A Holy Nation
In his first letter, the apostle Peter is addressing the disparate clusters of Christians who have fled from Jerusalem and formed communities throughout the Roman Empire. In this letter, he addresses these Christian communities as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). This flurry of descriptions from Peter pack quite a metaphorical punch.
I want us to focus in on the description of the Christian community as a “holy nation.” This may stand out to us a particularly unusual way to talk about what the church is. The irony is further compounded by the fact that Peter himself acknowledges that he is writing to a diaspora, Christians scattered throughout the ancient world without a particular place to call home. When we think of a nation, we probably think of a few things: we probably think of borders, laws, perhaps even a military. All of these are fundamental to making up a nation. In fact, these are all things that were a part of the nation of Israel. And yet, the Christian nation that Peter is addressing has none of these. It is borderless; it spans all borders that would be placed up in the interest of creating and preserving nations, and cannot be contained within one nation’s land. The only laws of the Christian nation are to love God with everything you have and to love your neighbor as yourself; laws that morph and shift with circumstances, that are ultimately situational, and that give glory to God rather than attempt to preserve simple civil cohesion. The Christian nation has no military; its goals and intentions cannot be protected or enforced with military might, and therefore, there is no need or place for one.
Perhaps this calls into question why the Christian faith can even be called a “holy nation.” Firstly, we need to have an awareness that Peter is appropriating verbatim from the description of Israel. As a nation, Israel was meant to be set apart, to be different than all of the other nations as bearers of God’s message and love. God had set them as the epicenter of holiness, to expand into the entire world. Their title as a holy nation was about how they were set apart; but it was also not simply a blessing on their physical nation, but a vocation for them to enact.
The church’s call to be a holy nation is the same. Throughout the world, the church is to act as these small epicenters of God’s grace and holiness, spreading that holiness throughout the world until all of creation comes into contact with it. It’s not that we are supposed to create our own borders, or laws, or military powers, but that we have been called to a particular vocation. One that God has set us aside for.