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Our Identity in Christ and in the Church
Your identity in Christ–part 1
1 Peter 2:4-5
I love a descriptive, colorful slogan. I love the way a writer can turn a phrase in order to paint a picture. You can say, “they are really good friends.” But you could say, “those two are closer than two coats of paint.” You could say, “that guy really slowed the process.” But better, “that’s like putting a pothole in a drag strip.” You could say, “that is really a dumb idea,” or better, “that’s about as useless as a screen door on a submarine.” You could say, “he is not too smart,” or better, “like Hoss on Bonanza.” “If brains were dynamite, he wouldn’t have enough to blow his nose,” or my favorite, “he’s one French fry short of a happy meal.”
You could say, “it is important to be clear in your preaching,” or, “if there’s a mist in the pulpit, there will be a fog in the pew.” A colorful illustration can really open up communication so that people understand and embrace what is being said. Open your Bible to 1 Peter 2:4-8, as Peter uses a colorful illustration from something familiar in everyone’s thinking in order to teach a truth we must embrace to survive. Peter uses the New Testament temple in Jerusalem as his illustration.
Anyone in Israel and throughout the Roman world at this time would know of Herod’s Great Temple. Jew and Gentile alike were aware of King Herod’s many buildings, and the greatest of these structures was the Temple, a wonder of the ancient world. How did it come to be? David planned the first temple, and Solomon built it. It lasted for about 400 years, but sadly the Babylonians destroyed it in 586 BC. The temple lay in ruin for years until a man named Zerubbabel along with a construction team came back from the 70-year exile. It took them 18 years to rebuild the new temple. But Haggai tells us after it was completed, that many people were disappointed in how it looked, since those who lived to see both temples felt that the new one didn’t measure up to the old one.
Now fast forward to the time of Christ. Seeing the people’s low view of the temple as an opportunity to win favor with the populous, Herod the Great decided to build a new temple in 20 BC. He constructed a temple mount, a huge flat area, in order to construct a new glorious building. That flat area still exists today–it is where the Dome of the Rock sits. But there, Herod built a different temple than Solomon’s in that he constructed it almost exclusively out of stone. It was an incredible engineering feat and a place of great beauty–10,000 workers and 1,000 priests were employed for years in order to build this magnificent temple. The carved stones were quarried from local areas–the typical size of each block was about 3 feet by 2 feet by 2 feet, each trimmed with an attractive Herodian edge. The facing on the Holy of Holies was marble with gold inlay, and it was breathtaking. The foundation stones were so huge for this temple, some of them measured 40 feet long, 10 feet high, 13 feet wide, weighing 400 tons each. They were so large that they still sit in the exact same position today, and have never been moved in 2,000 years. Though it was constantly being added to, most of the work was completed by the time Christ was born, and this temple was known throughout the Roman world as one of the great wonders of its day.
As Jesus began His ministry; much of the worship of the Jewish nation was linked to that temple building made of stones. Historians tell us there was a revival in Judaism because of the completion of Herod’s Temple. Everyone knew of its beauty and meaning. What was its significance? This temple was the place you could go in order to get close to God–this is where God dwelt.
They had the court of the Gentiles where anyone could go, then the next court was for men only, then Jews only, then only the priests, then finally the place only the high priest could go. But you could get close to your God! Most people could get within 30-40 feet of where God was supposed to dwell! So this temple made of stone was not only physically beautiful, but it was unmatched in its spiritual significance.
So Peter uses this world renowned building as a vivid illustration, because everyone is aware of it, everyone can identify with it, and everyone will get the point. Sometimes we miss the point of an illustration because the reference is too old for us to remember what it means. How many of you know what someone means when they say, “This is an ‘E’ ticket ride”? Disneyland used to use tickets for each ride, and the best rides were “E” tickets, so people started saying “this is an E ticket” for anything exciting. But they stopped using tickets in 1982, so that phrase has disappeared from use.
But everyone Peter wrote to knew of the Great Temple. It rivaled some of the buildings in Rome for beauty and significance, and it was a perfect way to call his readers to find their identity in Christ and in the Church. These readers had been rejected, and they were being abused by unbelievers. And just as the Jewish nation found their significance in Herod’s Temple made of stones, so New Testament believers need to find their significance and identity in Christ and His Church.
Now in verses 4-8, Peter describes our relationship to Christ, His Church and those who reject Christ in terms of a stone temple. Peter uses this illustration to call us to have our identity in Christ and His Church in the midst of a hostile world . . . is it? Where is your identity?
You typically hang with people you have an identity with–something you have in common with others. I am not against the ballet, but none of my friends go. (I confess, I struggle with men in tights–just a personal issue.) The ballet is not a part of my subculture or social interaction, which actually defines and determines much of my identity. When people describe you, what do they say? Do they talk about you in terms of your family, job, kids, sports, your age, school, sex, height, homeschool group, your hair, your computer, your theology, your dress, your health? Or is it Christ?
When people think of you, they should think of Christ. Who you are in Christ and among the people of God is the most important part of your identity–it will shape your life. So Peter uses the temple as a way for us to understand our identity in Christ–with each other . . . in the church . . . in the midst of a hostile world–in verses 4-8, let’s look at the first two verses today. Where does our identity start?
#1 Your identity starts with Christ
1 Peter 2:4, “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God.” Verse 4 is very strong–“and coming to Him” in the original literally starts with alongside of, then uses a verb that means “coming alongside” or “drawing near”. You are to come to Christ.
Jesus lovingly says to you today, Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Or John 7:37b, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” And in John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” Have you come to Christ? Only Christ can satisfy your heart. And once you are truly His, your identity is no longer in your family first, church first, job first, or friends first, it is first intimately, personally, closely with Jesus Christ.
Our Lord is not to be attached to our lives, merely a part of our schedule, or something we do on Sunday, or a God we merely thank at meals–no, our entire lives are intimately wrapped up in Him. Our time, money, affections, desires, relationships, priorities all are immersed in Christ. Because nothing is more valuable or more precious to a true Christian than Jesus Christ–nothing. He’s the one we want to walk with, talk with, shop with, work with, think about, serve, give to, love and treasure 24/7.
You see, the phrase, “And coming to Him,” in verse 4 means more than coming to Christ in salvation–coming to Him is a compound verb describing drawing near in intimacy. The same word is used in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Come to Him and draw near describe coming into Christ’s presence with the intent to remain close and intimate with Him. Jesus is your Lord and Creator, but He’s also your intimate, personal friend who, like a priest, you have special access too.
How intimate are you to Christ this morning? Do you desire Him more than family, ministry, people or things? Was there ever a time when you were more intimate? Don’t say you’re close to Christ, but live in disobedience to the Word of God. Don’t say you’re tight with Christ, but not function in His Church. And don’t say you’re intimate with Christ, but never give, never serve in ministry, are not faithful to attend worship weekly, regularly treasure His Words, or long to sit at His feet in prayer.
Don’t allow the privileges of Christianity to replace the person of Christ. Do you love the gifts of Christianity, but have lost the giver, Christ? Do you want the socials, but not the Savior? Do you only desire love from Christ, but not the Lord Himself? Have you lost your first love? When you come to Christianity, you come to Him. He’s your identity! Before the Church in verse 5, your identity is in Christ, verse 4.
So Peter adds, “And coming to Him as to a living stone.” Christ is a stone. He is your “kind Lord” (verse 3), and “living stone” (verse 4) of this new spiritual temple of which you are part. Christ is a rock–your most intimate friend is also an immovable rock you can lean on, depend upon, and rest upon. Stone here sometimes refers to a carved precious stone, like a piece of jewelry–but here ‘lithos’ refers to a building stone, and in particular the cornerstone, the main stone. Deuteronomy 32 called our great God a rock–the foundation and strength of His people.
Some of you live with family members who are unstable–some students have parents you can’t trust–all of you have been burned by friends, you’ve had finances disappear, jobs terminate, cliques reject you, unstable health and scary circumstances. But in all this, you have a Savior Who is a dependable and steady rock. So what kind of stone is Christ?
First Christ is the living stone
Verse 4, “And coming to Him as to a living stone.” Christ was dead but is now living. Jesus was crucified, died and was buried; then He rose from the dead and is now alive.
Peter writes the words “living stone” in a unique way; it’s a singular stone, clearly referring to one person. But He is ongoing alive, presently and continually living, emphasizing three things:
#1 Christ’s divine character, which is eternal
#2 His continual accessibility to us as a living Lord and friend
#3 He has permanently conquered death, so there is nothing to fear
1 Christ existed before He was born, before Adam and Eve and before the Earth was formed–He was, is, and will be eternally alive.
2 And because He is living, you can come to Him, remain with Him, and abide with Him. He is not an idea, a religion, nor a thought, but a person who is present here right now and in many in this room who know Him intimately, and love Him passionately.
3 Jesus Christ is risen from the dead–He has conquered and defeated death. Now when you Christians die, you don’t fear, because you who are in Christ will beat the second death, you will be eternally alive forever with Christ.
He is a living stone, but also . . .
Second Christ is the rejected stone
Verse 4 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men.” Peter literally says here, under men, indeed Christ has been rejected and continues to be rejected. The picture is of the builders of the temple examining a stone to use in their building, but they reject it and toss it aside. It was actually the most important, strongest, biggest, bestest stone–the one that will actually set the entire building.
The religious leaders examined Christ, but because of their blind hearts and external standards, Jesus didn’t measure up to their criteria. He was too humble, and He was not externally religious like them, so they rejected Him. The Old Testament predicted this rejection, and Jesus confirmed it in Matthew 21:42a, “Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures, “The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone.”‘”
Peter is telling us that your friends and family will check out Christ, and some will find that He fails to meet their expectations, so they will cast Him aside. Then they’ll build their lives on faulty foundations like pleasure, materialism, intellectualism and more–and it will break your heart. People are going to reject Christ–does that rock you at all? What kind of fool would say, “No, I don’t want forgiveness of sin . . . I don’t want mercy from a wrathful God . . . I don’t want peace from God or peace with others . . . I don’t want guidance in this life from my Creator”?
Who would reject Christ? We will see that fool next week, but I am pleading with you today, don’t be that fool. Run, don’t walk, to Christ, who says, Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” All of you who are chosen, in your humanness, don’t you sometimes marvel that anyone could possibly reject Christ–why would they? They’re crazy? On this side of heaven, below the clouds of good theology–who in their right mind would say no to Christ and heaven forever, and say yes to temporal satisfaction and hell forever? What kind of fool would do that? I hope none of you! Finally . . .
Third Christ is a choice and precious stone
Verse 4 “And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God.” Christ is the choice stone. The Father measured Christ by the standards of divine perfection, and proclaimed in Matthew 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
Isaiah 42 calls Jesus the chosen one, but Peter calls Him literally the elected one–choice is the Greek word elektos. Jesus was especially pre-selected for this task. In the wonder of the three equal persons of the Trinity, in that divine oneness that makes up our triune God, God the Father elected Christ the Son, to be the living stone.
And in the first Christian sermon, Peter declared that God chose Christ for this task. Acts 2:23, “This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.” Christ was to be the One who alone could accomplish what no person ever could–to create a way for sinful people to live in God’s perfect presence . . . to become the stone that sets the entire building and affects the entire world in which this building sits.
So Christ is the choice, elected stone, and He is the precious stone. Verse 4, “But is choice and precious in the sight of God“–precious means in honor, prized, valuable and esteemed by God.
I used to put my boys to bed (just last week–no a long time ago), and as I looked at them, I was overwhelmed with indescribable love. And I used to wonder what kind of love would I have to have to purposely, willingly, cruelly kill them in order to save the life of someone who hated me and rebelled against me, so that the rebel could then be loved like a son to me? The Father did that to His Son, so you rebels could be like a son to Him.
Like many of you, I used to watch my boys play some sports, but honestly, I rarely watched the game. I loved watching Matt play football and Dan basketball, but I never really got totally into the game, and I enjoy football. And you all know why. I wasn’t watching the game, I was there to watch my son. Why? Because he was more choice and precious to me than the game. Nothing is more precious to our God than His Son, Jesus Christ.
The phrase “in the sight of God” means intimately alongside of God. Those reading Peter for the first time were rejected and despised, but their identity was in Christ, who also was rejected. But like all true believers, they are also choice and precious to God!
But your identity is not only in Christ . . .
#2 Your identity is also with His Church
Read 1 Peter 2:5, “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” Peter expands the temple illustration, now calling the Church to be like Christ as living stones, with total access and intimacy with God like priests, built together to become a place of worship and service to Christ. So together we are living stones as a church. What’s that for?
First To reflect Christ
Verse 5 “You also, as living stones,” Peter starts with a strong statement, making sure you know he is speaking to the Church. Almost emphatically he says, you all, you yourselves as living stones . . . this is about us as a church.
Jesus Christ was a living stone in verse 4, now verse 5 you all together are living stones. In the same way, Jesus is a living stone, and Peter says, we His Church are living stones. Jesus Christ died and rose again, making Him a living stone. And we Christians have died in union with Christ and have risen in union with Christ making all of us living stones. This is what Paul meant in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” Together, those of us in Christ are continually and eternally alive. Now that is good news for us.
The greatest threat to your existence is the end of it, but Jesus made a way for us to go through the door of death and live again forever in perfection and not in punishment. Have you watched someone physically die? I have. One of them said to me, with His last words, that He didn’t need Christ. Then he died, and while I was standing next to him, he immediately departed into eternal torment forever, with no chance of ever being delivered from hell. I have watched another die, and our hope is that he went immediately into the presence of Christ, from faith to sight, from hope to heaven, from shadow to reality, from a bite to banquet.
Those of us in Christ are living stones–we are alive. Jesus said in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” All other identities will steal, kill and destroy, only Christ gives life.
War is gruesome. The bullet of a .50-caliber sniper rifle hits a person with so much force that the body it hits literally explodes. Imagine witnessing that, then before your eyes, all the parts of that body amazingly come back together and come to life. That is what it was like for the early Church to say that Jesus had risen from the dead–it was fantastic. We are so used to the Easter story, we’ve lost the wonder of it. Jesus died and then was alive again. We died in Christ and we rose in Christ–He is alive in us, and as we function together, we demonstrate His life. So like the temple, people begin to see the Church as the place where God is manifested. But living stones not only reflect Christ, together we also . . .
Second To represent Christ
Verse 5 “You also, as living stones are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood“, continues with the temple imagery. In this illustration, Peter tells us (as the church together) we are both the temple and the priesthood at the same time. Don’t think Roman Catholic priesthood, but think New Testament temple. We’ve been made into both, the temple and the priest. The spiritual house is us, the Church. Christians are to function as the buildings for, and containers of, the presence of God.
Can you believe that? When they walked by the temple, they’d say, “The presence of God is in there.” When the high priest would enter once a year, they’d all be in awe because he was going to be in the presence of God. Now Christians together in local churches, are to be the presence of God in this world.
Verse 5, “A spiritual house” is the house where the Spirit lives, or the building where the Spirit is manifested. The Church is to be filled with God’s Spirit so people see God in us together, since we’re the house containing the Spirit. The Church is the place for people to encounter the living God. We’re the house–we’re the earthly representation of God’s presence on the planet–each of us individually are supposed to be a light, but all of us together are supposed to be the sun.
Each of us is a representative of an aspect of Christ, but all of us together are meant to be a representative of the whole of Christ. So when people get to know you, they are supposed to think something is wonderfully different about you. And when they get to know us, they should be blown away in how we love Him and love each other, how we worship Him and care for each other, how we obey Him and encourage each other. We make the invisible Holy Spirit visible by the way we worship God and serve each other–so Peter adds, “We are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.”
We are the spiritual house and the priest who ministers there. We do the same thing that priests do–we are set apart for God, with privileged access to God, to represent God to people through evangelism, and to represent people to God through prayer. We are the Spirit-filled house of living stones as a church, and together we function in the privileged role of a priest with access to God, representing God to people and people to God. And as priests in the house where the Spirit reigns.
Third To worship Christ
Verse 5 “You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The greatest need of every human heart is to be accepted before a holy, almighty, perfect, just and wrathful God. Since we died and now have risen with Christ, as we function in the Spirit, then we can offer up actions to Christ which are acceptable to Him. Before Christ, Isaiah 64:6 says, “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”
But now, being a new alive member of Christ’s body, as a house where the Spirit lives, as a set apart priest in God’s service, now we can offer up spiritual deeds that are acceptable to God. What would those be? We offer our entire life. Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” We can offer praise. Hebrews 13:15, “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” We can offer up doing good and sharing. Hebrews 13:16, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” We can offer self-sacrifice. Philippians 2:17, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” We can offer material resources to meet a need. Philippians 4:18, “I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”
So, what kind of priest are you? In your heart, are you a living sacrifice, with your singing, did you offer up praise, are you doing good and sharing, are you sacrificing in service to others and giving of your resources? But how do I know that my actions are acceptable to God? Peter is clear at the end of verse 5, “to God through Jesus Christ.” Spiritual sacrifices are only acceptable when they are done “for God” and “through Jesus Christ.”
Get this, it must be for His glory and by His power. That means, according to the Word of God. By the power of the Spirit of God, for the glory of God. Only God can glorify God, therefore God must glorify Himself through you. Only Christ can live the Christian life, therefore it must be Christ living through you–Galatians 2:20, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Start everyday with, “Lord, I can’t, but You can through me.” Saturate your mind with the Word of God, confess all known sins that might grieve or quench the Spirit, serve your giftedness in the church, and share the Gospel in the world, and pre-plan every step of your day in dependant obedience in order to glorify God!
This life isn’t about you, it is about Christ and His Church. Do you reflect Christ, represent Christ and worship Christ? Does your identity drive your life, or are you more identified with something else? Is it obvious to others Who you know? What is it that defines you? What is it that people say about you? He’s a family man. He’s into sports. She loves kids. He’s really busy. He’s a stud, she’s a brain, he’s lazy, she’s a beauty . . . or is it that he loves Christ, she serves the Lord, their marriage honors Jesus, they faithfully serve God, their home is sweet with Christ?
If it’s not, please ask yourself if you are truly His? Come to Christ. If it’s not strong, please repent today and refocus your life. It it’s strong, please continue to be faithful, following Him to the end. The distinguishing mark of your life is to be Christ and His Church.
Friends, be clear, all true Christians desire to obey the Word of God. The Word of God commands us to gather together weekly for worship. Hebrews 10:25, “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Therefore, those who don’t gather weekly in a true local church under an eldership together worshiping, serving, giving, praying, fellowshipping together are raising a serious question as to their salvation–that can only be resolved by their faithful weekly attendance.
When you embrace Christ, not merely admitting that you sin occasionally or have done a few bad things, but confessing that you are to the core of your being, even with the so-called good things you’ve done, that you are fallen, selfish, proud and sinful, and you trust Christ’s work on the cross to pay for your massive sinfulness, and when He awakens you that you exchange all that you are for all that He is, cleanses you of your sins completely, forgiving you and causing you to trust Him now and forever–at that moment of salvation, you die, then are reborn and become alive.
As living stones, you live as if the resurrection and heaven are real.