The Great Exchange

(An Excerpt from Ephesians Plus, a Bible Study by Connie Cook)

Yesterday, I said that today we’d be looking today at our part in the covenant of peace. And we will. But first we need to look at one more aspect of God’s part.

Yesterday, I said that, with both testaments, something is bestowed or given through the death of the person who made the testament. Something is also given through a covenant.  Today, let’s look first at what it is that we’re given through this covenant God wants to make with us. I’m calling it, “The Great Exchange.”

I think 2 Corinthians 5:21 is the clearest of all the Great Exchange passages. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

I have absolutely no idea how it works.  All I know is that Christ took my sin and gave me His righteousness. Somehow, through His death on the cross, the Great Exchange happened.

A couple of days ago we talked about animal sacrifice as a picture or an object lesson.  Animal sacrifice was always insufficient to make “the Great Exchange.” No amount of bull or sheep or goat blood could really take away sin, and no amount of animal blood could make a person righteous before God. (In the last half of today’s post, we’ll learn what the key ingredient was that made a person righteous before God. If that key ingredient was present and involved in the animal sacrifice, then the animal sacrifice did its job.) But what was it that the animal sacrifice was picturing?  It was picturing the Great Exchange. The death of the innocent for the guilty. The death of the righteous for the unrighteous.

And now we come to that one human sacrifice that was acceptable to God. There was only one truly righteous (perfect) human who has ever lived. His name was Jesus Christ.  And who was He, really? Why was He able to live a perfect life when the rest of us aren’t?

Again, all this will be old news for those of us to whom it’s old news, but for those of us to whom it isn’t, we need to talk briefly about who Jesus really was.

John 3:16 tells us who Jesus really is: the only begotten Son of God.

But what does it mean that Jesus is God’s begotten Son?  There’s no time today to open up an in-depth study on the subject, but essentially, it means that Jesus was both God and man.  God came to earth and walked around in human skin for thirty-three years. That is what we celebrate at Christmas — God becoming man.  The title, “the Son of God,” properly understood, means, “Really and truly God!”

Because Jesus was not only really and truly God but really and truly human, too, earlier I mentioned  one, acceptable human sacrifice. You may find it a little shocking to hear Jesus’ death talked about as human sacrifice. That’s okay. I want it to be a little shocking. Just as we’ve managed to pretty up the flood of Noah’s day, we’ve also managed to pretty up (or at least tame down) the sacrificial death of God’s Son. Most of us have heard about it so often, it’s stopped being a shocking thing.  And it should be a shocking thing.

If Jesus’ death was human sacrifice, doesn’t that raise some huge theological issues? After all, didn’t I say in an earlier post that human sacrifice was a great evil that God abhors?

I know people who find this whole issue a major stumbling block to accepting Christianity. They see the notion of God sacrificing His Son for us as repellent. After all, that’s not how fathers should treat their sons! But what they’re forgetting is that Jesus is God. God sacrificed Himself. The Mighty Warrior turned His weapons on Himself. It is repellent to sacrifice someone else’s life for one’s own sake.  Is it repellent to sacrifice one’s own life for someone else’s sake? That is an action that is the opposite of repellent. That is an action that is the most heroic action possible. And you have to remember that God’s Son (God Himself) didn’t only give His life the way many heroes have “for his country” or for those who are on His side — those who are already at peace with Him.  He gave His life for those who are at war with him because of the evil they do. What kind of warrior sacrifices his own life not just for his friends but for his enemies?  In that sacrifice, we see not only the most heroic action possible; we see the most loving action possible.

This is the “salvation message” that I kept referring to yesterday. It is the clear teaching of Scripture that it was Jesus’ death, the death of God’s own Son (God Himself in the person of the Son), that was the means of allowing God to make a covenant of peace with us. For those who enter into this covenant with Him, their sin is dealt with because of that death. The Mighty Warrior must destroy evil. But He destroyed evil by submitting to it and to all it could do to Him, and through that submission to it, He conquered it.

And through His death on the cross, He offers to take our sin and give us His righteousness — to anyone who wants it!

Again, I have no idea how it works. There are a lot of things from the Bible that make sense to me. “The message of salvation” is not one of them.  I don’t have to make sense of it to have experienced the truth of it, however.  And I have.

But I’ve said that every covenant had two parties who had a part to play in the making of the covenant. If all we’ve been talking about today was God’s part, what’s ours? How do we enter into this covenant of peace?

The only part we have in the covenant is active faith.

But before we learn a little more about “active faith” and what that looks like, maybe we should talk for a moment about this term “saved” or “salvation” that keeps cropping up. These are words Christians are fond of tossing around, but they may put you off as foreign “Christianese” words.  So let’s talk about what Christians mean by “saved” or “salvation.”

For synonyms, you could use words like “rescued” or “delivered.” When the Bible talks about being “saved,” it means to be rescued or delivered. To be rescued or delivered means to be rescued or delivered from something and to something.

An everyday situation in which we might use the word “saved” could be a circumstance like a near-drowning.  Think about what a drowning man is saved from and to.  When a drowning man is saved, he’s saved from drowning and saved back to shore. No rescuer tries only to keep a man’s head above the water and doesn’t ever worry about getting him back onto dry land.

Now let’s talk about the sense in which the Bible uses the word “saved.” In a biblical context, what are we saved from and to?  Remember our discussion on spiritual death and eternal spiritual death?  Spiritual death is our separation (through sin) from our Creator who is the only ultimate source of all that is good and lovely.  Eternal spiritual death is an eternal separation from Him.  Another name for eternal spiritual death is hell.

So we can be saved from that break in relationship with God that our sin has created.  And we can be saved from that eternal state of separation that physical death makes permanent (aka: hell).

But the reversal is that we are saved to a state of restored relationship with God by being made righteous with Christ’s righteousness.  That begins now, in this life.  Physical death only makes it permanent.  And perfect.  We call that state of being “heaven.”

So, we’re saved from hell (and its taste of separation from God that life on this earth gives us), and we’re saved to heaven (and begin to taste it here and now through restored relationship with God and His righteousness).

But now our part: what do we do to enter into that state of restored relationship?

The question was asked very clearly by one interested party in Acts 16:30.

“What must I do to be saved?” the questioner asked.

The answer was, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

And for another very clear answer, let’s go back to John 3:16: “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

So we must believe “on the Lord Jesus Christ.” We must believe in “the only begotten Son of God.”

Now the obvious question arises, “What does faith mean? What does it mean to believe?”

I like the definition, “To think to be true.”  To believe something is to think it’s true.  If I believe in the daily weather report (which I usually don’t), then I think the weather will happen the way the forecast tells me it will.

But why would God require that we accept as true a certain set of beliefs in order to be saved? Again, I believe it’s because He’s a gentleman.  He doesn’t force us into His covenant of peace. We must want to be saved.  But if we believe the truth, about Him and about what we need to be saved from and to, then won’t we want Him to save us?  It seems to me that the wanting follows automatically on the heels of the believing.

Now, why am I making a point of calling our part in the covenant that God wants to make with us “active faith”?  From what we’ve seen from Scripture (and who else would we ask?) all we have to do to be saved is believe or have faith.  And I’ve defined “believing” as “thinking a thing to be true.”

But here’s what I want us to consider. There is a difference between believing and saying.  Hopefully, most of us only say we think a thing is true when we really do. But it’s very possible to say we believe something when we don’t, in fact, believe it.  Sometimes we even fool ourselves.

How do we know the difference between saying and believing? Back to today’s weather report, let’s say it called for rain.  If I believe the weather report, what will I do when I head out the door on my way somewhere?

If I believe the weather report, unless I want to get wet, I’ll take along an umbrella or a raincoat or something similar. If I hear the weather report calling for rain but I look out and see the sunny, July weather, cloud-free as far as the eye can see, and I head off without making any preparations for bad weather, have I believed the weather report? I may say I believe it, but if I my actions say I don’t, it doesn’t matter what my words say.  And that’s my point about active faith. If it’s faith, it’s active. We act on what we believe — what we think is true. It’s automatic. We don’t have to work at it. We don’t have to try to act on what we believe. We do act on it.

Let’s get back to Noah and look at his life as an example of entering into God’s covenant of peace through active faith.  Hebrews 11:6-7 holds up Noah as an example of active faith. How do we know that Noah believed that what God said was going to happen was going to happen?

According to Hebrews 11:6-7, Noah became an “heir of righteousness” not because he did everything right, not even because he built a big boat but because he had faith in God. Still, if he hadn’t built the big boat, what would that tell us about his so-called faith in God and in what God had said was going to happen?

So, was Noah saved from the flood through his faith or through his actions?

If he hadn’t believed that there was a flood coming, then he wouldn’t have built the big boat. If he said he believed that there was a flood coming, but he didn’t build the big boat, then it wasn’t true faith. It was a “words-only” kind of faith. Which isn’t faith at all. But it all started with what he believed. He simply thought that God was telling him the truth. The only real Weatherman told him to expect rain, and he did. So he built the boat!

That key ingredient I mentioned earlier which made animal sacrifice effective for taking away sin was active faith. It wasn’t the sacrifice of bulls and goats that could take away people’s sin. There was only one sacrifice that could do that work. But in order for that sacrifice to do a person any good, he has to have that key ingredient of faith. Then, because God had commanded the sacrifice of bulls and goats, those with faith in Him acted on His commands. They didn’t have to know why they were doing it. They didn’t have to realize it was a picture of something much larger. They just had to know that God was God, that He had commanded them what to do, and then, to do it. It was still their faith that was the means of entering into the covenant with Him.  But that faith took action.

But what are the basic facts that the Bible says we must think are true in order to be saved?  We’ve seen from Acts 16:31 that we must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We’ve seen from John 3:16 that we must also recognize that He is the only begotten Son of God (or in a biblical understanding of a “begotten Son,” that He is really and truly God.  And God means, “the One in ultimate control; the Sovereign One.”  If I believe that Jesus is God, I accept that He is really the One in ultimate control of me and my life.).  1 Corinthians 15:1-8 also tells that, in order to be saved, we must believe that Jesus died for sin, was buried, rose again, and was seen by witnesses after his death, burial, and resurrection.

Now, here’s a bit of a tricky question. If I believe that “the Lord Jesus Christ,” “the only begotten Son of God,” (God in human flesh) “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” and that “by grace I have been saved through faith…not of works lest anyone should boast …” (Ephesians 2:8-9) what sort of action will follow as the natural extension of that belief?

Do you find that a hard question to answer? I have to admit that I did. I believe that all faith produces action in some way, but when we’re talking about the faith we need in order to be saved, when we need to believe that there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, that the work’s all done for us, then what kind of an action can that faith possibly produce? If we’re believing that nothing we do can save us, then wouldn’t we do nothing? That doesn’t seem very doctrinally sound!

I think there is an action associated with saving faith, but it’s an action that we don’t normally associate with the word “action.”  All the same, it is a verb — an active verb, even.

What about resting? Or to put it another way, depending? Leaning? Putting all of one’s weight on? These, I believe, are the kind of actions that are called for in saving faith. (As a matter of fact, if we believe that nothing we do can save us, then we will do nothing … to save ourselves, that is. We may do plenty because we’ve been saved, but that will be from a different motivation.)

If I believe in “the Lord Jesus Christ,” I would say, biblically-speaking, it means that I’m depending on Him to save me. Just resting in Him. Leaning on Him. Putting all my weight on Him. Taking Him at His word that He wants to save me and that He’s done everything necessary. That’s it.

If you are trusting Jesus Christ for your salvation, then you are “in Christ.” That’s what the Bible says! Just believe it! Take God at His word.  If you are “in Christ,” then you are a new creation living under the New Covenant.  If you’re not sure what that looks like, try reading Ephesians 1. All those blessings are yours. Peace with God! What an unspeakably wonderful thing it is!

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