Perhaps you’ve heard a pastor talk about “the great exchange”– the way that Jesus took our place, died for our sins and reconciled us with God. In return, we received His righteousness. When God looks at us, he no longer sees our sins and failures, He see Jesus. I came across this quote by John Stott recently, which describes this process so succinctly.
“The concept of substitution may be said, then to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.”
From The Cross of Christ by John Stott
Although I was familiar with the idea that Jesus took our place, receiving the punishment , I never stopped to think about what caused the sin that made it necessary. It all starts with man trying to usurp God’s place. That is, indeed, the essence of sin and we do it every day in different ways. Reminding ourselves of what our sin is, and what it cost, is the beginning of wisdom.
“Jesus never concealed the fact that his religion included a demand as well as an offer. Indeed, the demand was as total as the offer was free. If he offered men his salvation, he also demanded their submission. He gave no encouragement whatever to thoughtless applicants for discipleship. He brought no pressure to bear on any inquirer. He sent irresponsible enthusiasts away empty. Luke tells of three men who either volunteered, or were invited, to follow Jesus; but no one passed the Lord’s test. The rich young ruler, too, moral, earnest and attractive, who wanted eternal life on his own terms, went away sorrowful, with his riches intact but with neither life nor Christ as his possession…The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half built towers—the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so called “nominal Christianity.” In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved, enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism…The message of Jesus was very different. He never lowered his standards or modified his conditions to make his call more readily acceptable. He asked his first disciples, and he has asked every disciple since, to give him their thoughtful and total commitment. Nothing less than this will do”
“The invisible God, who once made himself visible in Christ, now makes himself visible in Christians, if we love one another. God is love in his essential being, and has revealed his love in the gift of his Son to live and die for us Now he calls us to be a community of love, loving each other in the intimacy of his family –especially across the barriers of age and sex, race and rank–and loving the world he loves in its alienation, hunger, poverty and pain. It is through the quality of our loving that God makes himself visible today. We cannot proclaim the gospel of God’s love with any degree of integrity if we do not exhibit it in our love for others.”
“Can a married woman still live as though she were a single girl? Well, yes, I suppose she can. It is not impossible. But let her feel that ring on the fourth finger of her left hand, the symbol of her new life, the symbol of her identification with her husband, let her remember who she is, and let her live accordingly. Can a born-again Christian live as though he were still in his sins? Well, yes, I suppose he can. It is not impossible. But let him remember his baptism, the symbol of his identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, and let him live accordingly.”
“The way we understand Scripture will affect the way we read it … Because Scripture is the Word of God, we should read it as we read no other book — on our knees, humbly, reverently, prayerfully, looking to the Holy Spirit for illumination. Because Scripture is also the words of human beings, we should read it as we read every other book, using our minds, thinking, pondering and reflecting, and paying close attention to its literary, historical, cultural and linguistic characteristics. This combination of humble reverence and critical reflection is not only not impossible; it is indispensable.”