In His Steps
In his first epistle, we are exhorted by the Apostle Peter to follow in the steps of the Lord: “for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth; who, [when] reviled, reviled not again; [when] suffering, threatened not; but gave [himself] over into the hands of him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2: 21–23). Surely it would be good for each one of us to heed this exhortation––but before we do so we need to know exactly what these steps are that we are being urged to follow.
There came a day in the history of Peter when the Lord had said to His restored disciple, “Follow me” (John 21: 19). Now the Apostle passes on these words to each one of us, as he says, “follow in his steps” (1 Pet. 2: 21). In Christendom (and even among true believers) the words “follow in his steps” are often used in a vague and loose way. Unconverted people will seize upon them, misusing them to convey the false thought that if men carry out the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5–7) they will be good Christians, and thereby secure the salvation of their souls. Often those who speak of following the Lord’s steps in this light way are at a loss to turn to the Scripture where the exhortation is found, and even if they could, would prefer their own interpretation of the words rather than to find out the meaning with which they are used by the Holy Spirit.
If we look at the passage in which the exhortation occurs we learn straightaway from the context that the words in question are addressed to believers––those of whom the Apostle can say that they were “receiving the end of your faith, [the] salvation of [your] souls” (1 Pet. 1: 9). It is evident then that 1 Pet. 2: 21 is not an exhortation to sinners to follow the Lord’s steps in order to obtain salvation. Apart from the sacrificial death of Christ and faith in His precious blood there can be no salvation for the helpless sinner. In Scripture God never uses “his steps” to set aside His work.
Furthermore, the exhortation to “follow in his steps” is not only addressed just to believers, but is also used with a very distinct meaning. It is obvious that a great deal of what the Lord did in His marvellous life we cannot do, and nor are we asked to. He did mighty works, even to the raising the dead, and He taught with unmatched authority. None of these things have anything to do with following in His steps. The four steps that we are exhorted to follow are possible for all believers, whether we are a man or a woman, and from the youngest to the oldest.
First, we are reminded that the Lord “did no sin”. Now we know that He went about “doing good, and healing all that were under the power of the devil” (Acts 10: 38) and later on in Peter’s epistle we are also exhorted to “do good” (1 Pet. 3: 11). The exhortation before us, however, is in a negative form: we are to follow in the Lord’s steps in respect of the fact that He did no sin. Whatever happens, whatever circumstances may arise, whatever rebuffs we may have to meet, whatever wrongs we may have to suffer, whatever insults we may have to endure, in all these things, we are to do no sin. It is comparatively easy to do good as a benefactor and to meet the needs of others but, with the flesh in us, it is only in the power of the Spirit that we can resist sinning (comp. Gal. 5: 16). Furthermore, it is a greater thing to do no sin in trying circumstances than to do good in easy ones. The Lord was perfect in all circumstances and, whatever the circumstances we have to meet, our first care should be to follow Him in doing no sin, thereby maintaining the display of His character in the world that has disowned Him. It is better to suffer wrong than to sin, better to loose your coat than to let go the character of Christ.
Secondly, we read, “neither was guile found in his mouth”(1 Pet. 2: 22). However sorely tried by wicked men, no question that He asked, no answer that He gave, no word that fell from His lips, no message that he taught, was ever marred by any trace of guile. With us, malice and envy may lurk behind words that are “smooth” and “softer than oil” (Ps 55: 21). With Him, no evil motive was ever hidden under fair speech. Guile lurked behind the apparently innocent question of the religious Pharisees when they asked “Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?” (Matt. 22: 17) for we read they were seeking to “ensnare him in speaking” (v15). With the flesh in us, it is all too possible to seek to entangle one another with smooth speech and innocent questions. We can even covertly attack one another in the very words we address to God in public prayer. How good and necessary then is the exhortation to follow in the steps of the One in whose mouth no guile was found!
Thirdly, we are reminded that the Lord was One “who, [when] reviled, reviled not again; [when] suffering, threatened not” (1 Pet. 2: 23). In the presence of insults, false accusation, and malicious charges, He held His peace. When falsely accused before the Jewish council, He “was silent” (Matt. 26: 63). To the accusations of the Jews in the presence of the Governor, “he answered nothing” (Matt. 27: 12). To Pilate himself “he answered him not so much as one word” (v14). The mocking Herod may question Him “in many words, but he answered him nothing” (Luke 23: 9). How good for us to follow in His steps and, in the presence of the malicious words of men, from whatever quarter they may come, to keep silent. From other Scriptures it is clear that the Christian may ‘entreat’, ‘exhort’, and even ‘rebuke’, but never is he to revile or to threaten.
Fourthly, the Lord “gave [himself] over into the hands of him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2: 23). To do no sin, or to speak no guile, or to keep silence in the presence of malicious words––all these have a negative character. This last step is positive. If we keep silence in the presence of insults it is not that there is no answer to evil and malice, but rather that the answer is left with God. We are never to attempt to take vengeance on the wrongdoer. God retains all vengeance in His own hands. Our part is to follow in the steps of Christ, and in the presence of insults to commit ourselves to Him that judges righteously, “not avenging yourselves, beloved, but give place to wrath; for it is written, Vengeance [belongs] to me, I will recompense, saith the Lord (Rom. 12: 19). Again, we may recall the words of the prophet: “Jehovah is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that [seeketh] him. It is good that one should both wait, and that in silence, for the salvation of Jehovah” (Lam. 3: 25–26).
We have then four steps taken in perfection by the Lord Jesus that we are exhorted to follow. In all these steps there is no word as to ministry, or any form of service that would make any show in this world or bring us into prominence among the people of God. This being so, we might think as we read these exhortations that to do no evil, to speak no guile, to keep silence in the presence of insults and to commit oneself to God, does not, after all, seem very much. If, however, we put these things into practice and follow His steps in the way instructed, others will see in us the most wonderful sight that can be seen in this world––they would see a man or a woman, a child even, who is like Christ.
God forbid that we should belittle true service for Christ, but let us not forget that while we may travel the world in service, and preach and teach to thousands, and while our names may be well known in religious circles and our service duly recorded in religious papers, all may be of little account in God’s sight if these four steps we have been considering are lacking. Let us remember, as it says in another context, that we may speak with the tongues of angels and yet be nothing (see 1 Cor. 13: 1, 2). In the day to come, it is possible that a thousand of our fine sermons, on which perhaps we prided ourselves and for which our brethren may have praised us, will be found to be but dust and ashes. Meanwhile some little bit of Christ in our lives, which we may have entirely forgotten, will shine out in all its beauty and receive its bright reward. Thus these four steps may not take us into the public gaze today but they will surely take us far into the kingdom glories in a day to come. It is a word we do well to remember that “many first shall be last, and the last first” (Mark 10: 31).