Skip to content

Christ our Substitute

Here's a faster edit of my video from a couple of years ago.   Same content, done in 4 minutes rather than 6 and a half.

When I first made the video it was prompted by some TF Torrance stuff I was reading.  It's all about the vicarious humanity of Christ!

But Luther said it long before him.  And recently Mike put me onto his Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels (part one, part two - Dave K also blogged on it recently).  It's glorious stuff.  Christ is not fundamentally our Example.  At base He is our Substitute:

Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ, just as happens among men when one writes a book about a king or a prince, telling what he did, said, and suffered in his day. Such a story can be told in various ways; one spins it out, and the other is brief. Thus the gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said, and suffered—a subject which one describes briefly, another more fully, one this way, another that way. For at its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things...

...Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws...

...The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself. See, this is what it means to have a proper grasp of the gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God, which neither prophet, nor apostle, nor angel was ever able fully to express, and which no heart could adequately fathom or marvel at. This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content. This is what preaching the Christian faith means. This is why such preaching is called gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting “message”; and this is why the apostles are called the “twelve messengers.”

Concerning this Isaiah 9[:6] says, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” If he is given to us, then he must be ours; and so we must also receive him as belonging to us. And Romans 8[:32], “How should [God] not give us all things with his Son?” See, when you lay hold of Christ as a gift which is given you for your very own and have no doubt about it, you are a Christian. Faith redeems you from sin, death, and hell and enables you to overcome all things. O no one can speak enough about this. It is a pity that this kind of preaching has been silenced in the world, and yet boast is made daily of the gospel.
Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. See, there faith and love move forward, God’s commandment is fulfilled, and a person is happy and fearless to do and to suffer all things. Therefore make note of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works. These do not make you a Christian. Actually they come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian. As widely as a gift differs from an example, so widely does faith differ from works, for faith possesses nothing of its own, only the deeds and life of Christ. Works have something of your own in them, yet they should not belong to you but to your neighbor.

So you see that the gospel is really not a book of laws and commandments which requires deeds of us, but a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us all his possessions and benefits in Christ....

...When you open the book containing the gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should therein perceive the sermon or the gospel through which he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. For the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him. When you see how he works, however, and how he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that faith is accomplishing this in you and that he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the gospel. If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe that he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift...

Read the whole thing (part one, part two).  Well worth the 5 minutes!

0 thoughts on “Christ our Substitute

  1. theoldadam

    Nice job on the video, Glen.

    What SO MANY Christians fail to realize is that Christ gives to us ALL that He commands of us.

    Faith, obedience, righteousness.

    He demands it, and He gives it.

    Hard to believe. But it is true.

    Thanks, Glen!

  2. Glen

    Thanks OldAdam - to put it even more trinitarianly:

    What God commands, Jesus performs and the Spirit gifts to us.

    Christ is the Faithful, Obedient, Righteous One offering the true response of Man to God. And by the Spirit (and not by any works of my own) I'm included.

  3. woldeyesus

    "Substitute" is a hangover from Levitical practices, which is out of tune with the necessary change in paradigm justified by the gross imbalance between animal sacrifices and Christ's death on the cross. The latter represents the medium for God's characteristic self-revelation, as "I Am Who I Am" or "life-giving Spirit": the CORE of the Law of Moses, the Psalms, the writings of the prophets, and the gospels and the ENCORE of the epistles!

  4. Sarah

    Good video.

    It's easy to forget substitute first, example second. I think a lot of people try and do things the other way round.

    He substituted His life for us and that's all that is needed. We then try to follow His example, but we fail. Even then He is still our substitute to cover our failings.

    On that basis do we try to follow His example because He tells us to?

  5. Glen

    Hey Sarah,

    Certainly that's one aspect - we follow because He's Lord! But even deeper than that, we follow because the Good Life which He lived is now given to us. He lived my life perfectly and now I live His life (imperfectly!). I *must* live His life. But that "must" goes deeper than "I suppose I ought to". It's more a case of "I belong to Jesus and He belongs to me - how can I live any other life than Christ's life??!"

    And Jesus - along with giving me His life - also graciously gives me teaching about how to live the life that's been given to me. Luther talks about the kind of instruction Jesus gives in his little paper:

    "the gospel is really not a book of laws and commandments which requires deeds of us, but a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us all his possessions and benefits in Christ. The fact that Christ and the apostles provide much good teaching and explain the law is to be counted a benefit just like any other work of Christ. For to teach aright is not the least sort of benefit. We see too that unlike Moses in his book, and contrary to the nature of a commandment, Christ does not horribly force and drive us. Rather he teaches us in a loving and friendly way. He simply tells us what we are to do and what to avoid, what will happen to those who do evil and to those who do well. Christ drives and compels no one. Indeed he teaches so gently that he entices rather than commands. He begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek,” and so on [Matt. 5:3, 5]. And the apostles commonly use the expression, “I admonish, I request, I beseech,” and so on. But Moses says, “I command, I forbid,” threatening and frightening everyone with horrible punishments and penalties. With this sort of instruction you can now read and hear the gospels profitably."

  6. Sarah

    "Indeed he teaches so gently that he entices rather than commands. He begins by saying, “Blessed are the poor, Blessed are the meek,” and so on [Matt. 5:3, 5]. And the apostles commonly use the expression, “I admonish, I request, I beseech,” and so on. But Moses says, “I command, I forbid,” threatening and frightening everyone with horrible punishments and penalties"

    Ok so Jesus did it through enticing rather than Moses throught force. But Jesus still says that if you don't follow and obey there are horrible punishments and penalties. Isn't that just like giving someone a rose and telling them that if they don't like it they will die and suffer, but if they do then it's an eternal pleasure they get. Moses is open and honest, despite the use of more brutal language. Even though with both they are both saying 'obey or be punished eternally.'

    Don't know if that makes any sense to you, but there's a point in there somewhere.

  7. Glen

    The difference is not so much the "tone". Moses says "Do this and you will live." Jesus says "You live (because I've given you life), now do this."

  8. Anonymous

    There's an example I heard once (but I can't remember where I heard it)...

    A dad used to say to his teenage kid "wash the car". The kid did it out of duty, but never enjoyed doing it.

    One day, the teenager fell in love with a girl and wanted to take her out in the car on a date. His love for the girl made him want to wash the car, not out of duty, but out of his love for her.

    I know, I know, like all illustrations, it's imperfect. Our inner motives ("I love her so much that I want to wash the car") are just as corrupt as our external acts. And there's a paper on depression on Glen's other website that wisely cautions against the danger of simply switching one kind of works (washing the car) for another inner set of works (feeling you want to wash the car) - as we'll realise that our motives are just as flawed as our outward acts.

    Anyway, as Philippians 3:16 says "Only let us live up to what we have already attained."

  9. Sarah

    So it's almost the same message in reverse.
    Do this and live Vs Live and do this.

    That's just confusing. But I spose it shows the change of the covenant. Once the ultimate sacrifice is made you don't have to keep making lots of little ones. It allows the change from rules that mean you must please God, to Jesus has pleased God, be in Him and you need to do nothing to please God. Then the following of the example will be more something you desire to do than are instructed to do

  10. Glen

    Good one anonymous - and it's good because it brings in covenant-of-love kind of concepts more than "internal motives". When I got married I never vowed to take out the garbage and the union was not conditional on any such works. Instead the love-union was effected by promises and I found myself in an all embracing union which I never deserved. But *because* I'm married I take out the garbage. My heart is not always thrilled as I do it ;-) but it's a natural outflow of relationship not a prerequisite for it.

    So, to Sarah, the reverse is really important. A covenant relationship based on works is not really a covenant at all - it's based on carrots and sticks and is a *contract*. But a covenant relationship is founded on promises alone - you give yourselves to each other in love - but, naturally, it entails all kinds of works (like taking out the garbage, etc).

  11. Dave K

    I don't know about you but find the gift language helpful.

    Christ gave us his life. We receive that gift and are rich beyond measure, in righteousness, relationships, life and everything.

    Having received we then give our life to others. In doing that we are immitating Christ and delighting the Father, but we don't lose out by doing that because we are already so infinitely rich in Christ who just keeps giving himself to us by his Spirit.

    So the example/commands of Christ, when prefaced by the gift of himself don't become burdensome or forced because we have no fear of running out of resources to give and we are not working in order to become rich.

    When sat for dinner and the host piles up your plate, you notice the person next to you hasn't got anything yet. You immitate the host and pass your neighbour what your host has already given you. In doing this you delight your host because they want everyone to be served. But your host is already delighted in you so you haven't earnt that delight. And you don't feel any regret or self-righteousness because it wasn't 'your' food you gave, and there is plenty more in the pot for you and anyone else to take.

    Luther's Freedom of the Christian spells it out more, although the link Glen gives first is worth reading first.

  12. woldeyesus

    If we can agree on the critical mass in Christ's death on the cross as our point of change from "born of the flesh" to "born spiritually of the Spirit", all is well! (John 3: 14-15; 19: 30-37)

  13. Michael

    This kind of doctrinal yet still devotional/spiritual growth type stuff.
    Which books outside of the Bible have influenced you most in your thinking?
    (That's always a good un! ;P)

  14. Glen

    Hm. Doctrinal/Devotional...

    Athanasius On the Incarnation
    Luther Freedom of the Christian
    Calvin Institutes Book 3
    Barth Evangelical Theology
    JB Torrance Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace

    That'll do for now

  15. Michael

    Thanks a lot. I've never properly read any non-recent stuff, I've read William Lane Craig, Tim keller, john piper, c j mahaney, c.s. lewis etc, but never any of the reformers!
    Guess I'm missing out, I'll have to try and get stuck in over the summer.
    What do you think about pascal and augustine? Number of people have recommended them to me too.

  16. andyharker

    Thanks for the video and Luther quotes and useful discussion. Could you just elaborate on one thing in the video? I get how Jesus' whole life is substitutionary and that is foundational (and wonderful!), and I get how Jesus' baptism, temptations, Gethsemane and Cross are also exemplary - but where do his miracles fit in? When he stills the storm or walks on water or raises the dead is that only substitutionary or is it exemplary in some way?

  17. Glen

    Hi Andy,

    Is it something like.... His signs first of all authenticate *Him* as the Head of the new creation - overturning death, disease and curse. In that way He brings new creation life for us (and in a way that we can't). In a secondary way, He exemplifies the life of the Spirit-filled Man and we can follow in Him.

    So in John 6 - only He IS the Bread of life (Substitution), but His disciples follow after Him and participate in dishing out the fish sandwiches (Example).

    Does that work?

  18. andyharker

    So... is it important that we draw the exemplary line between the inner/true meaning of the miracle/sign and our following rather than straight from the outer form of the miracle to us? So with John 6 we follow the example not by feeding people with fish sandwiches (the bread that perishes) but by feeding people with Jesus in our preaching (John 6:63; 21:15). Or in John 11 we preach Jesus the resurrection and the life rather than try to raise people from the dead. Or John 2 - we present the best-saved-for-last Jesus and/or we ourselves follow his example of abundant joyful self-giving? Not quite sure how the walking on water thing would work...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Twitter widget by Rimon Habib - BuddyPress Expert Developer