Whether by enduring suffering or mortifying the sins of the flesh each day, we are not only imitating Jesus Christ, who alone could suffer as the sacrifice to defeat sin and death, but we are living in Him.
Jesus is not only a model for our lives, but He is the new life we have, through baptism. Before God, we are dead to sin and alive in His Son.
A model is non-binding, but as Christians, we don’t have the liberty to sin or gripe against God when enduring tribulations. We were baptized into Christ’s death and also raised into new life.
As the 16th century German Reformer Martin Luther preached, this truth has tremendous applications to our lives as those who must commit their cause to God when they suffer, or who must cling to the atonement secured by Jesus Christ.
Hear Luther’s sermon:
“Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree, that we, having died unto sins, might live unto righteousness.”
Peter’s is the true preaching concerning the passion of Christ. He teaches not only the merit in Christ’s sufferings, but introduces both themes—its efficacy and example. Such is Paul’s custom, also. In this verse Peter presents Christ’s sufferings in the light of a sacrifice for sin.
They constitute a work acceptable to God as satisfaction for the sins of the whole world and effective to reconcile him to men. So great is God’s wrath toward sin that none but that eternal one, the Son of God, could avert it.
He had himself to be the sacrifice, to allow his body to be nailed to the cross. The cross was the altar whereupon the sacrifice was consumed—wholly burned—in the fire of his unfathomable love.
He had to be his own high priest in this sacrifice: for no earthly mortal, all being sinners and unclean, could offer to God the sacrifice of his beloved and wholly sinless Son.
Now, by the single sacrifice of God’s Son, our sins are remitted and we obtain grace and forgiveness; and this fact can be grasped in no other way than through faith.
Therefore, the saving doctrine of remission of sins and of Christ’s grace cannot be so construed as to admit of our continuing in the old life and following our own desires. According to Paul (Rom 6, 1-8), enjoying grace and remission of sins does not give license to live in sin. How shall we who are dead to sin live any longer therein?
The very fact that we may be reckoned dead unto sins means they may no longer live and reign in us. In Christ’s holy body were they throttled and slain expressly that they might also be slain in us.
Be careful, then, what you believe and how you live, that the efficacy of Christ’s sufferings may be manifestly fulfilled in you. If, through faith, you have rightly apprehended his sacrifice, its virtue will be indicated in the subduing and mortifying of your sins, even as they are already slain and dead through his death on the cross.
Therefore, if before you believed on Christ you were an adulterer, a miser, a coveter, a maligner, you ought now to regard all these sins as dead, throttled through Christ; the benefit is yours through faith in his sacrifice, and your sins should henceforth cease to reign in you.
Though Christ has died for you, though your sins have been put upon him and reckoned dead, still you are not rid of those sins if you do not desire to be, if you do not, through faith, apprehend Christ and his blessing, nor in your life and conduct follow his example.
Now you will say: “But you teach that we are all sinners, that there is not even a saint on earth without sin. And surely we must confess the article, ‘I believe in the remission of sins,’ and must pray, ‘Forgive us our debts.’”
I reply, most assuredly you never will attain sinless perfection here on earth; if such were the case you would have no further need for faith and Christ. At the same time, it is not designed that you should continue as you were before obtaining remission of sins through faith.
I speak of known sins wittingly persisted in, in spite of the rebuke and condemnation of conscience. These should be dead in you; in other words, they are not to rule you, but you are to rule them, to resist them, to undertake their mortification.
And if occasionally you fail, if you stumble, you should immediately rise again, embrace forgiveness and renew your endeavor to mortify your sins.
“By whose stripes ye were healed.”
Here Peter bluntly and clearly points out the fact I have stated, that liberation from sin and death was effected not by our works and merits, but by Christ’s wounds and death alone. Forgiveness cost you nothing, Peter teaches; no blood, no wounds.
You were powerless in this direction. You were but miserable, erring, lost sheep, separated from God, condemned to hell and unable to council or help yourselves. In just such condition are all they who are out of Christ.
As Isaiah the prophet says more plainly in the chapter from which these words are taken (verse 6): “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” That is, whatever our lives, whatever our intent, we but turned farther away from God.
As it is written (Ps 14, 3): “They are all gone aside; they are together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
That men are prone to go astray like sheep is clearly exhibited in their conduct; history proves it. It has ever been the case that when mankind was divided into various idolatries or false services of God, into superstitions numerous and varied, even when God’s people thought to have attained the perfection of holiness—then one ran here and another there, ever seeking and seeking to come upon the road to heaven but getting farther and farther from it.
It was exactly the case of the sheep straying from the flock and lost to the shepherd: the farther it runs and the more it follows the voice of strangers, the farther astray it goes. It continues to wander and to flee until it finally perishes, unless it hears again the voice of the shepherd.
Let no one, then, dare boast of having himself found the right way to heaven, of having merited God’s grace and the remission of sins by his own manner of life.
All men must confess the truth of Scripture testimony that we were but erring sheep, fleeing ever farther from our Shepherd and Savior, until he turned us back to himself.
Sermon edited with preface by Zach Parker, news editor at The Ouachita Citizen. The excerpt is from “Christ Our Example in Suffering,” from Martin Luther’s Epistle Sermons (Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost) translated by John Nicholas Lenker.