But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9)
As a Bible-believing Christian, I never had the awareness or the sense of being part of "a people." The hope of becoming part of a people was never included in the presentation of the Gospel that I or any of my Christian friends received. Of course, there was a conceptual sense of subscribing to a belief system, by asserting that I believed in the virgin birth, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, His humanity and divinity, His imminent return, and the hope of being raptured. Once I had satisfied this checklist, I was approved for fellowship in certain Christian circles.
But how deep is that fellowship? How connected is it? In my experience, the contact was only as long as the Sunday service, or the duration of the rally. Afterwards we all went home and pursued our own careers, completely disconnected from any collective or joint purpose having to do with building up the Body of Christ together.
The primary goal of the Christian part of my life was to get other people saved and into a Bible-believing Church. The goal of the other part of my life, which occupied most of my time and energy, was to become as successful and comfortable in life as my own abilities could enable me to be. I was completely oblivious to what being part of a people might be. But how important is this to God? Doesn't He desire the reality of a people?
He delivered His people Israel out of Egypt. They came out intact as a people, with traditions and a culture. They were to be the model for the whole world of what a people should be like — those who acknowledge the Creator as their God. Interestingly, when you take a closer look all the Scriptures are addressed to a people, not to isolated individuals.
I didn't learn this in my former church. Are you learning this in your church?
So, what does being a people have to do with Jesus? Everything!
No one other than a people can proclaim the praises of the One who saved them, as it says in 1 Peter 2:9-10. Verse 10 says, "Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God..."
Is that really true in your experience? Are you conscious of it? After joining your church, was there ever a point in time where it was clear and evident to you that you had become part of a people? That was never my experience during the entire ten years that I faithfully went to church and graduated from Bible school. I read the verses many times, but there was no practical reality that I could cling to and acknowledge that what I was a part of could truly be called a people.
Everyone has a national identity — American, German, Italian, etc. — but those have nothing to do with proclaiming His excellencies. Everyone has a nationality, but not everyone is part of His people.
Everyone has one or more racial or ethnic identities, and within that identity some have a certain sense of belonging. But racial identity does not in itself form a people for God's own possession.
God wants a people. He wants a people who will be His own special possession.1 In fact, they will be His very own creation, as is prophesied in the Psalms:
Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD. (Psalm 102:18)
They will be the result of His forgiveness, through the sacrifice of the One...
...who gave Himself for us to redeem2 us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14)
What the apostles warned the first believers against and fought against is the very thing we find ourselves in the midst of today: the total loss of identity as a people, and the confusion that results from that loss.
When the first believers heard the gospel, they were saved because they responded appropriately to what they heard:
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself." And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, "Save yourselves from this perverse generation." (Acts 2:37-40)
Consider the context: Peter was addressing Jews gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. The "perverse generation" Peter was speaking of was the fallen religious system of their day. If you read a little farther, you will see that those who were pierced to the heart by the message they heard didn't merely add a new religious dimension to their lives. They utterly abandoned their old lives in the fallen religious culture of their day, and so formed a people.
Have things changed for the better since their day? Of course not. So the call to be saved from this perverse generation is even more urgent today.
What do you envision when you hear that someone was saved from a fire, from drowning, or from a tyrannical ruler? One consistent thing you see is that the person is removed from the danger. In most cases it was accomplished with the help of others rather than his own efforts. He is removed from the dangerous situation and put in a place of safety. There is a movement from point A to point B.
Did that happen when they heard the gospel in the book of Acts? Yes.
Did that happen when you heard the gospel?
Those three thousand people in Acts 2:41 came from every conceivable background and experience.3 They had their own plans for their lives in their own cities or countries. They had set their own priorities in life, just as everyone else does — just as you do, and just as I did.
But Peter's preaching of the gospel brought to light God's priorities as opposed to their own — so much so that all those people saw the difference and were stopped in their tracks.4 They really wanted to do God's will,5 but they hadn't understood what that will was, nor how to do it. That's why they asked, "What must we do?" Why didn't they know? They were all there for the feast of Pentecost. They were being taught by the priests of Israel. That they didn't know God's will and purpose for His people is a clear indictment of the failures of the religious system and teachings of that day.
Just as Jesus had said, it was the blind leading the blind.6 But the gospel opened the eyes of a few, exposing the futility of what they had learned and were practicing. It was a perverse generation because they claimed to be God's people but were not obeying His commands, not caring for the poor in their land. The widows and the orphans were being completely neglected. People were offering blind and lame animals for sacrifice,7 which they bought in the Temple courts, instead of the best of their own flocks and herds. Little wonder that they even failed to recognize the Lamb of God Himself, to which all the animal sacrifices looked forward for their fulfillment.
The sincere ones who were willing to do God's will were lost in the confusion of the fallen religion of Judaism. This is what the term Babylon denotes. Babylon is the confusion of dead, rote religion that permeates everything and every place outside of the true commonwealth of Israel.8 Was the nation of Israel a commonwealth in that day? No, but according to their law they were supposed to be.9
A commonwealth is a people who are devoted to the common good through a voluntary sharing of mutual prosperity within a nation or a political body. As a Christian, I certainly didn't see the church as a commonwealth, although according to Ephesians 2:12-13, that is what I was supposed to have been brought into by the blood of Christ.
My church was not a commonwealth. Is your church?
Those first believers responded to the gospel in a most significant way. They began to share all their possessions. They became a commonwealth. They had everything in common.10 They were happy to live this way. What had never been done in Israel11 was finally being done by those disciples in the early church. There were no poor among them. This was the beginning of the restoration of His people, as they were beginning to function as a people, as the royal priesthood and holy nation they were always supposed to be.12 They were a true commonwealth, sharing all their wealth in common.
My church never imagined doing anything like that. Does yours?
What those people and the apostles did in Acts was the foundation and pattern for the church for all times.13 They were completely united in one heart and soul, and one purse,14 and God was pleased with them.15 Great grace comes only from Him when He is pleased. This is what it means to be a people. They gave up everything in obedience to the gospel,16 and God was pleased.17 Only in such a place, with such a people, does God command the blessing of life everlasting:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! ... For there the LORD has commanded the blessing — life everlasting. (Psalm 133:1-3)
Does this describe your church?
I'm so thankful that I am now part of such a people. You're welcome to come and see for yourself.