Chapter 4 – Like Christ: Our Head

“For even hereunto were ye called; because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow His steps: who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”—1 Pet. 2:21.

The call to follow Christ’s example, and to walk in His footsteps, is so high that there is every reason to ask with wonder, How can it be expected of sinful men that they should walk like the Son of God? The answer that most people give is practically, that it cannot really be expected: the command sets before us an ideal, beautiful but unattainable. [*See Note.]

The answer Scripture gives is different. It points us to the wonderful relationship in which we stand to Christ. Because our union to Him sets in operation within us a heavenly life with all its powers, therefore the claim may be made in downright earnest that we should live as Christ did. The realization of this relationship between Christ and His people is necessary for every one who is in earnest in following Christ’s example.

And what is now this relationship? It is threefold. Peter speaks in this passage of Christ as our Surety, our Example, and our Head.

Christ is our Surety. “Christ suffered for us”,—”Who His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree.” As Surety, Christ suffered and died in our stead. He bore our sin, and broke at once its curse and power. As Surety, He did what we could not do, what we now need not do.

Christ is also our Example too. In one sense His work is unique; in another we have to follow Him in it; we must do as He did, live and suffer like Him. “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an Example” that we should follow in His footsteps. His suffering as my Surety calls me to a suffering like His as my Example. But is this reasonable? In His suffering as Surety He had the power of the Divine nature, and how can I be expected in the weakness of the flesh to suffer as He did? Is there not an impassable gulf between these two things which Peter unites so closely, the suffering as Surety and the suffering, 7 as Example? No, there is a blessed third aspect of Christ’s work, which bridges that gulf, which is the connecting link between Christ as Surety and Christ as Example, which makes it possible for us in very deed to take the Surety as Example, and live and suffer and die like Him.

Christ is also our Head. In this His Suretyship and His Example have their root and unity. Christ is the second Adam. As a believer I am spiritually one with Him. In this union He lives in me, and imparts to me the power of His finished work, the power of His sufferings and death and resurrection. It is on this ground we are taught in Romans 6 and elsewhere that the Christian is indeed dead to sin and alive to God. The very life that Christ lives, the life that passed throuch death, and the power of that death, work in the believer, so that he is dead, and has risen again with Christ. It is this thought Peter gives utterance to when he says: “Who His own self bore our sins upon the tree,” not alone that we through His death might receive forgiveness, but “that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” As we have part in the spiritual death of the first Adam, having really died to God in him, so we have part in the second Adam, having really died to sin in Him, and in Him being made alive again to God. Christ is not only our Surety who lived and died for us, our Example who showed us how to live and die, but also our Head, with whom we are one, in whose death we have died, with whose life we now live. This gives us the power to follow our Surety as our Example: Christ being our Head is the bond that makes the believing on the Surety and the following of the Example inseparably one.

These three are one. The three truths may not be separated from each other. And yet this happens but too often. There are some who wish to follow Christ’s Example without faith in His atonement. They seek within themselves the power to live like Him: their efforts must be vain. There are others who hold fast to the Suretyship but neglect the Example. They believe in redemption through the blood of the cross, but neglect the footsteps of Him who bore it. Faith in the atonement is indeed the foundation of the building, but it is not all. Theirs too is a deficient Christianity, with no true view of sanctification, because they do not see how, along with faith on Christ’s atonement, following His Example is indispensably necessary.

There are still others who have received these two truths,—Christ as Surety and Christ as Example,—and yet want something. They feel constrained to follow Christ as Example in what He did as Surety, but want the power. They do not rightly understand how this following His Example can really be attained. What they need is, the clear insight as to what Scripture teaches of Christ as Head. Because the Surety is not some one outside of me, but One in whom I am, and who is in me, therefore it is that I can become like Him. His very life lives in me. He lives Himself in me, whom He bought with His blood. To follow His footsteps is a duty, because it is a possibility, the natural result of the wonderful union between Head and members. it is only when this is understood aright that the blessed truth of Christ’s Example will take its right place. If Jesus Himself through his life union will work in me the life likeness, then my duty becomes plain, but glorious. I have, on the one side, to gaze on His Example so as to know and follow it. On the other, to abide in Him, and open my heart to the blessed workings of His life in me. As surely as He conquered sin and its cursefor me, will He conquer it in its power in me. What He began by His death for me, He will perfect by His life in me. Because my Surety is also my Head, His Example must and will be the rule of my life.

There is a saying of Augustine that is often quoted: “Lord I give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt.” This holds good here. If the Lord, who lives in me, gives what He requires of me, then no requirement can be too high. Then I have the courage to gaze upon His holy Example in all its height and breadth, and to accept of it as the law of my conduct. It is no longer merely a command telling what I must be, but a promise of what I shall be. There is nothing that weakens the power of Christ’s Example so much as the thought that we cannot really walk like Him. Do not listen to such thoughts. The perfect likeness in heaven is begun on earth, can grow with each day, and become more visible as life goes on. As certain and mighty as the work of surety which Christ, your Head, completed once for all, is the renewal after His own Image, which He is still working out. Let this double blessing make the cross doubly precious: Our Head suffered as a Surety, that in union with us he might bear sin for us. Our Head offered as an Example, that He might show us what the path is in which, in union with Himself, He would lead us to victory and to glory. The suffering Christ is our Head, our Surety, and our Example.

And so the great lesson I have to learn is the wonderful truth that it is just in that mysterious path of suffering, in which He wrought out our atonement and redemption, that we are to follow His footsteps, and that the full experience of that redemption depends upon the personal fellowship in that suffering. “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an Example.” May the Holy Spirit reveal to me what this means.

Precious Saviour! how shall I thank Thee for the work that Thou hast done as Surety? Standing in the place of me a guilty sinner, Thou hast borne my sins in Thy body on the cross. That cross was my due. Thou didst take it, and wast made like unto me, that thus the cross might be changed into a place of blessing and life.

And now Thou callest me to the place of crucifixion as the place of blessing and life, where I may be made like Thee, and may find in Thee power to suffer and to cease from sin. As my Head, Thou wert my Surety to suffer and die with me; as my Head, Thou art my Example that I might suffer and die with Thee.

Precious Saviour! I confess that I have too little understood this. Thy Suretyship was more to me than Thy Example. I rejoiced much that Thou hadst borne the cross for me, but too little that I like Thee and with Thee might also bear the cross, The atonement of the cross was more precious to me than the fellowship of the cross; the hope in Thy redemption more precious than the personal fellowship with Thyself.

Forgive me this, dear Lord, and teach me to find my happiness in union with Thee, my Head, not more in Thy Suretyship than in thine Example. And grant, that in my meditations as to how I am to follow Thee, my faith may become stronger and brighter: Jesus is my Example because He is my life. I must and can be like Him, because I am one with Him. Grant this, my blessed Lord, for Thy love’s sake. Amen.


“Thomas à Kempis has said, “All men wish to be with Christ, and to belong to His people; but few are really willing to follow the life of Christ.” There are many who imagine that to imitate Jesus Christ is a specially advanced state in the Christian life, to which only a few elect can attain: they think that one can be a real Christian if he only confesses his weakness and sin, and holds fast to the Word and Sacrament, without attaining any real confirm to tlte life of Christ; they even count it pride and fanaticism if one venture to say that conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ is an indispensable sign of the true Christian. And yet our Lord says to all without exception: “He that doth not take his cross, and follow after me, is not worthy of me;” He mentions expressly the most difficult thing in His life—the cross, that which includes all else. And Peter writes not to some, but to the whole Church: Christ hath left us an Example that ye should follow His footsteps. It is a sad sign that these unmistakeable commands have been so darkened in our modern Christianity, that our leading ministers and church members have quietly, as by common consent, agreed to rob these words of their sting. A false dogmatic must bear no small share of the blame. To defend the Divinity of our Saviour against unbelief, men have presented and defended His Divine nature with such exclusiveness, that it became impossible to form any real living conception of His humanity. It is not enough that we admit that Christ was a true man; no one can form any true idea of this humanity who is ever afraid to lose the true Christ, if he does not every moment ascribe to Him Divine power and omniscience. For, of a truth, if Christ’s suffering and cross be only and altogether something supernatural, we must cease to speak of the imitation of Christ in any true or real sense of the word. Oh, the gulf of separation which comes between the life of Christ and the life of Christians, when the relation between them is only an external one! And how slow and slothful the Church of our day is to apply the great and distinct rule so clearly laid down in the life of Christ, to the filling of these gulfs and the correcting of the disorders of our modern life. The Church of Christ will not be brought again out of its confusions until the faithful actual imitation of her Lord and Head again become the banner round which she rallies His disciples.” – From M. Diemer, Een nieuw boek over de navolging van Jesus Christus (A new book on the imitation of Jesus Christ).