Ambassadors of Living Hope: An Identity Recheck (1 Peter 2:9-10)
We have come full circle since we started this series in 1 Peter. We started with knowing our identity and will be looking at our identity again today. This was huge, because our conduct flows out of who we perceive ourselves to be. Identity precedes and affects your behavior. I was reading this past week of a group of boys who were known for their delinquent behavior. They would pick pockets, steal from shops, and commit all kinds of crimes. They had a name for themselves: the ‘throw-away’ kids.” These children were abandoned downtown by their parents, and left to survive on their own. They (correctly) viewed themselves as throwaway children, so they stole to survive. They defined themselves in this way and their conduct flowed out of who they perceived themselves to be.
God calls us to live our Christian life for Jesus Christ. We say things like, “It’s all about Him!” and “It’s not about me.” But the truth is we cannot truly live all for Christ until we know who He has made us to be. It doesn’t matter if you adopt a “throw-away” kid. Until and unless he/she embraces the new identity he/she has received, it doesn’t make a difference. The “throw-away kid” will need your help to help him discover who he is. If you are confused about that, you will be leading him astray! You can’t take someone where you haven’t gone.
What is an ambassador? An ambassador is one who: 1) represents his own government, 2) makes his temporary residence in a country other than his own, and 3) speaks only what the authorities from his home country tells him to speak. In a sense, his identity is wrapped up in representing his country. The apostle Paul writes that we are “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Cor. 5:20).
Peter is about to start a new section in living out your hope among unbelievers. He has been focusing on our walk with God, the Word of God, the people of God and doing the work of God. Now before he gets into living out our hope with those who do not know the Lord, he wants to make sure we know who and whose we are. You can try to live out your hope all you can with unbelievers, but if you don’t know who you are in Christ, you will be self-motivated, paralyzed by your own failures, consumed with the world’s pressure and eventually withdrawn and ineffective.
I am excited for what God is doing at Living Hope. I see Him stretching us and I have been praying we are flexible because blessed are the flexible, for they shall be stretched! We have been called here for a purpose. I believe this purpose is to be an ambassador for Jesus Christ; to bring endless living hope of Jesus Christ to those who are dying a hopeless end. We are not called to keep an aquarium but to be fishers of men. But we cannot do this unless we know who we are in Him. God calls us to be ambassadors telling others about the kingdom of Heaven, but the ambassadors must understand his role. To represent our King well, we have to know who He is and who we are in Him. Peter had called us planted pilgrims, if you remember and chosen and loved children, but here he is going to give us five more identity markers for the ambassador of Christ. I’m going to reveal them in successive order.
I. Four Identity Markers of the Ambassador of Christ (1 Pet. 2:9a-d, 10)
First of all, straight from the text:
a) We are a chosen race (1 Pet. 2:9a)
Peter begins with a “but,” contrasting unbelievers in the previous verse, who in choosing not to believe in Christ, will stumble over Him in judgment. You are first a chosen race. We talked a lot about how God fore-knew us, which means He fore-loved us. The theme is a favorite one of Peter’s. I don’t understand it all. John Piper adds, “I stand in awe of it. I tremble with joy at it. I bow and accept it. I long to be faithful to its purpose. I am chosen.”
Peter is again going back to OT Israel. Look at Ex. 19:5-6. Now I do not fall in the camp of those who say the church has replaced Israel, but I do think the church has equal value and significance as Israel did with God in the Old Testament.
Here, Peter focuses on the fact that what defines our identity is not our ethnic race, but our redemption race. Peter uses the word genos, “a term denoting race and blood relationship, and involving the idea of hereditary privilege. It is a further reminder of the new birth (1:23), whereby Christians have been brought into the divine family and thus share in all that such a relationship means (2:4–7).” In Christ, we are no longer are defined by how we look on the outside. When He saved us, He adopted us into His family, but went further. He gave us His DNA when He gave us the Holy Spirit. We do not have to be driven by what we are on the outside. Not that race is not important to God, don’t get me wrong. I think race is a beautiful thing that was created ultimately by God to show His creativity. I am all about celebrating racial diversity, but we cannot be defined by it. Race cannot be what defines us in Christ. Ultimately the race that will survive are those who are covered by the blood of Christ and once we come to Christ, we must be ambassadors bringing all human races to the chosen race in Christ.
This is a good word for us here at an ethnic church. Are you defined by your race or cheesy pastor humor coming right now…or the grace of God in Jesus Christ?
Sometimes I notice ethnic Christians bring out the race or culture card in excusing their behavior. “Well, in our culture,” they say, “this is how we’ve done it.” So when you tell them, “Encourage someone today verbally,” you get a response, “Well, in our culture, we don’t verbally encourage because you should already know what is expected of you. I should not have to tell you.” Who cares what your culture says? What does the Bible say? But there are situations where the issue is more of a personal preference of a culture than something unbiblical right? It is a tough balance sometimes to respect cultural/racial ways of thinking, yet be firm on your personal convictions about things.
But let this sink in. So many people are wondering what group they belong in. A lot of us struggle with are we American or are we Asian or both? People have all kinds of names of all kinds of people. I remember at Moody one day, most of the grad students lived in Jenkins Hall and decided one day to do a potluck dinner. There were a lot of international students, so there was a beautiful array of food from all over the world. After dinner, my roommate had his guitar and he started playing some worship songs. We ended up singing “God is so good.” Initially it was in English, but then someone started singing in Korean and someone else sang it in Cantonese and still another in Spanish and so on. It was totally spontaneous and totally a blessing! For a second, wow, a glimpse of Heaven! Think about this for a second, that in eternity past, God loved us and chose us to be His ambassadors together for such a time as this. We are part of the race that will never die. The race of Jesus Christ!
I pray as ambassadors we breathe in Bible country and when people walk in here, let them not see an ethnic church, but a church united in love for Jesus Christ. Let them all see we are covered in the blood of Christ. We are a chosen race. Let’s build on that. Secondly,
b) We are a chosen race of royal priests (1 Pet. 2:9b)
I really could not think of better descriptions than of Peter’s here for this. We learn here that the “spiritual house” in 1 Pet. 2:5 is also a royal house, of a royal family. David Guzik says, “The offices of royalty and priesthood were jealously separated in Israel, but Jesus, who is our King and Priest, has brought them together for His people.” Another commentator notes, “This phrase means that the people constitute a group of priests belonging to a king.” Did you know that “God’s purpose for Israel was that she be a nation of priests (Exod. 19:6) who would stand between God and the rest of humanity representing people before God. However, God withdrew this blessing from the whole nation because of the Israelites’ apostasy with the golden calf and gave it to the faithful tribe of Levi instead (Num. 3:12–13, 45; 8:14; cf. Exod. 13:2; 32:25–29)?” But in Christ now, all of us believers are called to be priests of God. We talked a lot about being a priest last week, so I will not belabor the point, but here the idea is conveyed that will be reigning and ruling with Christ, but at the same time serving Him (Rev. 20:6).
As ambassador kingly priests, we serve our King by worshipping Him, praying to Him and for others and offering spiritual sacrifices. This thought has really helped me from the captivity of activity and the captivity of futility. There may be 200 things I need to do in a day or nothing in a day, but I have been reminding myself, first and foremost I am called to be a priest. So I make sure my priorities are right then. As a priest, I bring people to God. So I want to make sure I am serving my family. I pray for people. I think about bringing people to God. It’s amazing as I focus on being a priest under my great High priest, I slowly am free from the captivity of activity! I have to keep reminding of where I sit as a royal priest! It’s not always easy, but it takes dependence, failure and all that you have to swim against the current of your flesh and all that the world says.
A few years ago, there was this big news about President Bush’s daughters drinking and partying. I think they were in college at the time. Drinking and partying are not unusual for a college lifestyle, but why were they picked out and all over the media. They were the President’s daughters. They sat in a very important place in the United States. You see, who you are depends on where you sit. How different would your life be if you lived like a royal priest? Do you realize you have been raised with Christ to reign with Him?
If you sat next to the King of Kings as His chosen to serve Him? Royal priests do not carry all of life’s troubles on their own. They have access to the King. They lay their burdens on His shoulders. Royal priests live to please their King. Royal priests stay cleansed knowing they are in front of their King always. Royal priests are not wasting their life on trivial things and things the world is consumed by. They are consumed with being priests for their King. We are a chosen race of royal priests:
c) We are a chosen race of royal priests distinguished by holiness (1 Pet. 2:9c)
You are a chosen ambassador who also functions as priest to the King, but what really makes you different? Most groups have distinct characteristics. Italians seem to talk with their hands a lot. Africans love to be hospitable, Taiwanese love to eat together and Indians are brilliant. Oh right, don’t be defined by race right? Indians love to use their head.
What about this chosen race of royal priests? How can you distinguish between one who is part of this race and one who is not? Holiness. Peter comes back to this. It would be sad if an ambassador is called out and sent to represent his country and then disappears into the country to which he is being sent. His job is not to blend in, but to represent his king and his nation. He is different. He is set apart. Sure he makes attempts to relate and communicate to where he is sent, but in the end, he is distinguished by where he’s from.
For believers, it is holiness. Remember what holiness is? Wholeness. It is not looking sad and quoting verses. It is God putting His hands on you (and you cooperating) to make you look more and more like Him. That is holiness. Think about that with every activity you do. God, how can you make me more whole as I serve you at Living Hope? As I am an employee? As I am a brother, sister, husband, wife, son or daughter? Let your talk and your walk set you apart from others around you. Do you try to blend in everywhere you go and keep the peace or are you consciously allowing God to transform you so that naturally in that overflow, people are brought closer to God because they are with you? A holy person is like a boat on the water. The boat’s purpose is fulfilled when it is in the water, but its function and usefulness deteriorates when water gets in the boat. So too for believers when too much of the world gets into them. We must keep our “vessels” in the water of this world but not let the water of the world get into our “vessel”!
We are a chosen race of royal priests, distinguished by holiness:
This next part is so important. Notice Peter says, “a people for his own possession.” Look over at 1 Pet. 2:10: “once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” The Greek term here “possession (peripoiēsis) means ‘to purchase,’ ‘to acquire for a price’ (cf. Eph. 1:14). Believers belong to God because He bought them at the ultimate price (1:18–19; cf. 1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Heb. 13:12; Rev. 5:9).” You are God’s prized possession.
Let this sink in. God not only chose you and you might think He stands there aloof and uninterested. He chose you and He wanted you. A lot of us want to feel wanted, but think about God of the Universe wanting you. I feel like we live through life at the world’s door crying out “Please want me!” And the world says I will have you if you are pretty enough. I will have you if you have the right job. I will have you if your personality is charming. I will have you, etc. And God says, “I want you, holes, flaws, wrinkles and all. In fact, I will pay all I have for you.”
Not only did He chose us and want us, He had mercy on us. He did not choose me and stand on the side when I was dying in my sin, He moved in and had mercy on me. He pitied me. John Piper notes, “My identity is fundamentally this: I have been shown mercy. I am a “mercied” person. I get my identity not first from my actions, but from being acted upon — with pity. I am a pitied one.” And God wants to work through us as His ambassadors to show mercy on those who are not yet His people and on those who needs to receive His mercy.
We are a chosen race of royal priests, distinguished by holiness, coveted and pitied by God. Why did He give us this new identity? Is it so we can sit behind an ambassador’s desk and look nice and important? Jot this last thing down:
II. The purpose of the ambassador’s identity is to make the identity of God known (1 Pet. 2:9e)
In the last part of 1 Pet. 2:9, Peter discloses the purpose of our identity. It is to “to proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Our identity is not an end in itself. God has given us an identity so that His identity might be proclaimed through us.
The word “proclaim” here means to “advertise” (Selwyn, p. 167) the noble acts of God in history and thus make him known.” It means to tell something that otherwise might be unknown. “Excellencies” can imply the ability to perform powerful, heroic deeds. And God made us who we are so that we can tell people who He is and what He has done. And what is more powerful and heroic and amazing as salvation?
This is where Peter goes next. Ambassadors’ identity is to advertise the identity of Jesus Christ, their King. What did this King do? He saw them in their sin, trapped by Satan, which is called “darkness.” He pitied them and called them out and illuminated their minds. Macarthur adds, “When believers receive Christ’s light, He illuminates their minds so they can discern the truth, and He changes their souls so they are able to apply it (cf. Ps. 119:105, 130; 1 Cor. 2:15–16; 2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Peter 1:19). They receive both the intellectual light of God’s truth and the righteous desires to obey it, neither of which they had before conversion.”
So God not only gave you a new identity which is wrapped up in Him, He also illuminates your mind to live out that identity to make His identity known when He saved you. Are you making His identity known? Piper concludes, “God made us who we are so that we might proclaim the excellency of his freedom in choosing us. The excellency of his grace in pitying us. The excellencies of his authority and power in possessing us. The excellencies of his worth and purity in making us holy.”
God is working at Living Hope! I have been sensing in my heart, He is getting ready to move among us. He is preparing us as His ambassadors. But before He sends us out, He wants us to look in the mirror and come to the cross. Let all self-loathing die there. Let all feelings of inadequacy die. He has given us a new identity. As I was preparing this, I felt God’s heart for us. I felt Him really broken over the fact that we don’t really believe who He has made us to be. My fear is that as you hear this, some of you are refusing to believe it. You are trapped by your past. You are trapped by your experiences and circumstances. You are trapped by your problems. You are trapped by culture. You are trapped by pressure to perform. So you are hearing it, but not believing this message. This breaks my heart. I would do anything to get this through all those walls around you. I can only bring you to the proverbial water. You must make the choice to drink it. You really want God to do something with us this summer? Do you want to see Him use you to make Him known? He wants to first make your identity in Him known to you? Will you dare trust Him to believe who He says you are?
Taken from http://www.xenos.org/classes/principles/cpu2w3.htm accessed 27 May 2010.
John Piper, “Christian Identity and Christian Destiny,” http://www.worshipmap.com/sermons/piper-1pet2,9.html accessed 28 May 2010.
Hillyer, N. (68).
David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible, http://www.studylight.org/com/guz/view.cgi?book=1pe&chapter=002 accessed 28 May 2010.
Marshall, I. H. ( 1 Pet. 2:9).
MacArthur, J. (130).
John Piper, Ibid.
Blum, E. A. (231).
MacArthur, J. (133).
MacArthur, J. (131).
John Piper, Ibid.