I hope that some of you can remember when your English teacher asked you to diagram sentences. The technique was used to help us learn the various parts of a proper sentence, and to speak correctly. We were taught the rudiments: the subject, the predicate and the object. For example, “Cats hate dogs.” “Cats” is the subject of the sentence, and “hate” is the predicate or verb, while “dogs” is the object. And then we add the adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and so on – “Green cats especially hate blue dogs with big teeth.”
I mention diagraming because in looking at our scripture, I notice that this is one long sentence. In our Bibles, it is very complex with four colons, and two semi-colons, along with a few commas. But of course none of those were in Peter’s original epistle, because Greek didn’t have punctuation marks. In our King James Bibles, this text has eighty-five words, while in Greek there are about sixty. I wouldn’t know where to begin to diagram this sentence. I am not going to try.
But again, why do I even mention this? To point to its complexity, and to say there are actually two subjects in this sentence. There is the sacrifice of Christ for our sins, and there is the example that He has given us. People today, and throughout history, have been mixing up, or combining, these two subjects. But they are entirely different and totally separate. And in that I am given the opportunity to show you two examples: one of heresy and the other of orthodoxy.
Consider first the potential heresy.
“Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” I am not going to be thorough on this first point, because it deserves a positive message or two of its own. But here is the potential heresy – the doctrinal error: Christ did not suffer in order to show us how to suffer our way into forgiveness and deliverance from sin. Christ did not willingly receive abuse and death to show us how to live and die our way into Heaven. Christ Jesus did not give His life as a martyr of any kind. That, I am sad to say, is the way a great many confused professing Christians look at the life of Christ. They picture Jesus as a professional guide to take us through the valleys and over mountains into Vahalla. Not only is this denied throughout the Bible, but that is not what Peter is telling us in verse 21.
As proof consider the words “Christ… suffered FOR us.” Many other scriptures show us that this means Christ suffered “in our place,” as our substitute. This has nothing to do with guidance. His is speaking about a completed action. He suffered “for us” in the same way as Paul uses the same two words in Romans 5:8 – “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died FOR the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while were yet sinners, Christ died FOR US.” Christ didn’t die to leave us an example to follow. He died the death which should have been ours. He died vicariously. He died in our place; in our stead. Romans 8:32 says that God the Father delivered up His own precious Son “for us” as a sacrifice for our justification and glorification. Jesus paid the price of our salvation, not as an example, but as a substitute. II Corinthians 5:21 – “For (God the Father) hath made (Christ Jesus) to be sin FOR US, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Galatians 3:13 – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse FOR US: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Ephesians 5:2 – “Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself FOR US an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.” I could multiply scriptures like these, but I hope this will get the point across.
There is a name for the idea that Christ died as a martyr or as an example for us to follow. It is called “Socinianism.” It is a Unitarian doctrine. It is rooted in the idea that the children of Adam only need to fire up their inner goodness to encourage God to receive them. These people believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the best and finest example of this sanctifying process. But Jesus said, “Ye must be born again,” because as Paul said, we are all dead in trespasses and sins. Unitarianism and Socinianism are attacks upon what the Bible teaches about us and about Christ Jesus. Jesus was, indeed, a great teacher and example, but these were not the richest parts of His greatness. The highest aspect of the incarnation of the Son of God was His death on the cross. His sacrificial death was not an example, but an actual expiation of sin in those who receive Him. He was not a mere man, showing us the way to Heaven. He is Lamb of God who was sacrificed by the Father to cover our sins in His blood.
In or around the year 1800, Thomas Chalmers was ordained as a minister of the Church of Scotland, and later he accepted the chair of Moral Philosophy (whatever that is) at the University of St. Andrews. He began his ministry on the wrong foot, as far as I am concerned. He was a minister of a corrupt Protestant denomination. I have read his testimony that early in his life he made a serious mistake by urging his students to clean up their lives and to follow Jesus’ example. But then years later he wrote: “I never heard of any such reformations being effected among them.” Sometime between those two points, Chalmers began to preach the truth of the gospel. He declared that all men are alienated from God, and that forgiveness and reconciliation to the Lord comes only come through the shed blood of Christ. His testimony concluded saying, with that as his message he did hear of young men bettering their lives and beginning to serve Christ. Souls are saved and lives are changed through the new birth, not through personal reformation.
Peter may have said, “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” But he also said only three verses later: “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (Calvary), that we being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness; by whose stripes ye were healed.” “By whose stripes – by whose suffering and passion – ye have been healed.” Peter looks at that spiritual healing as something already completed in his readers. Through the beating, the death and the blood of Christ, repenting sinners become dead to sin. Those who are dead to sin are then given the ability to live unto righteousness.
In Socinius’ “example theory of the atonement” we have an example of heresy and the twisting of God’s Word. And yet, Peter does say – clearly says – that Christ has left us an example.
In what way is Christ our example?
Before dealing with Peter’s words, I’ll just point out what a couple other scriptures tell us. Please turn to John 13:1 – “Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. And supper being ended, the devil having now put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him; Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” Skip down to verse 12 – So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” The Lord Jesus Himself tells us that in this we have an example to follow. We see an illustration of humility, self-sacrifice and concern for the needs of others. While this is true, this is not the example to which Peter refers.
The Apostle John, who was one of those whose feet were washed by the Lord Jesus that night, tells us in I John 2:3-6 – “Hereby we do know that we know (Christ), if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him. He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” Loving obedience to God is one of the things in a person’s life which proves a person to be a child of God. Christ Jesus is the very special, only begotten Son of God in an absolutely unique way, and His obedience to the Father is our highest example.
In John’s next chapter he refers to Christ’s example in a slightly different matter (I John 3:14-16). “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Paul’s great second chapter to the Philippians points once again to Christ’s example. “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” The example to which Paul points is to Christ’s willingness to empty Himself of His own will to do the will of the Father. But again, this isn’t exactly the example to which Peter refers.
Our scripture tells us that Christ did no sin.
The Lord Jesus didn’t sin, in any way, shape or form, against the will of God the Father. Contrary to some modern dictionaries, the Biblical definition of sin is “to transgress the will of God.” Many sins might be described as willful acts of rebellion against the commands of Jehovah. For example, most people know that to tell a lie is wrong, whether or not they call it a “sin.” They don’t need to hear Revelation 21:8 – “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.” They know that lying is bad; that it is sin, but they do it anyway. Theft is also sin, and yet they pluck that grape off the bunch in the grocery store and pop it into their mouths. They know they shouldn’t swear, but they blaspheme God’s name, because it earns points with their posse. To deliberately break the command of God – any command of God is sin.
But what if someone doesn’t know the will of God, and through ignorance he breaks the Lord’s commands? It may not be an act of willful rebellion, but it is sin nevertheless. Twenty some odd years ago I got my one and only speeding ticket, right here in Post Falls. I was going down a road somewhat unfamiliar to me, and the speed limit dropped from 45 to 35. Half way down the hill there was a patrolman with a radar gun, and I was pulled over. He didn’t seem to care when I told him that I didn’t see the speed sign. The law is the law. To plead ignorance of God’s law doesn’t mean that we haven’t sinned. We have all sinned and we are all guilty. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And by the way, “The wages of sin is death.”
But Christ did no sin – ever. Jesus challenged His enemies to point to His sins, but they couldn’t do it (John 8:46). Paul said in II Corinthians 5:21 – God the Father made Christ to be sin for us, who knew no sin. The writer of the Hebrews described Christ as being “tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”
Christ did not sin and could not sin because He is the God-man, completely divine as well as completely human. He was and is “impeccable” – incapable of transgressing the commands of Jehovah. And if He HAD sinned in any way, He would have become unfit to be our perfect sacrifice and Saviour. Peter in the first chapter said that our Saviour shed his “precious blood… as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”
The holiness and sinlessness of Christ is the standard set before us. He has left us an example that we should follow his steps: who did no sin.
I think it is interesting that the specifics to which Peter refers are all in the area of verbal sins.
Was that because Peter was often guilty of opening his mouth incorrectly? He says of the Lord Jesus, “Neither was guile found in his mouth.” “Guile” speaks of the deceit someone might speak. I wonder if there were Jews running about Cappadocia or Bithynia, calling Jesus a deceiver, repeating the words of their high priest before Pilate. Or perhaps Peter uses this word because the people to whom he was writing were born complusive liars. Remember, he began this chapter by saying, “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile… desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” For whatever reason Peter used the word, he declared that Jesus’ verbal honest should be our example.
Also, when the Lord was verbally abused and defamed, He refused to revile His abusers in return. Mark 14 describes the liars who were used by the priests to accuse the Saviour of sin. Many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together, so they changed tactics and twisted Jesus’ words, and yet their accusations still didn’t agree with one another. And then “the high priest stood… and asked Jesus…. Answerest thou nothing? What is it which these witness against thee? But he held his peace and answered nothing.” Isaiah prophesied, and the gospels confirmed the fulfillment, that “ He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth” – Isaiah 53:7. Peter tells us that this behaviour should be considered as an example to us.
Then he added: “When he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously.” Remember, we are talking about the eternal Son of God, to whom the Father hath committed all judgment. One of these days, those Jewish priests are going to stand before this same Son of God to hear of their condemnation to the Lake of Fire. This same Jesus shall condemn them to Hell. But at the time of His trial and crucifixion, Jesus’ opened not His mouth to threaten or judge. Jesus said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the word; but that the world through him might be saved.” God’s law was already in place, condemning the world, and the sinners around Christ during His life didn’t need to hear Jesus’ words of rebuke and threats of upcoming judgment. They needed a Saviour who perfectly fulfilled all the prophecies, including the one which describes the Lamb of God who was silent before his accusers.
There are two other implied examples mentioned or implied in verse 24.
Christ Jesus left us examples in submission unto the Father and living unto righteousness. Christ in “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (of Calvary) that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness…” Why did Jesus give Himself to die on the cross? We might refer to several different things. There was His love to the Father, and His love for those He came to save. We could talk about the necessity for our salvation and the fulfilment of prophecies. But among them all there is the fact that it was the will of the God-head that Christ die on the cross. In that sacrifice the Lord has given to us an example of submission and obedience to God’s will.
And furthermore, He left us with an example of living unto righteousness. You and I, as believers, are supposed to strive to live sin-free. That is Jesus’ example. But that can become a very narrow and negative Pharisaic way of life. On the positive side, we are to strive to live like our Saviour, that is, unto righteousness. He has given us this example as well.
Peter described Christ Jesus as our perfect example. But He was not our example of sinfulness into righteousness. He was not our example of salvation through sinlessness, self-sacrifice and obedience. Christ died to become our Saviour, and our salvation is entirely through His merits.
No. The example Christ has left us, is the way that the children of God are to live. We are to strive to be as sin-free as possible, as He was perfectly sin-free. We are to strive to be as full of love toward our heavenly Father and our fellow man, as Christ Himself. The Bible sets before us Jesus’ example of righteousness.
Are you as positively righteous as the Lord wants you to be? How can we experience revival without righteousness? It is impossible. How can we be the Christians we are supposed to be without the example of our Saviour? “For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.”