Everyone knows how the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, beggar human language telling us who God is. Synonyms pile up until we walk away with a list of “names of God” numbering in the hundreds.
“I love you, O Lord my strength. The Lord is rock, my fortress, and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2)
Scripture is filled with similar texts.
But, what is not as commonly known or considered, is that the Bible does the same thing in announcing who the people of the Lord are. We come away awed at the realization that in Christ, we are far more than anyone ever expected.
Take the first 10 verses of I Peter chapter 2, for instance.
vs. 2 — newborn babes
vs. 5 — living stones, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood
vs. 9 — a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God
vs. 10 — the people of God
Let’s do two things here. Let’s comment on what each of these mean, then walk through the entire epistle of I Peter and identify every similar expression of who we are in Christ.
NEWBORN BABES. We’ve been born again, we have become as little children, and we are to have the kind of ravenous appetite for “the pure milk of the Word” as a baby has for its mother’s milk.
LIVING STONES. Each of us is a brick in the building of this house. Remove any one stone and it affects everything around it. Each is essential. In this case, Peter stresses that we are not inanimate objects without life or feeling. We are “living stones.” .
A SPIRITUAL HOUSE. “A sanctuary vibrant with life” is how Peterson puts it in The Message. These are all metaphors or similes Peter is using, so we are not talking about a literal house. Think of an extended family, with the members tied together not by a common DNA but by the new life given each by the same Father.
A HOLY PRIESTHOOD. Priests had two primary functions: representing God to man and representing man to God. A priest was the go-between, the mediator. Jesus was the perfect High Priest. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb. 4:15) As priests serving under this wonderful High Priest, we intercede for mankind before God in prayer and through our witness and preaching, we deliver God’s word to others.
A CHOSEN PEOPLE. This is the best-known description of the Jews of the Old Testament. They were God’s Elect; it’s all through Scriptures, beginning with Abraham in Genesis 12. But Peter applies the same term to all who are in Christ. He joins with Paul (Romans 9) in stressing that true Israel is all those who place faith in Jesus Christ.
A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. In the previous verse, Peter called God’s children a “holy priesthood,” and now “a royal priesthood.” What’s the difference? “Holy” means “set apart,” and “royal” tells who we were set apart unto: the King of Kings. We are different from the world because we are His.
A HOLY NATION. Again, this is a term that implied Israel to everyone Peter was addressing. In Christ, we are not just a scattered people (I Peter 1:1) who were hounded and persecuted, but a nation and a special kind of one at that. We are holy to God.
A PEOPLE BELONGING TO GOD. I grew up with the KJV as our only Bible, and so knew this term as it was found there: “A peculiar people.” We had lots of fun with that, and many a preacher went to town on that image. I expect many an eccentric saint excused his oddity by quoting this reference. The actual meaning however may be something a little less exotic. In a general sense, kings owned the entire country. But in another way, they owned specific lands and treasures outright. We are that kind of treasure in Christ. While it’s true, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1), it’s even more true that the redeemed are “bought with a price” (I Corinthians 6:20). We are His.
THE PEOPLE OF GOD. I can’t think of anything to add to this.
Now, as though all of this is not enough, Peter sprinkles allusions throughout his epistle as to all that we are in Christ.
1:1 God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered
1:2 Chosen according to God’s foreknowledge
1:14 Obedient children
1:17 Strangers again.
1:23 Born again
1:24 Grass (sort of)
Then, skipping over the first 10 verses of chapter 2….
2:11 Dear friends, aliens, strangers
2:13 Citizens of this world
2:16 Free men, servants of God
2:17 Brotherhood of believers
2:25 Rescued sheep
3:6 Daughters of Sarah (well, if we are sons of Abraham, why can’t we all be daughters of Sarah?)
3:7 Heirs of the gracious gift of life
3:9 Heirs of blessings
4:12 Dear friends, sufferers
4:16 Bearers of “that name”
4:17 Household of God (“family of God”)
5:2 God’s flock
5:14 All who are in Christ Jesus
Readers who are familiar with the entire Bible will think of other passages giving names and terms for the people of the Lord. The first few chapters of II Corinthians is one that holds special meaning for me.
Consider these terms for God’s people from II Corinthians….
2:15 A fragrance of Christ
3:2-3 Living letters
4:7 Earthen vessels
5:20 Ambassadors for Christ
6:16 God’s Temple
I’ve sometimes thought Paul was on a roll there, and wished he had not stopped dropping in epithets for the Lord’s people in each chapter. But, after combing through the rest of II Corinthians numerous times, I’ve found none. That epistle–Second Corinthians–is as rich as anything in the Word and I dearly love to mine it. Readers who have missed out on its riches will enjoy discovering its delights. Each chapter is a mother lode.
The Apostle John gave us a good line to end on.
“Beloved, now are we the children of God. And it has not yet appeared what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is.” (I John 3:3)
How fascinating that toward the end of the New Testament, a book that must contain hundreds of attempts to tell us who we are in Christ, we have this admission that we still do not know all we are in Him.
Stay faithful, brothers and sisters. It just gets better from here on in.