Poor sinners, royal priests

by Tyler Arnold 

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

As we enter the New Year, many have a habit of making “resolutions.” Whether it’s introducing a good habit or kicking a bad one, these goals are grounded in a person’s understanding of what they want to be, what their purpose is.

A new year does contain the idea of a fresh start, and opportunity to focus on one’s vocation, and to resolve to live within that vocation. As Christians, we certainly strive for many common goals with the culture around us, goals such as health and wellness. However, our identity in Christ goes beyond and above these goals. As we set our minds on life in the coming year and make resolutions about how we will live, we should keep in mind our identity and vocation in Christ: members of a “royal priesthood.”

When Peter says “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood,” he is talking about you. Yes, you! By virtue of your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a chosen child of God. He determines that you — yes, you, poor and miserable sinner that you are — are a member of the “royal priesthood.”

So, what does this mean? This title sounds important, and so it may stand to reason that a certain responsibility accompanies it. All Christians are “chosen royal priests,” and this describes more than just our standing before God. It also defines our relationship to those around us. Your priestly status gives you the opportunity and responsibility to serve your neighbor as God carries forth His gracious work through you. In other words, God uses “royal priests” to care for the church and community.

As a Christian, you not only have direct access to God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, you are also given the wonderful privilege and duty to share the Good News with others by teaching and serving. All are indeed empowered by God to exercise spiritual care toward other Christians. On the subject of the ministry as it pertains to all believers as “priests” of God, Luther wrote: “As priests we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things… Thus Christ has made it possible for us, provided we believe in him, to be not only his brethren, co-heirs, and fellow kings, but also his fellow priests” (The Freedom of a Christian, AE 31:355).

All Christians are priests. But what does it mean to be a “priest of God?” Better put, what is the “function” of a priest of God within the Christian congregation? Some think that the extent of a member’s duties within the church is to “pay and pray” — to bring offerings and speak petitions for the sake of the needy. Besides that, perhaps members are supposed to care for the church lawn, clean God’s house, usher on Sunday morning, and organize the church social functions. While this is all important work, Christian priests are given a much broader task that includes the spiritual care of others within the church family.

All who have faith are priests of the Lord. All are given the opportunity to pray, serve and work for the sake of the Kingdom. We are priests because Jesus is the ultimate Priest and we are His “CHRIST-ians,” who put on His persona and do His bidding. We are mediators between God and man when we share the Good News, carry out works of service for our neighbor, and act as an example for the sake of our family and friends. Being a priest is a blessed privilege and opportunity.

This New Year, be reminded that you are God’s chosen, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. Resolve to live out your God-given identity this year and in the years that follow. You are a blessed baptized member of the royal priesthood. No, this does not mean you are a pastor (if you are not actually a pastor) who is called and ordained by God to be responsible for the Word and Sacrament ministry within the church. Yet, your vocation and identity as God’s chosen person calls you into a life of faithfulness and service. How will you show that you are faithful and serve your neighbor in 2020?

The Rev. Dr. Tyler Arnold is senior pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Platte Woods, Mo. He is also a collegium fellow for DOXOLOGY – The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.

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