Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death atones for our sins; his resurrection raises us to new life. In Christ, we’ve come from sin and death to righteousness and glory. And yet: in this paradigm, it almost seems as if Christ’s life (the years that he lived) only prepared him to die.
So, why didn’t he just come into the world and die? Why live for 33 years? Here’s why.
Christ Lived as a Model for Us
Jesus lived as a model for us to follow as Christians.
Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Paul* also maintains that we run the Christian race (a metaphor for living the Christian life) by “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2). Again, Paul tells us, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
For Paul, living as a Christian is being like Christ, or rather imitating him. Christ founded and perfected our faith. He started it and finished it. From faith to faith, Jesus ran the race. And his entire life is a model for us to follow.
We follow Christ, and we learn how to live the Christian life by seeing how Christ lived his life. We see it primarily through the Gospels but also in the Old Testament and in the other Apostolic writings. Christ is at the centre of the whole Bible, albeit in different ways.
The Gospels (primarily) tells us how to live the Christian life by showing us Christ. The rest of Scripture testifies to Christ in various ways but in so doing teaches us the same (e.g., notice how Paul returns to Christ to teach his readers how to live the Christian life above).
Christ Became a New Human on Our Behalf
Sometimes the language of the Bible becomes so familiar to us that it loses its mystery, its power. So, we always need to return to the Bible and take a breath, pause, and re-look at the text. Consider Ephesians 2. Christ broke down the dividing wall in his flesh (Eph 2:14). He did so “that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph 2:15)? Familiar right?
But let’s rephrase this translation, keeping in mind the flesh language of Ephesians 2:14: “So that Christ might create one new human being (ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον) out of two old human beings, so making peace.” You see: Christ became the first new human, the seed of a new race. The old era of Jew and Gentile (old creation) ended: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).
Christ is “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18). Christ is the first born of the Christian race. Out of two races (Jew and Gentile, elect and un-elect, saint and sinner), he made one new human being—himself. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15). And by our union with Christ we too became humans in the new creation.
What does this all mean? First, the model for how we grow in the Christian life is Christ. Study Christ to be a Christian. Study Christ to realize your new creation in him. Become human like Christ is human. He is the firstborn of many brethren. In a word, read the Gospels to learn how to live.
Second, stop living as if you are part of the old creation. No old creation reality can legally bind you (i.e., the mosaic law code cannot compel you to obedience).** No old way of doing things should be followed. None of this matters: “For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God” (1 Cor 7:19). So, keep the commands of Christ, which is the law of Christ and all else that God commands (1 Cor 9:21).
If I could leave with one thought it would be this: the life of Jesus matters because he is the first Christian, the first new creation, the first new human. So, imitate him to grow in Christlikeness.
*As we all know, Paul wrote Hebrews! Okay, fine. We don’t really know that. With Origen, we have to say, “Only God knows.” But I have a sneaking suspicion that Paul wrote Hebrews (as the early Christians maintained).
**The mosaic law code applies directly to Christians as wisdom and prophetic literature. But we no longer have to sacrifice animals nor are we bound to build parapets on our roofs, although keeping our neighbours safe at our house is wise and the sacrifice of animals typologically points to Christ.