The Church – The People of God

1 Peter 2: 9

Today Jesus continues the process of building His church.
The church is not a building.
The church is not a structure made out of brick, steel, stone, wood or glass.
The church is not a place.
The church is not a location or a site or an address.

The Church which Jesus Christ is building is composed of people.
The people of God are living stones who are erected in a spiritual temple that they might
offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God.

These people are born-again believers who have received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour.
These people are baptized believers who have publicly proclaimed their faith in Him as the One
who died for their sins and who has defeated death and the grave.
These people are learning, studying, listening, and who are seeking to be His true disciples.
They are worshiping people who bow before God in recognition of His supreme worth
and their dependence upon Him for life and for all things that pertain to life.

He is building a church composed of praying people who not only talk to God,
but who also listen when God speaks to them.
The people who make up His church are a sharing people who give because they have received
from His gracious hand.
The people who make up the church which our Lord is building are serving people.
They follow Him who identified Himself as one who served in our midst.

So, what does it really mean to be the church today?
What is Jesus Christ trying to do in the world today through the church which He organized,
and which He has sustained down to this day?

We must understand who we are, if we would become and be and do what
He would have us become and be and do.

The New Testament writers thought and spoke of the church in a variety of ways.
The New Testament contains at least 80 different images to describe the nature, the function,
and the ministry of the church. (See Images of the Church in the New Testament by Paul S. Minear.)

If we surveyed the varied pictures, functions, and some of the images of the church,
we would be greatly aided in a self understanding of what our Lord wants us to be.
One of the dominant figures or images of the church that we find in the New Testament speaks
of the church being "the people of God."

Paul uses this term to both instruct and to encourage the disciples of the Lord
who have been scattered abroad as a result of persecution and other factors.
Let us look at his description of the church in the text which describes God's people
in terms of their being the new Israel.
Peter speaks to the church as God's spoke through Moses to the people of Israel
when the Covenant was established with them at the foot of Mount Sinai. (Exodus 19:1-6)

"But You Are A Chosen Race."

This is more than a complement.
It is a divine commission.

On the day of Pentecost God identified the 120 disciples who were gathered together
in the upper room as the new Israel, the people through whom He would work
to carry on His redemptive ministry in the world.

The sound that came from heaven proclaimed the breath of God in the life of God as abiding
upon this body of believers.
As God had taken the dust of the earth and breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life,
he became a living soul, so God was taking these new disciples and breathing into them His Spirit
that they might become the living body of Christ.

The tongues of fire that lighted up on the heads of the members of this infant church were in reality
the Shekinah of the Old Testament – the glory of God -- indicating His presence
with them and upon them.
With these miraculous events God was announcing to the Jewish nation and to all the Jewish exiles
who had returned for the Feast of Pentecost that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed
the Messiah, the Son of God.
And God was proclaiming that His disciples now constituted the new Israel, the new people of God,
the new chosen people through whom God would do His work.

It should be recognized that God never limited Himself to those who were successors to Abraham
by biological dissent.
It was the faith of Abraham in the hearts of his biological descendents that made of them
in truth the sons of Abraham.
Peter is proclaiming to the church that they are the chosen people of God through whom He is doing
His work in the world today

Jesus spoke to his disciples on one occasion, and said, "You did not choose me,
but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide;
so that whatever you ask the father in my name, he may give it you
." (John 15:16, RSV)

Jesus had already declared, "Herein is my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit
and so prove to be my disciples
." (John 15:8)

God had called Abraham. and later the nation of Israel to the His chosen people in order that
they might be fruitful and productive and to be a missionary force in the world.
The nation of Israel had failed to bring forth the fruit that our Lord desired,
and at this point in history His church is His chosen people.

One does not become a member of the family of God by biological dissent.
He becomes a member of the family of God by a spiritual birth into the family of God
through faith in Jesus Christ.
(See Mark 3:34 and 1 Peter 1:23)

You Are "A Royal Priesthood."

This is not just a mere complement.
This is a divine commission.
Through Moses God had told the people of Israel, "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests."
(Exodus 19:6, RSV)

1. A Priest is a go-between.
2. A Priest is a meeting place.
3. A Priest is a bridge-builder.

As the people of God, we are to perform the function of a holy priesthood.
We are to be the medium of bringing the message of God's grace and love to a needy world.
We are to be the kind of people through whom a needy and unsaved world will be attracted to
and drawn to the Lord Jesus Christ because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit
in our midst and through our efforts.

Peter is not talking about an official clergy that would serve as a priesthood.
He is talking to the entire body of believers.
We have a responsibility to God, and we have a responsibility to the unbelieving world
to somehow be the meeting place where God can come into contact with them,
and where they can get acquainted with God.

This passage does not teach an exclusive priestly clergy.
Instead, it proclaims the priesthood of every believer and the responsibility of every believer to help
unbelievers come to know God as they had come to know Him through Jesus Christ.

You Are "A Holy Nation."

Neither is this just a mere complement.
This is a divine commission.

To Israel God had said, "For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God;
you shall therefore be holy, as I am holy
." (Leviticus 11:45, RSV)

The word "holy" is not a familiar word in the vocabulary of modern men.
It is a word which meant to the Hebrew "to be different, to be separate, to be distinct."
It is a word which was used concerning that which belong to the Deity.
That which is holy is different from the common, the ordinary, and the profane.

By His Holiness, God is proclaiming His difference from men.
This can be illustrated by the fact that God's ways are different from the ways of men.
In calling us to a life of holiness and proclaiming us to be a holy nation, we are to understand
that this means that we are to be different from ordinary men.
We are not to be like secular or materialistic men.

The members of the church are called to a holy life, to a different kind of life,
because they have received Christ as the Lord of their life, and are to live by the law of love.
We are to be different in the way that we live.
We are to be different in the way that we labor.
We are to be different in the way that we study.
We are to be different in the way that we serve.
We are to be different in the way that we help.
We are to be different in the way that we talk.

The Christian salesman, the Christian doctor, the Christian mechanic, the Christian student,
the Christian husband, the Christian young person, the Christian athlete, should be different
from those who are not Christian because of the presence of the living Lord in their life.
The Christian should be different because it is answerable to the Lord Jesus Christ.

To the degree that we are truly a holy people, we shall find ourselves to be "blameless before God."
(Ephesians 1:4b)
To be holy does not mean that we will be cantankerous and peculiar and difficult to get along with.
Instead, it is just the opposite.
We will be so filled with the love, grace, and wisdom of God that we cannot conceal
our presence even if we tried to.

You Are "God's Own People."

Neither is this just a mere complement.
It is a divine fact, and it is a divine commission.

For the Christian to claim that he is a part of God's people is something infinitely more
than an egotistical boast.
For us to claim to be God's people, and not to really be God's people is blasphemy.
To truly be God's people means that we belong to Him, lot, stock, and barrel.
To be God's people is to be God's possession.

1. The Church is God's personal possession.

That means that His authority is recognized and His will is respected and appreciated.
We can measure the degree to which we are indeed His people by the degree to which we give
ourselves lovingly to the doing of His will and to the obedience of His commandments.

2. The Church is God's purchased possession.
(1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18-19)

Paul declares in Ephesians that "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word
that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish
."
(Ephesians 5:26-27)

The church has been purchased by a loving God at an enormous cost.
This indicates the degree and the permanency of God's love for His people.

3. The Church is God's precious possession. (John 3:16)

This tremendous verse which proclaims the greatness of God's love for a lost world reveals to us
how tremendous God's love is for those who respond to His grace and mercy.
Paul rejoiced in this love, and tried to describe it in his epistle to the Romans. (Romans 8:31a – 32)

Conclusion

The purpose of all of this is "That you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out
of darkness into his marvelous light
." (1 Peter 2:9 RSV)

On the day of Pentecost the infant church proclaimed in a powerful and gracious manner
"the mighty works of God." (Acts 2:11)
These mighty acts of God were manifest in the coming of Jesus Christ to earth:
His sacrificial death on the cross; His fantastic victory over death and the grave;
His triumphant ascension back to the Father; and His gracious generosity in the gift
of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

God has called us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
His own special people in order that all "outsiders" might be, "insiders."
God has called us in order that those who are "without mercy" may now "receive mercy."

If you are among the outsiders, let it be declared that the great God of heaven is like the energy
that flows through the electric wires.
It is faith on your part that throws the switch that makes it possible for the energy,
and the very life and love and grace of God to come into your life in an effective manner.

If your life is barren and desolate and unfruitful, then God is like the stream that flows
through an irrigation ditch.
Faith opens the gate to let the life-giving water flow out into the dry soil to produce
life and growth and beauty and fruitfulness.

I ask that you respond to Jesus Christ with the faith that says, "Yes."
I will receive you as my Lord and Savior.
I will trust You.
I will follow You.
I will obey You.
I will depend upon You.

Do it now!

Sermon adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White