stephen

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.

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6 thoughts on “Substitute, Example”

  1. So true and so needed.

    “And” is one of the most useful words in theology especially these when it comes to atonement theory. Is Christ our example for a cruciform life? Yes
    Is His death a conquering of death, evil, sin, the devil, and spiritual and social darkness? Yes.
    Is Christ our substitute, bearing God’s wrath for sins? Yes

    “And” helps us not to make silly, unbiblical, false choices. Thanks for the good balanced word, man!

  2. Your balance, Ray, is always a wise and welcome word. Thanks for preaching balance for young me like me to emulate.

  3. Stephen says:

    Thank you for the clear encouragement.
    I like the both/and, AND the priority of Substitute 1st – Truck and trailor. I am noticing a liberal trend of having Jesus as moral teacher and example only, and a de-emphasis of Him as Saviour – which leads to a works based gospel.
    For by grace you have been saved through faith… not a result of works… For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand. Eph 2:8-10
    Faith in Christ’s salvific Substitution gives freedom to do works that are truly good.
    Priority of order is paramount

  4. Rick says:

    Ray, Thank you. If I would have understood this years ago, it would have spared me the grief of wandering in the wilderness of moralism. Keep telling us this message.

  5. Mark says:

    Thank you for this succinct and balanced little article. I enjoyed everything about it except for the last four words, “to suffer for him.”

    Yes, we read “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil 1:29). But that seems to be suffering for the sake of the gospel. We’re warned that this will happen as a natural outcome of God’s Kingdom clashing with the values of a fallen world, so we can expect suffering, and love for Jesus compels us to follow him anyway. But Jesus doesn’t seem to ask us to suffer for its own sake.

    Will God use our suffering to draw us closer to Him? Absolutely, that’s inherent in His plans. He empowers us to shift our focus from our sufferings to the glory that He secured for us and will bring about.

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Ray Ortlund


Ray Ortlund is senior pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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