In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. (Ephesians 1:7, N.K.J.V.)
One Sunday morning a pastor preached about Christ’s crucifixion. The sermon featured graphic detail about how Christ’s literal blood was literally shed as Jesus died as the substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of the human race. After the service a woman approached the pastor and said, “Preacher, I don’t like to hear so much about Jesus’ death. I’d much rather focus on His wonderful life. There is so much for us to learn from the example He left us of how to live the Christian life.”
“So,” said the pastor, “are you saying that you’d rather hear about Jesus as a role model than as a martyr?” The woman thought about that for a moment and answered, “Yes, that’s one way of putting it. I think we follow Him by living the way that He lived.” Now the pastor knew that the woman was caught in a theological trap. He smiled at her and said, “Then you’ve got a serious problem because you can’t even take the first step to follow Jesus.” Somewhat insulted, the woman asked, “Why can’t I?” The pastor, with his smile now completely wiped from his face, said, “Because Jesus committed no sin and you can’t match Him in that step.”
Then the pastor offered an illustration to expound upon his point. He said, “Suppose that you are speeding in your car, have a terrible wreck, and wind up pinned inside your car. As you are lying there trapped, a man pulls his car to the side of the road and comes over to help you. He says, ‘What you need to do is not drive so fast. You should be like me; I never break the speed limit.’ Then the man gets back into his car and leaves. Has he helped you? Of course not. You see, before you can follow the good example set by that other driver you must first be rescued! And just like that wrecked driver, you must first be rescued by Jesus before you can even begin to try to follow Him.”
Jesus’ teachings, as deeply profound as they were, cannot produce salvation in anyone’s life. It is only through Him shedding His divine blood in death that salvation can be offered to a world full of spiritual car-wreck victims. That is why Jesus’ death must take priority over His teachings. It’s not that those teachings aren’t important and don’t hold incalculable value to our lives; it’s just that we are far too sinful in our natural state to even begin to emulate them successfully until we experience the salvation He is able to provide us because of His death. And He provides that salvation the moment we place saving belief in Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit comes to takes up residence inside us, bring us to life spiritually, and empower us to live out those teachings.