“Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.”
– 1 Peter 2:15
During Lent, we slow down to contemplate Christ’s sufferings. Perhaps we even try to enter into his sufferings in a small way by fasting. Perhaps we take up works of mercy or intentional habits to help us encounter Jesus more fully in this season. However we observe it, it is an opportunity to gaze on the passion of Jesus Christ.
If ever there was a book written to address suffering, it’s 1 Peter. The entire letter revolves around the idea of standing strong through fiery trials. Peter covers such uncomfortable topics as submitting to human authority (even to evil rulers and masters), being reviled without reviling in return, and suffering unjustly for being a Christian.
Peter calls his readers to live with an almost appalling level of humility. Reading as a 21st-century American and living in a culture that exalts self-love and—even at our nobler points—stands on pride in accomplishments and self-determination, I find Peter’s continued call to submission a little indecent. At least at first glance.
But why does this letter call again and again for humble submission?
To imitate Christ.
“To this you were called,” Peter writes, “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (2:21).
Jesus submitted to death so that we could live. He took on our sin so that we could take on his righteousness. He suffered unjustly, he was slandered, and he even submitted to a Roman execution. Such a painful, shameful death at the hands of the very enemy of God’s people seems unnecessary, extravagant, perhaps even obscene. It is the nadir of submission. What better example of humility is there?
Yet, I invite you to think with me for a moment about why Jesus lived and died so humbly. It wasn’t because he was afraid of those in (temporary) authority over him. It wasn’t even because he honored them for their own sake—that’s clear enough from his conversations with the religious leaders of his day. It certainly wasn’t because Jesus was the lesser man in any of his confrontations. Rather, Jesus was and is the very Son of God, ever loved by the Father, ever in communion with the Spirit. His every thought, desire, word, and act was rooted in his relationship with Father and Spirit. Jesus submitted to suffering because of his deep love for the Father.
This, I think, is what we’re called to imitate. As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we are caught up in the great love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what enables us to face suffering head-on.
When we are living as God’s slaves, devoting every thought, desire, word, and act to him, we are free. Free to serve others cheerfully. Free to accept slander without the need for retaliation. Free to see those in authority over us the way God sees them—and thus to really love them.
Jesus, our Lord, we exalt you. You are worthy of all glory and honor. You have paved the way for us, showing us how to suffer righteously. We seek to enter into your love, that we may be prepared to share in your sufferings. We submit ourselves as slaves to you so that we may walk in true freedom.