But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…
1 Peter 2:9 (NIVUK)
There is a lot of talk in the news about a person’s identity and how they might self-identify. In addition to our individual identities, we all have corporate identities. We have identities of ethnicity, some belong to a particular profession, or to a group of people who have the same hobby, and we give those identities relative levels of importance. But our corporate identity as Christians is transcendentally important. It outstrips all other corporate identities, and in our header scripture, the Apostle Peter succinctly shows us what it is.
You are a chosen people: In Peter’s day, people in the Roman Empire were very interested in what class or group they belonged to. For example, the Roman historian Suetonius refers to Christians as a ‘class [Latin genus] of men given to a new and mischievous superstition’ 1 by which he was referring to the resurrection of Jesus. And Peter says that Christians are a chosen group of people who are different from others who stumble and disobey the message (v.8). For all the rich diversity of Christian people we constitute a separate genus.
You are a royal priesthood: Priests were, in ancient Israel, especially sanctified, particularly set aside for the worship of God; now all Christians have been set aside for this purpose. All of us, now the veil has been torn, have access into the very presence of the living God. The emphasis here is on the sheer privilege of being sanctified, set aside as God’s special people to serve him.
You are a holy nation: The contemporary notion of nation as we think of it in the Western world today is really an eighteenth-century creation. The word translated nation here is the word that produces in English our word ethnicity, so, this could be rendered, ‘You are a holy ethnicity’. The ethnicity we belong to is God himself as we were created in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-27), and as his image-bearers we are to be holy, because he is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16). We are holy because we have been set aside by God. But if, being set aside by God, we don’t live like it then we are besmirching the holiness of God, we are betraying our identity, and we are contradicting the very essence of who God has called us to be.
You are God’s special possession: We have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20) with the precious blood of Jesus (1 Peter 1:18-19), and so we belong to God as a cherished and loved possession, chosen by his initiative, and out of his love.
What does Peter say then to establish our corporate identity? ‘You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy ethnicity (a holy nation), and God’s special possession.’ In each case, there is an emphasis on God’s initiative and the incalculable privilege that comes with our identification as Christians. Above every other form of self-identity, we are God’s people: sanctified by God, chosen by God, loved by God, his priesthood, his nation, his people, his possession. This is our identity.
Loving Father, we confess how frequently we have not cherished our corporate identity as your sons and daughters, as blood-bought people, redeemed, a holy ethnicity, sanctified as royal priests, your own possession. In the glory of these immeasurable privileges, grant that we may serve you with thankfulness, adoration, and a deepening consciousness of the love that bought all these things for us at the cross of your Son. In his name we pray, Amen.
Study by Barry Robinson
1 SUETONIUS on “CHRESTUS” | STREET APOLOG!ST.com (wordpress.com)
About the writer:
Barry Robinson is a minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Southern England.
Grace Communion International Camberwell
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