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; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
-1 Peter 2:9-10
Human beings have always placed a lot of value on their group identities. We tend to feel most comfortable with people we identify as being like ourselves. These kinds of people become “our people” and people of other groups can easily arouse our suspicions and fears. We group-identify in all kinds of ways: by language, physical appearances, cultural beliefs and practices, economic status, etc. Today’s heated political discussion and commentary frequently mentions the way “identity politics” is used to galvanize support for parties and candidates. Most people condemn what they perceive to be identity politics or at least condemn their political opponents for it. The national motto of the United States is the Latin saying, E Pluribus Unum, which means, “Out of many, one.” We like to think of ourselves as a “melting pot” of diverse peoples who form one united nation – united in allegiance to the ideals of democracy, equality under the law, the rule of law and the guarantee of basic human rights for all. That is a wonderful foundation for our nation and one we should all work to preserve.
However, even with such a wonderful heritage, fractures and harmful divisions continue to plague us and the resolution of these differences through adherence to the ideals of our way of government sometimes seems threatened. This is because we humans so easily succumb to an “us vs. them” mentality, a fact which would-be leaders exploit to their advantage. It has led to the hatred, persecution, violence and all-out wars plaguing our race from the dawn of history to the present day. God does have a solution for this problem and we find it in what the Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:9-10, quoted above.
Peter is writing to people from at least two diverse groups, Jews and Greeks, who have become one through faith in Christ. He says that they have become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession…” Notice how each of these describe categories over which people divide. They divide by “race” (that is, descent from a common ancestor), status (“we deserve to rule”), “we are holy”, that is “we are unique”, and especially the idea that God or “the gods” favor us. But in this case it is all turned to the opposite purpose. Instead of being a call to fear or dominate others, these names for the new nation God formed with the coming of Christ, point to their role in solving the problem of human divisions and animosities.
Notice first the reason Peter gives for God calling Christians by these exalted names, for giving them a very special group identity: in order that they might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light! It is not so they can exalt themselves over others but to exalt Him who rescued them from darkness and revealed His glory to them. They are not called to force others to believe but to give them evidence of God’s goodness and thus draw them willingly to surrender to Him. They are chosen to serve as Christ did, to seek the lost and help them come to God. They are God’s special possession, the instrument by which He saves a selfish and fear-filled world.
Under the Old Covenant, God sought to preserve a people through whom He would lay a foundation of truth and righteousness. The people of God under that covenant were given many rules that would separate them from the nations around them. They were to guard the messages and prophecies until the time came for their fulfillment. But once Christ came, God formed a new people for Himself which included those Jews who believed in Jesus but also included people from every tribe, kindred, tongue and nation who likewise follow Christ. The job of this new nation was to share the good news with all nations and invite them to the feast of God’s kingdom, offered freely through the blood of the Lamb. If the members of this new nation preserved their identity and made it primary, then they could never enter into the world’s wars and conflicts. Christ taught them to love those who were their enemies and who persecuted them, to overcome animosity and fear with love and the faithful proclamation of the gospel.
The problem comes when Christians forget that their racial, national, or other identities are as nothing when compared to their identity in Christ. Any appeal to ethnic solidarity, nationalism, or any other group identity other than that of being a follower of the Lamb, must take second place. Sadly, many Christians down through the centuries have allowed just such rival claims to supersede those of Christ. The results have always been disastrous, not only from a purely human perspective but from the perspective of Christ’s kingdom. When the Hutus slaughtered nearly a million Tutsis in Rwanda the saddest thing about it was that both groups were largely Christian! Tribal identity superseded Christian identity. When the European powers went to war in 1914, Europe was a solidly Christian continent. Even when threatened by non-Christian groups, Christians who make their identity in Christ paramount will follow His example and teaching by not returning evil for evil.
So what is your primary group identity?Is it based on your skin color, your national origin, your political party, your sex, your economic status?Whatever it is, other than your identity as a Christian, it is an idol and needs to be abandoned.Not until enough Christians have forsaken these idols will Christ’s kingdom make real progress in the world and the fractious divisions among all people be healed.