We are discovering that being the people of God molds and shapes us fully. It shapes us into a people of blessing, into a people who live the ways of the kingdom and more. Here are the last two characteristics that I will highlight as to being the people of God. There are more, but the nine that were looking at here give a good overview.
8. Called to own our status as former aliens and the grace that rescues us. Our roots are the roots of wanderers. We have wandered in foreign lands and we have wandered spiritually. We are still in wandering mode today. We read in Deuteronomy 26 about the roots of our father Abraham who was a wanderer and how our history is one of a people who were oppressed,
“And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (Deuteronomy 26:5–7 ESV)
Our oppression as God’s people, however, is not only rooted in people oppressing us (from which we needed God’s rescue), it is also rooted in our being oppressed spiritually. Paul writes to the church of Ephesus,
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11–13 ESV)
We who were aliens and strangers have been brought near to God through Christ. This bringing near, of course, was costly for the Father and the Son. The Father has to give his only beloved Son. The Son has to shed his blood so that we can be brought near, so we are no longer aliens and strangers to God.
But even though we are not aliens and strangers to God, we are still aliens and strangers in this world.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (1 Peter 1:1–2 ESV)
In the world we remain exiles, a people apart from the world because we serve Jesus as king, his kingdom first, and fully give ourselves to being the people of God. While we seek to obey the authorities (1 Peter 2.13-17) we know that living the ways of the king will lead to suffering. It is a suffering we accept. Peter writes,
“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:20–23 ESV)
As we make our way through life as people of the king we own that we are aliens and exiles who were oppressed by the political powers of this world, that we come from a people who were aliens and strangers, that we were once alien to God because of our sin. But in all of these God has come to our rescue.
9. Called to Praise/Worship God The people of God are called to praise God. The Psalms make this clear in places like Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness.” and pictures of God’s people worshipping him fill the pages of the book of Revelation.
While praise/worship of God is part of being people of God there is always a caveat. True worship happens only in the context of the people of God living out the first 8 parts of our identity. In other words, worship can not be divorced from living as God’s people. When we try to worship on Sunday without living the ways of the people of God throughout the rest of the week our worship is false. Jesus says it this way in the book of Matthew after he has spoken how God’s new kingdom people live in the Sermon on the Mount,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:21–27 ESV)
Do the words of Jesus means that both our worship and our salvation are not based in our works? Not at all. Rather what Jesus is saying is, “When you become one of my followers as one saved by grace and captured by the Holy Spirit your life will change. If is does not change, if you don’t live for my kingdom and by my kingdom ways you have good reason to ask if you are really my follower.” The Heidelberg Catechism says,
Lord’s Day 32
Q & A 86
Q. Since we have been delivered
from our misery
by grace through Christ
without any merit of our own,
why then should we do good works?
A. Because Christ, having redeemed us by his blood,
is also restoring us by his Spirit into his image,
so that with our whole lives
we may show that we are thankful to God
for his benefits,1
so that he may be praised through us,
so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits,
and so that by our godly living
our neighbors may be won over to Christ. (Emphasis added)
In the book The Dangerous Act of Worship the author tells the story of a worship leader who was so caught up in his personal worship to God that he failed to notice that he continually stepped on the feet of people behind him. His focus was so on “Jesus and Me” that he forgot his neighbor in worship. Right worship flows from remembering our neighbor in the 8 ways we noted that the people of God live out.
It is also important to note that the reality that we come to worship as those who are supposed to live out the 8 ways and who fail is the reason that examination and confession is so essential. We need to examine our lives and to see if we are faithfully living out the 8 ways of the people of God. We need to do that as individuals and we need to to that as a people of God. We need to do this regularly, diligently, and with discernment. Discernment because as Jeremiah reminds us,
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:7–10 ESV) [Emphasis added]
Our heart deceives us by telling us all is well because we compare how we live to others, rather than to the standard of being conformed to the image of Christ (see Romans 8.29), our heart tells us that all is OK because we are living by the standards of our community, our nation even those may conflict with what it means to be a people of God, our heart tells us that all is fine because we are giving first allegiance to our nation masking God’s call to put his kingdom first. Because the heart is deceitful, we examine ourselves diligently and with discernment.
And we need confession. We know we are going to fail living out those 8 ways. Rather than ignoring our failure, our failure is to break our hearts and call us to confession before God. One powerful confession is:
Almighty and most merciful father, we have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed to much the devices of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health (shalom) in us.
Note what this confession touches on:
—the things we confront on judgment day are those things which we never thought of doing
—the years slip by and we have left things undone
—we do those things we should not do: the catalogue of sin…greed, idolatry, injustice etc.
These are 9 central characteristics of the people of God. Knowing these things about ourselves as the people of God is the first step. But with this step comes an overwhelming reality: being a person of God and being a people of God is not a part-time endeavor. To actually live out these things in our workplace, in our neighborhoods, in our politics, in our schools, in the world is a full-time task. A task that takes thoughtful reflection, continual training and a community of faith that encourages us and builds us up in living the people of God style of life.
Before we go on to how this interacts with our call on our government, we need to do two other things. First, we need to look at God, who he is and what strength we find in belonging to him. Second, we need to ask, “Is living as the people of God really worth it?” In other words, does living as the people of God lead to a life that is truly life or should we find life elsewhere?