"Chosen people" is a phrase I hardly ever hear used in the church or Christian circles. Even in reformed churches who believe wholeheartedly the sovereignty of God in election, we tend to shy away from language that makes us sound better than others. And so we maintain the doctrine of election, but we don't use it very often; we learn how to define and defend it Biblically without bringing it home to our hearts.
But yet every time Scripture highlights God's choosing of some for salvation, it always has a practical focus. It's never merely an ethereal idea to debate; rather, it's always something shaping the way we live. Meditating on God's election should move us in two directions: humility and exaltation.
In Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses strips away all possibility of God's people being sinfully proud because they are chosen: "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you..." He goes on to teach that God's election is based in His love and faithfulness, not our worthiness or lovability.
Romans 9 makes the same point by drawing out the comparision between Jacob and Esau. Without explaining (or needing to explain) His choice, God declared, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." The original story itself goes to great lengths to show that, by all worldly measures, Esau was the better man: older, stronger, more respectable, more manly. But God chose Jacob.
So Paul reflects on this in writing to the Corinthians: "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong..." (1 Cor. 1:27) In other words, not only did God not choose us for our amazing qualities, he likely chose us because of our lack of amazing qualities.
For these reasons, those who are willing to call themselves the "chosen people" are willingly taking a title of humiliation, acknowledging our total unworthiness while celebrating God's amazing mercy. It may surprise us, then, that Peter takes the doctrine in an entirely different yet equally practical direction.
As Peter writes to the "elect exiles of the Dispersion" (1 Pet. 1:1), he is addressing a wide group of Christians tied together not only by their faith but also their low social standing in the cities and towns where they were forced to flee. In a time and place where people judged their social status on citizenship in or at least proximity to Rome, these exiles had lost most of whatever privilege they ever enjoyed. In a society enamored with prestige, Peter uses the doctrine of election to remind the exiles of the status given to them in Christ.
For these exiles, their election granted them a status much higher than any Roman citizen. Commentator John Elliott notes that Peter used the doctrine of election in the following ways:
- Being elect reassures those without much social standing of the honor they have in God's family (1:4).
- Being elect is part of what distinguishes us from those outside the church and simultaneously calls us to holiness.
- Being elect also distinguished Christians from unbelieving Jews. In fact, Peter's clear references to the Old Testament (2:9) show a clear transferring of the title "chosen" from ethnic Jews to believing Christians.
- Being elect reassures the outcast and sufferer of God's care and love...they aren't simply chosen, they are, with Christ "chosen and precious." (2:4)
- Being elect gives us our standing in Christ (elect "for obedience to Jesus Christ", 1:2) and our orientation to the world around us: it is as the "chosen race" (2:9) that we are to "abstain from the passions of the flesh..." and live honorably among the Gentiles (2:11-12).
Election humbles the proud but it also exalts the lowly. While it reminds us that we were chosen by God's free and undeserved grace, it also reminds us that we are precious to God and have a privileged status much more worthwhile than anything the world could offer. The truth of our election, properly handled, is wonderfully useful.