A substitute is a person or thing serving or used in the place of another, in lieu of another, as a deputy of another, as a vicar or vice of another or instead of another . For example…
– When a teacher is sick, another takes her place in the classroom to teach her students.
– A lieutenant governor ranks below a governor and serves in lieu of the governor in case of the latter’s absence or death.
– A deputy mayor is lower in rank than the mayor but serves in the capacity of the mayor in event of the mayor’s absence or death.
– A vice-president is lower in rank than the president and serves vicariously for the president in case of the latter’s absence or death.
– If a workman has lost one of his tools, another tool or object might be used in its stead in order to do the job for which the lost tool was designed …. A screwdriver, for example might be used instead of a pry bar.
In every case, a substitute takes the place of another to do something which the latter could normally do.
But when a person does something for another which the latter has never been able to do, is such a service one of substitution? Is such a servant really a substitute?
I am unable to get across the ocean to London England. But if I were to get on a London bound aircraft, would the pilot of that plane become my substitute? NO! He would be doing something for me which I’ve never been able to do. He might be a substitute for another pilot who was unable to take that particular flight, but he would not be my substitute!
If the head gasket of the engine in a lady’s car blows out and she knows nothing at all about auto mechanics, would the mechanic she hires to fix the problem be her substitute? NO! He would provide a necessary service to her, but he would not be her substitute. He would do something for her which she was incapable of doing. (She could not replace a head gasket!)
If a high rise apartment building is on fire and people are trapped with no way of escape, and a fireman climbs an aerial ladder and carries them down to safety… is he their substitute? NO! He has saved their lives, but he just did something for them which they could not have done themselves!
If a little child who cannot swim falls into a deep and swiftly flowing river, and a physically fit and powerful swimmer dives in to rescue her… is the rescuer a substitute for the little child? NO! He does something for her which she is incapable of doing – i.e. saving herself.
When an amateur rock climber, against the warnings of experienced climbers foolishly and stubbornly attempts a very difficult climb alone on a cliff and breaks both legs in the process…. Would you call his best friend, an experienced mountain climber, who goes to rescue him, “a substitute” for that fool??? Absolutely not!
Picture a drunken teenager, whose licence has been suspended, who steals his Dad’s car and drives with a few of his buddies up a steep mountain road in a snow storm, sends the car careening through a guardrail, plunges over a cliff and kills his buddies in the process, while he is left bloodied and unconscious……Then consider a helicopter pilot and his fellow crew member summoned from their beds early in the morning to fly their copter through wind and snow, into a narrow canyon, to rappel to the ground and hoist this young rebel to safety … would those rescuers who risked their lives for that drunken teenager be his substitutes? No way!
And yet theologians and hymn writers have been beguiling us for centuries telling us that the Lord Jesus Christ was our “substitute”, that his sufferings were “vicarious sufferings”, that He stood “condemned in our place”, that he died “in our stead” etc etc. The Bible does NOT claim that even one of these things is true! Although Christ died for us, was made sin for us, was made a curse for us, gave himself for us, and suffered for sins the just for the unjust….He was not our “substitute”, He did not suffer “vicariously” for us, He was not “condemned” by God, He did not “take our place”, nor did he die “in our stead” as we have so often been told! Had any of those things been true, His work would have only been something which we could normally have done ourselves!!!
But the reality is that all that Christ accomplished for us were things which we could never have done! Look carefully at the scriptures which tells us what Christ has done for us and see that they are all things which were absolutely impossible for us to do!…
-He died for us – to justify us by His blood – to save us from wrath (Romans 5:8,9)
– He died for all – that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto Him which died for them and rose again. (II Cor.5:15)
-He was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (II Cor.5:21)
-He gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, (Gal.1:4)
-He was made a curse for us – that the blessing of Abraham might come on us through Him, – that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:13,14)
– Christ loved us, and gave himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet smelling savour. (Ephesians 5:2)
-He died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. (1Th 5:10)
– He gave himself for us, that he might – redeem us from all iniquity and -purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Tit 2:14)
– He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Heb 9:26 )
– He bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (I Peter 2:24)
– Christ hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, (I Peter 3:18)
Let us not cheapen the work of Christ by calling it a “substitutionary work” which was done “in our place”, “in our stead”, “vicariously” or “in lieu of our own”! Let us not degrade Christ by calling him our “Substitute”, our “Vicar”, our “Vice”, our “Deputy” or our “Lieutenant”. If one who substitutes for a teacher is a “substitute teacher” or one who substitutes for a welder is a “substitute welder” and one who substitutes for a care-giver is a “substitute care-giver” then one who substitutes for sinners is a “substitute sinner”!
Let us rather use the words of scripture which the Holy Spirit has chosen by which to describe our Lord and His work and thus confess that, “Such an high priest became us who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners and made higher than the heavens.” (Hebrews 7:26)