Do You Know Who You Are?
Now let’s ask a different question. If you learnt something about yourself which you didn’t know before, how would that change you? What if you discovered that you were a descendant of royalty, or criminals? What if you realised you had a skill in an area you’d never tried before? What if, through sickness or accident, you lost an ability that had always been important to you? Now some of these scenarios are less likely than others, but we all know that life changes us, or at least impacts our understanding of ourselves. Once we were a lot younger than we are now. Once we didn’t even know some of the people that we love the most. Once we didn’t have skills that we now see as integral to our self-understanding.
Entering God’s family by believing in Jesus also changes our identity in enormous ways, but we can take a long time to truly understand who we are in Christ and how we should live because of it.
1 Peter 2 has something to say about this:
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honour is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
Now the first thing this tells us is that we are living stones. That seems a contradiction at first, since we often use stone as a metaphor for what is hard, cold, and dead; but we are living stones in a very specific sense. We are being built together as a spiritual house, that is, a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. The dwelling place of God amongst his people is no longer (since the veil of the temple was ripped in two at Jesus’ death) a physical building made of dead stones, or bricks and mortar, but it is in God’s people themselves, God’s living people, no longer dead in sin. And there is a process involved in this building.
In verse 4 we see that first we must come to him (i.e., Jesus), because the very one who was despised and rejected of men is our cornerstone, the foundation from which the whole building takes its orientation. There is no other way. Those who will not be subject to him and aligned to him will, in the end, stumble over him, because he is the centre of all things, and there is no way around him.
But to create a building, we don’t just pile the stones any old how on the foundation. First, we must take our alignment from him, but then we must be built together in a right relationship with each other. And the Builder, himself, must carefully shape us so that each one fits exactly where he wants to put it. And because we are living stones, with all sorts of feelings, sometimes the process of shaping is painful. But only think what he is making you become! And remember that every single stone is precious, and he is polishing it to make each one of us more beautiful than we can dream or imagine.
The next thing we are called is “a holy priesthood”, that is, all of us, not just a special class of Christians. What does it mean to be a priest? It means to have direct access to God (through Jesus, our Great High Priest). We don’t need another human being to stand between us and God. It means that we have a holy calling to serve him in every aspect of our lives, not by doing weird things to make ourselves different, but by bringing every part of our lives under his lordship in humble, faithful, everyday obedience. And it means that we are his representatives to a world that does not know him, not by pretending to be better than we are, but by living out the gospel as repentant, forgiven people, showing to others the amazing love with which God first loved us. Further (verse 9) we are a “royal priesthood”, something that was an impossibility in the Old Testament, since kings and priests came from different tribes. But now we, who are priests, are also in the service of the King, and given the task of expanding his Kingdom.
And there is another sense in which we are royal. Everyone who believes in Jesus has been adopted into God’s family. We have a new lineage, and a new status. Whoever we are, wherever we come from, whatever we may have done, we no longer need to crawl around, crushed under a burden of shame. We are the children of the King, forgiven and set free, and we should not allow anything to pull us into captivity again. The Bible itself (Romans 8:21) speaks of “the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
And look at what else Peter says in verse 9. We are a chosen race: no longer do you have to be an Israelite to be one of God’s chosen people, it’s for all of us. And each one is loved. Likewise, we are a holy nation, gathered from every tribe and language and people, set apart to belong to God, to be his own possession for all eternity. This is who you are. You are someone who has received mercy (verse 10).
And how should we respond to all of this? Well, in these verses, we are given two specific ways. Firstly, in verse 9, we are called to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light”. What God has done for us in Jesus is so wonderful, so extraordinary, that the more we understand, the more we must praise him. When we look at what he has done for us, our hearts should be so overflowing with awe and gratitude that we cannot help ourselves. And we cannot keep it hidden, it must be proclaimed.
Secondly, in verse 11, we are told to “abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Why? Because God has changed us, given us new identities, we are now sojourners and exiles in this world. While we are here, we work for the good of this world, but it is not our real home, we are citizens of a far better place, and we are to live that way. We are empowered to say no to the voices that clamour at us to satisfy every indulgence our imagination can contrive. We do not need these passing satisfactions for our appetites or our egos, there is something so much better to press on to. And God is with us every step of the journey.