How do you feel if I tell you that every follower of Christ is a priest? Work with me here as we are looking at the role of each believer in the church.

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”[b]

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”[c]

and, “A stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.”[d]

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (I Peter 2:4-10)

A Holy Priesthood

Both verse 4 and verse 9 mention priesthood and they say that all believers are part of the priesthood. To understand this, let’s first look back to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament system, people could only access God through the mediation of the high priest. The Old Testament teaches us that God cannot be approached casually; the priests were responsible for leading the people of Israel into proper worship of God. The priests had this responsibility because as humans we tend towards decline unless we are constantly drawn back into vital life. We’ve all experienced having a nice clean house or room only to see it slip back into chaos and disorder. Our spiritual lives are much the same. Left to our own devices we inevitably fall into spiritual decline. What is God’s plan for dealing with this issue?

Direct Access to God

Since Jesus all believers have direct access to God. Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose again.  He opened the way to God the father. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[a] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb 4:14-16)

I think in the Old Testament the temptation would have been that people assumed that the priests would do everything that needed to be done for them spiritually. With this view the individual believer sees themselves as removed from responsibility for their own relationship with God. The temptation for us today I think is similar.  We can sometimes shift, or be tempted to shift, responsibility for our own faith and growth onto the church service, our spouse, the pastor etc. However, according to the New Testament, we have the amazing privilege to enter God’s presence and every single follower of Christ is a priest, with the responsibilities and role of a priest. Pastors and leaders have responsibility to shepherd and lead but cannot make people grow any more than the doctor can force you to take your medication. Priests have the privilege and responsibility to attend to both their own spiritual lives and the spiritual lives of others around them.

Spiritual Sacrifice and Sharing the Gospel

What do priests do? In the Old Testament people had to bring physical animal sacrifices to the temple. Now, the call is for spiritual acts of worship. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom 12:1)

The spiritual acts of worship involve offering ourselves to God, in order to serve him. Rather than waiting for someone to tell us what to do, we offer ourselves to God and listen for his instructions. Priests also have the role of sharing the good news of the gospel. By our lives and our words we share the gospel with those around us. This gospel is amazing and inspiring. Without Jesus we all stumble around in the darkness.  The message of the gospel is that with Jesus there is a way to be found. Those who have found Jesus are to live as lights for Christ in a world that needs Jesus.

Worshipping as a Local Church

Priests have the responsibility to worship together as the local church. The Old Testament priests were responsible for the ceremonial worship at the temple, but every person and every household had a responsibility to worship and to gather for the corporate feasts and festivals.[1] An individual could not just sit at home and assume the priests did whatever needed to be done on their behalf.  The people had to physically bring themselves and their sacrifices to the temple. Worship was accomplished corporately with everyone playing a role. People have individual roles, but priesthood is not individualistic. “In summary, it may be said that priesthood is an activity and function which is best viewed in a collective sense as belonging to the whole body of Christians,”.[2]

Priests with a Purpose

All believers then are part of a priesthood with a purpose. As priests we have all the privileges and responsibilities of the Old Testament priests, this includes offering praise to God, attending our own spiritual lives, offering spiritual sacrifices, and interceding for others. We can think of this as the difference between being a consumer and an owner. A consumer just wants to get the right product. In the religious sense, a consumer shops for the religious ‘product’ they want (we even call it ‘church shopping’ when someone is looking for a new church). An owner must consider what the company produces or sells, how the employees get paid, the overall structure etc. They must see the big picture. As priests we are all called to think like owners.  We take personal responsibility. 

Everything we do affects the whole body (church) either positively or negatively. In this sense we are all leaders (priests) who are thermostats not thermometers; meaning that leaders set the temperature (thermostat) rather than just stating the temperature that already exists in the room (thermometer). We are all called to be priests, which means we are all called to be leaders. You have an influence on those around you.  How will you use that influence?

Application and Conclusion

  • Every follower of Jesus has the role, privilege and responsibility of a priest
  • This means every follower of Jesus is responsible for their own spiritual growth as well as the growth of others around them
  • In what areas are you perhaps tempted to shift responsibility for your own spiritual growth onto other people or systems?
  • While friends, pastors, writers, and mentors can help you grow in your faith, no one can make your choices for you or make you grow.
  • The amazing privilege every follower of Jesus has is that they can approach God directly and have a personal relationship with him.
  • You can also have a significant positive impact on people around you.
  • As a priest you have an amazing privilege and significant responsibility.
  • You have the Holy Spirit on your side, and you are probably far more capable than you imagine!
  • Embrace your role and see where Jesus will take you.

[1] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Priesthood. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1753). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

[2] Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Priesthood. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 1754). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

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