“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” 1 Peter 2:9
When God rescues the Israelites from Egyptian bondage and calls them to be a people set apart for his special task he challenges them to holiness, following his own example; be holy because I am holy. When Peter begins his first letter to the churches who are suffering under Roman oppression and trying to figure out how to live as an alternate community in the midst of an unholy culture he challenges them to holiness by reminding them of the words of the Father; be holy because I am holy. Peter understands that if the church is going to make a difference in society it is not by watering down the challenge to holiness but is specifically by living out their calling as a holy people of God, set apart for a special calling. And a few verses later, before reminding them to live as an alternate community so that others recognize their actions and are drawn to worship God, Peter reminds the churches just how special they are. He tells them they are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people. Besides simply creating a nice metaphor to describe the people of God and what the church should be, Peter is linking the church to God’s mission in the past. This isn’t the first time these phrases have been said in scripture.
In Exodus 19, as the Israelites are still celebrating their victory over Egypt through the plagues and the Red Sea, they approach Mt. Sinai. As they approach Sinai God tells Moses to set up barriers around the mountain because this is going to be a holy site. Before God gives Israel the 10 Commandments and the covenant he reminds them of what he is doing. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I rescued you. So obey my voice, follow my commands, and I will make you into a royal priesthood and a holy nation.” Over the next few chapters God will spell out the terms of their relationship and in Exodus 24 the people of Israel will with one voice speak “all that the Lord has said we will do.” Moses will then make some sacrifices, sprinkle blood on the people to consecrate them for service in God’s mission, and the leaders will share a covenant meal in the presence of God. But through all of this God is not just giving them rules to keep and commands to follow, God is setting them apart on mission. Israel is joining God in his mission to the world. Israel is being set apart as a blessing; to conduct themselves in such a way that the surrounding nations are drawn into relationship with God. Just as the priests in Israel are to help mediate relationship between God and the people, Israel is to serve as priests to help secure relationship between God and the other nations. Israel is a holy nation not because they are special, but because God is going to use them so that he might be proclaimed among the nations.
Peter picks up on this theme and challenges the church in the same way. Just as Israel was to be God’s special possession, a light to the nations, the church is to be God’s special possession, a light to the nations. Just as Israel’s purpose was to bless others, the church’s purpose is to bless others. Just as Israel was called to join God in his mission to the world, the church is called to join God in his mission to the world.
Peter is making the claim that the church does not exist for its own benefit, but specifically exists in order to be a blessing to others. The church should conduct itself in such a way that others are drawn not to the church, but to God. The church needs to be visible to the world around it, not for its own glory, but for the glory of the Father. We, as Christians, are a chosen race; not so that we can go to Heaven, but so that we can be a light to the nations. Just like Israel, the church is called to live as an alternate community in the midst of a fallen world. A community that practices mercy, justice, forgiveness, and love; so that those in the surrounding culture will be drawn into worship and fellowship with holy God. That is why we were chosen.