“You are 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.” (I Peter 2:9)
The story of God’s people in the Old Testament begins with a call. “The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’” (Acts 7:2) Abraham responded by obeying that call – and the rest, we might say, is history (Isaiah 51:2). He left not only his homeland but also the idols that his family worshipped (Joshua 24:2), placing his complete trust in the living God.
Similarly, Jesus began His public ministry by calling people to follow Him (Mark 1:16-20). His first disciples literally left their homes and families in order to travel around the countryside with Him. After His resurrection, they were sent out to call others to discipleship (Matthew 28:19) by preaching the gospel (Galatians 1:6). And so all of us are called (I Corinthians 1:26; II Peter 1:3). Most of us do not have to leave our homes or occupations (I Corinthians 7:20) – but, like Abraham, we have been called away from idolatry to the true God (I Thessalonians 1:9), and out of spiritual darkness into His light (Acts 26:18).
A chosen people
So Christians are men and women who have been called by God – but it is not that we just happened to respond to a general summons. Abraham was not just anybody; God had chosen him to be the founder of His special people (Genesis 18:19). Jesus didn’t just call His disciples indiscriminately; He chose them for a specific purpose (John 15:16). And He has also chosen every individual Christian who has responded to the call of God in the Gospel (I Thessalonians 1:4,5). All of us, then, are chosen as well as called – and therefore we, too, are special to God.
What this does not mean is that we are in any way deserving of God’s choice. There was nothing intrinsically special about the nation of Israel; they had been a weak and insignificant racial group, enslaved by a much larger and more powerful empire, and had no achievements to bring them to God’s attention (Deuteronomy 7:7). They were not even particularly righteous – if anything, the reverse (Deuteronomy 9:6)! And there is nothing intrinsically special about us either; God continues to prefer weak, insignificant and sinful people (I Corinthians 1:27-29).
What it does mean is that we are now distinct from the rest of the world. We were nothing special to start with; but belonging to God has made us special. This has the result of bringing us into conflict with the world (John 15:19), but is also the reason for us to live differently from the world (I Peter 2:11), as befits citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:19,20). If we truly belong to God, we should no longer feel altogether ‘at home’ in this world.