A New Community
There is a lot of emphasis in our day on self-identity. ‘Who are we?’ and ‘How do we view ourselves?’ have become important questions for us to answer.
An individual looking to bolster his or her self-esteem is encouraged to take whatever measures are necessary to regain a healthy view of the self. This could mean anything from beginning an exercise regime, to a taking Caribbean cruise, to reading the latest self-help book. But, is that the answer? Is the answer to our low self-esteem a fit body, warm sunshine, and someone who will tell us we are fine just the way we are? I don’t think so.
I’ve been reading a book recently in order to bolster my own self-esteem. Unfortunately, I was only a few pages in when the author began to describe how thoroughly corrupt I was (Gen. 6:1-12). The author then began to outline some fairly strict guidelines in order to curb my corrupt behaviour, but I fear that it only further exposed the extent of my corruption (Ex. 20:1-17). Not wanting to put down this best seller prematurely, I pressed on in my reading. I was just past the halfway mark when I was arrested by what the author said. The author, who is an expert on human behaviour, writes, “the heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
I suspect that many would have given up on this book by now, and I’m guessing that many have, but I kept reading. I’m glad I did.
I was not looking for a band-aid solution; I wanted a cure. My self-esteem needed much more than to be temporarily propped up; my self-esteem needed a new foundation. I was in need of extreme makeover, a new identity, and I found it as I neared the end of the book. It was the best kind of news. The author explained that God, the Creator of the Universe, had chosen me to be His child; and that, as His child, I have a new identity, a new hope, and an eternal inheritance reserved in heaven for me (1Peter 1:1-5). The corruption, which was once mine, has been removed by the work of His Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.
What I have learned from the New Testament, particularly 1Peter 1, is that if I look inward for self-esteem I will likely despair. If I am to have any hope in feeling good about who I am, then I must come to understand who I am in Christ.
You see, the biblical notion of self-identity is radically God-centred. That is, our self-identity has more to do with what God has done for us, in us, and through us, than what we have accomplished on our own.
Now, if chapter 1 of 1Peter explains who we are in Christ, then chapter 2 outlines the implications of this new relationship. And, what we soon learn in chapter 2 is that our new identity in Christ in not meant to be applied in isolation.
Peter notes, “coming to (Christ) as to a living stone . . . you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1Pet. 2:4,5).
Before we spend some time coming to grips with what all of that means, I do want to highlight the metaphor of “a living stone” employed by Peter.
Do you remember, from Matthew 16, when Jesus asked Simon Peter, “‘Who do you say that I am?’ and Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter (Petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build My church’”(Mt. 16:15-18).
Historically, Roman Catholics and Protestants have disagreed over the rock upon which Christ’s church is built. Since Jesus renames Simon, calling him Peter, which means ‘a stone’ or ‘a rock’, the Roman Catholics, have concluded that Peter is the rock upon which the Church is built. Protestants, however, suggest that it is the confession of Peter, that ‘Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God’, which is the rock upon which the Church is built.
Now, let’s have a look at what Peter says in his first letter. Peter, whose name means ‘stone’, refers first to Christ as “a living stone”, and referencing Isaiah (28:16), he identifies Christ as the “corner stone”—that stone upon which all other stones are fastened.
From Peter’s own words we conclude then that Christ Himself is the rock upon which the Church is built. And, as we will soon sing,
The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;
She is His new creation by water and the word:
From heaven He came and sought her to be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.
Friends, do you see that Christ did not simply die for you, but that He died for the Church? (Acts 20:28). Do you see that our identity in Christ is intimately tied to our belonging to the Church?
Peter says that we are living stones, but we are not stones existing in isolation. We are connected to one another; we are being built up as a spiritual house, built upon the foundation; built upon that corner stone, Jesus Christ.
I fear that many in our day believe they can get along quite fine as a Christian without ever belonging to a community of faith. This is a great mistake. Those who believe that one can be a Christian apart from the Church have misunderstood the extent, and purposes, of salvation. We are not simply saved to avoid something (wrath); we are saved to become something.
Peter maintains that we were saved in order to be fitted into a spiritual house. Peter explains that our new identity in Christ involves belonging to a new community; a community described as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that (we) may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called (us) out of darkness into His marvelous light”(2:9).
What a unique description of a group of people, wouldn’t you say? What business have you heard described in these terms? What community club have you heard described in these terms? A spiritual house . . . a holy priesthood . . . a holy nation . . . a people for God’s own possession.
What is it that makes us a spiritual house? What makes our community spiritual is the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul explains to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you (plural) are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1Cor. 3:16). That's a reference to the local church.
Jesus says much the same when He stated that, “where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their midst”(Mt. 18:20). It’s not as if God ignores us when we pray or worship in private, but what we see, time and time again in Scripture, is that the Spirit of Christ is ordained to work most powerfully within the context of a community of faith. And doesn’t this make perfect sense? The only way we are supported by the cornerstone is if we are attached to the rest of the building. The cornerstone is where the building is; Christ is where the Church is; “where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their midst”(Mt. 18:20).
Not only are we living stones being built into a spiritual house for Christ's habitation, we are also said to be a "holy priesthood" In other words, the first metaphor is not exhaustive. We are not merely the building, the community, where God dwells; we are also the active participants in worship. And not just participants, but a special kind of participant; we are the priests. All of you.
The tabernacle is replaced by the Christian church. The atoning altar is replaced by Jesus Christ. And the priests are replaced by you, those who believe in Christ.
Can you see the necessary implications of all of this? If you are a Christian; if you regard Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, then you belong to the community of the holy priesthood. There is a real sense in which you are a priest. You are a priest who, along with other priests, are expected to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. You are to “proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”(2:9).
In other words, as a priest, you are expected to make a difference; you are expected to minister to others—not by yourself, not by your own strength, but within the community of faith, you are strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
Your new identity in Christ requires that you belong to a new community: The Christian Church. And, as a church, proclaiming the excellencies of Him who has called us, we should be making a difference in this world of ours.
Beloved, the task of the church is not to impact the church, but to impact the world. It’s like a huddle in a football game. 80,000 people don’t pay $25.00 a ticket to watch the Buffalo Bills huddle. Imagine attending a Bills game and, for 2 ½ hours, watching 11 men stand in a circle and talk? That’s not what you paid for!
80,000 people pay $25 a ticket to see what difference the huddle makes.
What the people want to know is, having called the play in secret, does it work in public?
Our work is not measured simply by what we do when we call our Sunday morning huddle, but our work is measured by what we do when we break our huddle and head to our Sunday through Saturday assignment.
The Bible says that every Christian is a priest belonging to a community of priests for the express purpose of making the excellencies of God known in this corrupt and broken world.
And so I ask you: Will our community of faith make a difference? Will today’s huddle make a difference for Christ’s kingdom? I pray it will. Amen.