Who are God’s people?

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The ‘people of God’ is a Biblical concept, which is however not always properly understood. Also, this concept has been misused. It becomes blurry when, for example, two nations make war against each other while both claim to belong to God’s people. Some limit the concept only to the people of Israel and others only to very pious, elected believers. Others however interpret it very generally and claim that all humans are children of God. What is written in the Bible about it?

The people of God are those humans who belong to Him[1]. Thus literally the children of God. In general sense all humans are indeed the descendents of Adam; the ‘children of man’ also called ‘mankind’. That raises however the question how the bond with God is specified, since the natural bond between God and children of man is clearly no longer in order. That bond has been quite disturbed[2].

In Biblical sense however, only they belong to God’s people who are adopted by Him out of humanity to become His children. From a human context no one can be physically born out of God. God does no longer create humans physically as He once did.

The current adoption of humans by God[3] shows also that God applies selection criteria[4] on the one’s He calls[5] to enter unto the people of God. This shows that God’s people are distinguished from humanity.

But in wording of the Bible believers are said to be ‘born from God’ by the completed work of the Lord Jesus – His reconciling sacrifice – and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. To articulate it differently: filled by the Spirit of God through the baptizement in water and Spirit. It is God’s goal that His people will contain reborn believers.

The people of Israel
The engagement into the Covenant in the Sinai desert, several weeks after the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, is traditionally seen as the moment when Israel officially became a people. Before that they were a league of tribes coming forth from the family of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The terms of that Covenant, also called the Torah of Moses, are then seen as their constitution. When the words ‘the people of Israel’ are mentioned this all too often is connected with the concept of the people of God. Likewise, this moment of engagement into God’s Covenant traditionally is seen as the origin of Israel as God’s people.

This tradition however urgently needs rectification. For starters, the patriarchs themselves were obviously members of God’s people and also the tribal communities which came forth from them. So, actually the Israelites didn’t become God’s people due to their engagement into that Covenant.

But it is even more untrue on wrong to suggest that Israel from that moment on was the only people of God on earth. The confusion or simplification comes from not distinguishing between being partaker in God’s Covenant and being member of God’s people. This will be further explained later.

It must be seriously doubted that Israel could really live up to all Covenantal requirements immediately after they engaged into it. Also, whether they immediately took upon them the identity of a people. This becomes even more a point to reckon with since they behaved recalcitrant against God and that falling away from Him by them continues until this very day. When they are to be seen as the only representatives of God’s people on earth, then that would be pitiful. Since they have never lived up to what in Biblical sense is to be expected from a people of God. From the moment they departed from Egypt in the Biblical exodus until this very day. Above all, Israel has disqualified itself as a people (of God) for all times (1 Th 2:16)[6].

To regard the Torah of Moses as a constitution is also wrong. For it is not only too meager for that purpose. For example, it limits itself to Biblical religion[7]. Logically, the Torah of Moses determines how the people of God are supposed to function. Also, the question can be raised whether the Torah of Moses is not too specifically dependent of the ownership of the promised Land. Therefore the question should be asked whether this incomplete Torah of Moses applies to the whole of God’s people over the ages[8].

A secular people
Among pagan peoples a separate people is only just recognized as such if they were able to firmly distinguish[9] themselves from other peoples[10]. Acquiring its own independence starts with having military power. Independence is easier secured when territory is owned.

Once a group is living in its own territory and has established contacts with other peoples for trade or by warfare, new words, originating from other languages, can be formed. But also newly created words can arise. In this way a new language can develop[11]. Also, separately living groups can develop their own customs, (religious) rituals and history. So, a secular people are defined in anthropocentric terms.

How are God’s people defined?
According to the Bible, God’s people came forth out from His initiative. He calls people to His Presence, maintains a bond with them and He takes effort to unite and sustain them. Compared with secular people several distinctions can be identified.

In principle God calls people without violence, but through their own insight and self conviction[12]. Those whom God called at first didn’t make it a priority to claim their own territory. So, the people of God find their basic right of existence and their sustenance in Him amongst the Godless.

But God noticed that the Godless (pagan) peoples continuously were able to control members of His people and seduced them to do evil. That explains why God chose to create a separate people amongst His people through one of his sons (Abram). That separate people was assigned to a specific territory of their own. To them He would reveal His instructions for the whole of His people for all times. From this world, which was separated from humanity (Israel), He would realize His plan of salvation. So, the people of God are defined in Theocentric terms.

Size of God’s people
So, the size of God’s people is far greater then is often thought. Traditionally, Abram is seen as the new Adam, the only representative of God’s people in his generation. But then Abram encountered Melchisedeq, the king-priest of God. This revealed that also in Abrams generation far more members of God’s people existed then only him and his family. The fact that Abram acknowledges this shows that he knew that God’s people existed in the world.

It’s therefore a mistake to limit the people of God to the prominent families mentioned in the Bible[13]. That explains why sometimes unexpected believers are mentioned in the Bible, like Melchisedeq. There are other examples. Such as Naaman (2 K 5:17) and Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2).

Thus, it cannot be ruled that today there are believers (in other religions) whom God also reckons to His people[14].

Individualism
Individualism is a problematic issue for the concept of God’s people. This is however growing in western Christianity (protestants and evangelicals[15])[16]. Jews however can be aware of belonging to the people of Israel and religious Jews can additionally view themselves as such as being God’s people.

Individualism comes on top of the dispersion of believers, but individualism worsens the latter. Another disadvantage is the formation of sects based on their own preferences and convictions and of which their members view themselves as being better believers than others. Western Christianity has become a warps nest of such sects and movements which often give rise to further schisms.

Stimulating the collective awareness of believers belonging to Him, in being members of one people, has hardly any priority.

Distinguishing people from Covenant
That being members of God’s people is something different from engaging into God’s Covenant becomes clear from the fact that the first is a requirement for the latter. So, the people of God existed prior to His Covenant.

With hindsight must be concluded that from Adam God’s people originated although God never made a Covenant with him. Likewise, no Covenant was made with all generations coming forth from him until Noah[17]. So, from the beginning it was not necessary for God’s people to engage into a Covenant with Him.

It was with Noah that God for the first time made a Covenant and through him with the whole of creation. This shows that God’s people were destined to rule over the creation. The fact that God chose to make a Covenant with Noah, the new Adam, does show that the previously mentioned disturbed bond[18] between God and humanity was still a fact. God made His Covenant with Noah only after all Godless in creation were destroyed.

From the moment on that the people of God were again able to receive His Spirit – after the reconciliation of the disturbed bond by the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus – His Covenant had to be renewed. Through it the state of His people without Covenant, as it was in the beginning, has come closer. Since God started to make Covenants began with inclusion of the creation, the completion of His Covenant – the state in the beginning of creation – can also only come by renewing the whole of creation.

Diversity
The two mentioned acts of God – reconciliation and fulfillment with the Spirit – logically represent a renewal of the Covenant of God (Jr 31:31-33). They that previously were engaged into God’s Covenant – the Israelites – are the first to be invited to engage into the New Covenant.

But the fact that God’s people existed before He started making a Covenant means that rebirth out of God (and being fulfilled with His Spirit), which came later, cannot be a requirement for membership of God’s people. However, ‘being born out God’ is essential[19]. This rule for the ‘old’ people of God also has consequences for new joiners. Also they cannot be required to be ‘born from God’ as a prerequisite [20]. As a consequence, within God’s people exist two or actually three groups: 1a. Believers in Israel; 1b. Believers in the nations and 2. Reborn believers.

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[1] According to some God’s people are simple those that believe. Even without the consent of God.
[2] This is a mild statement. This bond is actually broken by the first human Adam.
[3] This not based on the fact that God is Owner of creation and of all life in it. However, He does conditionally take back what was already His.
[4] These criteria are only partly specified in the Bible. God also uses other criteria He Himself determines. Criteria, which are unknown by humans. The latter is justly so. God is not a man and therefore He can only be known in part by humans.
[5] Being called by God doesn’t mean that the called one will also be immediately or without any doubt added to God’s people. Every human must also agree full heartedly and confirm that choice with conduct of life in accordance.
[6] Therefore it is not surprising but rather logical that God also has added others into Israel because they were better suited than most Israelites. So, a new Israel will be restored in the future which has a mixed origin. This fact then also addresses the rival question about Israel’s origin. But this however rests heavy upon the stomach of God’s people. Still, the new Israel will never loose, but keep its own identity and privileges, like the Temple city and the promises. God has not rejected Israel.
[7] It is God’s book of instructions for the religious service and daily life for them that serve Him.
[8] The Torah of Moses thus has always been limited, which shows that God planned to make it more appropriate. This has happened by the Torah of the Lord Jesus.
[9] The events of the confusion of speech and the dispersion at Babel (Gn 11:7-8) are outside this definition.
[10] In the most elementary sense of a family and/or tribe.
[11] A mixture of existing languages. Hebrew is also a language with many loanwords originating from an Aramaic base language.
[12] The children of Adam and Eve were made aware of the existence of God by their parents in the way that Adam and Eve had come to know God when He lived on earth with them. These children needed to learn to find their own way with God. From generation to generation.
[13] So, most members of God’s people are never mentioned in the history written down in the Bible. Although they are not mentioned, still their existence is implicit in the Bible. The whole of God’s people is known to Him. In the Bible only a very small part of God’s reality, which actually enormously big, is mentioned.
[14] This is a challenging thought for people who strive for sectarism.
[15] Distinctively, Roman Catholics have an awareness of being part of a world church with the ‘neutral’ and sovereign State, The Vatican, as its center.
[16] Some denominations connect their Christian faith with a national identity which humans have invented, like the Dutch Reformed Church.
[17] Still, God began to detest almost all descendents of Adam and destroyed them in a great, World-wide flood.
[18] The reason why it became necessary for God to make a Covenant with His people is the fallen state of man. The Covenant was instituted (added to what existed) so that His people could be enabled to have a bond with Him in order for Him to unroll His plan of salvation.
[19] This caused confusion and all kinds of deviations, like the Replacement theories, Two-Way theories and Two-God’s people theories.
[20] This explains why baptizement with the Holy Spirit is a separate and later act which a believer can undergo.