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What does it mean that we are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9)?

holy nation

In 1 Peter 2:4–10, the apostle Peter borrows language from Exodus 19:5–6, Deuteronomy 7:6, and Hosea 2:23 to demonstrate to New Testament believers that they are bona fide citizens of God’s kingdom, specially selected by the Father to show forth His goodness and glory to the world. As Christians, we are “a chosen people” comprised of “royal priests,” and we are “a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, [we] can show others the goodness of God, for he called [us] out of the darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NLT).

Peter reminds the Jewish Christians in his audience of their Old Testament standing. Because of God’s covenant with Israel, the Jews had been chosen by the Lord to be a holy nation. They were set apart from all the people of the earth and entrusted with the responsibility of demonstrating God’s glory to the world (Deuteronomy 14:2; 26:19; 28:9; Exodus 19:5–6; 22:31; Jeremiah 2:3; Amos 3:2). Peter explains to these Jewish believers, who were now under the New Covenant, that they would continue to bear this responsibility: “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12, ESV).

Now, through faith in Jesus Christ, Gentiles have been accepted into the royal family as full citizens of God’s holy nation: “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). The apostle Paul affirmed, “And we are among those whom he selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles. Concerning the Gentiles, God says in the prophecy of Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people, I will now call my people. And I will love those whom I did not love before’” (Romans 9:24–25, NLT; cf. Hosea 2:23).

Neither our background nor heritage as Christians matters. We who are in restored fellowship with God by His grace and through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8) all receive the same spiritual standing as royal priests of God’s holy nation (see Galatians 3:26–29). Paul told Timothy, “God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:9, NLT).

We are a holy nation because our supreme Ruler is holy (Leviticus 11:44–45; 19:2; 20:7; Matthew 5:48) and because He calls us to holiness (1 Peter 1:16). Holiness is an intrinsic attribute of God’s character. Because He is our sovereign leader, God’s holy character ought to manifest in our devotion to Him (Romans 6:19). His holy imprint should be seen in everything we do (1 Peter 1:15–16; 2 Corinthians 7:1). Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him” (Romans 12:1, NLT).

In the New Testament, the Greek word translated as “holiness” expresses a “separation from everything that is ceremonially impure.” It was a term usually associated with the priesthood and everything relating to worship. Jesus, who is our “High Priest” and King to whom we bow down, is “holy, blameless, pure,” and “set apart from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26; see also Acts 3:14; 4:27–30).

Christ’s New Testament church is a holy nation of royal priests. Jesus loved His church and gave His life “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word” (Ephesians 5:26). We are a holy nation, not because of our own ability to be holy, but because Christ endows us with His “divine power,” which gives us “everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them [we] may participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:3–4; see also 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 12:14). God gives us the resources in Jesus Christ to be sanctified—to be made progressively more holy—so that we can show forth His goodness and glory and draw others to Him (1 Corinthians 6:11).

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What does it mean that we are a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9)?
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This page last updated: August 23, 2023