One of the highest hopes of the New Covenant is the royal priesthood of all believers. It ties together what God spoke to old Israel and what He hoped to accomplish in the spiritual Israel of the New Covenant. But, the reality of growing up as a Christian in America had nothing whatsoever to do with it.1 The only priests we knew wore black robes, so thoughts of us all being a royal priesthood were far from me, or anyone I ever knew.
I grew up in a very conservative Catholic church. We were so conservative that a dead language was spoken there (Latin), although I sort of remember some sermons in English. What they said the rest of the time, I do not know. The impressionable parts were the grand ceremonies, the burning incense, the costumes, and all the candles. I really liked the candles. Oh yes, the statues of all the suffering figures were interesting. But the people all these images depicted were no more alive or real to me than the statues. Some of the paint was peeling on them, and on the walls, but I didn't mind. It seemed to go along with everything else.
As a young adult, I became a Protestant, specifically an Evangelical Christian. There we heard the words "royal priesthood," but there was no more reality to them than among the black-robed priests. After I'd been at the church long enough, I saw its bedrock -- the families that had lived in the town for generations. I saw the strength of that, and the subtle but real way those same families excluded others. They were the church. The rest of us were just long-term guests. Most of us were college or graduate students, so what could we really say? We would no longer be a part of their lives in a few years, or maybe even a few months...
It was no different, though, for the guests or the real church members. All they had was their own circle, and if what they needed wasn't there, they didn't have it. They had no way to get it, either. I can still remember the shock of seeing the reality of what God warned of in the Old Covenant -- the iniquities of the fathers and the mothers being passed on to the sons and daughters. It was painful to see people trapped for years by the same negative opinions about themselves, suffering with the same reactions to others, and feeling the same lack of hope that what they believed would ever make any difference. They had no hope of changing, as far as I could see. They were just trying to be good people, hoping that in the end the bad in their lives wouldn't outweigh the good.2 I was a little too self-righteous, in my youth, to see that the same things were happening in my family.
Anyway, a real hope to change wasn't part of the program. I was part of a religious system that conformed so very well to the world. Was this what the Savior had come for? Was this what it was all about? I gave myself to finding out. Eventually, I became Sunday school superintendent, involved in church government, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and volunteering in local shelters. Things like this filled up my time outside of work. I gave to many Christian charities. Their constant appeals for money somehow never turned me off.
I turned to the Scriptures on my own, too, but no amount of study ever made them make very much sense. Finally, alone in the sanctuary of my church, I cried out to God with all of my heart, "What should I do? Where are you?" and I heard absolutely nothing. God was not there, or He was silent.
It was only in the Community that I could start to see how squarely the securities of home, family, and possessions actually stood in the way of true faith. All of them kept one firmly planted in the world. Something must be wrong with the faith that kept the world "right side up" so well.3 It didn't fundamentally change anyone's life, beyond causing some to give up the things that were killing them. But so did Alcoholics Anonymous. But then what? What happens at home? What happens in your heart? I knew the answer to these questions from painful experience. Nothing happens -- nothing real or lasting, anyway. Simply more head knowledge.
The famous incident with the golden calf in the Old Testament paints a radically different basis of discipleship. It sketched the outlines, and the Savior later filled in the entire painting. What happened with the Levites in Exodus 32 became the basis for the gospel Messiah would preach in the New Testament. Their response showed us something very important about responding to the gospel. When the whole nation fell into idolatry, Moses cried out, "Whoever is for Yahweh, come to me!" The Levites did, no matter what it cost them. That is why Moses could say to them:
Today you have ordained yourselves for the service of Yahweh, each one at the cost of a son or a brother, and so have brought a blessing on yourselves this day. (Exodus 32:29)
What this dedication and blessing meant would both get clearer and clearer. In the end they would forsake what the other tribes gained -- an inheritance in the land -- to gain Yahweh as their only possession.pfn]Deuteronomy 18:1-2 They traded one inheritance for the other, the greater for the lesser.
This very sacrifice of all things, giving them as a ransom, you could say,4 show us the call and the reward the Savior built His gospel on in Luke 14:26-33. These verses show how you can gain what you value more -- eternal life -- by forsaking what you value less -- your life and your possessions in this world.5 It is one for the other, life for life.
That is what was absent from all the churches I went to, and all the sermons I heard, even Billy Graham's. You cannot "add Christ to your life." The only way you can gain Him and become His disciple is to forsake all things. How can anyone say he believes in Him if he will not do what He says?
But why do you call Me "Lord, Lord," and do not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:46)
I could never get past that. It was so clear. And I could never have peace until I found a place where I could do that.
If any of us in that little church had really understood what He was saying in Luke 14, we would have been shocked. Most would have rejected His words out of hand. That is what religion does: assures us that He does not mean what He says. If He did, then our lives would be entirely different!
It was the Savior who said that any and all things that could hold a man back from following Him, even family and friends, must be hated. That is, the grip of all the things that make up a man's life must not compete for the loyalty He must give Messiah's cause. This is what Moses called for that day with the golden calf. Today the sword does not come physically, but it does come spiritually.
There is a cutting edge to the gospel that separates the sincere and the insincere. It exposes those who secretly love money and their place in the world. That edge is what the Master said about possessions. The Son of God demanded that His disciples give up all of their possessions, and it is only with such disciples that His kingdom will be built. He meant what He said:
So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)
His followers will heed that call joyfully, as the three thousand did on the day of Pentecost. He predicted their joy in two of His beloved parables. One was about the pearl of great value and the other about the treasure hidden in the field:
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
So it was crystal clear then who followed Him and who didn't. You really have to believe in order to have joy in giving up everything! Later, it would be equally clear who believed in the message preached at Pentecost and who didn't. Today, it's not so clear. His pretended followers mouth vain words about being willing to give up everything. How would such "willingness" have gone over with the apostles? Consider the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. Truly, where your treasure is, there will heart be also.6 It is not the other way around!
It is only when your willingness to do His will becomes actual obedience, for "His sake and the gospel's sake,"7 that you can know that faith has come by hearing.8 Faith came to the rich young ruler; he heard the Savior Himself, but he rejected His words.9 That's why he went away sad. Because of his many possessions He openly denied Him, the One he knew could give him eternal life. He valued earthly wealth and security more than eternal life. But the call to him is the same as the call to all, as Mark 10:29-30 makes perfectly clear.10
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
All who believe are the royal priesthood. Just as with the Old Covenant priesthood, Yahweh is again our only possession. Under the terms of the New Covenant, we are to give up all our other possessions. It is the only way we can be priests, part of that holy nation. Our conscience won't allow us any less devotion. But many were so disallowed and disapproved in Messiah's day, and many more will be today. Anyone whose "conscience" can allow otherwise should soberly consider John's words:
He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1 John 2:4)
When our Master said to the Galilean fishermen, "Follow Me!" He meant, "Do as I do!" They forsook their livelihood, their father, their former life to do just that. It is such willingness that allows the Holy Spirit to make a home in a man's heart. Those who believe in Him obey Him because they love Him.11 And they love one another, too. This is how the world will know who His disciples are.12 It's that simple. Even a child can understand it. We hope you can, too.
Come and be a part of the royal priesthood. The cost is high, but the gain is great -- far greater than the cost.