As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 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.
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. 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 2:4-5, 9-10 (ESV)
When I was a kid in elementary, my friends and I were sitting in a chapel service at our private school. We would have guest speakers roll through from time to time, and on this occasion we got a traveling preacher. I’m not sure that anybody had a great connection with this guy, and even then I can recall feeling a weird energy when he spoke. Something just seemed off.
As he talked to us that service he began to “prophecy” over some of the students. Now I don’t mean to get spooky spiritual with you today or even give off the impression that I dismiss the Holy Spirit’s gifting of prophecy. But I do bring this up because some twenty-plus years later, I can confirm that this was not, in fact, the Word of God being spoken through this man.
The reason I am so confident this was the case is because he told my friend that he would one day be a professional basketball player. There wasn’t any vagueness to this statement. You will play in the NBA, he said, and our eyes widened as we heard it. Today, the friend who received this “prophecy” is alive and well, though he is not what we might call “athletic.” Now in his mid-thirties, he enjoys watching basketball, for sure, but he would happily admit to you that it has been years since he set foot on a court. Though he was called a future athlete by this man over two decades ago, the identity just never came became a reality.
It must have been shocking for my friend to hear that prediction at the time. He wasn’t athletic back then either, so in this bold word he probably also saw in his head a daunting future of drills and sweat and exhaustion. The road ahead of him to reach that point would have been terrifying, to say the least.
“Athlete” is not something we really get to announce about ourselves. It’s kind of like calling yourself “cool.” If you have to lead with that description, it’s probably not true. Being an athlete means more than telling people you like to “play sports” or wearing shorts a lot or owning a few pairs of running shoes. It’s a lifestyle description. Athletes look, act, and talk a certain way. You can spot them pretty easily in a crowd.
“Christian” is meant to be a description like this. It’s a lifestyle word, a marker, something unmistakable about you that tells others who you are before you ever have to explain. When you’re a Christian you look, act, and talk a certain way. You train yourself and commit to things other people don’t or can’t, and it shows.
When Jesus saves us, “Christian” has to be more than an adjective. It has to be an identity. Peter tells us in this passage that God calls us “holy,” but He is not describing us when He calls us this. He’s guiding us. Holiness requires commitment. It requires growth. It requires change. And the reason it takes all of this from us is because of what we are to do as we train.
An athlete works so that he might produce. One of my favorite things to do when I attended Spurs games during the Big Three era was watching Manu Ginobili during warmups. Other players would just shoot around and go through drills, but Manu was out there like a wild man, bumping into coaches and other players, tossing up shots after exaggerated contact. It looked crazy before the game, but watching him against the other team you realized all of it was purposeful. He practiced like he played. It wasn’t just the warmup that made him an athlete. It was the game.
When we are called a holy priesthood, we’re given the practice and the purpose of “Christian.” Peter says that we have been brought out of darkness by God to praise His name, to proclaim His worth to all who might hear. We’re a people who live worship. We look, act, and talk differently. We are meant to stand out, as Jesus did, in a way that is unmistakable, that testifies. To do this effectively and honorably, Peter says, we have to be holy. And this holiness requires commitment to God and submission to His purpose.
The joy for us – unlike with my terrified childhood friend – is that our future is not daunting or discouraging. It’s deeply life-giving. Because we are also “chosen and precious,” ours is the kind of training where the work becomes a release, where every “drill” of Scripture reading and prayer overflows naturally into praise and proclamation. What we give our life to studying and following becomes what we resemble and what we do and what we say. In the “building up” Peter describes, the savior who loves us becomes our identity, testimony, and ultimately, our joy. In the end, the more we commit to the work of knowing God, the less it seems like work at all.
God how humbling it is that You who are so holy and beyond my understanding would speak to my heart and call me into life. Thank you that this life comes with purpose. Give me Your strength to fulfill that calling. Help me proclaim Your name with excellence and joy. Help me live a life of identity in You. In everything I say and do today, let Your words and Your actions shine through me. AMEN.
You are a Christian. Consider today how this is not just a description for you, but an identity. How are you proclaiming the name of Jesus in your life? When you speak to somebody today, are his words coming through? When you act, can people see his work in you? If you’re hesitant to answer, it’s probably time to go back to training, so that the joy of Christ might once again overflow in you.