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5. The Cross And Christian Distinctiveness (1 Peter 2:1-10)

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In chapter 1 Peter has written clearly and decisively to his audience concerning their redemption and regeneration which now he follows up with practical instructions that flow from their new-found position in Christ. The truth of their position in Christ is one thing; the practice that is appropriate to that position is another. The fact is that everyone who professes faith in Christ must manifest the reality of that faith in radical changes to their thinking, attitudes, habits, associations, and behaviors (cf. Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4-5) as we mature in Christ - changes that are consistent with and a reflection of their new position in Christ, changes which set them apart from the world. In other words, Christian faith and practice renders us distinct from that of unbelievers. As Jesus said, the basic way in which we can recognize those who are true believers from those who are false is by their words, thoughts, and actions (Matt. 7:15-20).

Now, these changes do not come automatically or immediately upon profession of faith but they become more and more manifest as we grow in Christian maturity. As we mature in our faith and practice, those sinful thoughts, attitudes, and actions that characterized us as unbelievers must be eliminated and new occupations adopted. This is what it means to have “purified your souls by obedience to the truth” and this is what fosters “sincere brotherly love” (1:22). Peter now addresses these issues directly in our passage, 1 Peter 2:1-10.

The subject, then, of this study is “The distinctiveness of Christian behavior and community.” The overall principle that we learn from this passage is that “the people of God are new creatures in Christ, set apart exclusively for God.” First notice…

I. Christians are Distinct In Their Behavior (2:1-3).

1. They must put away old sinful habits (2:1). “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” “So” or “therefore” connects back to 1:20-25 regarding their new life in Christ. They are “believers in God” whose “faith and hope are in God” (1:21). They have “purified” their souls, the evidence of which is their “sincere brotherly love” (1:22). They are “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1:23). Therefore, such regenerate people must rid themselves of those sinful attitudes and actions that would harm, or potentially destroy, the mutual love among their Christian community of brothers and sisters.

To “put away” sinful habits is concomitant with the imperative to “long for the pure spiritual milk” (2:2). The former is necessary for the latter. A healthy, loving relationship between believers requires this putting away, which is an on-going, daily act of cleansing not only to maintain our individual relationship with the Lord but also to maintain our congregational relationship of unity and harmony.

It’s interesting to see the actual vices that Peter addresses. You would think, for example, that he would start by condemning the idolatry and sexual immorality of the Gentile world in which his audience lived and in which they had one time participated. But he doesn’t. He addresses those vices that would very quickly destroy their Christian relationships in their new community of faith. We see the same approach in the apostle Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, in which he addresses their partisanship in-fighting and their drive for position and power. Undoubtedly, the priority for Paul and Peter was to ensure that Satan did not gain an entrance into this new community of faith through practices or influences that would cause divisions or in any way weaken their faith or testimony.

“So put away all malice.” Malice is that attitude, desire, or intention to do evil or bear ill-will towards others. Malice is the product of a spiteful spirit, a grudge which when expressed would inflict pain, either emotional or psychological, on someone else. A malicious spirit is often the precursor to inflicting physical harm. Such an attitude would very quickly cause harm and division in the church, especially among young believers. Christians cannot enjoy sweet and unhindered fellowship with one another if, at the same time, they are harboring malicious thoughts and intentions. Of course, this is exactly what Satan wants – to cause a rift in our Christian fellowship such that, when unjudged and taken to its logical conclusion, it destroys the Christian testimony of the local church.

“So put away…all deceit and hypocrisy.” While deceit is certainly a common characteristic of unbelievers, you would not expect it among Christians, would you? Sadly, it is rampant among believers. In my experience, deceit and anger are two of the most common destructive practices found among Christians. Deceit is the means by which Satan brought sin into the world in the first place when he deceived Adam and Eve. And that aspect of our human fallenness continues to plague us even after we have been born again. Deception is the opposite of truth. Satan is thoroughly deceitful; God is thoroughly truthful. Deceit destroys trust, which is fundamental for a loving, united relationship.

Jesus said to the Jews, You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44). You can see from these verses, that deceit is a character flaw (just like the devil’s) that we inherited from the fall. It stems from our fallen, sinful nature and the way to ensure that it does not become active is to “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:25). In contrast to Satan’s destructive influences, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6) and You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32). The way of true freedom is to imitate Jesus in character, attitude, and action.

Hypocrisy likewise is a form of deceit. It is the practice of claiming a certain ethical standard or belief for oneself but not living in accordance with that standard. It is a contradiction between what you claim to believe and what you do. It is a pretense, duplicity. This is the charge that is commonly rendered by unbelievers against Christians and Christianity. And while hypocrisy undoubtedly exists among Christians, I think that the charge is true of human beings in general, not just Christians, and is often used to justify a person’s rejection of the truth. Nonetheless, just because it is prevalent in society in general and just because it is often used as an excuse for unbelief, that by no means clears Christians of the charge or the command to put such hypocrisy away. Let us be true to who we are as new creatures in Christ, open and transparent and honest - not trying to be someone that we are not.

“So put away… envy.” Envy is discontent with what you have or are and the desire for what someone else has or what they are. Out of envy, other people’s possessions, position, and lifestyle appear more satisfying than our own and we are not content until we attain the same as they. Envy is the opposite of love. Love desires and acts in the best interest of others; envy desires and acts in the best interest of self. Again, envy is a common trait listed in vices associated with the sinful nature of unbelievers (Rom. 1:29; Gal. 5:21; Tit. 3:3) and should not characterize Christian believers.

“So put away… slander.” To slander someone is to say something about them that is false and damaging to their character and reputation. If envy is the product of a deceitful heart, then slander is the product of a deceitful tongue. Slander is the attempt to spread false assertions that discredit someone else in order to elevate self. How prone we are to want to elevate ourselves, sometimes at any cost! This is the exact opposite of Jesus, who emptied himself of his rights and privileges by taking the position of a servant, humbling himself, and dying on a cross (Phil. 2:5-8).

So, you can see that the sinful practices and thoughts that Peter outlines here are those that are endemic to the fallen, sinful human condition in regard to which Jesus said, 21 From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mk. 7:21-23).

Christians must put away such old sinful vices, and instead…

2. They must take in new spiritual food (2:2-3). Now Peter’s focus changes from the evil that Christians must put out of our lives to the good that we must pursue. When we are born again, we must not only put off sinful practices and attitudes, but we must also take in spiritual nourishment that enables us to grow in faith and practice. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation – 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

These believers were not newborns in the sense of being new Christians. Rather, this is an analogy, that just as “newborn infants” have an innate craving for their mother’s milk (and they let you know when it is time to eat!), just so Christians at all stages of spiritual growth should “long for the pure spiritual milk” in order to grow spiritually. Just as mothers provide pure milk for their babies, so God provides the pure milk of the word for his people. Notice that the verb “long for” is in the imperative mood - this is not something that happens to us impassively, but something we must actively pursue, for without suitable nourishment our growth will be stunted physically and spiritually. There should be in every believer a hunger for good, nourishing, pure spiritual food that is appropriate to our stage of maturity and which will enable us to grow in faith and love.

This food is described specifically as “pure” spiritual milk in contrast to the sinful, impure desires and practices of the flesh (2:1). The milk of God’s word contains no impurities, no malice, no deceit, no hypocrisy, no envy, and no slander. It is “spiritual” milk in that it is the word of God itself, the “living and abiding word of God” that “remains forever” (1:23, 25).

Those who have been purified and love one another earnestly out of a pure heart (1:22), desire the pure milk of the word of God (1:25), “that by it you may grow up into salvation - if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (2:2b-3). New birth is the beginning of “growing up” in the truth and responsibilities of salvation. This is a process of maturation that continues until we reach full spiritual adulthood (Eph. 4:13-14),

When Peter says “…if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good,” he is not questioning their salvation, but he is challenging his readers as to their experience of God’s goodness. To “taste that the Lord is good” is to experience his goodness in our lives. As the Psalmist exhorts us, “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Ps. 34:8). Spiritual tasting of the Lord’s goodness is that continual experience of “growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18). It means “growing up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15). The apostle Paul reminds us that it is the goodness (kindness) of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Having brought us to repentance through his unconditional love and goodness told out most fully at the cross, God wants us to experience it on a daily basis and to grow in it through an ever-deepening relationship with, and understanding of, him.

What an encouragement this must have been to Peter’s readers, who were suffering unjustly as strangers in a foreign land, to be reminded that the Lord is good and that they can experience (“taste”) his goodness despite their circumstances. Indeed, the more we experience the goodness of God in our daily circumstances, the more we long for the pure milk of his word.

Of course the imagery in using the word “taste” continues to reflect the analogy of spiritual growth from the birth of a baby to childhood, puberty, and adulthood. What starts out as dependence upon the infant’s mother soon progresses to independence and self-responsibility, all the while we reflect more and more of our parents’ likeness. That’s what it is to grow in spiritual maturity, becoming evermore like Christ, being conformed more and more to him (Rom. 8:28-29). This is the purpose and result of God working all things together for our good.

Furthermore, to “taste” something is to enjoy it, to experience it. Just as tasting food gives you the sensory enjoyment of that food, a foretaste of what eating that food will be like, so our taste of the Lord’s goodness at salvation gives us the foretaste of a lifetime of enjoyment of the Lord’s goodness and kindness.

First, then, Christians are distinct in their behavior (2:1-3) - they put away old sinful vices and they take in new spiritual food. Second…

II. Christians Are Distinct In Their Community (2:4-10).

As we have already seen in 2:1-3, salvation involves not simply a one-time experience but ongoing growth into Christ. Now Peter changes the analogy of salvation from the birth and growth of a child to the construction and establishment of a spiritual household of faith, a new community in Christ.

1. Christians are a distinct spiritual society (2:4-6). Just as infants are born into a family, which as it grows constitutes a household, so it is in the spiritual realm. As you come to him” (2:4a) refers to our salvation, coming to “the Lord” (2:3) by faith. It is our response to Jesus’ invitation to Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The One to whom we come by faith is a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious” (2:4b). Here is where the analogy shifts from the dependence and nourishment of an infant in a family to our security in Christ’s household – a distinct social unit.

The concept of a “living stone” is a contradiction in terms but is undoubtedly used by Peter here to emphasize the radical nature of this household into which we are incorporated. By faith we come to a “living stone” (the One who rose from the dead), not a dead idol like those worshipped by the pagan world around us. A “stone” speaks of permanence, stability, endurance, unchangeableness. That’s the security we have in Christ. That’s the foundation on which this spiritual household of faith is built and into which we are incorporated through new birth in Christ. The One at whose crucifixion the stones were torn apart in testimony to his divinity is the One who is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25), the One who draws water from a lifeless stone (Gen. 17:5), indeed the One who is the Rock himself (1 Cor. 10:4).

This stone was “rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.” When Jesus came into the world he was carefully examined by the political and religious leaders who concluded that he was not genuine, an impostor who must be cast out. Thus the suffering of Jesus at the hands of cruel men was the precursor of the suffering of those who embrace him, who come to him in faith, like Peter’s readers. But Jesus’ rejection by man is placed in juxtaposition to Jesus’ acceptance by God. The One men rejected and crucified is the One whom God raised from the dead and glorified, the One who in God’s estimation is “chosen and precious.” Jesus is likened to a precious jewel, a specially chosen stone of inestimable, enduring value.

By virtue of coming to Christ by faith, we become stones in the household of God. As we will see in the next verses (2:6-8), those who are born again are like stones of a building that are laid on a foundation cornerstone who is Christ. “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house” (2:5a). Like Christ, “the living stone” (2:4), Christians are also described as “living stones.” We have been made alive in Christ. His life is infused into us through the Holy Spirit. The metaphor is that believers in Christ are the “living” stones which are being built into a “spiritual house.” Christians corporately comprise Christ’s body and are a reflection and representation of him in the world, made so by the indwelling Holy Spirit. In this way Peter portrays the process by which, upon conversion, one is incorporated into a spiritual community, “built up” as a spiritual household of faith. By faith in Christ, we who were previously “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) are “made alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5), “living stones” in God’s building which is formed by the Holy Spirit who binds together all believers. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Eph. 2:19). We are thus united as a family in God’s household, a distinct society.

Christianity is not a lone ranger lifestyle. You are not saved and then set loose to wander through life alone. No, at conversion we become part of God’s household of faith, along with all the other “living stones,” the purpose of which is “to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5b). God is the builder and we are the stones that, collectively, comprise this spiritual building in which we serve as “a holy priesthood.” The character of this house is that of a new temple where worship is offered to God by us, holy priests, who offer praise to God - “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” These are not literal, physical sacrifices as in the old sacrificial system, but spiritual sacrifices in the form of the worship of God, the outflow of which is the proclamation of the gospel and the purpose of which is the conversion of unbelievers. Our praise to God is acceptable precisely because it is “through Jesus Christ.” His work on the cross makes us acceptable to God and, thus, our praise to God through Christ also is acceptable. That’s why the author of Hebrews writes, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). But such praise is not limited to verbal expression; it also finds its declaration in the commitment and service of our entire lives. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship” (Rom. 12:1).

Referring back to his description of Christ in 2:4 as “a living stone,” Peter now returns to that imagery with this explanation: “For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious’” (2:6a). Citing Isaiah 28:16, Peter now emphasizes that God is the One who has placed Jesus in this new spiritual household, this new spiritual temple, as a cornerstone - that position of superiority, strength, and structural stability, superior over all other stones, the keystone, the very foundational bedrock of this spiritual building, the cornerstone which supports and holds together the entire structure, without which this building could not possibly stand. Repeating the thought in 2:4, Peter emphasizes that this cornerstone is “chosen” by God and “precious” to God. The stone that the builders (human beings) rejected has been made by God the cornerstone (cf. Ps. 118:22; Matt. 21:42; Acts 4:10-11). Indeed, he is the very dearest object of God’s heart, the One who has been raised by God from the dead and exalted to the place of highest honor (Phil. 2:9-11).

Continuing the thought I quoted earlier from Ephesians 2:19, Paul also speaks to the same truth when he says that believers are united as a distinct spiritual society, a family in a common household which is 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:20-21). Jesus is the chief cornerstone in this spiritual building, the church, in which he holds the place of supreme distinction, providing to this building its identity, support, and strength. In the church Jesus is the preeminent one, the one who created all things, rules all things, and holds all things together. Indeed, he is “the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col. 1:16-19).

Just as Jesus is “chosen and precious” (1:4), so too, Peter adds, “whoever believes in him will not be put to shame” (2:6b). Or, to put it positively, they will be honored, just as Jesus was honored by the Father at his baptism, resurrection, and ascension. Peter is inferring here that despite the current sufferings of his readers, they will ultimately be vindicated. God has honored Jesus in the place he has given him, so also those who “come to him” (2:4), “will not be put to shame” – they will not be dishonored or disappointed in the last day. “They will not experience the embarrassment of judgement but the glory of approval” (Thomas R. Schreiner, NAC, 1 Peter, 110).

So, Christians are a distinct spiritual society (2:4-6), and…

2. Christians have a distinct spiritual identity (2:7-10). This “cornerstone,” who is so precious to believers and who provides the security and stability of the household, is not received as such by unbelievers. In fact, this cornerstone divides the world. Peter says, 7 So the honor (i.e. not being put to shame, v. 6) is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ 8 and ‘A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’ They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (2:7-8). Where “those who believe” will be honored, “those who do not believe” will be shamed because they rejected and stumbled over the cornerstone, considering him instead a “rock of offense” (cf. Rom. 9:33).

Those who reject him are like those who trip over a stone in their path. They know the gospel, they know who Jesus is, but they think they can ignore him, worse yet reject him and his authority over them. Without so much as keeping their eyes open to watch where they are going, they “stumble” over him. To stumble over him is to “disobey the word, as they are destined to do.” They ignore the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done. They reject his rule over their life and refuse to submit to his claim on them. But such rejection is all within God’s providential control of their lives. Their rejection of Christ is their divine destiny. That’s what they chose and that’s what they will get. In contrast to believers whom God has not destined… for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9), God has destined unbelievers to stumble over Jesus, to not recognize, appreciate, or acknowledge who he is. They are responsible for their decisions regarding Christ, but at the same time God orders all things – hence “they are destined” to this for God has appointed them to destruction (Rom. 9:22).

Now comes the very important application. What is your response to Jesus? Are you among those who believe in Jesus, honoring him for who he is and what he has done, those whom Jesus in turn honors? Are you among those for whom Jesus is the chief cornerstone of their life? Or, are you among those who reject him, who rebel against him like the citizens in Jesus’ parable who “hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’” (Lk. 19:14)? Have you acknowledged him as “the chief cornerstone” of your life, or is he a stone over which you stumble?

Thus the cornerstone divides the world into those who believe in him and those who do not believe. Those who do not believe and reject Christ will discover, to their shock, eternal shame, and condemnation, that he has, in fact, “become the cornerstone,” the one whom God has exalted to his right hand of honor and power, from which he rules the world now and forever. They stumbled over him, but such is not the case for believers: “But you (on the other hand and by contrast) 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 (2:9). The salvation of believers is similarly God-ordained, just as the condemnation of unbelievers is God-ordained.

The imagery used to describe God’s chosen and elect people, those who comprise this new spiritual household / temple, are taken from the O.T. with which Peter’s readers would undoubtedly have been familiar. Addressing all believers as a corporate unit, a spiritual house, Peter describes them collectively as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” This is the nature of the people of faith in this new spiritual community. To be a member of this new spiritual community is to be a member of “a chosen race,” an elect people, which is such a privileged and precious position and relationship. We are chosen by God just as Jesus was (2:4, 6). Could any position be more precious, more to be treasured? We, the church, are also “a royal priesthood” - “royal” in that we serve the King of kings, and a “priesthood” in that we serve our Great High Priest, interceding before him on behalf of the people of God. Thus, what was once true of Israel now also describes the church. In this way Peter is showing that the people of God belong to and serve the kingdom of God whose head is Christ, as distinct from unbelievers around us who belong to and serve the kingdom of this world. As royal priests we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5). Like the O.T. priests, we are privileged “to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil consciences and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22). Like Israel, we are a “holy nation,” those who are set apart exclusively for God, “a people for his own possession.”

The purpose behind this special identity and position is “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9b). Think of that! This is our calling. This is our purpose in life. This is our privilege, to declare God’s glory in his person and his deeds (Ps. 145:4). We praise him for our salvation, for calling us “out of darkness into his marvelous light.” How can we not declare the excellencies of God’s mighty deeds in creation and redemption? We were lost in darkest night and could not find our way. Our minds were blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Our understanding was darkened and we were alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18). But, in the gracious call of God, “the God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness, has shone into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

Quoting Hosea 1:9-10, 2:23, Peter likens God’s people to Israel in that “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). Again, as with Israel whom God rejected for their sin and to whom God subsequently granted his mercy, acknowledging them again as his people, so with the church – we who were in darkness and did not deserve God’s mercy have now received mercy by God’s grace and are now constituted as his people. Prior to our conversion, we were not identified as God’s people, indeed we were “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” (Eph. 2:12-13). By faith in Christ we have now received and enjoy God’s grace and mercy and are identified as God’s people exclusively.

Final Remarks

So, Peter sets out for us in this passage the consequences that flow from being God’s chosen and redeemed people, his obedient children who are no longer “conformed to the passions of your former ignorance” (1:14). This transformation is manifest in two distinctives:

I. Christians are Distinct In Their Behavior (2:1-3).

1. They must put away old sinful vices (2:1).

2. They must take in new spiritual food (2:2-3).

II. Christians Are Distinct In Their Community (2:4-10).

1. They are a distinct spiritual society (2:4-6).

2. They have a distinct spiritual identity (2:7-10).

This distinctiveness is brought about by the cross of Christ. “The people of God are new creatures in Christ, set apart exclusively for God.” Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

The key here is to be “in Christ,” which in Peter’s language means to being “born again” (1:3, 23); “obtaining…the salvation of your souls” (1:9-10); “ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ” (1:18-19); to “come to him” (2:4); to “believe in him” (2:6-7). Thus, the centrality of the cross is paramount here, not only in producing distinct Christian behavior, but also in forming a distinct Christian community. Through faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross, Christians collectively are a “chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” And it is our distinct delight, honor, privilege, and duty to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” in the midst of a world that is divided and stumbles over the very One in whom we have placed our trust for eternity.

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