// gospel prism

Applied Gospel

The Church at the Center (Part 1)

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.
1 Peter 2:9-10

Introduction

For these past weeks, Toby and I have had the privilege of sharing with you the various things we place at the center of our lives and why, having Christ at the center, is the only way we can have ultimate joy. I also hope it has reminded you of why we came to Pleasanton in the first place, and why the San Francisco church, Christ Church will be planted in August and why a group of men and women will be a part of that plant with Toby and Rebekah. It excites me that Wellspring Church does not seek its own fame, or my fame, or any individual’s fame, but rather, Isaiah 26:8 is truly the longing of our hearts: “O Lord, we wait for you; your name and remembrance are the desire of our soul.”

And so to conclude this series, I’d like to share with you this week and next why having the local church at the center of your life is not only God’s heart for all believers to experience the joy and delight of the Gospel, but also by having the local church at the center of your life, you in effect place Christ at the center of your life. We see this especially in 1 Peter 2:9-10 where Peter declares that the local church is 1) chosen as God’s possession, which I’ll cover this week and 2) brought near to proclaim Christ, and 3) together to proclaim Christ, which I’ll cover next week. So let’s first look at Peter’s first declaration that the local church is chosen as God’s possession in verse 9.

Chosen as God’s Possession (vv. 9)

Notice I have been using the word ‘local’ to describe church here. This is not to say that Peter’s words were not intended for the universal church as well, that is all Christians everywhere. But one thing we know about this genre of Scripture is that Peter is writing a letter to specific groupings of Christians (1 Peter 1:1) who are gathering in smaller meeting places such as homes to worship God. In other words, Peter’s words address what we would today describe as a local church. So I’d like to read Peter’s words in light of this context.

Verse 9 reads: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” I’d like to focus on a few words, “chosen race” and “a people for his own possession.” In these simple words lies the most fundamental purpose of the church, that the church is composed of people who belong to God. Peter makes it quite clear that we are chosen and his possession as His people. And to understand some of these concepts we have to go back to where Peter is essentially directing us to, to the Old Testament.

When the Israelites were being led out of Egypt, God gave to Moses a law which was to guide the people to continue in their trust and worship of God. And He also gave the Israelites this reason for their chosenness found in Deut 7:6-8:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 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, 8 but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers.

Inherent in God’s choosing, according to Deut 7:6-8 is this concept, they were not worthy of being chosen. It wasn’t because they were the most powerful nation that God chose them. It wasn’t because they had the most to offer God in terms of skills, or talents, or wealth, or good looks, or strength. He chose them simply because He loved them first.

And so what Peter tells the church that, like the Israelites of Deut 7:6-8, they were not chosen because they were the best strategists, or because they were morally good, or because they were wonderful teachers of children, or because their marriages were far better than non-Christian marriages, or because they were ready to go to the mission field. No, He’s telling the church the same message, they were chosen because God loved them, or as Paul put it in Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Our uniqueness as a church has nothing to do with us but has everything to do with how God views us despite and in spite of ourselves. We are God’s possessions because He loves us while we were still sinners. We are a holy nation not because we have some inherent holiness that makes us better than others, but rather because a holy God should love us. We are holy because a gracious God decided to save us and now resides in us with His Holy Spirit.

Ramifications of Chosenness

Therefore, the ramifications of understanding our chosenness and our possession by God should be overwhelming. The first ramification of our chosenness is that chosenness should lead to our humility as individuals and as a church. Think of it this way, if we did nothing to gain our chosenness but must completely depend on the sheer grace of God, how could we ever boast about ourselves or our church? When Paul wrote his letter to the church in Corinth, he wrote these words:

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Cor 1:28-29)

Notice that again God chose not those who had it all together, but those who recognize their continual failures before a perfect and holy God. And as they realized these failures to honor God, they realized exactly why they needed a Savior in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. There simply is no longer any room for boasting or pride.

This perspective must impact our life together as a church, especially as we proclaim the Gospel to the lost and welcome more people into out fellowship. May humility and openness to others mark this church. May it never be closed to others on the basis of sheer uncomfortability or we will lose sight the Gospel itself. Pastor Jack Miller warns of this happening in the church when he tells the story of a pastor who remembered the time when a man walked through the doors of a conservative church. The idea of visiting the church was so unnerving to him that he took a couple of shots of whiskey to get up the courage to walk into a church. When he entered the doors, he sat himself in the middle of the congregation. Of course, the strong odor of the whiskey trailed him and as he sat down, his nearest neighbors silently began to move away until he was all alone in his little circle, obviously singled out as ‘the sinner.’ No one sat within a dozen feet from him. The pastor commented, “Understandably, he never returned. There was no chance to give him the Gospel.” (Jack Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, 37)

Those are some of the most tragic words, ‘there was no chance to give him the Gospel.’ But a chosen people, a people who understand that they were NOT chosen for their morality or anything they had done, but simply because of God’s mercy, cannot and must not fall into this type of individual and corporate pride. There must be a continual reminder to our own hearts and to one another just how far God had to go to save ME! May I be so awestruck by my sins being the direct cause of why Jesus hung on the cross, and may our church be so awestruck that we are the direct cause of why Jesus hung there, that we welcome any and all, no matter how they’re dressed, how they smell, how much or little they are educated as fellow sinners, how much they might have hurt us in the past. And I am so thankful that Wellspring Church is growing to this end. We have much further to go and to grow. But I have seen many of you extend your reach to people not because you have to because of your position in the church, but because you have treasured the Gospel and God’s saving grace for you simply because He loves you. And so, many of you have opened your homes to newcomers dinners and homegroups and have met those in need. You have cherished one another through difficult times, not allowing such times to destroy relationships. You have served the children of the church even though the fruits of your labors might not be evident for decades. You have exemplified the Gospel to me and to the world.

But my dear brothers and sisters, may Wellspring Church welcome all continuously because we know what it means to be an outcast. We know what it means to be a sinner once who was lost but now found. May this lead to even more hospitality on our part, more welcome to others different from us, more desires to open our fellowship to all. Also, may we continually evaluate our hearts and motivations. Ask yourselves, what keeps me motivated to serve, the Gospel’s effect on me or my appearance to others? Why am I fearful of welcoming others into my life, especially those different from me? Do I have a fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of suffering, a fear of losing comfort with old friends and current relationships? Have I deemed myself as morally supreme over others, forgetting that I was chosen not because of who I am but because of God’s great love for me alone? How can I grow in expressing God’s chosenness in my life? Is there anything I can do to welcome others to this church so that they can see just how good and gracious God has been to me? How can I love those different free me as an expression of how God loved me when I was far different from Him? These questions and others like them will help us to remember that our chosenness should lead to humility as an individual and as a church and will free us to love others and love to show mercy to others.

The second ramification of our chosenness is that we experience Gospel wonder. In other words, the Gospel becomes wondrous to us and gives us inexpressible joy throughout our lives. Look at verse 9 again: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim (declare) the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Being chosen assumes not only that we were unworthy to be chosen but that the only means by which we were chosen was through ‘him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ And this reality, if properly understood, should lead to a sense of wonder and amazement. As we explore verse 9, I hope you are left amazed.

1 Peter 2:9 quotes Isaiah 43:21 which says: “The people whom I formed for myself that they might declare [proclaim] my praise.” And one look at Isaiah 43, which is one of the most loving and gracious passages of Scripture, contains very similar themes to 2 Peter 2. It begins with these sweet words by God to His people: “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

But the tragic part rests in verses 22-24 where Israel turns away from God despite His continual outpouring of love:

Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt offerings, or honored me with your sacrifices. I have not burdened you with offerings, or wearied you with frankincense. 24 You have not bought me sweet cane with money, or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices. But you have burdened me with your sins; you have wearied me with your iniquities.

Here God accuses the people of coming to Him with legalistic obedience and without a genuine desire to worship Him. They were bringing the sacrifices, but they were coming without any sense of devotion and delight. In other words, they were religiously dutiful but spiritually dry and empty. And the clearest indication of this heart was their weariness.

Let me illustrate this. Suppose it’s mine and Shua’s anniversary. I come home and tell her to get dressed because I’ve arranged for someone to watch the kids while we go out to dinner and then a show afterwards. So we’re out at dinner and my conversation is merely polite and curt. I just keep yawning and looking at my watch wondering in my head how long it will be before we head home so I can watch the NBA playoffs. As the night rolls along, Shua asks me why I am so disengaged, and I respond, “Honey, I know it’s our anniversary today. And because I didn’t want to get in trouble because you’re a woman who expects a lot from me, I organized this evening. But I want you to know that I sacrificed a lot for you today because I missed the NBA playoffs for you. But what can I say, I had to. It’s my duty as a husband to do such things.” I think after such a knuckleheaded statement, it would be my wife’s kindness to banish me only to a long, quiet and uncomfortable night on the couch.

Similarly, this is what Israel was doing to God. And so God judges the people for being wearied over what should have been their joy. Worshipping God and serving Him and honoring Him was supposed to be a delight to the soul as should the delight be for any husband wooing and romancing his beloved wife, but when you make that which should have been a delight into something that is dreary and dull and boring, then eventually the other party will become tired of such an empty and shallow pursuit. And that is exactly how God responds in verse 24. God becomes weary with them. How did this happen and what hope can there be?

The answer is found back in 1 Peter 2:9-10. This happened because by nature all of us reject God and are no different than the Israelites. We want to come to God in our own way and on our terms. It’s sort of similar to the excuse I have heard many dating couples give me as to the reason why they are not marrying sooner rather than later: “We’ll marry when we’re financially ready.” In other words, a couple wants to make sure that their marriage and their lives are in their own control and money is the symbol of that control. In the same way, we want to follow God when we’re good and ready, when we can still maintain control over how we worship God. We want to say like the rich young ruler, “God I followed you in the following and that should be good enough for you. But don’t ask for anything more. Don’t ask me to let you be the Lord of my family, or job, or retirement, or pleasures, or money, or favorite TV show, or my free time, etc.” Paul describes all who turn their trust towards themselves and away from God this way in Romans 1:21-22:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools.

But thankfully, the hope for us is the same as it was for the Israelites. Let’s go back once more to Isaiah 43. After the way the Israelites rejected God, listen to how God responds to their rejection in verse 25: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” Simply amazing! And this is why Peter as well makes the same conclusion in verse 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.” This is why chosenness should and must lead to Gospel wonder, astonishment, and amazement. God decided to love His people (us) regardless of how they have treated Him. This grace is simply marvelous. Why would the God of the universe love us in this way? And it doesn’t stop there. The means God used to choose us would require God to give His only begotten Son to die on a cross as a substitute for me and for the church to call me out of darkness into the marvelous light.

Also, I wonder if Peter was speaking out of his own experience with chosenness. Maybe Peter remembered when the bystanders accused him on the night Jesus was crucified: “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” And when he was so fearful of his own life that he “began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 26:73-75) Surely, Peter understands deeply what it means to be undeservedly chosen.

And this is why Peter earlier said in 1 Peter 1:8-9: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” For Peter and for all who have been saved by the blood of Christ, can there be any other response than this inexpressible joy? In other words, a church that understands their chosenness will always have this joy. This is why C. S. Lewis wrote: “It is a Christian duty, as you know, for everyone to be as happy as he can.” Joy will be experienced in its life and its programs and its activities and its greetings and its relationships and its service and its outreach. This is why we should and must delight as we sing. As the song “Glories of Calvary” so wondrously proclaims, “Sinners find eternal joy in the triumph of your wounds.”

Are you experiencing this joy because of your chosenness? I am so thankful that so many of you cherish the Gospel as a treasure. You are experiencing new joy because of it. But if some of you are not living with this joy right now, perhaps you have believed that you deserve better than you are currently receiving. Maybe you believe that you deserve better at work. Someone has treated you unfairly in life, a family member, a roommate, a coworker, and you feel jipped. Or perhaps you feel God has treated you unfairly and you’re just trudging by. Oh how you need to remember just how great it is to be chosen, despite your treatment of God, and how kind He has been towards you. My dear friends, may this church be filled with joy no matter the circumstances, that people would question our sanity because we have so much joy when anyone else would be angry or frustrated or depressed. May visitors and newcomers recognize it the moment they enter these doors. May it not be an artificial smile they see because we need to put up a front to be a good Christian, but may the reality of our chosenness despite our unworthiness be so thrilling, that like the flu, it becomes contagious in this place. May you have Gospel wonder.

The third ramification of our chosenness is the natural result of Gospel proclamation. Let’s look at verse 9 again: “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.” There is an incredibly important point Peter makes here. We were chosen so that we might proclaim what God has done through Jesus. In other words, the Gospel proclamation is imbedded in the very essence of the message of the Gospel. We see this throughout the NT. When the Samaritan woman finally recognized who Jesus was in John 4, she went and told the village about Him. When Peter and John were told by the Jewish authorities not to speak the name of Jesus, they responded: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 5:19) When Jesus was entering Jerusalem and people were shouting, “Hosanna, blessed be the name of the Lord,” the Pharisees wanted Jesus to rebuke them, and he told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” (Luke 19:40) There can be no other response to a full realization and wonder of what God has done through Christ, then a proclamation of the Gospel. Jesus doesn’t only command the Gospel to be proclaimed, it’s a given that those who receive and know and appreciate and value and desire and understand the Gospel will always be proclaiming it. As I shared last week from Revelation 5, this Gospel proclamation will never cease. We will enjoy praising Him because of what He has done for us eternally.

But sadly, we are far too motivated by our fear of others’ rejection and our longing to be liked than we are by our chosenness. We simply don’t realize what power we have. Charles Spurgeon tells us of this power we have in the Gospel:

Oh, the power, the melting, conquering, transforming power of that dear cross of Christ! My brothers, we have but to abide by the preaching of it, we have but constantly to tell aboard the matchless story, and we may expect to see the most remarkable spiritual results. We need despair of no man now that Jesus has died for sinners. With such a hammer as the doctrine of the cross, the most flinty heart will be broken; and with such a fire as the sweet love of Christ, the most mighty iceberg will be melted. (Quoted in Jack Miller, Powerful Evangelism for the Powerless, 12).

You see, God reveals Himself to us in the Gospel. He reminds us that He chose us without any preconditions on our part. We simply could have never been good enough for Him. He had to save us apart from anything we had done (Titus 3:5). We need to respond then in faith that we truly believe this to be true. And then we need the courage to actually live out this faith. We need to genuinely believe that Christ has given us His authority over all things (Matthew 28:18). We need to guard ourselves against sinful prejudices that can creep up upon us that suddenly believe the lie that we actually are better and deserve more than we’ve been given. And we need to see just how transforming the power of the cross is that it truly can melt the heart of the hardest heart and grant such a person the sweet love of Christ. If it can reach mine and yours’ hearts, it can reach anyone’s heart.

What keeps you from proclaiming Christ to others? You might think it is fear of others, but according to this text, there is even more fundamental than that reason. Perhaps it is because we still do not fully comprehend what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Every instance in the New Testament of a person’s deep grasping of their chosenness naturally led to Gospel proclamation. Wellspring, we will not proclaim Christ once we get trained to evangelize. We won’t proclaim Christ when we’re ready. We won’t proclaim Christ because now we’re in Pleasanton. We will proclaim Christ boldly when we fully realize God’s amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.

Conclusion

May the church be at the center of your life only because it leads you actually to place Christ at the center. And Peter makes it so clear to us that there is no other reason why we gather together as a church than to magnify and reflect the transforming power of Christ in the lives of His people. We should be the most humble of people because we know that we deserved NOT to be chosen. And therefore, we fight insularity. We war arrogance and pride. We long to be the most welcoming place of all. We delight in different people, new people, diverse people entering our fellowship. Joy must mark the church. We are in Pleasanton my friends not because being in Pleasanton is our end goal, to be comfortable, to be secure, to be safe. But rather, by being here, may our greatest desire and delight be the basking in our chosenness and the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ to any who would hear.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Post a comment

Archives

Categories

Photos on flickr