A Trinitarian Identity
For Peter, a Christian's true identity is intimately related to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For those serving in government, our identity is often defined by who we work for, our position on the organizational chart, our past successes (or defeats), our alma mater, and other fields covering our LinkedIn page.
Thankfully, none of these are true components of our real identity as Christians. Our identity as children of God is rooted in the Trinity. While it’s true that the Trinity is not explicitly stated anywhere in Scripture, all orthodox Christianity affirms its reality. Perhaps this is nowhere clearer than in the opening of Peter’s letter where he grounds our identity in the Trinity,
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:
May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
In these words of greeting, Peter lays the proper foundation for our identity.
“...according to the foreknowledge of the Father,"
When we speak of the foreknowledge of God, we do not mean about God looking out and knowing what is going to happen. Rather, we mean God appointing what is to occur.
Luke uses this same phrase in Acts 2:23 where he records Peter’s sermon explaining how Jesus Christ ended up being crucified,
“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”
These people are the elect because God intended it. They are also exiles because God intended it.
More importantly, Peter does not say this is according to God’s foreknowledge, but the Father’s. As children of God, our relationship reflects an intimate fatherly love, not an uninterested spiritual force. This is critical to understanding our identity because it reminds us that our Father is always caring for us.
"...by the sanctification of the Spirit,”
Peter continues, saying that it is not just the Father who has a role in establishing our identity, but that the Holy Spirit also plays an integral part.
He writes that they are the elect “by the sanctification of the Spirit.” This mirrors what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Peter wants his readers to understand that the Holy Spirit of God has set them apart and made them the Holy People of God. That is their new identity!
“for obedience to Jesus Christ…”
Rooted in the Trinity, Peter states that it is not just the Father, and the Holy Spirit that have established our new identity, it is also the Son. Peter writes that they are the elect, “for obedience to Jesus Christ.” As Christians, Peter wants us to know that as both the elect and the exiled they are called to obedience to the Law established by their Father, who is creator of heaven and earth.
In a famous exchange in front of his perplexed disciples, Jesus tells a seeker,
And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
What Jesus exposed was that the rich young ruler’s self-identity was rooted in his wealth and position within the community rather than in God. As elect-exiles, we are placed in our circumstances for obedience to Christ, not for our personal agendas or ethics.
Many competing worldviews promise all kinds of riches and betterment through a path of self-fulfillment. But the wonderful paradox of rooting our identity in obedience to Christ, rather than our own agenda or ethics, is that through this obedience we truly flourish. And not only that, we bring about the flourishing of our community.
As Christians, we are just like those who found themselves as the chosen people of God in the Promised Land, those who lived in exile and Babylon, those who lived as a conquered people in Jerusalem, and the elect-exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.
That is, we have an identity that is not defined by our present or past circumstances, but by our relationship with the Triune God.
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for the D.C. ministry.