Rev. James Laning, home missionary in the Protestant Reformed Churches and
member of Zion PRC, Jenison, Michigan

Previous article in this series: May 1, 2023, p. 344.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. Psalm 33:12

To what nation is the psalmist referring? Who are the people whom God has chosen as His own inheritance?

Many would say He is talking about Israel. In the Old Testament we read about God making His covenant with Israel. He told them, “…thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” So many would say Psalm 33:12 is speaking about Israel, and they would be correct.

Yet, then we come to the New Testament and read of the church as God’s chosen people. All those saved in Christ were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). With them God dwells. They are His people, and He is their God.

The church is God’s covenant people, just as Israel was God’s covenant people. A common, dispensational- Baptist position is that these are two distinct peoples of God. Yet Israel and the church are not two separate peoples, but one. When Christ came, God’s people were referred to as Israel. Now God’s people are often called the church. Yet Israel and the church are two names for the same people. It is proper to say that the Israel we read of in the Old Testament was the church. It is also correct to refer to the church today as Israel. Israel was the church, and the church is Israel. The two names refer to one and the same people.1

The last article was about the church as the kingdom of Christ. Now we consider the church as the chosen, covenant people of God.

God’s chosen people: His covenant people

God’s chosen people are His covenant people. God’s everlasting covenant is with Christ and those chosen to be in Him (Gal. 3:16, 29). If someone is an elect, then he is one of God’s covenant people. If he is one of God’s covenant people, then he must be an elect. The elect and those in God’s covenant are one and the same.2

Those whom God has chosen and with whom He has established His covenant are said to be God’s people. Repeatedly in Scripture we come across a statement like “And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer. 30:22). That covenant promise really encapsulates what God’s covenant is. It is a relationship of friendship between God and His people in Christ.

Indeed, only in Christ could we enjoy fellowship with God. How else could sinners such as ourselves enjoy fellowship with the holy God? For that to happen we needed Christ to redeem us and the Spirit of Christ to sanctify us. Only if Christ died for us, reconciling us to God, and only if the Spirit of God quickened us and sanctified us to be members of Christ could we consciously walk with God and commune with Him.

All those chosen and saved in Christ are united in Him. They are one in Christ, not two in Christ. They are members of Christ’s one bride, the church. The true believers who lived in the days before Christ were members of Christ’s church, just as true believers are still today.

One of the differences between then and now is that back then the members of the church were almost exclusively from the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today they are mostly from those who are not blood descendants of Jacob.3 Another difference is that back then Israel had many ceremonial laws that have ceased since the coming of Christ. A third difference is that when God called Israel out of Egypt and brought them into Canaan, Israel was a nation with a portion of land having geographical boundaries. Today the church does not have any such boundary. Yet the people of God then and now are one. They are the one people who have Jehovah as their God and who truly enjoy fellowship with Him in Christ.4

Since Israel in the old dispensation was the same people that the church is today, throughout this section we will be referring to Israel in the Old Testament as an illustration.

God called His chosen people out of Egypt and gave them His Word at Mt. Sinai. This pictures for us the following:

1) Just as Israel was the one people who were called out and separated from the nations, so the church today is the one people who are separate from this world as His holy people.

2) Just as Israel received the Word of God, the church still today is the one people who are taught God’s Word, and who receive that Word not only externally, but internally.

Let us consider these two points and some practical applications drawn from them.

The church: Those called out

God called His people out of Egypt that they might worship Him as His holy people. Back then God’s people were to be separate from this world both physically and spiritually. Today the church is no longer physically separate from those of this world. We have, however, been spiritually separated from them, and are to walk as those who have truly “come out from among them” (II Cor. 6:17).

That we are to be separate from this world is indicated by the very word translated “church.” The Greek word translated “church” is ecclesia5 which means “a gathering of those who have been called out.” The term is sometimes used to refer to a secular assembly that has been summoned (Acts 19:39). When, however, it is used to refer to God’s people, it refers to them as those people whom God has called out, separated from this world, and assembled together as His holy people.

God’s covenant people are graciously called out, and all of them will be saved. God’s gracious call is efficacious. 6 As the Spirit says, “whom he did predestinate, them he also called” (Rom. 8:30). That specific text goes on to say that all those whom God graciously calls He also justifies and glorifies. So, if God graciously calls someone, that person will certainly be saved.

Many deny that. It is commonly held that God desires to save all human beings, and that He graciously calls many who end up not being saved. Yet Romans 8:30 says God graciously calls those whom He has elected, and that all those whom He calls will be saved in Christ.

Together they are united in Him. They all have one Head and are all directed by His one Spirit.

The church: The people with God’s word

The people of Israel were the only people who heard God speak and lived. They were the one people whom God had taken out of another nation and revealed to them His Word.

In the days of Moses, God pointed this out to the Israelites:

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it? Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation…according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deut. 4:32-34).

No other people were called out of another nation and heard God graciously speak to them.

What was said to Israel of old can be said of the church still today. No other people has been called out of the nations of this world and united together as the one people to whom God graciously speaks.

Israel had God’s Word taught to them (Deut. 4:5-8), and that is true of the church still today. The church continues to be the one people who are truly taught God’s Word.

The members of the true church have God’s Word not only externally but also internally. Many unbelievers have a copy of the Scriptures. Those who are truly God’s covenant people, however, have God’s Word within them.

In the book of Jeremiah, we read of God’s covenant promise to His people that He would write His law in their heart (Jer. 31:33), “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Also, in the days of Moses, God said to His people: “the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it” (Deut. 30:14).

God’s covenant people then and now have God’s law. We have that law in our heart, so that we can and do begin to keep it. In this life we continue to struggle with sin, because each of us still has a sinful nature. Yet in our new spiritual heart we really do love God and desire to do what is pleasing to Him. Such can be said of only one people: the covenant people of the triune God.

“Be ye holy” as the Lord your God is holy

Our holy God who has written His Word in our heart, called us out and separated us from this world, calls us to imitate Him: “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Pet. 1:15-16).

Our holy Father did not separate us from this world so that we would go right back to living like the ungodly. He did not send His Son to save us from sin so that we could return to walking in sin.

We are truly to turn from sin and walk with our holy, covenant-keeping God. As our Lord says, “Ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God” (I Pet. 2:9). We are now the people of God, and we are to walk as children of light.

Let us remember what our Lord has done both for us and in us. May we glorify the One who has called us out of darkness, into His marvelous light. May it be evident to others that we are among those who are taught of God. May we show forth His praises, expressing with joy our thankfulness to be members of His one chosen, covenant people.

1 The modern-day nation of Israel and the church certainly are two different peoples. By Israel, however, I am referring not to that nation today that calls itself Israel, but to the true “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) referred to in Scripture as God’s people.
2 In this article I am referring to the church as the body of Christ, consisting of all the elect. I am not talking about an instituted local church which may have unbelievers in it. I plan to discuss the distinction between the elect body of Christ and the church institute in a future article.
3 God continues today to gather His people also from the descendants of Jacob. It is just that now most of those gathered are not from that line but from the Gentiles.
4 I mention here some of the differences, but this is not intended to be an exhaustive list.
5 Matters having to do with the church are often called ecclesiastical matters. The term ecclesiastical comes from the Greek word for the church.
6 Efficacious means “having the power to produce the desired effect.” So, when we speak of God’s gracious call as “efficacious,” we mean that it has the power to produce the effect God desires. In other words, all those whom God desires to save He saves.