I Need a Substitute…

One of the major themes of John Stott’s The Cross of Christ is the idea that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us. 

He was our substitute.  He replaced us on the cross.  He took our punishment.  Sinful man should be hanging on the cross, not sinless Jesus Christ, the Son of the Almighty God, God incarnate. 

Stott closes his book on the seven affirmations of Galatians. The theme of the fourth affirmation [Galatians 3:10-14] is the theme of substitution.

“All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’  Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, ‘The righteous will live by faith.’   The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, ‘The man who does these things will live by them.’  Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’  He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

Stott says of Galatians 3: 10-14 “These verses constitute one of the clearest expositions of the necessity, meaning and consequence of the cross.”

Zero in on the strong statement “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  Paul wrote these words and even though many over the years have had a hard time accepting the meaning, A. W. F. Blunt in his Epistle of Paul to the Galatians comments “Paul means every word of it.”  Jesus Christ was our substitute.  He took the curse that we deserved.

The major question is why did God choose to do this; what is His purpose?

Stott gives us three reasons.

First of all, the law is a curse to mankind.  Let’s be honest.  Jewish law was impossible for man to follow.  “No human being has ever ‘continued’ to do ‘everything’ the law requires.  Such a continuous and comprehensive obedience has been given by no one except Jesus. So ‘clearly’ nobody is ‘justified before God by the law’ because nobody has kept it” [Stott, 336].  Theoretically, those who will obey the law will live but in reality, none of us can obey the law completely.  The law does not become a means to save us.  We are cursed by it. 

Secondly, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.   The curse of the law is on us…mankind.   He removed our curse by assuming it.  As Stott writes “He assumed it that we might escape it” [336].   Evidence that a person is cursed who hangs from a tree is found in Deuteronomy 21: 23 “You must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight…anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.”

Finally, Christ hung on that “tree” that the “blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles… by faith.”  Paul moves from language that highlights cursing to language of blessing.  Not only did Christ die to redeem us from the curse of God, but also to give us God’s blessing.   This blessing had been promised to Abraham and it is coming through Jesus Christ.  It is based on faith not the law.  It means we are “justified” or made right with God.  It also comes in the form of the Holy Spirit our Wonderful Counselor, our Advocate,  our Comforter.

This fourth affirmation from Galatians focuses on substitution, the idea that Jesus Christ took my place on the cross.  Let me be honest.  I admit that I am a sinner; I sin every day and often my sins can cause me to have a distant relationship with my Father.  When I dwell on my shortcomings, I can experience guilt, despair and even depression.  This drives me even further from my Savior.  Jesus knows of my sin nature, that it is real and it is recurring.  Jesus knows that I cannot begin to satisfy the Law, which posits that I can live a perfect life because I can satisfy all the rules.  I need a bridge to God, a bridge that is built on the idea that I need to confess my sins.  I  need a bridge to God based on the idea that I need to honestly ask for forgiveness.   I need to walk in forgiveness, I need to walk away from my sins, knowing that God’s grace is real.  He has given me a gift I don’t deserve. 

He substituted Himself for me so that I can walk with Him, I can be made right with Him, I can serve Him even though I am a sinner. 

I can’t speak for everyone, but I need a substitute

Jesus gave me a way to avoid condemnation, a way to feel the love of my Father. 

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