the church seem so foreign to our ears: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession...” These are lofty, ennobling words. To us they’re a bit odd not because he’s conferring designations that grant us power to rule, but because this authority is conferred by God instead of men. This identity, which we heard more about last Sunday, is a divine right ascribed on the basis of His gracious prerogative and through the gracious work of His Son.
And if we’re not careful, our immersion in a cultural moment where legitimate authority comes only by consent of the governed can lead us to marginalize Peter’s ascriptions of authority as mere flattery. Honor that identity conferred by divine decree we must. But how? And how might we use that authority without the arrogance with which too many kings wielded theirs—or without the timidity of spirit that can creep into our souls by living in a setting that largely denies any divinely conferred authority? Peter gives us two mandates that correspond to that identity from without.
Our first divine mandate is proclamation. We walk confidently, not arrogantly, in this divinely conferred identity when we “proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” When you love another it is no burden to speak well of them; such adulation comes naturally. Giving sermons or writing devotionals is but one type of that proclamation, but proclaiming those excellencies is everyone’s mandate. To proclaim Him is nothing more or less than representing Him, in word and deed, in ways that portray our value of Him. In acts of hospitality, sacrifice, justice, and mercy—coupled with words that explain our hope, our stability, our reasons for acting in those ways—we proclaim His graciousness to us.
Where does proclamation fit into your sense of this identity you’ve been given?
Our second divine mandate is warfare. We walk humbly, not timidly, when we fight desperately against the wiles of sin. He calls us to “abstain from the passions that wage war against your soul.” Our often unconscious inclinations toward self-promotion, our proneness to uncritically follow the ways of this world, our capacity to seek our stability in things other than the God who gave us life and hope and a future—such propensity for sin in us requires nothing less than vigilant, patient, prayerful, and persistent attention to what besets, unnerves, and derails us.
As an example, C. S. Lewis said in Surprised by Joy that the “surest means of disarming an anger...was turning your attention from [it]...and examining the passion itself.” A consideration of anger’s basis sometimes cuts the legs out from under it. Might not the first step in putting away lust, bitterness, impatience, or joylessness be asking why those vices have emerged from within us? That’s part of the fight, but it takes willingness to undertake that fight. Peter’s call to abstain means that there is hope for true abstention—even against the kind of destructive passions that “wage war.”
Where does the fight against sin fit into your sense of this identity you’ve been given?
Such mandates are the divine responsibilities derived from our divinely-conferred identity. Yet, it is not enough simply to know our responsibilities. Only when we see those divine responsibilities as a divine privilege can we hope to consistently fulfill them. The obedience of faith is a mysterious work of duty and delight. Sometimes one or the other rises more discernibly in our reasons for such obedience. That is why He gives us His Word and His Spirit. When we’re intimately acquainted with His Word and humbly open to the “persuasion and enablement” (see question 31 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) of His Spirit, we see these responsibilities not merely as what we ought to do, but what we can’t help but do. Peter writes this letter and Jesus sends us His Spirit because this identity, its corresponding responsibilities, and the necessary motivations are not intuited by us but deposited in us. They must be continually awakened and refreshed. Then both proclaiming His excellencies and fighting sin move from obligation to opportunity.
Where, then, does abiding in His Word and prayer fit into your sense of the identity you’ve been given, if the sense of privilege is to be as potent as the sense of responsibility?
It’s a divine privilege to fulfill a divine responsibility derived from a divine identity. Knowing and living in that identity is your divine right.