In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter reminds his readers that they belong to a community – a community that he describes in four ways. They are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, [and] a people for his own possession’. Each of these descriptions says something different about God’s people, but each of them also stresses that a Christian is someone who lives in a community.
Christians belong to a chosen race, the church of Jesus Christ. All the members of this chosen race were once members of other races, and were so by birth. Membership of the new race depends on the choice of God.
Second, Christians are a royal priesthood. In Israel, priests participated in the worship of God and instructed others about him. In addition to teaching others, the priests also led the praise of the people. It is not difficult to see how this terminology applies to believers today. Their role is to instruct others about God in such a way that they too will worship him. And they do so as those who have been given a very dignified position by Jesus.
Third, believers are ‘a holy nation’. Holiness means to be distinctive as well as separate. It is easy to be detached from others, it is not so easy to be distinctive. The lifestyle of the Christian community should be so far above the best that the rest can offer that it will be easily observed. Holiness is heart obedience to the laws of Christ. When they are obeyed, the lifestyle of his people is seen to be above all other possible ways of life.
The fourth feature that marks believers is that they are God’s special treasure. He guides them, he forgives them and he restores them when they fall. He is determined to do them good now and in the future.
Because they have been delivered from spiritual darkness through God’s mercy, because they have been given spiritual roles to fulfil, because they now live in the bright light of God’s world of grace, Peter can exhort believers to live in a dignified way. This dignified way of life he describes as ‘proclaiming the excellencies’ of God. What does this mean?
First, it indicates that our witness should reveal God. It is a subtle difference, but my testimony should not be about me, instead it should say clearly who God is.
Second, Peter’s description says that our witness should commend God – how we live should cause others to wish they had such a life of peace, joy and love.
Third, their witness is to be comprehensive, so that each Christian’s mind, affections, tongue, eyes, interests, possessions, everything, gives a true view of God.
Believers now live in the presence of God. His grace pervades them, and having tasted it they realise that nothing in the world can compare with it. They can now also see where they are going. The strange reality facing the ones to whom Peter was writing was that they were the only ones who knew how things were going to work out in the end, and this knowledge enabled them to live for God in their difficult situations. As they did so, they proclaimed clearly and loudly the excellencies of their Saviour.