Jesus: Not Just an Example
1 Peter 2:21 tells us that Christ left an example for us to follow, especially when we suffer as he did:
“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pt 2:20-21).
This example is incredibly important and precious. We can and should look to Christ, especially in his obedience to the point of death, as an example to follow.
The mistake some make is to think of Christ’s life (and death) merely as an example. They are an example, but they are more than an example. This “more than” is, in fact, necessary for Christ’s example to work, because we cannot follow in his steps unless we are first empowered by the knowledge that our sins are forgiven — forgiven, that is, because of his death.
So in order for Christ’s disposition in suffering to be an example to us, his suffering had to be more than an example. It had to also be a sacrifice paying the penalty for our sins.
Sometimes it is thought that if you focus on one, you inevitably downplay the other. That if we focus on the fact that Christ’s death was a satisfaction for sin, we will somehow be less likely to see the example that he also left and live like him.
But this is a false dichotomy. And here’s the amazing thing. It is not only a false dichotomy because, as we’ve already said, the sacrificial nature of Christ’s death is what makes it possible for us to follow his example at all. It is also a false dichotomy because the Bible itself does not see them as being at odds. Instead, right in this very text we see both the example of Christ and sacrificial nature of his death together. Here’s the full text:
“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (vv. 21-24).
So right here, in the same text, we see held up for us both Christ’s example and the sacrificial nature of his death that makes it possible for us to even follow his example (“so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness”).
Living like Jesus, then, doesn’t mean simply doing what he did. It also includes trusting in him and what he did for our right standing with God and ability to follow his example.
In other words, we cannot divorce doctrine and practice. Doing so is not only unbiblical, but also undermines the very practice that you want to uphold.