Ligonier National Conference - D.A. Carson
Donald A. Carson is research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill. He is a widely sought-after conference speaker and teacher, and he is known in the church for his excellence in scholarship and passion for the biblical Gospel. Dr. Carson has authored more than forty-five books including The Gagging of God, Scripture and Truth, and the commentary on Matthew in the Expositors’ Biblical Commentary series.
In addressing the topic A Holy Nation: The Church’s High Calling, Dr. Carson read I Peter 2:4-10.
In addition to our individual identities, we all have corporate identities. In fact, we have many corporate identities. We are all here at the Ligonier conference. Many of us are Americans. Some are plumbers. Others are doctors. Etc. Of course, these corporate identities overlap. We may be Americans and doctors. And the precedence of these corporate identities may differ from one person to another. Some prefer to think of themselves as medical doctors first, and African Americans second, while others may reverse the order. But our corporate identity as Christians trumps all other corporate identities.
I. OUR IDENTITY
You are a “chosen people.” The word is sometimes rendered “race.” Isaiah 43:3-4 and then from verse 19 and following shows that God has a special love for the people of Israel (over Egypt, Cush, and Seba) even though the Israelites have not offered their God-commanded sacrifices. God will nevertheless deal with them as His covenant people.
It started with Abraham. He was chosen; he didn’t offer himself as the leader of a new race. And then there is the selection of Isaac (not Ishmael) and then Jacob (not Esau). The locus of God’s chosen people extends to Christians today. Persecution was inflicted upon the Christian “genus” (people) to whom Peter was writing because they believed (as a pagan of that day wrote) in the “strange myth of the resurrection.”
(A) Chosen people
Peter 1:1 establishes the diversity of the readers to whom he intends his letter, “You, the chosen of God, from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Basically, from all over the place. In our day, Peter would have said, “Iran, Egypt, Brazil, North America, etc.”
(B) Royal priesthood
We see this language in Exodus 19:6. That all of the Israelites were “royal priests” did not preclude the Levites being a special kind of priest (with special priveldges and prerogatives). On the one hand, one could not volunteer to be a Levite. On the other hand, all the people are priests. The priesthood function was two-fold: (1) They were mediators between God and man. They took God’s teaching, demands, and ceremonial requirements and disclosed them to the people. (2) They lifted up to God the sins of the people and their own sins.
When Paul in Romans 15 discusses his evangelism, it is called a “priestly service”. We become priests not because we have some peculiar role (e.g., full-time ministry), but because as Christians we are to pray for those outside and to present the living God’s gospel to them. Talking to an unbeliever is a priestly act of mediation. We are all priests in this sense; believers are built into a spiritual priesthood. We all have access to God. There are not two standards of holiness on this side of the cross. We are all a part of the priesthood (what a privilege!) of the King of the universe.
(C) Holy Nation
This is the word we render “ethnicity”. [The word “nation” in English refers to a geo-political entity. In the ancient days there were multiple ethnicities that constituted one geo-political entity. For example, you might have the French-speaking Canadians (a “nation”) in the “state” or Quebec.
What kind of nation are we? A holy nation. There are many communicable attributes of God (e.g., love). What about holiness? On the one hand, we’re commanded to be holy - so it is a communicable attribute. On the other hand, there are concentric rings of holiness (levels). What does holy mean? Separate? Not really. Morality? You can’t imagine the angels saying to God “moral, moral, moral.”
No, holy is an adjective for God. Even the highest order of angels cover their wings as they cry out to God (he’s too holy to look at). Other things (like instruments) in so far as they are to be used exclusively for the things of God. If we’re talking about holy people, then the manner in which these people are to display holiness has overtones of morality: Living in a way that is consistent and reflective of God’s holiness. Because God has set us apart as being His, we are (in one sense) holy (de facto). Yet we can live in a way that besmirches His Name. However, we are to live in such a way that we display His holiness. This can set up conflicts with other corporate identities which we may have. And how we resolve any such conflicts is very important.
(D) We are God’s special possession.
On the one hand, everyone is God’s possession. God rules over all. But only those who are born of God are truly God’s (in a special sense). So we see that Israel is God’s special possession. It is a spectacular notion. It ought to instill in us awe and wonder. Especially considering that this is by His own initiative.
Peter understands that what was said of God’s people in the Old Testament must be said of God’s people in the New Testament. It is an unspeakable privledge to be among God’s special people. It creates a corporate identity which has supremacy over and above all other corporate identities we may have.
II. OUR PURPOSE
Back to I Peter 2:9, our purpose is “that we may declare the praises.” The language is from Isaiah 43:21: “the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.
Note the sheer God-centeredness of this purpose. Many non-Christians today complain about the idea of God being “narcissistic” — self-absorbed. This is recent - 20 years ago, we had only Christian atheists. The Christian God is the one such persons did not believe in. But such people did not have any problem with God being bigger than us. After all, He’s the King; He’s God. Not so for young people today.
The response is this: Because we have been made for God, it is a supreme act of love on God’s part to command that we love Him supremely. Not only because He is God, but precisely because He is God. There is no insecurity in this God. He has no needs. In eternity past, the Son loved the Father and the Father loved the Son. They were perfectly content in their fellowship. God’s focus on Himself is precisely what we need. Otherwise, we are left to wallow in idolatry over and over again.
Our purpose is to sing God’s excellencies. Consider who we once were - aliented from God, enemies, yet now we’ve been ransomed. That is a cause for unspeakable praise.
III. OUR FOUNDATION
We see our foundation in I Peter 2:10: We have received mercy. The language in Hosea 1:6-9 is helpful. Those being spoken of are all Israelites. Yet God declares them to be “not His people.” Then in chapter 2 we read (in verse 23) that they are again declared to be God’s people. Note how Paul and Peter use these verses — they use them to refer to Gentiles. They say of Gentiles you were “not God’s people” but now “are God’s people.” Paul and Peter can do this exegetically because once Israel had been judiciously declared “not my people” they became indistinguishable from the pagans (exactly what Romans 1:18-3:20 is about). All are under sin: Jew and Gentile. Israel itself had become “not my people.” And if God can bring back in ethnic Israelites, then he can do it to Gentiles as well. We were all “not my people” (under sin). But now we have received mercy. Go back to I Peter 1: “elect…born again to a living hope…kept through faith for salvation…ransomed….with the precious blood of Christ.”
Everything we enjoy as God’s people has been secured by the cross. Forgiveness, peace with God, reconciliation, justification — all of it. Our identity, corporately, is being the people of God. We must think of ourselves as the Christians first and foremost. This is the end of racism, of nationalism. This is our identity. Our unity is grounded entirely in Christ’s work. As we become God-obsessed, Christ-obsessed, and cross-obsessed, whatever other identities we have, these give a holy diversity to the household of faith, wherein our diversity becomes not a source of division and strife, but of redounding glory to God.