A People for God's Own Possession
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: “Behold, 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 honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, 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 marvelous 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.
Last week I defined the church as the number of all true believers in Christ throughout history. But this definition refers only to what we might call the Universal church. How might we identify a local church? When can a group of Christians be properly identified as a church?
This is a much more difficult question to answer. For example, because of First Amendment religious freedom concerns, Congress has never passed any statute anywhere which defines what a church is. The IRS has established criteria which, in its view, define a church. There are 14 things that the IRS looks for as possible indicators that a church is in existence.
So a church, according to American law anyway, is best understood by the purposes for which it is organized. In other words, a church is a group of people who begin to function like a church. The point is that it is nearly impossible to define a church without understanding what the church’s purpose is. Once we have defined the church’s purpose, we can then more easily identify what a church is.
Next week, Lord willing, we will study the three general purposes of the local church. They can be described as the church’s purposes toward God, toward believers, and toward the world. These three purposes spell out the mission of the church, but they can still leave unanswered the big question of “why?” Why did God create the Church for the carrying out of these purposes? What is the ultimate purpose for the church?
I want us to see the answer to that question as it is given to us in our text today. In all of our thinking about the church we must not lose sight of what is taught here regarding the ultimate purpose for which the church exists.
The Church exists because God created her
The most basic thing we can say about the church is that its existence is due completely to the initiative and plan and creation of God. The Church exists because God created her. “But you are a chosen race.”
When the Bible says that God has chosen something, it means exactly what we mean when we use that word. It means that God selects someone or something of his own volition and makes it his own. God chooses people, not because he sees that later on down the road they would choose him, but because he takes the initiative in the choosing. He makes his own choice; he does not act under the persuasion of some other person’s choice.
This becomes really clear when we read the other descriptions Peter gives of the church. Besides being “a chosen race,” Peter says the church is also “a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” These descriptions are taken exactly from Exodus 19:6 and Exodus 23:22. It is clear then that Peter is applying to the church the promises once made to the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people. When Peter says that we are a chosen race, he is saying exactly what was said of Israel in the Old Testament. God chose the nation of Israel, not because of any future faith that Israel would eventually show, but simply because it was God’s pleasure to do so. In the same way, Peter now says that the church is God’s chosen people.
How does that make you feel? I can tell you how it should make you feel. However much the doctrine of God’s unconditional, sovereign election of his people makes you wonder about those who are not so chosen (a topic we will address later), the fact that God has chosen you should make you feel great value. Look at what Peter says just a few verses earlier, in verse 4. “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (1 Pet 2:4). As the chosen people of God the church may be rejected by men, but in God’s sight we are chosen and therefore precious. We have value because God says that we have value. God has set his love on us and that is what gives us our value. However imperfect the church may be, those who are truly a part of the church by their identity in Christ are significant because God has made us his people.
In verse 10 Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.” That means that God has made us his people of his own choice, not because of our choice. You cannot make yourself one of God’s people. Becoming a part of his people—the Church—is possible only by the miracle of God setting his love on you and making you one of his own. The reason why the Church exists is because God has chosen her as his people upon whom he can set his love. The Church exists because God created her.
God created the church for himself
But this is only one way to answer the “why?” concerning the existence of the church. Why does the Church exist? Because God created her. But why did he do that?
Besides being God’s “chosen race,” Peter goes on to give three more descriptions of the Church. We are also:
- A royal priesthood. The priests were the ones who had the privilege of ministering in the presence of the deity. Peter says that all true believers in Christ now receive that privilege. As “royal” priests, the text emphasizes again that we belong to the king.
- A holy nation. The word “holy” indicates the church’s separation to God. Coupled with the word “nation,” the stress is on the fact that the church is a new spiritual body, a new nation “which is based now neither on ethnic identity nor geographical boundaries but rather on allegiance to their heavenly King.”
- A people for his own possession. This description makes explicit what has already been implied, that the Church belongs to God. But it also serves to transition us to what Peter is about to say. If one is tempted to think, after reading the previous descriptions of the Church, that God created the church ultimately for our own good or to make much of us or to make us feel valuable, Peter reminds us that we are a people for God’s own possession. That is, the ultimate purpose for which God created the church was for his own good. When God planned the church, he did so primarily because he was thinking of his own satisfaction, not ours. Why does a creator create? Not for the benefit of the creation but to satisfy his own purposes. God created the church to be a people for his own possession. That means that God created the church in order to accomplish something for himself.
The second half of verse nine tells us what it is that God aims to accomplish for himself in creating the church. Here we find the ultimate purpose for which God called a people to himself and so created the church. It is so “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The word excellencies may refer here to God’s power. It is no minor accomplishment that God called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. He did this only by the miracle of the new birth, by giving life to a people who were previously dead. But the word excellencies is probably used here more to emphasize the glory that comes from such power. It refers to those moments after the victory, when the Olympian is celebrated for his gold-medal performance. The reason God established the church was so that there would be a people who would be a living testimony of God’s power and greatness and fame.
That is why when the Bible speaks about God’s sovereign election of a people it emphasizes the praise that God deserves for doing so. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:5-6). “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess 2:13).
God carries out his agenda in the way that gains maximum glory for himself. “I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols” (Isa 42:8; cf. Isa 48:11). The Church is God’s plan for doing just that. We exist primarily for his own pleasure. That means that our own quest for meaning and significance in this life will never be satisfied apart from our own participation in the proclamation of God’s glory.
Seeking our own eternal well-being—right though that is—could never provide a truly satisfying goal for life. The answer to our search for ultimate meaning lies in ‘declaring the excellencies’ of God, for he alone is infinitely worthy of glory. Redemption is ultimately not man-centered but God-centered.
God’s fame is most evident in the glorious display of both his mercy and his wrath
This of course does not mean that we derive no personal benefit from God’s motivation of his own glory in calling a people to himself and creating the Church. We are, after all, privileged to be a chosen race and a royal priesthood and a holy nation. In verse 10 we are again reminded of the benefits that come to us in God’s zeal for his own glory. “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.”
Peter is quoting here from the Old Testament prophet, Hosea (see Hosea 1:6, 9; Hosea 2:1, 23). He is showing us that at one time we were not God’s people and we did not receive mercy because we were under the condemnation of our own sin. But now we have become God’s people because God has shown us mercy through Christ. The meaning is clear enough: God has chosen us and rescued us from our own merciless situation through no goodness of our own, but simply because he aims to bring maximum glory to himself by showing mercy to a people who at one time were not his people.
But if God receives so much glory in choosing to show his mercy to some, why then does he not choose to show mercy to all? The answer must be that the means by which God receives maximum glory is not only in the demonstration of his mercy, but also in the demonstration of his wrath.
Think about this for a moment. Would God receive more glory if everyone in Oklahoma City were born again? Perhaps. God has certainly brought about the conversion of multitudes of people at different times throughout history. But the answer to our question must be “not necessarily.” It may also be that God will derive maximum glory in the salvation of only a few, a remnant that converts to Christ in the midst of multitudes who perish.
How can this be? The words that Peter borrows from Hosea are also quoted in one other place in the New Testament. We find them in Romans 9:25-26. Here the Apostle Paul quotes from Hosea in his response to this objection: if God has mercy on whomever he will and also hardens whomever he wills, why then can God still find fault for who can resist his will? (Rom 9:18-19). Listen to how Paul answers that question:
But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’ ”
“And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’ ”
I want to draw your attention to what Paul assumes is the motive of God in making some to be vessels of wrath and others to be vessels of mercy. He says in verse 22 that God desires “to make known his power.” And in verse 23 he says that God acts “in order to make known the riches of his glory.” Those are the ideas we saw in the word excellencies in 1 Peter 2:9. So God’s power and glory are made known in his act of mercy in saving some as well as in his act of wrath in destroying others. That’s why in the 1 Peter context we read also about those who do not believe: “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:7-8).
But this does not make God out to be some megalomaniac who takes sadistic pleasure in watching people suffer. Notice how Paul argues. He says that God desires to show his wrath and to make known his power . . . in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy. Do you see that? Paul says that the demonstration of God’s wrath toward sinners is necessary in order for those who have received mercy to see just how glorious God’s mercy is to them. The eternal condemnation of the lost serves a glorious purpose for those who are saved. It is the backdrop upon which God’s mercy shines all the brighter.
Paul is saying that just as the bloody slaughter of the Son of God shows us the heinousness of our sin, so the wrath of God upon the condemned shows us the inconceivable riches of God’s mercy to his church. We would not know how bad our sin was were it not for the gruesome spectacle of the cross. And we would not know the full extent of God’s mercy toward us were it not for the screams of the damned. In other words, God takes the most delight in showing his mercy, but his mercy is meaningless if it is viewed apart from his righteous wrath.
I wish to quote at length Jonathan Edwards who makes this point quite succinctly.
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionally effulgent [=radiant], that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . .
Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionally imperfect.
When we pray for conversion, we are not expecting everyone to be saved. We should not think that God would be most glorified if everyone converted. God’s glory is on display both in the salvation of the elect and in the condemnation of the damned. With every one who converts let us rejoice at the spectacle of God’s great mercy. And with everyone who perishes let us rejoice all the more at the spectacle of God’s mercy toward us; for the one who perishes deserves no worse fate than we do apart from that mercy we have been shown.
So let us who are truly members of God’s church show mercy toward others as we have been shown mercy. And let us ever be busy fulfilling our ultimate purpose of demonstrating the glorious riches of God’s mercy shown to us as we live out radical, sacrificial love to others and bold, loving proclamation of the gospel.
 Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. Leon Morris (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 111.
 Grudem, 1 Peter, 112.
 Jonathan Edwards, “Concerning the Divine Decrees,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), 528.