In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sought to “be like God”–or rather, they sought to be their own gods by declaring themselves king and queen in His rightful, exclusive place. We are guilty of doing the same thing. Yet, Jesus being in the form of God (Phil 2), because He existed as the eternal Son of God, did not exploit that glory for Himself. In fact, He humbled Himself by coming to earth in human form and taking the nature of a servant and dying on the Cross, a sinner’s death in our place. He took our curse so that we might receive His blessing; He became our sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. His vicarious death and resurrection reverses the curse for us.
John Stott, The Cross of Christ:
“For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God [Gen. 3:1-7], while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man [2 Cor. 5:21]. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”
Praise be to God for the substitutionary life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the One who loved us and gave Himself for us (Eph. 5). He endured the terrors of hell so that we might experience the joys of heaven. Amen.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1986), 160.
The Heart of the Gospel is the Cross of Christ and the Great Exchange that His Death and Resurrection Secured… His Righteousness for My Sin!
In speaking to Corinthian believers, the Apostle Paul spoke of their status of being accepted by God. As a first step in their experience of being “re-created” in Christ, God exchanged their sin for Christ’s righteousness. This exchange, often called imputation, is the heart of the gospel:
…For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The same truth is conveyed to those in Galatia (Gal. 2:20; 3:13-14). Our sin is accounted to Him and His right standing with the Father is accounted to us: the death we deserved exchanged for the life He possessed.
According to the gospel, this truth remains an unchanging reality: Whether on my best day or my worst day, I am accepted by God only because of Christ’s righteousness.
- On my worst day when I am at the pit of selfishness and the filth of my sin, God loves, forgives, and receives me because of what His Son accomplished—Christ became sin so that I might become righteous. God sees us as sons and daughters, rather than rebels, because Christ’s blood has paid our debt and His righteousness has covered our lives. His righteousness produces life in us, by virtue of the Holy Spirit renewing us to resemble Christ.
- On my “best days” when I feel that I’m on the top of the world and self-sufficient, or even when I’m living in obedience and remain mindful of God, my acceptance with God has nothing to do with anything I am or anything I’ve done. It has everything to do with who Christ is and what He has done. My best deeds are like filthy rags. Yet, in Christ, I have become a new creation and have been empowered to accomplish good works that glorify Him… but even these good works are the outworking–the evidence–rather than the basis for my justification before God.
The only thing that really matters is whether or not Christ has been my Substitute and exchanged His righteousness for my sin. That happens by faith. If not, then my debt remains unpaid and I stand condemned in my sin (Rom. 8:1). When I trust in Christ for salvation, I forsake my sin and all other substitutes of self-justification. I stop trying to earn God’s favor and I stop seeking my own glory. I bow my heart and life to His lordship by faith and repentance, as I turn to Him and forsake my sin. Such faith and repentance is ongoing. While “the great exchange” (His righteousness for my sin) was accomplished once-for-all at the Cross, my faith and repentance are perpetual. His substitutionary death secured my life so that I might be able to embrace a lifestyle of faith and repentance.
As a result of this “great exchange,” we can rest securely in the fact that Christ alone is the basis for our acceptance with God. No more striving. Simply resting by grace through faith. Worshiping God while enjoying His pleasure rather than working endlessly to earn His favor. On our worst day, we find refuge in the cross—for that is where we experience God’s love and forgiveness through Christ. On our best day, we find that we are still inadequate and in need of God’s grace—once again, we find this in the person of Christ as His Spirit lives in us and intercedes for us. May we revel in the fact that God accepts us as we are, because of who He is… and He has graciously purposed all things to make us more like Himself (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 3:18).
[Previous Posts: “Harlots at Heart” and “Justification vs. Sanctification”]