1 Peter 2:21. For to this [suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
What is the nature of our relationship to Christ? This is obviously the big question that we explore every day here at TLIC. Is Christ our savior, or is Christ our example? Is Christ a gift to us, or is Christ a guide for living? Is Christ the end, or is Christ the means to an end?
All of our understanding of Jesus Christ must begin with him as our Savior, our gift, our end. And Peter knows this too. Here in 2:21 Peter is encouraging the Christian slaves in this community to follow Jesus’ example in suffering. But did Peter start his teaching with Jesus as example, or with Jesus as savior? Let’s see a few of the things he’s already said about Jesus:
1:3. [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
1:13. set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1:18-19. knowing that you were ransomed…with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
And what about in 2:21 itself? Notice the order – Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example. Christ our savior (for you) first, then Christ our example.
And look where Peter goes right after presenting Jesus as example in 2:21.
2:24. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
Almost immediately he returns us to Jesus our sin bearing savior.
Why is this so important? Because we must never turn Jesus into just something to do (WWJD?). Just someone to follow. If we do, we have failed to preach grace, and we have failed to preach faith. What we need to hear most is what Jesus has done FOR US. We need to first and foremost trust that Jesus bore our sins on the cross. We need first and foremost to know that we are truly forgiven and absolved of all our unrighteousness. Until we trust fully in the work of the cross for us, any talk of Jesus our example will only lead to death. The death that comes at the hands of self-righteous example following.
Well if Jesus as savior is so important, why does Peter even mention Jesus as example?
So here’s the thing, Peter doesn’t simply say Jesus is your example. He doesn’t present Jesus’ moral purity, or his law keeping as our example. He presents Jesus’ suffering and death on the CROSS as our example. Here’s 2:21 again with the following verses:
1 Peter 2:21-24. 21 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. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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. 24 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.
Think about Peter’s own personal relationship with the cross. The first time Jesus mentioned the cross Peter rebuked him. At Jesus’ cross itself Peter denied him. But then Peter was graciously forgiven, absolved, and restored by Christ. And what happened? Peter made the cross of Christ not only his forgiveness, but also the paradigm for all of life. That’s what this whole letter is about – living the crucified life. Letting the cross guide how you respond to suffering, and to one another. Peter doesn’t quote Jesus’ teachings as our example. He doesn’t review the Sermon on the Mount and say “go do likewise.” He doesn’t list all the good deeds of Jesus and tell us to get to work. No. He points us to the cross. The very thing that at one time evoked all his fight or flight instincts, now became his example. His pattern. His very personhood.
Us IN CHRIST and CHRIST IN US is the cruciform life. The same cross that has declared us dead to sin has also declared us alive to righteousness. And what does righteous living look like? What is our example of righteousness? The cross of Christ. Self-sacrifice. Submission. Humility. Honoring others. Suppressing the need to be noticed, heard, and affirmed all the time. Releasing others from all the expectations we place over their heads. No vengeance. No reviling. No threatening. Not having to win every argument. Living simply. Practicing self-denial and self-control. Basically every command in the New Testament is Christ’s call to take up our cross and follow him.
But lest we slip backwards once again into law, let us not forget that the cruciform life is primarily this – entrusting our lives to him who judges justly. It is Jesus’ unbroken trust in God on the cross that saved us. And now that trust in God is the gift of our salvation. Trusting God’s justice and mercy. Trusting his grace and love. Trusting that “to live is Christ.”
Has Jesus been first your savior then your example?
You in Christ
Why must Christ be your savior before he can be your example?
Christ in you
Where do you need to allow the cross to be your example today?
Playlist: Following Jesus