Christians are not fond of the designation, “People of God” and it hardly ever appears in connection with the church or Christianity in general. This is unfortunate because our loss of this name has helped play havoc with our identity and understanding of God and salvation wrought by Jesus. Salvation, despite repeated claims that it involves some sort of personal relationship with Jesus, is all too often understood as a legal exchange wherein God moves your attendance peg from “Lost” to “Saved.” There may be some aspect of salvation that approaches that concept, but it is far from being the primary definition or even consideration for salvation. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The People of God is not a designation of a group as much as it is a descriptor of the people in that group. It describes a few things which are interrelated. First, it describes possession yes, but more a connection. These people described in the Jewish Scriptures enjoy a particular relationship with YHWH not shared by other peoples. These, we are reminded by Paul, have been given the oracles of YHWH, they have had the prophets among them and they have enjoyed YHWH’s protection, rescue, and leading.
They don’t wear the name as much as they are the name.
This naming having inherent meaning is experienced throughout the Jewish Scriptures and play prominent roles in Isaiah, the naming of Abraham and Sarah, Jacob, Esau, and Israel. Names are important and they carry the essence of their meanings.
The connection with YHWH is not the only import of the name People of God. Another aspect is the quality or character of these people. They are to embody the character of YHWH in their lives. If YHWH is gracious, they are to be gracious. If YHWH is longsuffering, they are to longsuffering. If YHWH is merciful, they are to be merciful. If YHWH is fair, they are to be fair. These characteristics furthermore are not to be evident just among their internal relationships with one another, but they should be reflected in their dealings with others – those who are not the People of God.
We might say again that they don’t wear the name as much as they are the name.
Israel has consistently failed to meet the double standard of fidelity to YHWH and transformation of her character. Isaiah will tell us that the entire nation is corrupt from the head to the foot. Israel has failed to grasp that it is YHWH that has formed her and wanting to form her; and she has failed to live among herself and other nations as a people transformed into the very character of her God.
YHWH repeatedly uses the goal to encourage Israel, that He will be her God and she should be His people. This is Israel’s purpose as the People of God: to manifest the character of YHWH and fidelity to YHWH to all peoples. She will also carry in her existence the anticipated blessing for the entire world; the very thing that intrigued angels and that the creation itself waited and waits to experience.
The church, or Christendom in general is not a replacement for Israel, but the blossoming of the People of God. At least, that is what the church is supposed to be. Having been sought by and returned to YHWH through Jesus; having seen the very character of YHWH among people as depicted in the life of Jesus; having seen the fidelity expected through the passion and death of Jesus, the church is an expansion of Israel just as has always been the intent. Israel, the Gentiles, and even Barbarians are invited into the People of God as a result of the faithfulness of Jesus. Christianity cannot fully understand her calling without understanding the historical narrative that has described for us in the Jewish Scriptures the desires of God.
The church is not primarily exclusively a saving organization, but a larger and more expansive and inclusive manifestation of Israel. The church has been blessed to be a blessing. She has been given the oracles of God and she derives from the Chief Prophet who was also the Son of God. She like Israel is to carry the message and to manifest the character of God among the nations. She is to be faithful to YHWH no matter what tempest she may be experiencing.
The People of God then, collectively and individually are to both carry and be the message of rescue, of reconciliation, of the offer of return to a loving, merciful, and just God.
Next, The People of God II