All the virtues which appeared in Christ shone brightest in the close of His life, under the trials He then met. Eminent virtue always shows brightest in the fire. Pure gold shows its purity chiefly in the furnace. It was chiefly under those trials which Christ endured in the close of His life that His love to God, His honor of God’s majesty, His regard to the honor of His law, His spirit of obedience, His humility, contempt of the world, His patience, meekness, and spirit of forgiveness towards men, appeared. Indeed, everything that Christ did to work out redemption for us appears mainly in the close of His life. Here mainly is His satisfaction for sin, and here chiefly is His merit of eternal life for sinners, and here chiefly appears the brightness of His example which He has set us for imitation.
When you are tempted to any vanity – set the blessed Redeemer before you, consider His example, and ask yourself, “How would Jesus, my Lord and Master, have acted in such a case? Would He have spent His time upon such trifles? Would He have spoken such and such; or done this or the other thing, which I am solicited to do? And shall I give way to that which would be a manifest deviation from His holy example? God forbid!”
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.
Christ constitutes the unconditional gift of our salvation, but He also serves as our great exemplar. “For 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 Pet 2:21). As the true man, the one who exemplifies God-honoring, Spirit-filled human obedience without peer, Christ is the one whom Christians are to imitate in our obedience of God. The words of Pilate at the crucifixion, “Behold the man,” are ironically true: in Christ, and especially in His passion and death, we see true humanity, and in Him we find our calling, our purpose, and our destiny as His followers (Luke Stamps).
Those who have minutely studied the character of the Saviour will find it difficult to determine whether there is most to admire or to imitate in it – there is so much of both.
How easily and contentedly we speak of Jesus Christ as our example. Do we realize what it means? If we did, it would revolutionize our life. Do we begin to know our Bible as He did? Do we begin to pray as He did? How thoughtful He was for others, how patient toward dullness, how quiet under insult! Think of what it meant for Him to take a basin and towel like a slave and wash the disciples’ feet! Do we stoop to serve? Can anyone say of us, as was said of Him, that we go about “doing good?” Think of His words, servants of His, “I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” “Christlike” is a word often on our lips. Do not speak it too lightly? It is the heart of God’s predestination. It is our high calling.