1 Peter 2:4-10 is loaded with jaw-dropping truths about God’s New Covenant people, the church. One such statement comes in 1 Peter 2:9 where Peter tells his readers, “You are . . . a holy nation.”
If there was any doubt before, it’s completely gone. Peter is taking Old Testament descriptions of the nation of Israel and applying them to the New Testament church. In fact, verse 9 is loosely based on God’s word to the Israelites at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19:5-6, “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; (6) and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
Peter is not saying that the church has replaced Israel, as if God gave up and discarded the Jewish people. Peter is agreeing with what Paul wrote in Romans 11 about the Gentiles being “grafted in.” God’s “holy nation” has been broadened to include not only ethnic Jews, but Gentiles who trust in Christ. But it’s also been narrowed to include only those Jews who are children of the promise, those who have come to God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It is genuine believers who Paul calls in Galatians 6:16, “the Israel of God.” God’s “holy nation” consists of every genuine believer in Christ.
This should transform the way you think about your citizenship as an American. Politicians from JFK and Ronald Reagan, to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have called the United States a “city upon a hill.” But when Jesus talked about a city on a hill in Matthew 5, He wasn’t talking about the nation of Israel and He certainly wasn’t talking about the United States of America. He was talking about the church!
So how is God’s “holy nation” visible if they don’t have a seat at the United Nations and they don’t have borders or land? If the universal church is a holy nation, then we can think of the local church as an embassy.
Think about our missionaries Carlos and Lily in Mexico City. Like all missionaries, they’re likely familiar with the US Embassy in Mexico. That embassy represents the United States inside Mexico. It declares US interests to the Mexican government. It protects and cares for US citizens like Carlos and Lily while they reside in Mexico. If Carlos and Lily’s visas or passports ever expired while in Mexico, the embassy would have to verify their US citizenship before they could return to the US. The US Embassy wouldn't make them citizens, it would officially affirm their citizenship.
The local church is similar. Poquoson Baptist Church is like an embassy that represents God's Kingdom inside the kingdom of this world. We declare the interests of God's Kingdom to the citizens of this world, and particularly the citizens of Poquoson. We protect and care for citizens of heaven while they reside in this world. We don’t make people citizens of heaven, but we do have the responsibility to affirm their citizenship. And one of our jobs is to remind you that your citizenship in heaven is more important than your citizenship on earth. We are a holy nation.