True Christian identity depends entirely on what God did and is doing for us and to us. Nothing a person is or can do for themselves can bring them redemption. It comes only as God’s gift to those whom He chooses.
From Scripture we know that Christian identity is intended to develop step-by-step from initial birth as babes in Christ to becoming mature Christians. We are to add to God’s gift of saving faith – virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and agape love – making manifest those things we need for life and godliness which God gave to us in spiritual DNA when we were spiritually reborn. We are adopted into God’s family of believers. God sends the Holy Spirit to indwell us. The Holy Spirit guides and enables our growth to maturity. In the verses that follow, Peter gives a series of statements which identify Christians.
Descriptive Marks of Christian Identity From Peter’s Letters
From,1 Pt. 1:18-21: “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” From,1 Pt. 2:4-5: “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.”From, 1 Pt. 2:9-10: “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.”
First Mark 1 Pt. 1:21, Christians are people whose faith and hope are in God. Faith is God’s gift initiating salvation. Faith brings new hope. “Faith and hope are the first mark of a Christian.
Second Mark: Verses 2:4-5, “Christians are like living stones being built up as a spiritual house.” Christians do not stand alone. Each one is an important part of the “spiritual house,” “the family of the redeemed,” which Christ is building.
Verse 2:9 provides the next 3 marks. We are a chosen race, royal priesthood, and a holy nation. A people of God’s own possession will be included with verse 2:10.
Third Mark: Verse 2:9, Christians are chosen. As previously discussed, this is the initial blessing of redemption. Paul describes Christians as members of the invisible church which is the mystical “body of Christ.” Our identity in Christ as a chosen people has nothing to do with skin color, culture, our location on earth, or the times in which we live. Chosen people are new creatures, born again of the Spirit. Peter goes on to say in verse 2:11 that, as they live in the world, the chosen are like strangers and aliens. They are preparing for existence in a different realm. Chosen-ness establishes a Christian’s identity. From people of every race, language, culture, and every time, God has chosen some as His own.
God’s “chosen people” are given faith one at a time, individually, never on the basis of belonging to any group or because of any reason we can discern. God, as His sovereign privilege, chooses each individual. We know no more than that.
We have no clue as to why we were chosen. We do know we didn’t and couldn’t earn it, nor was it based on any merit in us, nor did we have to meet any conditions. God’s choice of those He would save occurred, not only before we were born, but in eternity before the universe was born. It is a truth to be held with awe – a truth that should cause us to tremble with joy, thanking God for our salvation, and praying for the salvation of others. We accept His choosing us, humbly recognizing God’s grace. Chosen is a status to cause rejoicing and striving to be faithful to its purpose – becoming like Christ in character.
Fourth Mark: Christians are royal priests to God with direct immediate access to Him. There is one mediator between God and man, provided by God Himself, the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and it is on the basis of His salvation work that we are redeemed. As royal priests, we are not mediators, but we have an exalted, active role. We have obligations and duties. We are not free to spend time any way we choose. We are to remember that we are to constantly minister in the presence of God and to His glory. All our life is to be priestly service, doing all things unto the glory of God. Our life is to be focused on service to God and His people (Rm 12:1-2; 1 Pt. 2:5).
Fifth Mark: Christians constitute a holy nation, that is, a nation made up of individuals of the past, present, and future who, because of God’s intervention in their life, are holy. Be holy as He is holy. We exist for God’s pleasure. We share in His character. With the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we are to fully develop a holy character like that of Christ. Sin contradicts our essential nature as a Christian. The difficulty is that we have a sin nature. Though declared legally holy, and in the process of being transformed to holiness, we are not truly holy until we are glorified in heaven.
The last part of Verse 2:9 plus Verse 2:10 cite 2 marks and state the purpose of the sixth mark. Once not a people, but now God’s people, a people for His own possession. Once had not received mercy, but now have received mercy.
Sixth Mark: Christians are God’s people, a people for His own possession. Before becoming Christians, individuals were not “a people.” They were individuals of every race and tongue, dead in sin and under God’s wrath. But now, regenerated and adopted into God’s family, they have become a people of His own possession, knit together as the mystical body of Christ.
God created and “owns” everything – so in one sense everyone and everything are God’s possessions, but clearly Peter means more than that. He means something very special. From other Scripture we know that as God’s possession we are an inheritance to God. The redeemed are the ones with whom God will spend eternity (e.g., 2 Cor 6:16).
Seventh Mark: People who become Christians once had not received mercy, but now, as the redeemed, they have received mercy. John Piper points out that the Greek word translated “mercy” is actually a verb (“mercied”). The closest English meaning is “pitied”. When God chose us, He saw us sinful, guilty, and rightfully condemned by the Law and subject to His wrath. He pitied us and acted for our benefit. We are not simply chosen – we are pitied, objects of God’s grace and mercy. Our actions did not determine our identity as Christians. God established our identity by acting upon us. We are the ones God “pitied” and chose to be redeemed!
What is our purpose? What are we here for?
Understanding our identity in Christ answers the question “What are we here for?” Identity as Christians establishes our destiny. God chooses, pities, possesses and makes us holy. We are to be His priests, declare praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. All His blessings to us are in support of His intent that our character be transformed into a likeness of Christ.
Source of our Identity
As people on God’s earth, how are we to be identified? The identity that is important to God is identity defined by who a person is relative to Christ. A person is either for or against Christ and all He stands for. Christian identity results from God’s choice irresistible call. In His grace He freely gave us our identity and all it implies. It is none of our doing but all a blessing of grace from Him to us.
What Does the Gift of Christian Identity Mean for our Lives
Peter tells us we are called to lead a life that is effective and productive in Christ. He implores us to live our lives such that the qualities latent in us (given when we were born again) be increasingly made manifest. He agonizes that if we fail to make use of the marvelous identity we have in Christ, we will live lives that are ineffective and fruitless. His point is that if we truly believe God chose us, pitied us, made us His particular possession, set us apart to be holy as He is holy, and made us royal priests to Him, then we will strive with all our might, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, to live in a manner consistent with who we truly are in Christ. The Bible clearly directs us to that path.
Change In Relationship to God
Everyone’s most important identity, Christians included, is determined by their relationship to God. A change in relationship to God brings about a change in identity.
Usually we don’t associate change with God. God’s intrinsic self never changes – His intrinsic being is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, forever. But, aspects of God’s relationship to people can change.
The Creator/creature and Sovereign/dependent relationships cannot change. God is always Creator, and He is always Sovereign over His creatures. In that sense our relationship to God never changes. But, fallen people are in rebellion to God and under His wrath. In God’s grace, He can cause rebellious fallen people to be made at peace with Him. Peace with God causes a dramatic change in identity – from rebellious to redeemed.
When God converts us from rebellious to redeemed, He makes us members of a holy nation – a people called to be His own – members of His own family. Before regeneration, those who will become Christians were not a “people.” They were individuals scattered among every tribe and language group on earth. As Christians, they become “one in Christ” and members of a royal priesthood to God. Christian identity arises from God’s gift of a new relationship with Him.