My Post-4th of July Reflections2
I’m an extremely patriotic person. I love the United States of America. I am forever deeply grateful for the countless blessings that I’ve enjoyed because of the freedom that is part of the foundation of this great country. Had I been asked to do so, I would have fought in any war to defend our country. And yes, I celebrated the 4th of July with fireworks and hotdogs and a profound expression of thanksgiving to God for all that he has enabled this country to do for its citizens as well as people from around the world.
But I’m deeply concerned about those who would turn patriotism into nationalism, as if to suggest that Jesus is himself an American, or that America is itself in some sort of covenant with God. Let’s never forget that the only “nation” with which God has established a covenant is the Church of Jesus Christ. This is one of the glorious truths of the New Covenant under whose blessings we live.
We find one of the blessings of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:11. There we read, “And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (Heb. 8:11).
During the time of the Old Testament or Old Covenant, the people of God were a mixed community. That is to say, Israel was composed of both believers and non-believers. Not everyone who was circumcised in his flesh was circumcised in his heart. Again, this simply means that not everyone who received the physical sign of the old covenant was born again or regenerate.
This is why members of the nation Israel had to be exhorted to “know” the Lord. But under the New Covenant we encounter an entirely different situation. Every member of the New Covenant is a believer. Every member of the New Covenant has been born again. Notice what our author says: “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” (8:11).
This promise that every member of the new covenant will experience personal and first-hand intimate saving knowledge of God is one of the main reasons we don’t baptize infants at Bridgeway. But that is for another time.
We must remember that God’s covenant with Israel was theocratic in nature. Israel was not only the people of God; Israel was also a political entity. Therefore, all those who were circumcised physically were members of the covenant community whether they ever came to saving faith or not. That’s not true in the New Covenant. Only those who come to saving faith are members of the new covenant community.
This may upset some of you, but listen closely. The Church is not a political entity. The Church is not a geo-political state. The Church is a spiritual organism united to Christ. That doesn’t mean the Church shouldn’t be involved in the political process. The degree to which you as individual Christians participate in that process is entirely up to you. I love my country. As I said earlier, I’m as patriotic as the next guy. But the United States of America is not in a covenant relationship with God. It never has been and it never will be. Men cannot institute or establish a covenant with God. God alone can initiate and establish a covenant with human beings. And he has done that only with the members of the body of Christ, the Church.
The Church is made up of men and women from every tribe and tongue and people and nation across the expanse of the globe. You and I have a deeper and more vital unity with a Christian living in the Sudan or in Germany or in Russia or even in North Korea than we do with any non-Christian who is a card-carrying citizen of the United States.
To say that every member of the New Covenant knows the Lord doesn’t mean that there aren’t in our midst people who claim to know Christ but don’t. But those who are genuinely saved and genuinely members of the New Covenant are all born again and justified by faith in Jesus.
Here is how Peter put it:
“But you 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” (1 Peter 2:9).
Whether Jew or Gentile, Greek or Roman, from Cappadocia, Britain, Russia or Zambia, though from many races and colors and ethnicities, we have been united by faith in Jesus to be a new people, a new race.
But don’t think of the word “race” as you normally would in conversation today. This kind of “race” has nothing to do with ethnicity precisely because this race is comprised of every ethnicity! This chosen race is not solely black or exclusively white or only red or yellow or brown. It is comprised of each and every color and is therefore no single color in particular. It is a spiritual race, a chosen race!
What gives us our identity is not color or culture or country, but rather creed. This race is defined by what we believe. We believe in Jesus. We treasure Jesus. We regard Jesus as precious. That is the defining characteristic of this spiritual race. But note well: we believe in Jesus because we are chosen! We are a chosen race! “Christians are not the white race; they are the chosen race. Christians are not the black race; they are the chosen race. We are the black chosen and the white chosen and the yellow chosen and the red chosen. Out from all the races we have been chosen—one at a time, not on the basis of belonging to any group” (Piper).
The supreme trait of the new Christian race is treasuring Christ and building our lives individually and as God’s spiritual house on the living stone that is Christ.
We are also a royal priesthood. We are not merely the passive building where God dwells; we are also the active participants in worship. All of us, Elders and pastors and staff and musicians and singers and nursery workers and sound technicians and each and every one of you regardless of title or function are the priests of this new spiritual house, and our privilege now as priests is to draw near to God with spiritual sacrifices. The priests brought the sacrifices into the tabernacle in the Old Testament. But now that tabernacle is replaced by the Christian church. The atoning altar is replaced by Jesus Christ and his shed blood. And the priests are replaced by you, those who believe in Christ.
Each and every one of you, if you know Jesus and regard him as precious and believe in him for the forgiveness of your sins, each and every one of you are part of this priesthood. This priesthood is not made up of those who wear special clothing, whether clerical collars or robes. It is not made up only of those who are called “Pastor” or who attended seminary.
To be a part of this royal priesthood means that you all have access to God through Jesus Christ. You do not take your sacrifice to the priest or the pastor and watch while he takes it to the altar or to the tent of meeting with God. You all are called by God to approach the altar and the throne, and to make your own personal sacrifice in personal life and in corporate worship. The bottom line is that you don’t need a pastor to worship God or to serve God or to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God. You only need Jesus!
Why are we called a “royal” priesthood? Surely not to suggest that we are to exert our dominion or rule over the nations of the earth. This is a distinctly spiritual privilege. We are a “royal” priesthood because we’ve come under the dominion of the King of the Universe, the Lord of lords and King of kings. Our lives and worship and ministries are grounded in our relationship to THE King, thus making all we do regal or royal in nature.
We are also a holy nation. This isn’t a reference to the United States of America, or any other geo-political nation on the earth.
You are not merely part of the world anymore. You are set apart for God. You exist for God. And since God is holy, you are holy. Your ultimate allegiance isn’t to this country. As much as I love the U.S., and I do love it deeply, my loyalty is first and foremost to the church, the body of Christ, regardless of the geo-political identity of those who comprise it.
We are a people for his own possession. Although God owns everything (Exod. 19:5), we are special! We are unique. But we aren’t God’s people because we are special and unique. We are special and unique because we are God’s people! Don’t ever reverse it!
You are chosen by God; you are shown mercy by God; and the effect of that mercy is that God takes you to be his own possession. You are God's inheritance. You are the ones he aims to spend eternity with.
You may not feel special. You may not feel a part of anything that really matters. You may not feel included. You may feel alone and isolated and ordinary, but I assure you that if you know Jesus, if Jesus is precious to you, if you have trusted him as Lord and Savior you are part of a people whom God has taken unto himself out of all the people in the world. You are his and he is yours. You hold irrevocable citizenship in the greatest and most glorious nation in the history of mankind: the Church of Jesus Christ.