ISSUE: 2010, Volume 7, Issue 2
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If I were asked to choose some favourite words from scripture, I’m fairly sure that I’d have placed near the top of the list this statement by the apostle Paul, ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20. Paul marvelled at the love that the Lord Jesus had for him. Notice how personal this statement is, ‘Who loved me’ and the proof of that love ‘and gave himself for me’. The act of substitution and the concept of a substitute are fairly common to our English language. The meanings, though, are quite varied, including: ‘replacing something with something else,; ‘to use or serve in place of another’; as well as the association of the words within sport. The difficulty with this topic is that the actual word substitution is not found in scripture. However the lovely truth about the Lord Jesus ‘giving himself’ on the cross applies to each believer personally and it seems that over the years believers have adopted the word ‘substitute’ to define this great doctrine.
As such, it is possible to confuse aspects of the broad meaning of the English word ‘substitute’, with the truth concerning the Lord Jesus and the believer. This could dilute our appreciation of the greatness of what Christ did for the believer. To illustrate let’s look at how the term substitute is used in sport. To substitute one player for another simply describes providing a replacement of equal value. But as a believer in the Lord Jesus, simply viewing the Lord Jesus as our ‘replacement’ severely limits the greatness of what was done at Calvary as the Lord Jesus does not substitute us as our equal but as the only one who could remove the legal claims of God against us and ensure thatour standing before God is acceptable.
To appreciate this wonderful doctrine in more detail we need to look at a number of words found in scripture. E-sword is a great tool for this as it includes the smaller words, which are not covered in Strong’s Concordance. A short list of words is given in the table contained in this PDF.
The two Greek words anti and huper teach us about substitution. Both of these words are usually translated with the same English word, ‘for’. A study of the alternative meanings of this little word ‘for’ in scriptures in relation to the death of the Lord Jesus (e.g. ‘His life “for”. . .’) starts to reveal a great balance and scope of doctrine. We see both of these words used in 1. Timothy chapter 2 verse 6, ‘who gave Himself a ransom for all’. In this verse the word ‘ransom’ means to pay the price of redemption but also has a link to the word ‘anti,’ indicating that when a soul is saved the price was paid in their stead. But the little expression ‘for all’ is also in the verse showing us that the redemption was paid to potentially save all. This shows something of the scope of this ransom.
To apply this point practically, when we speak about the gospel to those who are not saved, we need to be clear and tell them of the wonder of what the Lord Jesus has done in order that they could be saved. It was done for them; they are in reach of it and through faith can claim it. What a wonderful gospel message we have. It is available and relevant to all! Yet we must be careful not to make the application of the truth to individuals who are lost. They need to believe in order that they can say ‘for me’! So then, having examined the background to this great doctrine now let’s consider some of the scriptures already listed!
This verse concludes the Lord’s response to the disciples’ argument about which of them should be the greatest. The Lord simply outlines what He, the Son of Man, came to do. In this verse the word used for ‘for’ is ‘anti’, meaning ‘in the stead of.’ The wonder of this is that the Lord Jesus, through giving His life in the stead of me, paid the ransom. In this verse the word ‘ransom’ includes the idea of loosening and breaking up linked to the paying of a redemption price. This ‘many’ includes every believer in the Lord Jesus Christ; the giving of His life has paid my personal redemption price and loosed me, broken me away from the slavery of sin.
The sin offering of Leviticus chapter 4 provides a helpful illustration. The person who had sinned would bring a bullock that didn’t have any blemish to the door of the tabernacle, v. 4. The person offering would lay their hand on the animal’s head and kill it ‘before the Lord’. By laying his hand on the head of the bullock, the person who had sinned was identifying with the death of the animal. The animal died instead of the individual. Forgiveness was then assured, v. 20.
In the very same way 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse21 applies directly to believers in the Lord Jesus. Just as the person in Leviticus chapter 4 identified with the sin offering, the believer in the Lord Jesus has identified with the Lord Jesus in His death on the cross. This is necessary for salvation.
The verse shows something of the great depth of the Lord’s suffering. In all His glory and perfection He was treated as sin (‘made sin’) deserved to be treated. This was for us; for me! The result for the New Testament believer is better than the temporary forgiveness obtained by the sinner in Leviticus chapter 4. We are ‘made the righteousness of God in him.’ In identifying with His death, our sin was dealt with by Him and we are made righteous and cleared of guilt before God. What a burden has been removed, yet what suffering He endured.
Well back to the great, yet personal statement of Paul with which we started. The joy of this doctrine is that I can join with Paul and take, own and live this statement for myself, as can every single believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Himself for me’, how deep, how profound is this simple statement! May we choose each day to live in the light of it and feel its full effect on our devotion and service!