What is so significant, however, about Peter’s words in this context is that Jesus’ death also provides us with a template for this new way of life. He says, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Peter’s choice of words is also helpful when he tells us that we are called to die “to” sin. That means, as Calvin explains in his commentary on this passage, we die to this world (as a fallen order) in order that we might live to God in Christ. We are given a whole new orientation in life. No longer are we by nature inclined to love and live for this present evil age, but instead our hearts and minds are set on things above, where Christ is seated in glory (Col. 3:1–2).
Having this whole new direction in life—one that is Christ-centered, rather than self-centered—means we will not only rely on the One who liberated us from the realm of spiritual death, but we will look to Him in His exalted humanity as the template for our new life as His children.
Edmund Clowney points out that Peter uses an unusual word when he says that Christ provides an example, so that we might “follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). It carries the sense of a child learning to write by tracing over an outline of the letters. So, when it comes to the alphabet of the Christian life, Christ is the template of our humanity.
In his second letter, Peter spells out some of the key characteristics of what this new life looks like—virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5–7). These are some of the “fruit” he cites as proof of new life in Christ (v. 8). Paul and Jesus speak of others, but what is true of them all is that they are Christlike traits.
There has always been a temptation to focus narrowly on the “dying to sin” aspect of our growth in grace—what an older generation of Christians called mortification—but this, as we have seen, is only part of what is involved. That same generation of Christians also spoke of “vivification”—living out the righteousness we have in Christ. Just as weeding and planting are two essential elements of cultivating a beautiful garden, so also is our need to die to sin and live to righteousness if we are to cultivate a life that reflects the beauty of Christ.