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A Spiritual House in Holy Obedience: 1 Peter 2:4-12

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

Bricklayer:

As a young man I did not realize that the preaching ministry of a local church pastor has more to do with bricklaying than orchestrating extravagant productions or innovative ceremonies. Though each has its place, bricklaying (or rather spiritual bricklaying) is the rigorous and, sometime, arduous work of expository preaching which vehemently shapes the congregation toward biblical literacy in grasping the larger narrative that governs daily living. As the saying goes, “Rome was not built in a day,” nor is corporate maturity confined to one sermon (though the Lord can definitely use a sermon to bring awakening), but rather a slew of faithful, steady sermons that shapes worldview. That is, each week is given to formulating the minds and hearts toward a solid biblical notion of reality which, in turn, is granting them one brick amid the on-going journey of building the spiritual home of the church. To this end, the logocentric aim of the church is vital, essential, and foundational. “Gathered as the community of the Word,” says Gregg R. Allison, “the church draws life and sustenance from Scripture in its midst, but it also receives conviction and rebuke from Scripture as it journeys on a pilgrim path that needs constant redirecting in order for the church to reach its ultimate destination.”[1]


A Spiritual House in Holy Obedience:


As Peter is grounding the community of saints in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, he turns, now, to the communal implications amid the ruse of redemption. That is, the Gospel is not merely conceived of as an entry point, i.e., the pearly gates of heaven. Rather, the saving grace of Christ impregnates the fullness of the lived experience. And yet, to truly grasp the ethos of one’s obligation, a fundamental understanding of ontas is necessarily in order. Thus, the apostle cements the saints in identity not solely as redeemed individuals, but rather as a corporate entity, i.e., “a spiritual house” (2:5). To that end, Peter informs the saints with four main petitions: (1) their priestly order, (2) the mercy of God, (3) the benefits of belief and the destruction of disbelief, and (4) a faithfulness in conduct.


A Holy and Royal Priesthood. The Apostle Peter begins the periscope from where he left off, by emphasizing the centrality of the Gospel through the new birth in Christ Jesus (1 Pet. 1:22-2:3). As he converges upon the idea of having “been born again, not of perishable seed but imperishable” (1 Pet. 1:23, italics mine; see also 1:3), he asserts union with Christ in which He is “a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (2:4, italics mine). The title of “Living Stone,” in Peter’s usage, is seen throughout all of Scripture which speaks to the eschatological hope in establishing Zion and Yahweh’s temple reign (cf. Isa. 28:16).[2] The Apostle Peter along with Paul himself sees this vision fulfilled in the work and Person of Christ. The adjective “living” assumes His resurrection in which Christ is approved by God as “chosen and precious,” all-the-while being “rejected by men” (2:4). Thomas R. Schreiner accurately correlates the apostle’s aim in saying, “He is God’s chosen and honored Stone, and since this is contrasted with His rejection by human beings, we probably have an allusion to the resurrection and exaltation of Christ. The life of Christ functions as a pattern for the Petrine Christians, for they too are despised by many, but they are chosen and honored in God’s sight destined for vindication after suffering.”[3] Therefore, their rejection is multi-layered in its purpose in that the world’s dismissal of the church is a direct rejection of the Creator God Himself due to sinfulness in finite man and, at the same time, this very same repudiation is a tool in the sovereign hand of God to sharpen and shape His people to be “a holy priesthood” (2:5; cf. 2;9, “a holy nation”).


Thus, the covenant community is empowered by taking on the Name of Christ. Their struggle is not one formed by an arbitrary ploy, but rather is intrinsically tied to their identification with Christ Jesus as their Lord amid a broken and depraved world. As the Apostle Paul similarly addresses, “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17, italics mine). These hardships, then, are inevitably endowed “so that the tested genuineness of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7). That is, the regenerate saints partake as living stones which “are being built up as a spiritual house” (2:5, italics mine). The individual believer, yes, is being aided, and yet she is also attuned to the corporate development of the church which is being formed into a temple for the Lord. Craig Ott provides an insightful perspective in saying, “But here we see something even greater: the Spirit not only indwells individuals but also dwells in the people of God collectively as the church in a way that is not, and cannot be, evidence in individuals alone. A new-creation community demonstrates the presence of God in reconciliation and love.”[4] Meaning, she is one brick amid the entire structure of the spiritual house which is the church. What, then, does this spiritual house consist of? What is its aim?


Quickly, we would see that the preposition “to” (Gk. eis) is modifying the passive verb form of “being built” (2:5). Meaning, the “purpose of such building is that they function as a ‘holy priesthood’ (hierateuma hagion). We can summarize the verse as follows, You as a spiritual house are being built up ‘to be a holy priesthood’ (NRSV).”[5] The Apostle reinforces this claim when he contrast the saints with the unbelieving world. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession” (2:9). The covenant community functions as a living stone through their divine call as a priesthood which signifies God’s redemptive work in the world. That is, the priest functions in a twofold manner: (1) he conveys direct communion with the Living God and, in turn, (2) works in an intercessory ministry on behalf of the people. As Köstenberger and Alexander assert, “the church is . . . presented as a priestly kingdom, indicating its mediatorial function for the world.”[6] That is, as redeemed image bearers of God through Christ Jesus, the church takes on the mantle of Adam in being a priest-king to the glory of God.[7]


This, then, shapes not only the identity of their priesthood but the function of their office as well. Peter qualifies the priestly mandate as “[offering] spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5b). Our offering, held within the old covenant epoch, was administered through the sacrificial system of animal atonement. The new covenant, in turn, is escorted through the work and Person of Christ which embodies all believers’ acts of obedience through faith (cf. 1:2b, 22). Calvin rightly elaborates when he says,


There is never such purity found in our sacrifices that they are of themselves acceptable to God. Our self-denial is never entire and complete, our urge to pray is never so sincere as it ought to be, we are never so zealous and so diligent in doing good, but that our works are imperfect, and mingled with many vices. Nevertheless, Christ gains favour for them. Peter here faces that want of faith which we may have with regard to the acceptability of our works, when he says that they are accepted, not for the merit of their own excellency, but through Christ.[8]


Nevertheless, while our spiritual sacrifice can be condensed to acts of obedience, the apostle reaffirms the missional sentiment that adheres to the charge of the priesthood. The identity that is tethered to the covenant community of saints—"a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession”—is divinely charged for the purpose “that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (2:9b, italics mine). “Now God’s kingdom of priests,” according to Schreiner, “consists of the church of Jesus Christ. It too is to mediate God’s blessings to the nations, as it proclaims the Gospel.”[9]


Thus, the aspect of the church being grafted into a living stone connotes a priestly service which is compounded upon the spiritual sacrifices of missional engagement. The question, then, is not if you suffering, but when you suffering; will you suffering to the glory of God? That is, will we make our suffering count? Will our suffering point toward an ultimate telos, an ultimate end?


Remembering Our Roots. The divine call to such sacred and glorious endeavors in making much of the triune God is anchored upon remembering our hopeless scheme outside the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. The Apostle tempers, then, the charge for the church with sober recollection in saying, “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” (2:10). “If indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1:3), then the heralding of the Gospel springs forth from the outflow of joy that is captured in moving from death to life, from orphan to beloved, from condemnation to justification, from eternal damnation to eternal tranquility, from darkness to everlasting light. As Peter H. Davids affirms, “That is the experience of the reborn people: they were once in pagan darkness and now are experiencing God’s light. But it is also their calling, for they are to proclaim, not so much what has happened to them, but the virtues of this God.”[10]


Belief vs. Disbelief. Thus, the privileges of proclaiming His excellencies is rooted in the faith and belief that is provided by God Himself (cf. 1:2-3; 20-21; 23). According to Peter, “the honor is for you who believe” (2:7, italics mine). That is, the prophetic promises of hope given to the people of God in the old covenant—the nation of Israel—was understood to be an eschatological hope. Essentially, when Israel found themselves in the midst of exile due to their faithlessness and disobedience, the covenantal Lord—who is always faithful to His promises—gave the people of God a sense of assurance through the prophetic restoration of Zion. Judaism understood these promises to be realized in the new age. Concurrently, Christ Jesus ushered in the new age through His life, death, burial, and resurrection. To this end, Peter references Isaiah 28:16 in stark fulfillment through Christ Jesus who is the cornerstone, i.e., living stone, as well as the community of saints who are the beneficiaries of the Gospel. Furthermore, the “honor,” in verse 7, is geared toward the “final vindication on the day of judgement.”[11] This is additionally confirmed by the testing of the regenerate’s faith which “may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7, italics mine).


This is contrasted by the unbelief that is marked through the revilers and rejectors of God. The quotation of Psalms 118:22, then, pays enormous dividends when understood in its original context. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (2:7; cf. Ps. 118:22). In saying that, as the king of Israel returned to the temple after his victorious campaign, the foreign nations denied the anointed Davidic king, his reign, and, ultimately, his rule. Thus, the covenantal Lord carried out His wrath against the revilers and the king cut off the enemies with swift certainty (cf. Ps. 118:10-14). Similarly, Jesus applies the same psalmic text to His earthly ministry (cf. Matt. 21:42). Yet, instead of dealing with foreign rulers like the original historic context, Jesus is faced with the religious leaders of Judaism who presumed leadership in lockstep with the covenantal Lord Himself. Contrary to their conjecture, Christ exposed their wickedness and debasement. To this end, the covenant community are christened to hold fast and persevere in the midst of trials and heartache, knowing that the covenantal Lord is faithful and just to bring about His intended purposes.


Moreover, the apostle continues his Old Testament citation with Isaiah 8:14. Like earlier, the original context will inform how Peter is seeking to use this text with his audience. “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (2:8; cf. Isa. 8:14). In view, Israel and Judah are divinely called to trust in the covenantal Lord over and against the foreign powers that seek to thwart their theocratic livelihood. The people of God, then, are not to waver from the promises and confidence in the Lord. And yet, by deviating from the covenantal commitments, the people of God seal their fate. “As the firmness and stability of Christ are such as to sustain all who depend on Him in faith,” says Calvin, “so His hardness is so great that it will break and tear in pieces all who resist Him. For there is no middle way between these two; we must either build on Him, or be dashed against Him.”[12] Accordingly, their downfall, foundationally, is “because they disobey the Word” (2:8c). Their lack of faith in the promises of God fueled their rebellion that triggered their disobedience. Thus, these phenomena, as the apostle admits, functioned in accord “as they were destined to do” (2:8d). In one sense, “God has not only appointed that those who disobeyed the word would stumble and fall. He has also determined that they would disbelieve and stumble.”[13] And yet in another, their own stumbling is not void of responsibility nor culpability. That is, their unbelief is tethered to their own existential love for sin over and against their commitment to the covenantal Lord Himself. Still, Peter gives a divine and reassuring charge in saying, “But” (Gk. de). Meaning, as the community of saints, the church can rest assure that the covenantal Lord has bound and sealed their union with Him in a divine security.


Fight the Good Fight of a Productive Faith. In the divine seal of the church, the apostle addresses them as “Beloved” (Gk. agapetoi). Such rendering leads toward Peter’s further description of the saints—“as sojourners and exiles” (2:11)—which is antithetical to the natural world. These conflicting realities anchor the apostle’s imperative to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (2:11b). “Significantly, this exhortation to holiness, rather than being focused on believer’s relationship with God or with one another,” according to Köstenberger and Alexander, “is directed towards their responsibility to reflect God’s character in the midst of an unbelieving world.”[14] Furthermore, such treasonous acts against the Creator God Himself function contrary to God’s creative design. That is, engagement in sinful deeds though attesting happiness and fulfillment result not merely in the emptiness of those promises, but the destruction that “[wages] war against your soul” (2:11c). Fundamentally, according to Calvin, “the desires of the flesh lead to perdition, whenever the soul consents to them.”[15] This, then, speaks to the fruitlessness of sin which deceives the perception of believer and non-believer.


Therefore, the apostle lays an imperative to “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable” (2:12). The notion of “Gentile,” here, is emphasizing an outsider’s perspective as it pertains to the covenantal community herself. That is, the saints have an attentive audience in those who seek to see the downfall of the redeemed. Hence, the necessity to uphold a theological and, in turn, an ethical conviction and expression will be foundational to the witness of the church. “Therefore the evil speakings and the wicked talk of the ungodly ought to stimulate us to lead an upright life,” says Calvin, “for this is no time for living listlessly and carelessly, when they watch us closely, in order to find out whatever we do amiss.”[16]


A Sturdy Foundation:


The spiritual journey of a Christian is never meant to be done in isolation nor with a rogue temperament. Christianity is fundamentally about family; family that is initiated and convened in covenantal commitment through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Through His sacrifice, the church’s communion is possible and necessary. As Hans Kung communicates, “Not the words and instructions of Jesus in the time before Easter alone, but the action of God in resurrecting the crucified Christ and in pouring out the Spirit, turned the group of those who believed communally in the risen Jesus into a community of those who, in contrast to the unbelieving ancient people of God, could claim to be the new eschatological people of God.”[17] Thus, our gatherings as the people of God is blood-bought, Spirit empowered, and God glorifying. To this end, regenerate saints should not take lightly their ecclesial obligation nor their covenantal commitment. Nor should they forsake that the Lord Jesus has redeemed them to be a people that magnifies Him not through sheer individual deeds, but, simultaneously, in corporate engagement to the glory of God.

 

***footnotes***

[1] Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 115.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger and T. Desmond Alexander, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020), 93-94.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, NAC (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 104.

[4] Craig Ott, The Church on Mission: A Biblical Vision for Transformation among All People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019), 29.

[5] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 105.

[6] Kostenberger and Alexander, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 234.

[7] See Stephen Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT, ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 45-92; G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, NSBT, ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 29-122; Oren R. Martin, Bound for the Promised Land: The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan, NSBT, ed. D. A. Carson (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015), 31-76.

[8] John Calvin, Hebrews and 1 and 2 Peter: Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, vol. 12, trans. W. B. Johnston (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 259.

[9] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 115.

[10] Peter H. Davids, A Theology of James, Peter, and Jude: Living in the Light of the Coming King, BTNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 135.

[11] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 110.

[12] Calvin, Hebrews and 1 and 2 Peter, 264.

[13] Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, 113.

[14] Kostenberger and Alexander, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth, 95.

[15] Calvin, Hebrews and 1 and 2 Peter, 268.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Hans Kung, The Church (New York, NY: Sheed and Ward, 1967), 76.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; ThM, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (8), and DeYoung (5). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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