The Christian Priesthood

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5)

But you are a chosen race, A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. (1 Pet. 2:9)

He has made us [Christians] to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. (Rev. 1:6)

       In the church age, Christian spiritual service is connected with the priesthood of every believer (Rom. 12:1; 1 Pet. 2:5; Rev. 1:6).  A priest offers worship to God and service to others.  In the OT—before the Mosaic Law—few priests are mentioned.  Melchizedek functioned as the king/priest of Salem (Gen. 14:18-20; cf. Heb. 7:1), and Reuel/Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) as the priest of Midian (Ex. 2:16-21; 3:1).  Job served as the priest over his household, offering sacrifices for the sins of his family (Job. 1:5).  Most people worshipped and served God as non-priests.  Men such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob built temporary stone altars and worshipped God directly (Gen. 8:20-21; Gen. 12:7; 13:18; 26:24-25; 35:1-7).  Before the Mosaic Law, it appears that sacrifice and worship was personal, simple, did not require special attire, and was not tied to a specific geographic location or facility.

       After Israel was delivered from the bondage of Egypt, God established the Hebrews as a theocratic nation among the Gentile nations of the world.  God originally intended the whole nation to be a kingdom of priests, saying, “and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).  However, because of the sin of worshipping the golden calf (Ex. 32:1-35), God took that privilege from the nation and confined the priesthood to the descendants of Aaron, and the Levites were their priestly assistants (Num. 3:1-10; 8:19; 18:1-7).  God required that priests could not have any physical defects (Lev. 21:17-23), and restricted the age to twenty-five to fifty (Num. 8:24-25).  The priests were originally tied to the tabernacle for their service (and later to the temple), and special clothing was required both for the priests and the high priest.  Throughout the years of their priestly service they were required to:

  1. Be holy in their behavior (Ex. 19:6).
  2. Teach God’s Law to others (Lev. 10:11; Deut. 33:10).
  3. Preserve the tabernacle and temple (Num. 18:1-4).
  4. Perform official duties in the Holy of Holies once a year (Ex. 30:6-10; Lev. 16).
  5. Inspect ceremonially unclean persons and fabrics (Lev. 13-14).
  6. Receive the tithes (Num. 18:21, 26; cf. Heb. 7:5).
  7. Offer sacrifices for sin to God (Lev. chapters 4, 9, 16).

      The death of Christ on the cross fulfilled the Mosaic Law and ended the OT animal sacrificial system and the Aaronic priesthood (John 1:17; Rom. 6:14; 8:3-4; 10:4; 2 Cor. 3:1-13; Gal. 5:18).  There is no specialized priesthood today, and the Catholic Church—or any organization—is not justified in creating a priestly group within the body of Christ.  Now, in the church age, every Christian is a priest to God (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rev. 1:6), and is indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).  The Christian becomes a priest at the moment of salvation.  This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, for “He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Rev. 1:6; cf. 1 Pet. 2:9).  Peter writes, “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5).  The functions of the Christian priesthood include:

  1. The continual giving of the body for service to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2). 
  2. The sacrifice of praise for worship (Heb. 13:15).
  3. The doing of good works and sharing with others (Heb. 13:16; cf. Phil. 4:18).
  4. The sacrifice of personal life for the benefit of others (Phil. 2:17; cf. Phil. 1:21-26; 2:3-4).
  5. The walk of sacrificial love (Eph. 5:1-2; cf. 1 Pet. 1:22).
  6. Confession of personal sin to God for restoration of fellowship (1 John 1:6-9).
  7. Being filled with, and walking by means of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16, 25).

A Living SacrificeThe practice of the Christian priesthood begins when the believer surrenders his own body as a “living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rom. 12:1).  Unlike the OT sacrifices which surrendered their life once, the Christian life is a moment by moment, continual surrender to God.  This spiritual service is performed primarily within the body of Christ toward other believers for their benefit.  Rather than offer the sacrifice of animals, the Christian is called to offer spiritual sacrifices.  When Paul writes about giving ourselves as “a living and holy sacrifice” to God for “spiritual service” (Rom. 12:1), he does not leave his reader guessing as to what he means, for one has only to continue reading in Romans chapter 12 to understand his practical application.  Only a few verses later the Apostle gives shoe leather to his statement when he writes about Christian service to other believers within the church. 

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Rom. 12:4-8)

       Spiritual sacrifice involves Christian service within the body of Christ as we exercise our spiritual gifts to meet the needs of other believers.  This is love set in motion for the benefit of others.  It is taking what God has given to us, spiritually or materially, and giving it freely, with an open hand, for others to be blessed.  This is consistent with what Paul writes elsewhere when he states, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).  From where does Paul learn this way of thinking?  He learned it from the Lord Jesus Himself.  For Paul states:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

       Jesus is our prime example of a priestly life that has been surrendered for service to God.  Jesus’ life was given for the blessing of others.  Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  And elsewhere He stated, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).  Several things may be said about Jesus’ willingness to surrender His life to His Father:

First, Christ was willing to go where His Father chose. He was at home in the glory. It was His native environment; but He came into this world with a mission and message of grace. “God had an only Son and He was a foreign missionary.” Such was His Father’s will for Him and His attitude may be expressed by the familiar words: “I’ll go where You want me to go, dear Lord.” Second, Christ was willing to be whatever His Father chose. “He made Himself of no reputation.” He was not only willing to lay aside the garments of His glory, but He was willing, as well, to be set at naught, to be spit upon and to be crucified. That was the Father’s will for Him and His attitude may be expressed in the words: “I’ll be what You want me to be.” Third, Christ was willing to do whatever His Father chose. He became obedient unto death, and in so doing, His attitude may again be expressed in the words: “I’ll do what You want me to do.”[1]

       As Christians, we look to Jesus as our primary role model.  Jesus sought to glorify the Father in every regard, and this meant living in accordance with Scripture and being willing to go and do whatever was required of Him.  No doubt this brought joy, and at other times sorrow.  The purpose of life is to glorify God; and this is only accomplished by a life of godliness and humble submission to the Lord. 

Yieldedness to the will of God is not demonstrated by some one particular issue: it is rather a matter of having taken the will of God as the rule of one’s life. To be in the will of God is simply to be willing to do His will without reference to any particular thing He may choose. It is electing His will to be final, even before we know what He may wish us to do. It is, therefore, not a question of being willing to do some one thing: it is a question of being willing to do anything, when, where and how, it may seem best in His heart of love. It is taking the normal and natural position of childlike trust which has already consented to the wish of the Father even before anything of the outworking of His wish is revealed.[2]

       The priestly life of service to God and others belongs to every Christian.  It is a life of sacrifice for the spiritual and material wellbeing of others, especially those within the church.  More so, it begins when the believer decides to commit his/her life to God, to love kindness, to walk humbly, and to pursue righteousness and goodness in all things. 

Steven R. Cook, D.Min.

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, He That Is Spiritual (Moody Press: Chicago, 1918), 87.
[2] Ibid., 88-89.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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3 Responses to The Christian Priesthood

  1. John J Flanagan says:

    Very well written article and clearly a good lesson to remember.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to study scripture with such passion. I appreciate your dedication to this discipline and your willingness to share your discoveries.

  3. Pingback: Honor the Lord From Your Wealth | Thinking on Scripture

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