In one sense all human beings are God’s people since God created all people. However, it is very rarely used in this way since it usually points to a distinction between “God’s people” and people who are NOT “God’s people.” Who then are God’s people and what are their characteristics? What does the Bible say about this question?
In the Old Testament, God chose the nation of Israel to be his special people. Starting with Abraham, God chose a special people for himself. They were God’s chosen people by birth. Interestingly the physical line did not include both grandsons of Abraham. Isaac had twin grandsons, but only Jacob was chosen by God to carry on the chosen line. God rejected Jacob’s twin brother Esau. After Jacob, there was no further splitting of the chosen line of the nation of Israel. Israel was God’s chosen physical people. Birth alone determined membership in this group.
However, were they all spiritually redeemed by the grace of God? Scripture is clear in that the answer to this question is NO (Deut. 29:4). In fact, Scripture points out that very few of them were saved and spiritually redeemed (Romans 9:27). The small percentage that was spiritually saved by God’s grace is referred to as the remnant. Does this mean the Word of God has failed because most of the physical nation of Israel has died in unbelief? Paul answered this question in Romans 9 when he said it is NOT the children of the flesh who are the children of God. Therefore, while the nation of Israel was a chosen people in a physical sense, they were not all chosen in a spiritual sense, and it is not accurate to refer to them as a spiritually saved “people of God”.
The true spiritual chosen people of God are those people who were chosen before the foundation of the world to be in Christ through a saving relationship with him (Eph. 1:4). They are regenerated believers. It is those who were predestined and spiritually called who are the spiritual “people of God” (Rom. 8:28-30). It was the chosen remnant in the Old Testament and is the Body of Christ in the New Testament. It does not include most of the Old Testament nation of Israel or the nation of Israel today. It does not include everyone who is a member of a Christian Church. Jesus made this clear (Mt. 7:21-23).
When it comes to God’s spiritual salvation, it is NOT accurate to refer to the entire Old Testament nation of Israel as God’s people. God’s people are spiritually saved believers and them alone. God’s spiritual people are clearly defined in the gospels in Matthew 1:21 and John 10:14 where Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” There may be some who claim to be God’s people who aren’t and Jesus will tell them, depart from me I never knew you. Therefore, it is not possible for human beings to know for sure the identity of God’s true people. Since it is impossible to know, human beings often refer to all professing Christians as God’s people. There is nothing wrong with a pastor or church member referring to his entire congregation as God’s people even though it may or may not be true.
Old Testament Israel was a shadow or type that pointed to God’s spiritually chosen people, but the term God’s people cannot be used in the same sense and in the same way that it is used to describe the Body of Christ. It is inaccurate to use the term God’s people with the nation of Israel and the Body of Christ as if it meant the same thing. Israel was God’s physical people while the elect in Christ are God’s spiritual people. These two groups are not interchangeable.
There are two groups that can accurately be called God’s people and the Bible reports that in both cases these groups were chosen by God.
#1) The nation of Israel was physically chosen to be God’s people. Most of them were not spiritually saved.
#2) The spiritually chosen people of God. They are regenerated and saved.
Deut. 29:2-4 And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear.
Rom. 9:27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved,
Eph. 1:4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
Rom. 8:28-30 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Mt. 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Mt. 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.