But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 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. (1 Peter 2:9-12)
Do you know what you are? I’m serious, this is an actual question. Do you know what you are? Take a second to think about it. Now, what was the first thing that popped into your mind? Was it based on some kind of family connection? I am a father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife. Was it based on a job title? I am a manager, a librarian, an electrician, a nurse, a claims specialist, a financial advisor, a stay-at-home mom, a retiree? Was it based on location? I am an American, a Nebraskan, a Lincoln-ite. Or was it based on something you like or do? I’m a sports fan, a music lover, a collector, a gamer, a handyman, a health-nut. Or because we are in church right now, was it based on faith? I am a Lutheran, a WELS member, or simply, a Christian.
Well, whatever that first thought was in your brain, I want you to get rid of it. Throw it away. Cast it from your mind. Because now it is time to grasp what you really are. It is based on something stronger than blood lines, something more important that your job, something more crucial than where you live, and something more joyful than even your favorite hobby. What you are is entirely dependent on the declaration of the Almighty God. So, are you ready to hear it? Are you ready to know what you are? ‘… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…’
So, what seems to be the problem? I got no cheer as I read these words. There were no joyful shouts. No dancing in the aisle. Do you not care? Are you not moved? Are you disappointed in what God says that you are? Perhaps you did not fully grasp the magnitude of what God has spoken.
You are one who has been specially chosen by God. Even though there are over 7 billion people in this world, the Lord has taken the time and the effort to single out you as one that he wants. And this isn’t because you have so many friends on Facebook (or because you have never been on Facebook at all). This isn’t because your family is just so special (or because it seems so average). This isn’t because you have accomplished some great feat (or because you feel you’ve done so little). And it isn’t because you have been so much better at life than everyone else around you. No, it’s only because God loves you and in his mercy, he wants you to be with him forever.
You would think that this, all on its own, would be enough to have you leaping for joy. But you are something else as well: a royal priesthood. Did you hear that? You’re royalty. You have an elevated status. You are the cream of the crop. There is no one above you in any way, save God himself. You are elite in God’s sight. And what’s more, you are a priest. Which means that you have access to God. You can come to him at any time. You have also been commissioned to offer sacrifices to his name. What back in the days of the Old Testament only a handful of people were allowed to do, you are now given that privilege. You are really becoming something special here, don’t you think?
But we are not done yet. You are a holy nation. Wait a minute, now we are just getting crazy! Holy? Without sin? How can that be? No one is that good. No one is that kind and generous and loving all the time. And you’re right, that’s true, except for Jesus. He really was that holy. He really was that good. And he gives that holiness to you. No sin clings to you anymore. And guess what? You’re not alone. There is a whole nation of people made holy by Jesus. You are bound with them here on earth and with all the saints in heaven. This is really getting over the top here, isn’t it?
But still, there’s more. You are a people belonging to God. Yes, God actually lays claim on you. He is willing and glad to say, ‘Yep, that one over there, he’s with me. Oh yeah, this one is definitely on my team. That’s my guy. That’s my girl.’ And so dedicated he is to you, he does everything in his power to look after you and care for you. You are the apple of his eye and he will not let you out of his sight. He will even send his angels to watch over you and keep you from harm. You are his most treasured possession. He is not embarrassed in the least to call you his own.
So, what gives? Still no clapping and cheering? Still no one bursting into song? What’s wrong, folks? Cat got your tongue? Frog in your throat? Has the winter weather frozen your mouth shut? What is keeping you from shouting praise to the Lord your God?
I think I know what it is. It’s the darkness, isn’t it? No, not the lack of sunshine and the overcast skies. I’m talking about the darkness inside you. You know what I mean, don’t you? The ugly thoughts that you have about other people: judging them for what they do and don’t do; getting angry at them when they treat you bad; the vicious things you consider saying about them; the hurtful things you wish you could do to them. Then there are the selfish thoughts that you have about yourself: always wanting to do what will make you happy; not caring about how it will affect others; failing to show mercy to others who could use your help; not being willing to do all you can to love your family because it might mean sacrificing your own enjoyment and pleasure. And then these dark thoughts so often lead to even darker actions. I don’t think I need to give you any more examples of that. Deep down in your heart you know the ways you have sinned.
Perhaps this is what’s keeping you quiet. Perhaps this is what is preventing you from embracing what you are. Because you know that your life doesn’t match up with all those wonderful titles that God says that you are. You aren’t living like a priest. Your life doesn’t look so holy. Sometimes it doesn’t appear like you belong to God at all. It sounds impossible that you could be any of these great and amazing things.
You are right, in a way. You can’t be any of these things on your own. But that’s what makes it so awesome! God has made you what you are. You aren’t chosen because you are so great; you are chosen because God has so much grace! You aren’t priests because you have earned your position; you are priests because God called you in his mercy! You aren’t holy because you performed so many good works; you are holy because Jesus died to take all your sins away! You don’t belong to God because you were so righteous he just had to have you; you belong to God because he came to you in the fullness of his love and made you his own!
Peter put it this way, ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ Once upon a time, you were nothing. Once upon a time you had no hope for anything. You were cut off from the one true God and due only his wrath and punishment. But then, God came to you. He came to you through parents that brought you to the font of your baptism and had you washed in water, cleansed by the Word, and entered into God’s family. He came to you through a friend who told you about a Savior named Jesus, and pointed you to his cross of your salvation and his empty tomb of your everlasting life. He came to you through a loved one that declared the praises of the most awesome God who called you out of the darkness of sin and into the wonderful light of faith. So, do you now know what you are? Hear God tell you again, ‘… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…’
And I gotta tell you, how you identify yourself has some pretty major consequences about how you live your life. If you think of yourself as a loser, chances are, you’ll be a loser. If you think of yourself as a nobody, people will often treat you like a nobody. If you think of yourself as a no good, rotten scumbag, chances are, that is how you will act. But if you think of yourself as one who is capable of doing your job, you will do your job well. If you think of yourself as one who can be productive, things will get done. If you think of yourself as one who can help others, that is what will often take place.
So, think about what this means for you on a spiritual level. Your identity isn’t based on what you decide or do. What you are has already been declared by God himself. So, it’s not a matter of changing your whole persona, or becoming an entirely different person. God has already done the heavy lifting. Now, he simply calls for you to be what you are.
That’s what Peter is getting at with this encouragement. ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 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.’ What do God’s people do? We don’t live for this world, we live for the one to come. We don’t buy into the mindset that I must do whatever pleases me here and now. Instead, we focus on what pleases God and pour our energy into praising him both now and forever. So, we turn away from sin, even when it makes us seem odd to others. We seek to do good to others, that the love of Christ may be shown in our lives. We become strange in the eyes of the world, because our hearts are locked on heaven.
You are God’s people, so pursue a godly life. You are holy, so seek out a life that reflects the holiness implanted in your soul. You are a priest, so come to God again and again with your sacrifices of praise. And when you come up short in your striving for goodness, don’t fret or lose heart. Thanks to Jesus you are still a part of his nation and by his mercy are still holy in his sight. Never forget that God has made you to be something amazing and marvelous in his sight and in this world. So always remember what you are. And then, be what you are in Christ. Amen.