Christians are the spiritual Israel of God

Some people are surprised that the Old Testament is so much larger in size than the New. In my Portuguese Bible it takes up 764 pages out of a total of 994. That’s 76% of the whole Bible. Several explanations as to why may be adequate, but here is one thought, how the Lord was building up to, and preparing for, the time when Christ would come and fulfill his eternal plan.

In both Testaments, God created a people for himself. In the Old Testament, it was Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Each of Jacob’s sons became a tribe in Israel. In the New Testament, God’s people is the church, and they are variously described as the body of Christ, the family of faith, the temple of the Holy Spirit. No more is there a physical connection to define God’s holy ones. We are born into God’s family because we respond to his message and obey his commandments, John 3.3, 5.

In his first letter, Peter took descriptions of the people of Israel and applied them to Christians. In that pivotal moment when Israel was gathered before Mount Sinai to receive the law, the Lord defined who they were, as he spoke to Moses.

“And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” Exodus 19.5-6.

All this and more, says Peter, now applies to God’s spiritual house, which has Christ as the priceless cornerstone.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You once were not a people, but now you are God’s people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy” 1 Peter 2.9-10.

So now as God’s people we have an identity and a purpose. Paul calls us the “Israel of God” who are “all who will behave in accordance with this rule” Galatians 6.16. The rule he cites is probably that of following an unadulterated gospel, of depending on the sacrifice of Christ for our life—the whole point of his letter to the Galatians. It is the rule of living in God’s grace. It is seeking the good of all, especially of “those who belong to the family of faith” Galatians 6.10.

Who we are defines what we do. We are not end-point recipients of God’s grace, but the conduits of his salvation. We have a keen sense of who is in Christ and who is outside, and we know what it takes to move from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. We who were not a people now belong to this people of God, and just as God desires that all be saved, we also desire and work for the inclusion of every soul in this safe place of grace and glory, Hebrews 2.10.

Peter’s description of our identity does not give us cause for pride. On the contrary, it gives us reason for thanksgiving. We are who we are, we are where we are, because of God’s mercy. And it motivates us to extend that mercy to those who have yet to experience it. Those who aren’t so motivated might ask themselves if they do not feel a deep sense of gratitude. In God’s kingdom, there can be no sense of entitlement.

There can only be joy at being chosen and wonder at being given such a precious gift to share.

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J. Randal Matheny

Servant of the Lord at GoSpeak
Randal and his wife have lived and worked in Brazil since 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. Randal's a lefty, a chocolate lover, an author and a poet. His microblog is randal.us.

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