Strangers And Aliens (12d): Servants Imitating The Suffering Savior (1 Peter 2:18–25)

1 Peter 2:18–25

18Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (ESV). 18Οἱ οἰκέται ὑποτασσόμενοι ἐν παντὶ φόβῳ τοῖς δεσπόταις, οὐ μόνον τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς καὶ ἐπιεικέσιν ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς σκολιοῖς. 19τοῦτο γὰρ χάρις εἰ διὰ συνείδησιν θεοῦ ὑποφέρει τις λύπας πάσχων ἀδίκως. 20ποῖον γὰρ κλέος εἰ ἁμαρτάνοντες καὶ κολαφιζόμενοι ὑπομενεῖτε; ἀλλ᾿ εἰ ἀγαθοποιοῦντες καὶ πάσχοντες ὑπομενεῖτε, τοῦτο χάρις παρὰ θεῷ. 21εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ ἐκλήθητε, ὅτι καὶ Χριστὸς ἔπαθεν ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν ὑμῖν ὑπολιμπάνων ὑπογραμμὸν ἵνα ἐπακολουθήσητε τοῖς ἴχνεσιν αὐτοῦ, 22ὃς ἁμαρτίαν οὐκ ἐποίησεν οὐδὲ εὑρέθη δόλος ἐν τῷ στόματι αὐτοῦ, 23ὃς λοιδορούμενος οὐκ ἀντελοιδόρει, πάσχων οὐκ ἠπείλει, παρεδίδου δὲ τῷ κρίνοντι δικαίως· 24ὃς τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἡμῶν αὐτὸς ἀνήνεγκεν ἐν τῷ σώματι αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τὸ ξύλον, ἵνα ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἀπογενόμενοι τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ ζήσωμεν, οὗ τῷ μώλωπι ἰάθητε. 25ἦτε γὰρ ὡς πρόβατα πλανώμενοι, ἀλλὰ ἐπεστράφητε νῦν ἐπὶ τὸν ποιμένα καὶ ἐπίσκοπον τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν.

v. 24: Our Substitute
As much as Peter wants us to imitate Christ he also clearly indicates a strong discontinuity between the Savior and the saved: He is the substitute and we are the sinners whose sins he bore. This importance of this distinction can hardly be overstated. One of the great differences between Christianity and every other world religion is that, in Christianity, there is a Mediator, a substitute who is true God and true man, who does for us sinners what we cannot, indeed what we refused to do, for ourselves. He did not sin. We did. He obeyed for us. We did not. Hence, as important as it is to note the ways in which we are to seek to be like Christ (see the previous posts on this passage in this series) it is, as I have noted, crucially important (pun intended) to observe the great difference between Christ and his Christians. This is all the more important right now because, in reaction to antinomianism (both real and perceived) there has been an effort to blur the line between Jesus and the Christian. The history of such blurring, of course, goes back to the Pelagians of the 4th and 5th centuries, who reduced Jesus to a mere example. Though that error was was condemned both by regional synods in North Africa and by an ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431 AD), it has, like Jacob Marley’s ghost, arisen from the grave to haunt the church and unlike Marley it is for no good that it haunts. In recent history, a leader of the so-called “Emergent Movement” has openly embraced Pelagius. Before that, since the 1970s Norman Shepherd has been justly criticized for setting up a Pelagianizing parallel between Christ’s faith and ours with the result that “he treats Christ as little more than a model believer.” Sadly, this way of speaking about Christ has had some influence. A leading evangelical theologian has not only endorsed his theology but has touted him as one the greatest influences on his theology. Others continue to promote his theology more cryptically, by teaching the essence of what Shepherd was teaching but without making the connection explicit.

To put it anachronistically, Peter was not a Pelagian nor was he a proto-Shepherdite. He does not appeal to Jesus as a model believer. Rather, he says, Jesus carried (ἀνήνεγκεν) our sins (ἁμαρτίας), i.e., our violations of God’s law, in his true human body, upon the wood (ξύλον) of the cross. We discussed the biblical definition of sin in the previous installment (12c). Again Peter alludes to the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:4. Where Isaiah says that the servant “has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” and in 53:12 he wrote of the Servant: “yet he bore the sin (‏חטא) of many…”. Some Old Testament scholars may puzzle over the identity of the Suffering Servant but Christians should not. God’s Word clearly shows and tells the identity of God’s Suffering Servant: Jesus of Nazareth.

His suffering was an example to us but it was more than that. It was substitutionary. Jesus suffered in the place of those whom he came to save. He paid the debt owed by all his people, a debt they owed but could never pay. Further, because, by grace alone, through faith alone, by the Holy Spirit, we are united to Christ in his death, we have been separated from from sin. Peter puts in a purpose or a result clause—it is difficult to distinguish the two here—”in order that” (literally) “having been separated from” (ἀπογενόμενοι) or (metaphorically “having died to sins, we might live (ζήσωμεν) unto righteousness (τῇ δικαιοσύνῃ). Here Peter does what the Pelagian cannot do: make the proper connection between Jesus’ substitutionary death and our new life in Christ. Our Savior died for two purposes: 1) that we might be justified; 2) that we might be progressively sanctified. These two things we call salvation, God’s free gift of grace, in Christ (Eph 2:8–10). God the Son was not incarnate that we might remain in sin. To be sure, to speak anachronistically, Peter is no Wesleyan perfectionist. He knows that he is writing to sinners but he also knows that Christ’s death breaks the bonds of sin. Because we are united to Christ in his death, we are also united to Christ in his resurrection life. Because we are united to Christ, when we are challenged, humiliated, or harassed for Christ’s sake, we have the power to respond properly, graciously, and meekly. Such a response is true righteousness. In this verse we see both Christ’s objective, substitutionary righteousness for us (pro nobis) and its consequences: genuine (if imperfect), Spirit-wrought righteousness in us. Used in this latter sense, we are not talking about righteousness before God (justification) but what Luther called the “second justification” (1518-19) and what Calvin called the “second benefit” of Christ or what Olevianus called the “second benefit” of Christ: sanctification.1 With respect to men (coram hominibus), it is evidence of our claim that we have been united to Christ. This righteousness is the fruit of Christ’s saving work for us and in us.

v. 25: Christ’s Lambs
Peter continues his commentary on the 4th Servant Song in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and Yahweh has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Just as Isaiah moves between the objective (“laid on him”) and the subjective (“we have turned”) so too Peter interweaves the objective (Christ our substitute) and the objective (that we might live). “For,” he says, “as sheep (πρόβατα) you were being deceived” or “being led astray” (πλανώμενοι). Indeed, we were. The imagery, of course, is of two competing shepherds. One is evil and the other good. Because of the fall, our first inclination is to follow the false shepherd, who does not love us, who had not laid down his life for us, who only wants to steal our lives. That’s the blindness of sin. Because of it we cannot even tell who really loves us, even though it is manifest for all the world to see. We need the Good Shepherd not only to lay down his life but then, by the power of his resurrection, to reach us by the Spirit, and to impart to us his new life or else we would forever remain in darkness, following wrong Shepherd.

Here, as in Ephesians 2:4, the conjunction “but” (ἀλλὰ) is a gospel word for sinners. “But now you were turned (ἐπεστράφητε) to the Shepherd (ποιμένα) and Overseer (ἐπίσκοπον) of your souls (ψυχῶν).” We should pay attention to the metaphors (x is y) and similes (x is like y) that the Spirit uses here, speaking through the Apostle Peter. We have been turned. Peter assumes that we know a little bit about animal husbandry. There is an art to moving a herd of sheep or cattle. I have just enough work with cattle (thank you Grandma) to know that it is not easy. The Shepherd must guide without frightening, lest the herd scatter and put themselves in even greater danger. Peter uses the verb “to turn” in the passive voice. We were turned. We were headed in one direction and now we are headed in another. It was done to us. The Spirit works mysteriously within us to turn away from one, lying shepherd to the true, good Shepherd who gave himself for us.

Peter then connects and transfers the properties of the shepherd to the overseer, which is the word that is too often translated “bishop.” It means literally overseer and that is what it means here. As the Good Shepherd, Christ is on a high point, as it were, at the right hand of the Father, overseeing our souls, i.e., our existence in this life and in the next. He is able to see all possible threats. Nothing escapes his purview, nothing is beyond is care, nothing beyond his sovereign power. We are safe, even when we are suffering for his sake.

He who laid down his life is actively caring for us now. It is in that context that we seek to imitate him. We do so not in order to win his favor—his favor is given freely to us—but because we are objects and recipients of his favor. We revile not in return because Christ did not. When called to suffer for Christ, we do so meekly, because he did so meekly. We are able to do it, to the degree we are able to do it, because he did it first and his Spirit has united us to himself, and he, by his Spirit, is at work within us conforming us to himself.

1. For more on this see R. Scott Clark, “The Benefits of Christ: Double Justification in Protestant Theology Before the Westminster Assembly,” Anthony T. Selvaggio, ed., The Faith Once Delivered: Celebrating the Legacy of Reformed Systematic Theology and the Westminster Assembly (Essays in Honor of Dr. Wayne Spear). (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 107–34.

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