New Identities

New Identities

TEXT: 1 Peter 2:4-12; Isaiah 28:16-17a; Psalm 118:22-23

“Why do you call me “Lord, Lord” and not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)

Jesus liked telling stories to teach the truth.

He continued, “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you whom he is like:” (v.47)

The one who listen and does is like someone building a house who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock. When the storm and flood came, the house stood firm because it had been built on the rock. (v.48)

The one who hears Jesus’ teaching and doesn’t follow it (whether or not calling Jesus ‘Lord’) is like someone building a house on the ground without any foundation. When the storm and flood came, the house collapsed and the ruin of the house was great. (v.49)

Peter used similar imagery to describe what God was doing through Jesus Christ. And we are part of that story that I want to look at with you today.

Jesus the Cornerstone of it All (1 Peter 2:4-8)

Psalm 118 describes a stone that was rejected by humanity, but chosen and used by God to become the “chief cornerstone” of what the Lord was doing. The prophet Isaiah picks up that same image of a cornerstone that God has chosen for the foundation, going on to describe the nature and purpose of what God would do with that structure. It would be built on faith in God’s work and purpose. It would be “measured out” with God’s justice and righteousness.

Peter picks up on this same imagery in writing his letter that we are looking at this morning. He quotes these passages from Psalm 118 and from Isaiah 28 (used in our Call to Worship) and elaborates with building imagery to describe further the nature and purpose of God’s great work in Jesus Christ.

First is Jesus. As in those Old Testament passages, he is the cornerstone of what God is doing. (v.4) Jesus is not only cornerstone, but also described as a “living stone.” Peter is kind of blurring the lines of imagery here to make clear that God wasn’t just building another Temple or physical building, but a living, breathing human structure with Christ as both the first and the most important part. He goes on then to say that those who believe in Christ are also living stones and part of this living structure God is building. One of its chief purposes is “to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (v.5) But Peter will go on in the coming verses to make clear that this is not the only purpose.

He also takes a moment to say that belief is essential. Those who disbelieve will not find a foundation upon which to build and organize their lives; rather, they will find Jesus offensive and scandalous and will trip over who he was and what he taught. But – pay attention here – belief in Jesus is not just saying “Lord, Lord,” as in Jesus’ own story of the builders. It is obedience to the Word, to the teaching. Peter names this in verse 8 when he describes those who stumble because they are disobedient to the word. You can’t accept Jesus and reject his teaching. You can’t say you believe and not also follow. It is the combination of faith and obedience that describes what it means to be a “living stone.”

New Identities (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Peter has started with this building image to help us understand God’s design and purpose for us. But now that he is on the topic of that design and purpose – our IDENTITY in Christ – the names and descriptions of our new identities overflow! Let me briefly go through each one. When you believe in the one God has sent and follow Jesus and God’s Word through Jesus, God gives you a new name, an actual new identity. This is not an exhaustive list; there are many others in scripture, but it’s a meaningful list.

Living Stones – We’ve already touched on this. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase “dead wood.” This is quite the opposite. You are part of God’s building material, being built into the house that God has designed for His purpose in the world. And you are alive in Christ! You are a living, breathing, active participant in what God is doing! One way we’ve talked about that before is to say that the Church is not this physical building, but it is YOU! You are God’s church, built together on Christ and sent out into the world.

Chosen Race – Chosen race references back to Israel, to the children of Abraham and God’s covenant with Abraham. They were not chosen because they were so great, but because God demonstrated His own greatness through them, through saving them, giving His Law and prophets, and ultimately the Messiah and Savior. (see Deuteronomy 7:6-8) The New Testament teaches, as Peter does here, that Christians become part of God’s people, adopted as children into God’s family. The use of the word ‘race’ may be misleading these days. This is not referring to an ethnicity or race, but a people called together. In fact, it stands in the face of our divisions of race as it includes people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. It is the community of faith and service that God has called together.

Royal Priesthood – One of the phrases that came out of the Reformation was the “priesthood of all believers.” And it was built on scriptures like this one. In Christ we all become priests, serving the Lord in the world. There is no longer a separate class of priests; rather, we all become servants of the Lord. That’s part of the meaning of Christian, as those who believe AND serve Jesus Christ.

Holy Nation – The idea of a holy nation has been twisted in history just as the idea of a “chosen race.” But it is not meant to indicate superiority to others, but “set apart to serve.” In fact service of God is the theme running through all these identities. From the first image of living stones to each of these descriptors originally describing Israel, Peter is teaching us that believing is tied to service and God’s purpose is not to elevate a people, but to invite a people to service. The “holy nation” here is not a geo-political one, but a spiritual one made up of all those who serve the Lord in every part of the world.

People of God’s Own Possession – Possessiveness has also come to be seen as a negative. But that’s because we sin when we are possessive. And that’s not the gist of this word here. It’s closer to the word ‘belonging.’ And this is not like we are property, like that guitar belongs to me. It’s like that warm sense of “belonging” when you are someplace safe with people you love: “I belong here.” That’s what it is like to be God’s people, God’s family. It gives us an ultimate sense of home and ‘belonging.’

These are all in contrast to our ‘old’ identities; “You once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have…” (v.10) Those who have been believers for a long time sometimes lose sight of just how amazing and transformative this is. But you can’t get any more descriptive than what we talked about at Easter. Once we were DEAD in sin; now we are ALIVE in Christ. We have a new life, a new start, and a new identity and purpose.

This is all the nature of God’s work with humanity. Let’s end by talking about the WHY – what God’s purpose is in all this.

God’s Purpose

God’s purpose – God’s WHY – is spelled out in verse 9 (and repeated in v.12). Notice the relation to the identities we’ve already looked at. This is who you are in order that you might do this…

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,
so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has
called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (v.9)

We are made new, made part of God’s work in the world SO THAT we can proclaim God’s excellence – multiple excellencies! – through our identity, through our words, and through our actions. Verse 12 highlights the importance of our actions: “Keep your behavior excellent… so that [ultimately] Gentiles may come to glorify God.”

Let me try to summarize all this with three statements:

  1. LIVING STONES: In Christ there is salvation and new life/identity for all who believe and follow in obedience
  2. ALL THOSE IDENTITIES: In Christ you are part of a community of faith, both in this local church and through God’s church in all times and places
  3. WHY/PURPOSE: In Christ we are called to be a faithful community, reaching out through word and deed to serve and bless our neighbors, community, and world

Often I think we can limit our faith to #1, it’s just between God and me. For most of you hearing my voice right now, we are part of #2, connecting to this or another local community of faith, but so often not realizing the amazing significance and belonging of that!

Where we continue to need to be stretched and challenged and engaged, is #3 – living out the blessing, enacting faithfulness, showing mercy, justice, compassion, and declaring Good News beyond the walls of our church and our own comfort zone.

If you are hearing this, you are likely part of the community of faith. But how will you be part of the “faithful community” (outward-facing) this week. Remember our May Challenge, to reach out to one person not from Good Shepherd in the month of May to listen, pray, serve, love, or invite toward what God is doing. Amen.

Some Music Used

  • Preludes
    • Cornerstone
    • I Will Change You Name
    • Sing to Jesus
    • How Great Thou Art – Rick Bean, piano
  • The Church’s One Foundation/I Lay in Zion a Stone (Austell/Youngblood)
  • No Longer Slaves (Bethel)
  • In Christ Alone (Gettys)
New Selves