"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."
1 Peter 2:9
In the book of 1 Peter, the apostle was speaking to Christians who were living in an anti-Christian context. They were an easy target for blame, insults, prejudice, and discrimination. Some even endured persecution to death.
These were not new problems then, and they continue today. Christians are persecuted in ways that range from subtle to unlawful or worse. What effect can this hostility have on us? Well, often we try to fit in and downplay differences. Then we begin to forget who we are, adopting the norms, values, and standards of the majority—if for no other reason than to avoid ridicule and insult. Values get blurred; ethics get blurred. Living as a Christian minority can be difficult. The temptation to be like the majority can be great.
So how does Peter address this? He reminds us of who we are as God’s people. He tells us, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” He wants us to know that we do not need the world’s approval, honor, or acceptance. We do not need to validate our existence by the world’s standards: money, education, career, family. We are not of the world. We have been set apart. We have been chosen by God Himself.
When I was 10 years old the fourth grade soap operas began. All of a sudden, boys and girls began liking each other, and recess’s big event was catching up on all the gossip of who liked whom. One eventful day, the most popular girl in fourth grade was deliberating between two boys, Danny and Kevin. We all thought the two were going to fight, but instead they confronted the girl and asked her plainly: just pick one of us. A crowd of kids gathered as she looked back and forth between Danny and Kevin. Whom would she choose? Disappointed there would be no fight, I slouched off to a bench in the shade. Then, with dramatic effect, she turned to look at me and said, “I choose Lloyd. Lloyd will be my boyfriend.” I thought she was joking, but she grabbed my arm, the two other guys left, and the crowd hummed at yet another dramatic turn in the soap opera known as fourth grade. How does it feel to be chosen? It feels great! My stock went up after that day.
God wants to tell us that He chose us. He chose us! It’s no joke. We now belong to Him. He accepts us. He gives us value, significance, honor, and satisfaction. Reminding ourselves of our identity helps us cope with the pressures of conforming to the practices and values of this world, and turning away from things that we used to do without a twinge to our conscience—“former passions,” as Peter describes them. It is our identity as God’s precious chosen people that should give us boldness and confidence not only to withstand the social pressures of conforming to the world, but also to be ambassadors for Christ in a hostile environment.
Not only do we need boldness, but we also need grace, lest we imitate the world in its hostility to us. How is it possible to respond to a hostile world with grace? It is only possible when we understand how much grace we have received. We were those who were once in darkness. We were those who were once not His people.
Think about Peter’s own life. He was the one who boasted that if all other disciples abandoned Jesus, he would not. He was the one who said he would die with Jesus (Matt 26:32–35). Yet in the courtyard of the high priest, he was afraid even to be associated with Him. He denied knowing his Lord. But Jesus did not leave him in his guilt and shame. He met Peter after the resurrection on the shores of Tiberius, restored him, and commissioned him to be His under shepherd. Peter knew what it means to receive grace. God wants us to bathe ourselves in this same grace. Beloved, we are to see ourselves in Peter’s life. Those who understand how much they have been forgiven are able to forgive others. Those who have received grace upon grace are able to extend it to others.
When we understand who we are, we will begin to live out our purpose—the purpose for which we have been called. Peter says that this new identity in Christ is for declaring the excellencies of the One who has called us out of darkness into His glorious light. The reason God chose us, saved us, redeemed us is to declare to the world how great He is. What does this mean practically? It means simply sharing our story with others. Sharing how great and marvelous our God is. This is the foundation of why we go to the nations—to declare the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into His glorious light.