The Dilemma of Christ Our Example


By Colin and Russell Standish


   Most Evangelicals strongly acknowledge the substitutionary role of Jesus through His sacrifice on Calvary. A minority, however, have accepted the moral-influence theory in which it is held that only a pagan god would require the death of his son to appease his wrath. But the emphasis upon the appeasement of a wrathful god does not do justice to our understanding of Christís saving grace. The moral influence supporters believe that Christ came to be our example, but not our substitute. But, though we might not fully understand it, sin demands the death of the sinner, and only Christ our Creator could die as our substitute that we might live.

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission (Hebrews 9:22).

   As we investigate the Scriptures, it is evident that Jesus is both our Substitute and our Example. The failure of many Evangelicals to put Christís substitutionary and exemplary roles together diminishes the fullness of the gospel of our Lord.


The Plan of Redemption Unfolds


   When man sinned in Eden, he forged a separation which could be bridged only by divine grace. Mankind was hopeless and destined to eternal oblivion, but in the midst of despair God unfolded a provision, conceived before the foundation of the world, whereby helpless men could again face the future with hope.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel (Genesis 3:15).

   The mystery of the Incarnation, the ministry and sacrificial provisions of Christ began to be revealed step by step. As the years passed, further light unveiled more facets of the much-looked-for Redeemer.

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering (Genesis 4:4).

And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints (Jude 14).

And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar (Genesis 8:20).

And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him (Genesis 17:19).

Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him (Genesis 18:18).

The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne (Psalm 132:11).

Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14).

For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots (Isaiah 11:1).

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth (Jeremiah 23:5).

   But perhaps to no one in pre-Christian times was the ministry and mission of Christ so fully revealed as to Isaiah.

Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:4Ė5).


Why Was it Necessary for Christ to Die?


   The need for the sacrifice of the Son of God has long been a mystery to many. It must be kept in mind that Luciferís heavenly challenge was a direct attack upon Christís creatorship of this world. He challenged Godís judgment in that he was not included in the counsels of creation. What Lucifer could not achieve in heaven, he sought by ruthless deception to achieve with earthís first inhabitants. When Adam yielded to his temptations, Satan assumed the title of the prince of this world, claiming the eternal allegiance of humanity. Through Satanís successful deceptions, sin became epidemic for all mankind, and with this came the inevitability of death.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12).

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).

For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).

   The redemption of man could be achieved only by the second Adam (Christ) taking manís place and redeeming his failure. Christ was manís Creator, and He alone could be manís Re-creator. Luciferís challenge was directed against Christ; and therefore Christ, and only He, could redeem lost man. Undoubtedly the angels would have gladly taken Christís place, but it was not possible. Christ, by His perfect life on earth, gained complete victory over sin, and by His death and resurrection gained victory over the result of sinódeath. In so doing, He drew men to Himself and forever falsified Satanís claim against the character of God before the entire universe. But more than that, He paid the supreme penalty on behalf of all humanity.

   The Bible is emphatic in presenting this great theme. Therefore we must reject as unscriptural and untrue the moral-influence theory, which sees Christ as manís supreme Example, but not his Substitute. But in so doing we must also reject the claims of many Evangelicals who see Christ as our Substitute but not manís Example. Christ was both Substitute and Example.


Jesus As Our Substitute


   As we have stated, there are those who recoil from the substitutionary work of Christ, wrongly interpreting it as portraying God as bloodthirsty, requiring a blood sacrifice to appease his wrath. But Christís sacrifice was not made to appease an angry God. This concept is Satanís counterfeit. Christís sacrifice for manís salvation revealed not an angry God, but a God who demonstrated His limitless love for a rebellious people. The laws of the universe declared the inevitability of eternal death to every sinner. After the fall, Satan claimed the imprisonment of man in sin and death. The life of Christ, His victory over death, gave man freedom from sin and death that could be achieved by no other means.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20-22).

   Without Christ, man is eternally helpless and hopeless, but he has been invited to look upon his crucified Lord and live. Jesus became our Substitute that we might have eternal life.

For this is My blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:28).

So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins; and in Him is no sin (1 John 3:5).

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; but with the precious blood of Christ, as a of a lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Peter 1:18Ė19).

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).


Jesus As Our Example


   The substitution by Jesus in no wise limits the power of the cross. It brings with it victory over sin. Some have misunderstood Paulís comment that ďChrist died for the ungodlyĒ (Romans 5:6) to indicate that Christ saved man in his sins. But a comparison of scripture with scripture clarifies this matter and demonstrates that God died to rescue the ungodly from his ungodliness. Those who remain in ungodliness will perish.

But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).

   The ministry of Jesus was designed to lead men away from sin.

Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, and sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities (Acts 3:26).

   The sacrifice of Jesus established the extent to which the love of God would reach to wretched man in order that He might ensure his salvation. It extended far beyond Christís example to man; it provided the only basis for the forgiveness of manís sins. Without the substitutionary ministry of Jesus on Calvary our life would be meaningless, and our hope vain. While most Evangelicals would undoubtedly agree with this understanding, those who have accepted the moral-influence theory find themselves in direct conflict with the clearest testimony of Scripture.

   On the other hand, the majority of Evangelicals have failed to capture the importance of the second aspect of Christís ministry. Yet the Bible is just as clear concerning the fact that Jesus is our complete Example, as it is concerning the substitutionary role of Jesus. The ministry of Jesus is greatly diminished if we try to separate His substitutionary role from His role as manís supreme Example.

For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you (John 13:15).

   Of course these words were spoken in connection with the washing of the disciplesí feet. It would demonstrate a particularly narrow reading of Godís Word to defend the position that this alone was the area in which Christ was our Example. Peter in his well-known utterance stated:

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps (1 Peter 2:21).

   Many times we do not seek to examine the specific nature of the example to which Peter referred. But the next verse renounces all doubt on this point.

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth (1 Peter 2:22).


Christís Life an Example of Obedience, Not a Substitute for Our Obedience


Jesus was an example of obedience. Many rightly emphasize the wonderful substitutionary role of Christís life and death, but do it to the minimizing of the exemplary aspect of His life. The Word of God teaches that Christ gave His perfect life that sinful and unworthy man might have eternal life.

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

   Yet we must not limit Christís ministry to that of substitution; for one of the great eternal truths that arise from the selfless sacrifice of Jesus is His great example to those who are imprisoned by self-seeking motivation, which destroys the peace and fulfillment that Christ has offered to all mankind. This inevitably leads to a false concept of His life and substitution. Some claim that obedience is impossible; that by faith we must let Christís life of perfect obedience substitute for our claimed inability to obey. Thus it is urged that we cannot possibly keep the law, nor need we keep the law, but that Christís perfect law-keeping is a substitute for our moral violations. Thus it is claimed that God sees Christís perfect law-keeping and imputes it to us. But there is a great difficulty with this assertion. Nowhere in the Scripture is there even the slightest support for such a concept. The Bible teaches that Christís life of obedience is indeed a substitute for our days of disobedience from which we have repented; but never does the inspired Word declare that Christís perfect life is a substitute for the required obedience of Christians. This understanding is a most important point, and must be reexamined by those who have permitted themselves to be deceived by the belief that God does not provide through Christ for daily victorious living. Paul points out the aim that Christ has for us.

  Since many believe the devilís lie, that complete obedience in this life is impossible, they overlook the fact that there is absolutely no warrant in the Bible for their contention. Indeed, John adds his testimony to the fact that we should ever look to Christ as our Example. We would do well to review these precious promises.

And every man that hath this hope in Him purifieth Himself, even as He is pure (1 John 3:1).

Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous (1 John 3:7).

He that saith he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk, even as He walked (1 John 2:6).

   In the above statements, John reflects the great pronouncement on the divine example given by Christ in His sermon on the mount.

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48).


Christ: An Example of What We Should and May Be


Christís substitutionary virtues are not appropriated to those who persist in sin. It is mandatory that Christians comprehend this truth, or many will continue to believe the Devilís promise that sinning does not bar an individual from the promised eternal life. The glory of God is at stake in the victory of His children. Many will concede that Christ is our example of conduct, and that while we can never have complete victory over sin, we should aim at this ideal. But such a concept is far short of Godís goal for His children. The Scripture brings us face to face with the truth that Christ is not only our Example of what we should be, but our Example of what we may be when imbued with His Holy Spirit.

   How plain Godís statements, when we accept the positive truth that Christ came to earth in our human nature. When this is accepted as precious truth, all excuses for sin soon vanish, and we are thrown on the Rock Christ Jesus to make us in His likeness. Some Evangelicals have sought to make this scripturally backed truth of victorious Christian living of none effect, by talking in disparaging fashion of thousands of ďlittle ChristsĒ running around. Such mocking will only confirm the mocker in his or her unbelief. It will in no wise change the truth of God. Christ came to earth to redeem us from the penalty of sin and from the power of sin, and in His exemplary role He redeems man from the power of sin. It is of the greatest urgency that Evangelicals establish their understanding of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives. What joy it is to realize that we have a Savior who can save us to the uttermost; who is able to accomplish the restoration of the image of God in the soul. As our first act each morning we may ask Christ to take our lives, and work His miracle of sustaining grace in our hearts. Let us again be reminded,

   Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7).



To learn more about the danger of the false doctrines seen in the Evangelical movement today and the extent of their spread order your own copy of the entire book The Evangelical Dilemma, by Colin and Russell Standish, from which this article was taken. This book is available through Hartland Publications: PO Box 1, Rapidan, VA, 22733. Phone: 1-800-774-3566. Or order online at


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