1 Peter 2:9-12 – Chosen by God

ChosenByGod

You are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, people who belong to God. You were chosen to tell about the excellent qualities of God, who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not God’s people, but now you are. Once you were not shown mercy, but now you have been shown mercy.

Dear friends, since you are foreigners and temporary residents in the world, I’m encouraging you to keep away from the desires of your corrupt nature. These desires constantly attack you. Live decent lives among unbelievers. Then, although they ridicule you as if you were doing wrong while they are watching you do good things, they will praise God on the day he comes to help you. (GW)

The Apostle Peter wrote his letter to a group of believers struggling in the middle of suffering. He sought to encourage them with who they are in Christ, as well as exhort them to not go back to old ways of dealing with hard circumstances. And this is darned good instruction for us, as well, when we feel beat down in tough situations:

Remember who you are and to whom you belong; and, let that new identity, not the old one, determine how you will respond and what choices you will make when the going gets rough.

We are chosen people (Greek ἐκλεκτόν which is literally “elected”). We have royal blood. We belong to God – called by him and set apart for a life of proclaiming his great mercy. Peter simply encouraged and exhorted with the very same mercy he himself had been shown. Peter was chosen by Jesus despite his credentials. He had no formal training and was impulsive, random, headstrong, and likely had some first-century version of adult attention deficit disorder. Yet, Jesus elected him because God’s choice always nullifies human pride and ingenuity.

God chooses people for deliverance from sin, chooses to bestow royalty upon them, and chooses them as his own to be his ambassadors to the world. God’s choice of us is not based on our ability, but on God’s call and the Spirit’s presence and power working in and through us so that we might not boast in anything but the cross.

These chosen people Peter addressed were not full citizens. They were considered as foreigners by the Roman Empire in which they lived. The believers had limited rights in a Roman society which valued wealth, power, status, prestige, and pedigree. The Christians, along with Peter, had none of this privilege. Peter was letting them know that they have a status as God’s chosen people, distinct from the values of their surrounding culture.

The Christians were equipped for royal greatness through being set apart for Christ, with the Spirit of God to help make them holy in an unholy society.

It is from this firm standing and status of belonging to God and having their identity in Jesus Christ that the struggling believers could, then, firmly resist turning to the dark side. A strong sense of place and purpose is what helps us all to live decent lives, even when those who misunderstand and mistreat seem to be having the day over us. More than once in my own life I have been ridiculed and mocked only years later to have those very same persons say, “I noticed how you responded and watched how you handled situations and it made a deep impression on me.” Indeed, they went from parody to praise because of the mercy of God.

We are encouraged by Peter to take the long view of our circumstances. The Scriptures invite us to a more expansive view of our lives, a bigger picture of those around us, and a broader perspective of our society as a royal priesthood of believers. Any old fool can criticize others from afar, play armchair quarterback about things they know nothing about, and expect everyone else to bend to their way of thinking. It is, however, the wise person, instructed through deep suffering, who chooses to walk in the way of mercy, day after day, week after week, year after year, even though the pain is persistent and relentless. Such persons belong to God and have no need to rely on unmerciful and corrupt practices to live a full and satisfying life.

Sovereign God, thank you that you accept us as we are: vulnerable, flawed and in need of love. Feed us and fill us with the certainty of your love, the power of your Spirit, and the joy of your Kingdom as we open ourselves to your choice and your call upon us. Because you have chosen us, we declare your glory to the world. We no longer walk in the uncertainty of the darkness but in the certainty of your glorious light through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Click Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship as together we seek to live in the light of our glorious identity.

Colossians 2:6-15


            My wife is always good about speaking with children in a way that is uplifting, encouraging, and dignified.  I have learned from her that bending down to talk with kids, taking an interest in their words and lives, and paying careful attention to them solidifies their sense of worth, identity, and belonging.  How we treat kids in the family, the church, and in public can make a huge difference in the trajectory of how they will grow up.
             One of the most fundamental of all Christian truths is that we belong to Christ.  We are his children, and God has given us everything we need for a solid awareness of our true identity.  The follower of Jesus is a person who has moved from the realm of being in the world to the sphere of being in Christ.  The Christian’s knowledge, understanding, and sense of identity are vitally important because we as people live up to how we view ourselves.  
Today’s New Testament lesson is dense with the teaching of who we are in Christ.  We are to walk or follow in Christ; we are rooted and built up in Christ; we have been filled in Christ; we have a spiritual circumcision in Christ; we have been raised in Christ to new life; we are triumphant in Christ.  All this is meant to saturate us with the richness and security of being in the realm of Jesus Christ.
Take ten minutes today and focus on one of the phrases or words from these verses.  Think about its meaning.  Ponder how it makes a difference in your Christian life.  Then decide what you will do with the insight God gives you.  Finally, share it with a friend.  In all these ways we can push the truth of our identity firmly into our souls and live into the reality that we belong to Christ.
Gracious God, you have brought me from death to life, from being of the world to being in Christ.  Solidify my sense of identity with Jesus, and release that self-knowledge into loving practice toward others.  Amen.

Who I Am

     

 

 
     There are two crucial matters that every church needs to understand and grapple with; they are:  1) Christians are children of God, loved by God – that is their status and identity; and, 2) Christians are to abide and live into this identity as children of God, loved by God.  In other words, we must, first, know who we are; and, second, know how we are to live (1 John 3:1-7).
 
Who We Are
 
When Jesus was on this earth he was misunderstood by nearly everyone around him, and Christians must learn to expect the same.  If we are true children loved by God, we will neither fit in with the world, nor will we seek the world’s affirmation and accolades.  The practical difference between Christianity and the world is that Christians locate their primary identity, allegiance, and purpose in Christ, whereas the world finds their identity in things other than Jesus.
 
Being loved by God brings assurance, peace, security, and hope.  These qualities cannot be manufactured by us because they are results of being loved.  The world cannot give us these characteristics because it does not have the love of God to give.  This does not mean that Christians always have it all together.  In fact, we are continually in a process of discovering our true identity and growing more and more into that uniqueness.  The reason Jesus could live his life without needing the world’s recognition is that he was firmly and securely assured of the Father’s love and care for him. 
 
As Christians, we will keep learning what it means to be loved by God in Christ.  And this will help fortify our faith so that we will not find our identities in worldly roles, however intrinsically good those roles might be.  A woman whose primary identity is a mother will live for her family to such a degree that her salvation comes through it.   A person whose primary identity is a teacher will live for the job because saving the world for him will come through education.  But when the Christian has his/her primary identity as a child of God, loved by him, then that person will view deliverance from sin as coming through Jesus.  When the church, living and serving together is secure in its identity as children of God and loved by him, then we are able to withstand any adulterous flirtations from the world to woo us away from the centrality of Jesus and onto something else.
 
How We Are To Live.
 
            Jesus said all the law could be summed up in two commands:  love God; and love others (Matthew 22:37-40).  For Jesus, breaking the law means hating instead of loving; working to undermine someone instead of seeking their best interests; excluding others instead of including others; dividing instead of cooperating.  No one who abides or remains in Christ keeps on sinning by continuing on the same trajectory that they had before knowing Christ (John 15:1-17).  Jesus came to take care of the sin issue once for all through the cross.  Therefore, Christians, loved by God, cannot be sinning if they are abiding; the two cannot co-exist with each other.
 
            Identity and life are to work together.  For example, I am a citizen of Wisconsin.  It is both a status and a life.  I not only live in this state geographically, but I am to abide in it as a responsible person.  What does it mean to be a Wisconsinite?  How is it different from the rest of the world?  Being a relatively new resident, two words come to mind about living in Wisconsin: sports and food.  Wisconsinites readily identify themselves as Packer fans and forsake any identification with the god-forsaken pagan Vikings.  We like our prep and collegiate sports; and, our outdoor sports of hunting and fishing.  When it comes to food, there is nothing to compare to the Friday night fish fry; the cheese curds; the venison; the mustard; and, wash it all down with a “Spotted Cow,” or maybe a trip to the “bubbler” will do just fine.
 
            We are to become more and more like Christ.  Our identity as loved by God means we will seek to live in Christ by living a life of love.  The people of Wisconsin have a general reputation of being polite and helpful, not rude and unhelpful.  They should live into this identity and behavior.  And as Christians whose primary identity is in being children of God, we should keep living and abiding in Christ through love and obedience. If our primary identity is secure in being a loved child of God, then what comes out of us will be loving words and actions, even to those in the world who might not believe or understand.
 

 

            Knowing our true identity is necessary.  Without it, the church is only a random collection of individuals doing their own thing, however good it is.  But knowing who we are brings focus, purpose, and value in a way the world cannot provide because the greatest need we all have is for Jesus.

Fitting In vs. Belonging

 
 
            My family and I lived in an urban area of Michigan for fifteen years.  Then, we moved back to our roots in Iowa, cornfields and, well, more cornfields.  One of the first things my girls asked me after living in Iowa for a few days was, “Dad, where are all the Black people?”  They were simply struck with all the homogeneity – lots of white people… and corn.  Maybe you, like me, have strolled into a church on a Sunday morning and are immediately aware of how much the people are all alike, whether it is race or something else.  Typically, in any given church on any given occasion, the people talk pretty much the same; wear pretty much the same clothes; and, act pretty much the same.
 
            Too often we focus on fitting in rather than belonging.  We know how to talk, what to wear, and how to make the people around us happy.  We know what not to mention, what subjects to avoid, and how to be nice even though we fought like cats and dogs on the way to church.  After all, we want to fit in by appearing to have it all together, right?  Researcher and author Brene Brown does as good as job as anyone in making the critical distinction between fitting in versus belonging.  She says, “fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted.  Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”
 
            We all need a secure sense of belonging.  We do not all need to fit in.  Likely the reason for the presence of a Christian and/or Evangelical subculture lies in this tendency to want to fit in.  So, we learn how to wear gaudy t-shirts, place provocative bumper stickers on our cars, and be generally obnoxious to those who disagree with us because we want to fit in with our group of whatever-we-call-ourselves.  It is important to note, however, that we are not hardwired by God to fit in, but we are specially wired by him to be loved and to belong.
 
            Even within local churches, there can be cliques which focus more on a special issue or interest rather than Christ.  It was into such a situation that Paul said to the Roman church, “For none of us lives to himself alone, and none of us dies to himself alone.  If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”  He went on to make this conclusion: “You, then, why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat” (Romans 14:8-12).
 
            It is not our job as Christians or church leaders to force people into fitting in.  Rather, it is our responsibility before God to give people a proper sense of belonging in Christ.  We all have a desire to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  As Christians, we long to see God’s kingdom come on earth and to see his will done here as it is in heaven.  We want to be a part of God’s grand work of spreading the good news of Jesus.  Fitting in to whatever is chic and seeking cheap approval are hollow imitations of the real deal.  True authentic belonging will only happen when we are real and open about ourselves to the people and the church to which we are committed.
 
            If we constantly fear what others think of us; measure our words in order to be accepted; or, swear at ourselves under our breath when we screw up; then, we have a problem with trying to fit in.  It is much better to be who we are and simply invite the Holy Spirit of God to do any kind of work in us that needs to be done, rather than being someone we are not in the false notion that people will reject us if they knew who we really are.  What is more, when others let us in and open ever so slightly their real selves, there needs to be unconditional love and empathy.  To sit and stare at another person like they are from Mars will not only shut down authenticity, it will push truth to the margins of the church.  If the truth will set us free, then we can only expect bondage when genuine sharing is not met with love.
 

 

            Practicing belonging instead of fitting in can be looked at as a spiritual discipline.  That is, honing-in on belonging to Christ and to one another are to be daily decisions of faith and commitment.  The church needs more Christians who belong, and less mindless conformity to cultural standards of fitting in.  We all need to give and receive love each and every day – the kind of love that Jesus displayed and practiced.  We do not need the second hand smoke of ornery believers who press others to be like them.  This is a conversation worth having with any small group or leadership team so that we foster a solid sense of godly belonging.  So, go for it and resist the temptation to be quiet and fit in.