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 Peter 2:21
Christ is our substitute. He suffered for us, in our place. We can only receive his substitutionary sufferings with the empty hands of faith.
But Christ is also our example. His sufferings charted a path for us to follow. He suffered in a way we must also suffer.
In the gospel resurgence of our times, many of us are seeing with new clarity how Christ is our substitute. We are learning to read the Bible not primarily to define how we must obey but primarily to see how Christ obeyed for us. This is wonderful.
But let’s not turn a biblical both/and into our own either/or. Christ is both our substitute and our example, according to Scripture. And in that order. First our substitute, then our example: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example.”
If Christ is, to us, only our substitute to admire and not also our example to follow, we will not rouse ourselves to do hard things in obedience to him. That will be spiritually deadening in the long run. If Christ is, to us, only our example to follow and not first our substitute to admire, we will not lean on him as our savior and be freed from ourselves. That too is spiritually deadening in the long run. We can get it wrong and still thrive for a while. But in the long run, only a well-proportioned theology can keep us spiritually alive.
A reviving gospel is always a biblical gospel, rejoicing in all that Christ is. If we will embrace him fully, in the right order of all that he is, we will thrive and keep on thriving. But to the extent that we distort or diminish the biblical witness to his true magnitude, to that extent we will start deadening ourselves and our capacities both to trust him and to suffer for him.