Identity crisis is a developmental event in which a person experiences confusion, uncertainty, or reorientationof their sense of self. It is to struggle with the question, “Who am I?”
- It happens when children become teenagers.
- It happens when youth pass from adolescence to adulthood.
- It happens when adults face postpartum depression, midlife crisis, or empty-nest syndrome.
An identity crisis is not exclusive to people. Institutions can also suffer an identity crisis. An organization can lose its sense of purpose, mission, and calling.
The church can also suffer an identity crisis. The 16th-century Protestant Reformation was a turning point in which the church worked through an identity crisis. Revival functions the same way. Revival is secondarily about lost people coming to God. It is primarily about the church coming back to God.
Local churches often face an identity crisis. At any point, a church can be a ministry, mission, movement, museum, or mausoleum. Congregational life can easily veer off course. When you lose your why you lose your way. We go back to the basics and ask: “What is the church?”
1 Peter is written to local churches that faced an identity crisis. These congregations scattered about the Roman province of Asia Minor had been largely ignored as irrelevant. As they grew in influence, the society grew hostile against the church’s beliefs. It would soon become genocidal persecution under Emperor Nero.
Peter wrote to these churches to urge them to stand firm in the faith. He explains what it means to be a Christian. He also explains what it means to be the church. In 1 Peter 2:4-10, Peter teaches that to be a Christian is to be a part of the church. The climax of the passage is in verses 9-10, where Peter answers the question, “What is the church?”
- The church is not a building you go to.
- The church is not an organization you join.
- The church is not a service you attend.
- The church is not a charity you support.
- The church is not a club you socialize with.
The church is the redeemed community of God’s people in Christ. The church’s identity is not based on our ethnicity, nationality, background, status, or agenda. It is Christ. Paul Cedar wrote: “The key to a good self-image is found in the image of what we are in Jesus Christ.” That’s true of every Christian and every church. The identity of the church is based on our relationship to Christ.
1 Peter 2:9-10 teaches three factors of our new identity in Christ.
A New Position
Verse 9 says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” “But” introduces a sharp contrast. Verses 7-8 says: “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,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”Then Peter says, “But you are…” There are many exhortations in 1 Peter. The focus of this text is on who we are, not what we do.
This fourfold description of the church is filled with Old Testament references. Peter uses language reserved for Israel to describe the church. Peter does not claim the promises of God to Israel have been canceled or transferred to the church. He clarifies that being the people of God is not about your ethnicity, nationality, or background. It is about your relationship to Christ. In verse 9, Peter describes our new position in Christ in four ways.
A Chosen Race. Verses 4 and 6 describe Christ as “chosen.” Now Peter calls the church “a chosen race.” 1 Peter 1:1 describes the church’s relationship to the world as “elect exiles.” “Chosen race” describes the church’s relationship to God. This is the way the Old Testament describes Israel.
Deuteronomy 7:7-8says, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it was because the Lord loves you.” This is the loving initiative by which God has saved us in Christ. Ephesians 1:4 says he “chose us in him before the foundation of the world.”
- We are a part of the human race by physical birth.
- We are a part of the chosen race by spiritual birth.
1 Peter 1:23 says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Being a chosen race does not erase your racial identity. It transcends your racial identity. If your racial identity is more important to you than your Christian identity, you do not understand what it means to be a Christian.
A Royal Priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood was started with Aaron and was exclusive to the tribe of Levi. Yet Exodus 19:6 says, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests.” Only the anointed priests could serve in the sanctuary. But in a corporate sense, Israel was to be a kingdom of priests to the nations. Israel failed to fulfill its priestly ministry. The church is God’s royal priesthood.
The is the second reference to the priesthood of all believers in this letter. 1 Peter 2:5 says, “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.”
- Israel had a priesthood.
- The church is a priesthood.
Israel was to be a kingdom of priests. We are a royal priesthood. Revelation 5:9-10 says, “worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
A Holy Nation. “Nation” signifies government, geography, and citizenship to us. As a result, we do not think of the church as a nation. But it is. The church is political in the ancient sense of the word. It is a “polis”– a city-state, a community of people.
- We are not called to engage in partisan politics.
- We are called to engage in kingdom politics.
Philippians 3:20 says: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Peter uses a political term to make a non-political point. The church is not to be like the nations of the world. We are a “holy nation.” To be holy is to be like God. To be holy is to be set apart for God. To be holy is to live differently than the world. 1 Peter 1:14-16 says, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
A Prized Possession. Here is the first of three references to “people” in this passage. It is a collective term that emphasizes our unity in Christ. Faithful churches are not built on individual tastes, opinions, or preferences.
- The church is not a collection of individuals.
- The church is a community of people.
What kind of people are we? We are God’s special people: “a people for his own possession.”“Possession” is highly valued property. It was used of the personal treasure of the king as distinct from the nation’s wealth. The church is a special people because God prizes and preserves it for himself. Psalm 24:1says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
Every person belongs to God. All peoples belong to God. Yet the church is a people for his own possession. You cannot have a high view of Christ and a low view of the church. Acts 20:28 says God obtained the church with his own blood. The church is the most precious thing on planet earth. We are a people purchased by God.
A New Purpose
Verse 9 begins with our new position in Christ. It concludes with our new purpose in Christ: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” We enjoy many privileges in Christ. Privileges bring responsibility. We were saved to serve. The nature of Christian service is to “proclaim the excellencies” of God.
“Excellencies” is more than the act or content of praise. It is the grounds of praise. Pagans used the term to describe the power of their idols manifested through miracles. Peter uses it to point to the attributes, character, and power of God on display through his saving work in Christ.
The purpose of the church is to proclaim the grace, goodness, and greatness of the God who has saved us. “Proclaim” translates a compound used only here in the New Testament. It means to tell out or make widely known. It is kingdom propaganda of God’s glory.
We proclaim the excellencies of God in Christian worship. It is essential that the church gathers for worship. It is not a community event. It is a Christian event. The “worship wars” of past decades argued about whether worship services were for the saved or unsaved. The purpose of worship governs the practice of worship. The purpose of worship is to proclaim the excellencies of God. True worship is God-centered.We do not gather for worship to support our cause, relieve our problems, or entertain our preferences. We worship to exalt the Lord.
Likewise, we proclaim the excellencies of God in Christian witness. We proclaim God’s excellencies to one another when we gather for worship. We proclaim God’s excellencies to the world when we scatter from worship. Edmund Clowney is right: “The heart of evangelism is doxological.” It is a different audience. But it is the same message.
Psalm 96:3-4 says, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” The church exists to joyfully witness about the God who saves sinners by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
God is not named in this purpose clause. He is gloriously described as “him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Here is the pitiful condition of life without Christ. We were in darkness. The darkness of sin, unbelief, and judgment was in us. John 3:19 says: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” We were in the dark. We could not find our way to God. In our sinfulness, we preferred darkness rather than light. But God called us out of the darkness into his marvelous light.
- It is marvelous light because it is divine light.
- It is marvelous light because it is saving light.
- It is marvelous light because it is purifying light.
- It is marvelous light because it is a guiding light.
- It is marvelous light because it is eternal light.
A New Privilege
Verse 10 says, “Once you were not a people but now you are God’s people; once you have not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” This statement alludes to Hosea. The Lord instructed the Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer. The prophet loved his wife. But she was unfaithful to him. It was a divine conspiracy. The Lord wanted Hosea to speak to Israel on his behalf. To be an effective spokesman, Hosea needed to understand how God felt. God was “the Almighty Cuckold” who was married to an unfaithful bride.
Gomer conceived and had a son named Jezreel. She conceived again and had a daughter. Hosea 1:6says, “And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all.’” Hosea 1:8-9 says, “When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, ‘Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”
But that is not the end of the story. In Hosea 2:23, God promises, “And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’” This is God’s promise to restore Israel. In Romans 9:25-26, Paul refers to the Hosea passages to explain how the gospel is for Jews and Gentiles. In 1 Peter 2:10, Peter uses it to explain what it means to be the church.
You cannot live in the past. But it is good to look back and remember from whence you have come. You cannot know where you are or where you are going without understanding where you have been. To understand the privilege of our new identity in Christ, Peter bids us to remember what we once were. We were not a people.
Note the contrast. Peter does not say we were not God’s people. He says we were no people at all. Our divisions over tribe, party, language, nationality, and ethnicity will come to nothing. We were not a people. But now we are God’s people. How did this great change take place? Peter says, “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”
- God’s people refers to our external status.
- God’s mercy refers to our internal experience.
The verse moves from the corporate to the individual. Being a Christian is not just a change of status; it is a change of heart. God makes us his people by giving us his mercy. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Our merit does not save us. God’s mercy saves us. Grace is God’s generous love. Mercy is God’s restraining love. Mercy precedes grace and makes it possible.
A widow appealed to Napoleon for mercy for her son after falling out of favor with the emperor through some misdeed. Napoleon replied that her son did not deserve mercy. “If he deserved it, it would not be mercy, and mercy is what I ask,” said the widow. Aren’t you glad the Lord has to treated us the way we deserve?