The Identity and Purpose our Extra-Ordinary Calling
The Identity and Purpose our Extra-Ordinary Calling
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You and your twelve closest friends have been walking around with your teacher for two and a half years. To call him a teacher is a bit of an understatement. You are really more like family. He’s something of an older brother. At first you thought that your teacher was poised to overthrow the rulers of the land and be the true and rightful king. After two years, you aren’t really sure what the plan is. The only thing you really know is that your teacher is unlike any other person on the face of the planet and you would be willing to trust any plan that he has. You trust him so much that you’ve made up in your own mind that you are willing to die to keep any of his enemies from harming him.
If the teacher’s plan is to go to Jerusalem and make a big splash, it seems odd that you are now walking toward the outer reaches of Israel. This region up around Caesarea Philippi is where the Jewish faith is being heavily mixed with the rotten religion of the pagans. The city itself is a testimony to the fact that your land is not pure in the sense every good Jew longs to see.
Here, in the face of Greek paganism and some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, the teacher is spending time just with you and the brothers. He asks a question that has provoked a lot of thought. “Who do our people say that I am?” What a loaded question? I guess it’s safe to say that Jesus is more than a teacher. Everyone agrees that he’s some sort of prophet, maybe the resurrection of Elijah, John, or Jeremiah.
But the teacher is not interested in what other people say. He wants to know who we really believe that he is. That is much more difficult. The things that we've seen and heard are even more miraculous than what we've heard the prophets do. This teacher speaks and acts on his own authority. But he’s still not the messiah we’ve all been expecting. You’ve never been one to hold your tongue. After a few minutes of contemplation, you blurt out what’s been on your heart, but no one has had the guts to say out loud: “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Where did that come from? You ask after it is said. More importantly, what will the teacher think about this?
Jesus came back, “God bless you, Simon, son of Jonah! You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am. And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.
“And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
What’s so special about a rock?
Once Peter knew who Christ actually was, then he was able to more clearly see who it is that Jesus had called him to be. The same is true for every believer who is called to be part of Christ’s body, the church.
This man named Rock wrote a letter to the churches in Asia minor. These are groups of believers in Jesus who come from both God-believing and pagan backgrounds. Despite the difference in backgrounds, the one thing that unites them is that they share in the same confession that Peter had made all those years ago, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. On this foundation of who Jesus is, God has made this new movement of people into what previously he had declared the nation of Israel to be.
They are a bunch of rocks that when built together on the foundation of Christ have become the house where God dwells. They are pilgrims in a land of strangers, but pilgrims meant to bear a witness about God to a world surrounding them that does not yet know Him.
The church is made what it is because collectively we have received a call. Out of every language, country, family, and class of people we are called to be something collectively that is different and more valuable than what we were previously.
Hear the words that Peter wrote the churches of Asia in 1 Peter 2:9
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 marvelous light.
From this verse there are two characteristics of the extraordinary/ordinary calling of Christ:
- The first characteristic is the identity that we are called to
- The second characteristic is the purpose of what we have been called for
The Identity of Our Calling
The first part of 1 Peter 2:9 gives us four identifiers that believers in Christ have taken on as part of his family.
1. You are a chosen race.
The adjective here is the word chosen. This word has become something of a controversy when you start using it to speak about salvation. Some people like to emphasize the fact that one major aspect of salvation is that we choose to follow Christ. Others make a big deal of the fact that we could not in any way save ourselves, so in order for salvation to take place God had to first choose us.
The use of the word chosen here is clearly illustrating the fact that God has chosen us. There is no way around this in Scripture. God chose Abraham to become a father of nations. God chose Abraham’s son Isaac and not his son Ishmael. God chose Jacob over Esau. Out of Jacob’s sons, God chose Judah to carry the royal line of Christ.
But don’t get twisted up thinking that being chosen is based on you being better. Scripture also in those points makes it abundantly clear that God never chooses a people because they have something to offer. In fact, he usually chooses the people who have the least amount to offer to be the ones to carry his name.
The word for race here is the word genos. We are conditioned today to think of race as some external characteristic, like skin color, that binds people together. I want you to know that the Bible’s use of race has absolutely nothing to do with how people look. Genos is the same word where we get the modern word gene. Genos is not some outward sign that you can look at and see, but it has to do with a group of people who share a common family ancestry.
This is massive when we start talking about being God’s chosen race. Even in the OT history of Israel there are countless stories of people who are not genetically related to Jacob who are chosen by God to be adopted into the race of Israel. I’m thinking specifically about people like Rahab and Ruth and even the families of important people like Joseph and Moses. God has never been concerned with physical genetics so much as he is spiritual genetics.
Scripture tells us that every believer in Jesus has been adopted into God’s family. The idea of adoption is that somebody who is adopted has legally received all of the rights, responsibilities and privileges that would come with sharing the DNA of the family into which they are adopted. We saw a few weeks ago in 1 John 3:9 that our adoption into the family of God has the exact same effect as a birth. We are told that we have God’s DNA and that the effect is so powerful that we are known by a righteous way of living that mirrors God’s.
2. A royal priesthood
In Exodus 19, God has delivered his people, the Israelites from slavery in Egypt through the events of the Passover and the parting of the Red Sea. They come to a huge pause in their journey at Mount Sinai where God is about to give them the code that will bind them to him as a people.
As Moses climbed up the mountain to receive God’s Word, one of the first statements that God makes is one about the extraordinary calling of the people of Israel.
“you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” – Exodus 19:6 HCSB
God at this time also appointed Moses’ brother, Aaron, and everyone who was in their family-the Levites- to become priests. The priests were set apart to fill one specific function for Israel. They were to be the go-between for the people and God.
There was this elaborate set of rules set up for what priests were supposed to do and not do. It’s fascinating to read the rest of the books of Exodus and Leviticus. But the point of all that was that God is holy, people are sinful, and someone has to bridge the divide between people and God.
But notice in Exodus 19, God is not calling only the Levites the kingdom of priests, but the entire nation. What this means is simple. Everyone who identifies as part of Israel who lives under God’s law that he’s about to give serves an important function for the world. Every person on the face of the planet should be able to come to Israel, look at how they are living, and know that they can have a relationship with this God Yahweh who took this people out of slavery, killed their enemies, and gave them the very land that He promised their ancestors hundreds and hundreds of years before.
The idea of a priest-king points us directly to the person of Jesus Christ. Under the law of Moses, the office of priest and king was supposed to be held by two different groups of people. But before the law was given, we see the father of the Israelites, Abraham, coming before a priest-king named Melchizedek and actually giving him 10% of everything he had won in battle. Melchizedek is what we call a type who is meant to foreshadow the person of Jesus, who serves as our priest and king forever.
But what does that have to do with our identity? Well, when the role of priest and king came together in Jesus Christ, it signaled that the purpose of the Law of Moses had been fulfilled. The offices of priest and king for the people of Israel was no longer needed because they had one man who would serve that role forever! But it doesn’t stop there. Because we have been adopted into God’s family by Jesus, the priest-king, we collectively, as the worldwide church, have become a kingdom of priests. We now fulfill the role that God designed Israel to fill.
3. A holy nation
When you read the story surrounding Exodus 19 and earlier the story of the burning bush where Moses met God for the first time, the one character trait that God made abundantly clear to the people about himself was that he is holy. To emphasize the point. When Moses went up to meet with God on Mt Sinai, God told Moses to warn the people that they better not come near the mountain. They can't touch it- even accidentally- because God’s holiness would burn against them- even the good ones- and they would be consumed instantly in a fiery death.
If that notion of God is frightening to you, it ought to be. This is the God we are dealing with. He is so perfect and so powerful and so unlike any other being in the universe that nothing that is not Him can even bear his presence.
But then God calls us, like he did Israel, “a holy nation.” If we are called holy, and nothing is holy but God, where do we get the right to be called holy? From God himself of course. The big church word for this is imputed righteousness. It simply means that when we are adopted into Christ’s family we are no longer judged by the things that we have done, but by the things Christ has done. Since he is the God-man, the same consuming holy perfection found in the God of Sinai is completely found in Christ. The imputed righteousness of Christ’s means that it not only expects us to be like, but actually makes us into the kind of people who have the moral holiness of Jesus.
The word used for nation is not the word genos but the word ethnos. This is the same word where we get the modern term “ethnic group.” The Jews typically used ethnos to describe all of the other people groups who weren’t Jewish, otherwise known as Gentiles. But ethnos does not have to only mean the other guys. We would simply translate it as “a big group of people with something in common about the way they live.”
So for us as the people of God in Jesus Christ, we are a multitude of people from every type of background imaginable. But what we have in common is far more important than our differences. We are united as a nation of people who have been set apart in the holiness of God. The very character of God has been set on us and we have been sealed as something completely other than everything that is not under the Lordship of Christ.
4. A people for God’s possession
We live in a day and age where people claim to value freedom. Many people don’t mean that they value freedom, however, because we know that freedom only comes with the discipline and responsibility to keep that freedom. What most people actually value is autonomy. This is the ability to make a decision with no accountability to anyone outside of yourself.
Did you know that to follow Jesus means that you give up the notion of autonomy? You no longer belong to yourself, you belong to God. That is why the apostle Paul twice makes the statement in first Corinthians “everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial.” He is making the point that as Christians, we are people who are not governed by the things that we naturally want to do. We are governed by the law of love, which states that because I am loved by God, I will do all things out of love for him and love for my neighbor. God only wants what’s best for me, and he has told me that my best life is focused on eternity and being made holy in the image of his son. Therefore I am free to pursue any course I want. The course of love is to restrain my own autonomy for the sake of the love of God and the love for my neighbor.
I belong to God. I was bought with a price. His longings are my longings. His joy becomes my joy. Being called His possession is what gives me infinite value.
The Purpose of Our Calling
The second part of our extraordinary ordinary calling is that our valuable identity gives us an infinitely valuable and unique purpose.
“that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”
- 1 Peter 2:9b
Our purpose is to proclaim the awesomeness of the God who called us.
The is a more common NT word for “proclaim” than the one used here. We usually translate that word as “to preach.” It’s unfortunate that in the church we have adopted a separate class of people known as “preachers” when most of the time the command to preach is given to tell the whole church what they ought to be doing, not just the preachers. In 1 Peter 2:9 a different word is used that is translated “proclaim” . This word is found most frequent in the Psalms where it talks about proclaiming the works of God to the world.I think that should leave no doubt that the purpose of proclaiming is not primarily standing on a stage and having people listen to you. Proclaiming belongs to every person who has been called to follow Jesus.
The best way to think about the word proclaim is to think about another way it is used -to say “to publish.” We, in essence were called to publish for the entire world the excellencies of him who called us from darkness into light.
Anytime we see someone do something that is really truly extraordinarily excellent, we have a natural inclination to go tell people all about what we just saw. I remember one night in high school I had a couple of friends who had played high school basketball and we really just loved watching all kinds of basketball, so we were all off one night and I saw that Oak Hill Academy was going to be playing somebody at Virginia High School. Oak Hill, if you don’t know them, has always had a reputation of recruiting some of the best HS players in the country.
I didn’t really follow recruiting, and it wasn’t like it is now. There were maybe a hundred people at this game. I didn’t know any of the players, but halfway through the game I came out of my seat when this one guy who was also a senior jumped from somewhere that had to be close to the foul line, went over top one or two defenders, and tomahawk dunked it in a way that would be impossible for the normal person.
I went around telling everybody I could find when I left there “you should’ve been there to see this guy named Carmelo Anthony. I’ve never seen anybody who can do what I saw him do.” What was I doing? I was publishing with my mouth the excellencies of Carmelo Anthony.
What are the excellencies of God?
Well, we would have to start with creation. The songbird, the flower, the forest, and the mountain are all excellent in the way they tell us what God can do, and what he alone can do. When we are faced with things like viruses and cancer, we pray to God because he surpasses anyone on earth in his ability to heal. He brings kings and warriors and the greatest in every field to have to admit that he possesses knowledge and excellency that they can never match.
But perhaps the greatest excellency of God is the way that he radically turns lives upside down by issuing ordinary people an extraordinary call.
You see, we are called to tell people about our call. What is our call? “He has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We have spent a ton of time in 1 John talking about how a legitimate true Christian lives. Over and over the apostle John uses the imagery of darkness and light to draw the distinction of what life without Christ is like versus life in Jesus Christ. Our natural state into which we are born is darkness. We don’t have spiritual eyes. We can’t see right from wrong. We naturally make horrible choices. We stumble around and ruin our lives, our relationships, and everything good that God gives to humanity.
But when we receive the call of God, it’s as if we step into light. We can now see. We aren’t blind to the goodness and greatness of God, we can experience it in all its fullness. We aren’t walking around bumping our head, ruining our lives at every turn, but we have the richest stores of wisdom and love and goodness and mercy and peace at our disposal by virtue of our identity with God.
1) Have you been called in the way that Peter is talking about here- the God of the universe knows your name and says “follow me and let me make you into all of these things.” How do you know if you’re called? You are hearing the invitation right now.
2) You are a billboard publishing the excellencies of something. You do this through your words, your giving, your relationships, your work. Are you publishing the excellencies of God’s call on your life?
- Life Group Discussion Guide: The Identity & Purpose of Our Calling