Reflections on 1 Peter 2:21-25
In this passage, it is important to see how Jesus’ suffering serves as an example to us, how it is unique and unrepeatable, and the importance of affirming both of these (and in the right order).
How Jesus’ Redemptive Suffering is an Example to Us
Jesus suffered unjustly, and Peter tells his readers that followers of Christ have been called to such suffering. If we endure grief for something we deserve (we cheat, lie, steal) and then suffer the consequences—there is no real merit in this type of suffering (see 1 Peter 2:18-20). But if we, like Jesus, suffer unjustly for righteousness’ sake (see Matthew 5:10-12), God can use this for His purposes. This may include our own growth in Christ-likeness and may also include a testimony to the world that we will not play by the normal rules of retaliation because we ultimately trust in God to be our Justifier.
If you’re like me, you may have a hard time understanding what it means to suffer for Christ in our culture. After all, we are not facing the threats other believers in the world do, where being a Christ-follower can result in imprisonment or execution. We read the stories of Christians in the Middle East being beheaded by ISIS while the worst that happens to us is that we may be a little ostracized at work for our faith, or considered narrow and lacking intellectual sophistication because of our beliefs.
Yes, we must be prepared to suffer in our culture, and sometimes the subtle pressures and persecutions can be the most dangerous. I do not doubt it would be very difficult to die as a martyr, but in some ways it may be more difficult to “suffer for righteousness’ sake” on a daily basis in the small choices we make. The decision to say “no” to the flesh and resist our favorite enticement can be a form of suffering. Not engaging in office gossip and not retaliating when slandered—that can be a way to suffer for righteousness today. Being faithful to friends and family when it is difficult can be suffering. The way that Christ endured suffering is an example for us and we are called to follow in his steps.
How Jesus’ Redemptive Suffering is Unique and Unrepeatable
Using language borrowed from the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, Peter talks about how Christ bore our sins and that by his wounds we are healed. Regarding us, Peter says we were like sheep going astray (see Isaiah 53:6) but we have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
Theologians call this substitutionary atonement, the idea that Christ took our place and bore the punishment that we deserved “so that we might become the righteousness of God in [Christ]” (2 Corinthians 5:21). It’s the great exchange, for which we should be eternally grateful. Jesus takes on our sin, and we gain his righteousness. This type of redemptive suffering could only be accomplished by the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (see John 1:29). There is nothing we can do to add to Christ’s sacrifice. It is complete and sufficient. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Affirming Both (and in the Right Order)
We can only follow Christ’s example once we have given our lives to him, and received his free gift of eternal life. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus did for us what we could never do for ourselves. It is not a self-help program. No, God doesn’t help those who help themselves, but those who understand their brokenness. Accepting Jesus as our sin-bearer (our justification) precedes following his example of suffering and becoming more like him (our sanctification). Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). We are called to endure suffering because Christ has first suffered on our behalf.