Christianity 201

May 12, 2013

Jesus as Both Substitute and Example

Balance in doctrine is so important.  This is from the blog Radical and is written by David Burnette.  Click through to read more by him and other featured writers.  NOTE: This is part one of a two part (so far) series. Click here to read part one, and here to read part two.

I must admit that hearing someone go on and on about imitating Jesus can make me, well, a little concerned.

I’m concerned that the person sees the life of Jesus only as an example to be followed. Concerned that the once-for-all work of Christ on the cross is being downplayed. Concerned that I’m being called to imitate Someone who calmed a storm with a word and spoke the world into existence. And, at the bottom of it all, I’m concerned that a form of works-righteousness is being brought in through the backdoor.

But my concerns, while sometimes valid, aren’t always justified.

Regardless of the fact that preaching and teaching about Jesus is sometimes merely moralistic, and though some people like to trumpet Jesus as our example because they (sadly) find the idea of Christ absorbing God’s wrath on the cross to be cruel or beneath God’s loving character, looking to Jesus as our example is a biblical concept. After all, the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Of course, not every aspect of Christ’s suffering can or should be imitated; for instance, we aren’t sinless, so our death won’t atone for sin. Nevertheless, we are called upon and enabled by God to imitate the One who was faithful until death.

We could look to many places in Scripture to see this truth, but 1 Peter is especially clear on this theme of imitating Jesus. Peter points us to both the finished work of Christ and the perfect example of Christ.

In 1 Peter, the example set by Christ is primarily in the context of suffering and submission. To be clear, the call to imitate Jesus in the midst of our suffering doesn’t downplay the absolutely necessary and foundational role of Christ’s substitutionary death for our salvation. Without the cross, we could never persevere through suffering, no matter how much we reflected on Jesus’ perfect example. Yet, Scripture is not shy about telling us to imitate Jesus. Consider three different texts from 1 Peter that speak to this point:

“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.” (2:21)

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”  (3:17-18)

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin” (4:1)

In the follow-up post, we’ll consider how the theme of imitating Jesus fits with His sin-bearing, substitutionary death. We’ll see that following Christ’s example in suffering requires being redeemed by His “precious blood” (1:19). Even still, we need to be reminded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the perfect pattern for trusting God through our own difficulties (Heb 12:1-4).

As we read 1 Peter and the rest of the New Testament, not least the Gospels, we ought to have an eye out for how Jesus responded to suffering. His prayer in Gethsemane is a great place to start: Jesus submitted to His Father’s will, knowing that this meant drinking the cup of God’s wrath (Matt 26:36-42). This was an utterly crucial step in the accomplishment of our salvation, but it was also a disposition of trust to be imitated by future disciples. Such an example gives us wisdom as we seek to obey the following exhortation in 1 Peter 4:19:

“Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

Unlike Jesus, we don’t have to face the prospect of God’s judgment against sin; however, we are called on to persevere through the trials that God sends for our eternal good (1 Pet 1:6-7). Jesus’ obedience to and unflinching trust in His Heavenly Father is an example we are called to imitate. And, as we’ll see tomorrow, the cross makes that imitation possible.

Continue reading part two here.

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