The Evangelical's Substitute
Geoffrey J. Paxton
The great work of Satan is imitation. The Scriptures teach that the one whose essence is darkness masquerades as an angel of light. Take the great confession of Peter as an example (Matt. 16:13-20). Jesus made it clear that Peter did not get this sort of information out of his own head or from any other man. It came from God, who had greatly privileged Peter in giving it to him (cf. Matt. 16:17). And yet, no sooner had Peter made that great confession than Satan entered his heart and, under the guise of great concern for the well-being of the Saviour, attempted to divert the Son of God from His God-given task (cf. Matt. 16:22). More instances could be cited, but let this one be sufficient. The work of Satan is imitative perversion.
At least one important consequence of this fact must be made clear at this point. It does not matter how holy a thing appears. It does not matter how much enthusiasm is evidenced in the discharge of a religious act. A thing is right in the sight of God only if it faithfully reflects the Biblical norm. Our trouble is that we have baptized certain things, such as emotional intensity, as infallible evidences of the Spirit's operation. We have apparently forgotten that the work of Satan par excellence is the work of cheap and godless imitation. We have forgotten that he adopts many different forms and guises in his inflexible opposition to God. While he is against God, he presents himself to be for the cause of God.
In this article we wish to discuss one of the vilest of Satan's imitative perversions today—namely, his provision of an alternative set of actions as a substitute for the glorious, once-for-all redemptive acts of God in Jesus Christ. Satan has so worked that he has provided an alternate "holy" history in the place of that one and only holy history, which is the history of Jesus Christ the Lord. Even more tragic than the diabolical substitution of Satan is that many evangelicals have so enthusiastically embraced this imitation as the way of salvation that the real way of salvation seems to be foreign and offensive. The situation is the more difficult to air because of the great show of piety and religious zeal that adorns the substitute way. Still, air it we must!
Our first question is: Where does this substitute "holy" history take place? Our answer in this context is simple and straightforward: In the professed believer. Satan seeks to attack God through the creatures of God and, in this particular instance, in the professedly believing creature. The essence of his attack is to dethrone God through the enthronement of the creature. It must also be made clear that in this dethronement of God and the enthronement of the professed believer, Satan perverts man. Satan is anti-God and therefore anti-man.
The attempt at dethroning God may take an overtly atheistic form such as in the philosophies of Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx; or it may take a religious form. It is the latter form that is the focus of our attention in this article.
Our second question is: How does Satan seek to effect this diabolical substitution? How does he effect that alternative way which in reality is expressive of darkness and not light, of death and not life?
Before we seek to answer this question, let us spend some time explicating the true holy history which God accepts, the history that saves and is expressive of the character of God as true God and Lord of the universe.
The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that the holy history which God acknowledges is that which took place when God Himself came to earth in His Son Jesus Christ. This holy history consists essentially and definitively in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. We call this "holy history," for such it is. From first to last it is perfectly expressive of the character of God. It took place in space and time, and is not a myth or a philosophic ideal. It is something that is concrete and "observable" after the fashion of other historical events such as the battle of Waterloo.
This history is also unique. It is unrepeatable. It happened only once. It can never happen again. The very nature of this history excludes the necessity and possibility of repetition. In this holy history God is seen to be God.
It must not be forgotten that the very nature of antichrist is to deny, in whatever fashion, that such a holy history has taken place. We say "in whatever fashion" because the essential aim is the denial of this history and not what form that denial takes. The attack that John fought against (see 1 John) was a sophisticated and very "spiritual" denial of the flesh-and-blood reality of the saving history of Jesus.
If John championed the reality of this holy history, then the writer to the Hebrews championed the uniqueness and unrepeatable nature of that history. As James Denney rightly observed, "the epistle may be said to give a description of the person and work of Christ as constituting the perfect religion for man. — James Denney, The Death of Christ (Tyndale Press, 1961), p. 120. This flesh-and-blood reality of history is the perfect religion for man. Man's response to this is not the perfect religion. The perfect religion consists in Jesus Christ, who definitively revealed God (Heb. 1:1-3), who is unique and who is superior to angels (Heb. 1 :~2:4), Moses (Heb. 3:1-6) and all priests before and after him (Heb. 4:14-5:10; 7:11-28).
The Epistle to the Hebrews stresses the uniqueness of Christ's sacrifice. At the very beginning of the Epistle the note of finality is struck: Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, "having made purgation of sins." Heb. 1:3. Later the author tells us that Christ was manifested once at the end of the age to do away with sin (Heb. 9:26). Then, with no apology for repetition, the writer states the "once" nature of Jesus' sacrifice (Heb. 9:28). That the writer obviously wants to stress this uniqueness is clear from Hebrews 10:12-14
. . . but when this Priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God . . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Hence, those who believe that this is so have confidence and holy boldness to enter "the holiest of all" by the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:19). What a Saviour! This, and no other, is that history which God recognizes and delights in.
Notice that in Hebrews 10:14 the writer says, by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever
those who are being made holy." What is the meaning of this statement? Listen to the wise reply of
The Word cannot mean that he has made them sinless, in the sense of having freed them completely from all the power of sin, from every trace of its presence. It means obviously that he has put them into the ideal religious relation to God. Because of his one offering, their sin no longer comes between them and God in the very least —Ibid., p.127 (italics supplied).
Believers are ideally related to God. Their standing with God can never be improved upon. All this, and nothing less, is because of that unique holy history of Jesus of Nazareth. All praise to God!
More could be said about that history, but we do not say more in order to stress what we have already said—namely, that this history, and this history alone, is the acts of God which save and bring the believer into the ideal relationship to God. There is never a moment and never a day when the repentant believer cannot confidently rely on the acts of God for perfect acceptance with God forever.
We must now come back to our question: How does Satan seek to effect the diabolical substitute for this unique holy history? True, he effects it, in this instance, in the professed believer. But how? The answer is not complex, though its reality is a tragedy. The method Satan uses is that of seeking to make the history (the Christian-life experiences) of the believer a saving history. What Satan has done is to bring about a great change of emphasis in our thinking and preaching which shifts the focus from the unique saving history of Jesus (the experiences of Jesus) to the history (the experiences) of the believer. The saved is presented as the Saviour. The object is presented as the subject; Man is presented as God.
To be more explicit still, we shall mention the following:
1. New-birth centered preaching
2. The believer's crucifixion
3. The believer's resurrection life
1. New-birth Centered Preaching
Because of the "sacredness" of the new birth in present-day evangelicalism, we had better state a few things at the outset. First, we deny neither the necessity nor the reality of the new birth. Both are Scriptural. Second, we do not deny that we must preach the new birth. What we do deny is that the new birth is the gospel. What we do repudiate is that a man is saved by the new birth. What we do deny is that the new birth is central in evangelical preaching. The type of preaching which dangles a problem-free and successful life before the congregation for forty minutes, only to thrust forth the possibility of a new birth as the solution to the unhappy life which the hearers are said to have, is far from the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this type of preaching the heart of the believer becomes a substitute for the Bethlehem manger. With oftentimes great emotion and zeal, a Satanic substitute has been effected. The new beginning, so lusted after by selfish man, becomes salvific. The substitute "holy" history has begun.
Note the following points:
a. The expression, "Let Jesus come into your heart," is not a Biblical way of preaching. The new birth was not the kerygma of the New Testament, and certainly it did not hold the place it has in much evangelical preaching. Why do we not seek to be more Biblical in our preaching instead of following our sacred (and determinative!) tradition?
b. Although the new birth is a necessity and a reality, the new birth does not save a man. A man is not saved by being born again! Much evangelical preaching says he is, but the Bible nowhere says so. To express this slightly differently, a man is not saved by Jesus coming into his heart. Much evangelicalism says he is, but the Bible nowhere says he is. A man is saved by the once-for-all coming of Jesus into the world — into the manger at Bethlehem. There are not two salvational comings. There are not two incarnations.
c. We need to study (or just read thoughtfully) the exposition which Jesus gave to Nicodemus. Jesus told Nicodemus that it was not enough to be nice; he needed to be new. To be least in the New Order (the Samaritan woman of John 4?) is far better than being the greatest in the Old Order. The climax of Jesus' exposition came in His statement concerning the uplifted Saviour and the necessity of faith and trust in that Saviour (cf. John 3:14-21). The eyes of Nicodemus were not turned to his own heart but to the uplifted Saviour. Nicodemus was urged to place his trust in that salvational history, not to commence a saving history. Brethren, why do we not follow the way of Jesus? Why do we follow the way of those who have led us astray?
d. If we preach the law of God, then only the gospel of the uplifted Saviour will make any sense. If we preach "the gospel of the changed life," then the law of God will be treated as nonsense. The primary concern of Biblical preaching is not the way God can make a dissatisfied sinner happy but the way — the only way — the rebellious sinner can make a dissatisfied Judge happy. The Bible stresses that man is beholden to God, not that God is beholden to man.
2. The Believer's Crucifixion
The popular notion of the crucifixion of self (by the self!) makes a half crucifixion out of the total crucifixion of Christ. This is the best that such nonsense can present. At worst it totally denies the crucifixion of Christ. Just as the new birth centered preaching detracts from the unique coming of Jesus, so the saving crucifixion of the self detracts from the unique crucifixion of Jesus There are not two comings that save, nor are there two crucifixions that make us acceptable with God. Concerning the notion of auto-crucifixion, note the following:
A common notion in much evangelical preaching is that the believer becomes acceptable to God, receives the Holy Spirit or gains deliverance from sin by the crucifixion of the self. This is saving crisis number two in the substitute "holy" history of the believer. Auto-crucifixion becomes salvific — i.e., it makes a man acceptable with God.
We have no hesitation in unequivocally asserting that the Bible knows absolutely nothing of this nonsense — except (and this is an important qualification) insofar as it frequently denies it. In Scripture there is only one crucifixion for the total acceptance of the believer with God forever. Such a crucifixion (of the holy Son of God) is a crisis crucifixion (for it bore the judgment of God). It is not the crucifixion of self by the self, but it is the crucifixion of Christ by the sinful self of man. In fact, it was the crucifixion for self — for me!
a. When we say that the New Testament knows nothing of the crucifixion of the believer, we of course mean this in the sense of the evangelical notion we are discussing. The Bible does recognize a crucifixion of the believer — but it is an "is" and not an "ought," an accomplished fact and not a task to be imposed. Also, the crucifixion of the believer that the Bible recognizes is that crucifixion which has taken place in the crucifixion of Jesus. The crucifixion of the believer is not in addition to or alongside of the one unique crucifixion of Jesus. So Paul could say, "I have been crucified with Christ. . ." Gal. 2:20. Further, Paul could take the crucifixion of the Colossians for granted and urge them to do likewise (Col. 2:203:4). All believers have, by the grace of God, been involved in the crucifixion of the holy Son of God. It is this crisis experience, and this alone, that God acknowledges. It is this experience of crucifixion, and no other, that puts the believer into the ideal relationship with God.
b. Romans 6:1-11 clearly teaches that an understanding of the "is" nature of the believer's crucifixion is fundamental for a proper understanding of the believer's existence. In this passage the believer is not called to another crucifixion but to the constant taking into account in all his life of the one true crucifixion. When we follow Paul's injunction, at least two things follow. First, our eyes are affixed to the unrepeatable experience of Jesus and not to any experience we may or may not have. Second, all our actions, etc., take on the nature of obedient response to the definitive saving history of Jesus. Note well: All the activity of the believer is responsive to (not creative of) the unique pleasing of God which came about by the saving activity of Jesus Christ.
c. When the call of Scripture comes to take up the cross and follow Jesus, it is (1) a call to repentance and (2) a call, therefore, to take up the cross of Jesus. It is my cross insofar as I, by faith through the grace of God, make the cross of Jesus my own. The believer is not called to take up another cross. Also, this taking up the cross of Jesus and making it my own is a constant, day-to-day thing. We need to daily take up the cross.
d. Along a homiletical line, the constant taking up the cross of Jesus by the believer should not be preached as a "thing in itself." It should always be preached in the context of the gospel. In fact, this is true of all the exhortations of the Bible. To isolate them and make them a "thing in itself" is to distort the unique perspective of justification and sanctification in Scripture.
e. What we have said is true of all true believers. There is a book in circulation among evangelicals which announces that a small, elite group of believers have "found the secret." The secret, apparently, is a crisis experience by which they have entered into a fuller relationship with God. In the name of the Saviour and in interests of the truth of Scripture, we make the following points about such believers:
(1) Their crisis experience made them not one whit more acceptable to God than they were when they reached out their beggarly hand to grasp the saving arm of the Saviour. Whatever their experience was, it was not that which made them acceptable with God.
(2) If they were not found more acceptable with God because of their crisis experience, they ought not to be thought of as more acceptable by other believers who have had no crisis experience.
(3) Because God gives His Spirit on the merits of the saving work of Jesus of Nazareth, the crisis experience of such men did not entitle them to a greater portion of the Spirit To assert that such did give them greater power, etc., is to assert that the bounty won by Jesus was not as great as it could have been. We challenge evangelicals everywhere to give an exposition of subsequent crisis experiences which does not detract from the utter sufficiency of the unique crisis experience of Jesus.
(4) Whatever the "secret" was that such men found, if it was not the secret hidden from the foundation of the earth and now made clear in the gospel of the saving history of Jesus, then it is not a Biblical secret. And if it is not a Biblical secret, then we should not look for it!
We come back to our assertion: There is one saving coming, and there is one saving crucifixion. Let us not have two of either.
3. The Believer's Resurrection Life
Just as Satan has attempted to replace the holy and saving coming of Jesus to Bethlehem's manger with the coming of the Spirit into the heart of the believer in new birth, and just as he has sought to substitute the crucifixion of the believer for the crucifixion of Christ for the believer, so Satan has attempted to substitute the holy life of the believer for the holiness of Christ for the believer.
The apostles went everywhere preaching the resurrection of Jesus with great power. This Christ event changed lives. But a lot of modern evangelism preaches the "gospel" of the changed life itself. This is Satanic substitution. It substitutes what no believer can do (i.e., find acceptance in the sight of God through a holy life) for what every believer ought to do (i.e., live a holy life). Satan seeks to substitute the life of faith (in the believer) for the Object of faith (the holy life of Christ for the believer).
Let us make something quite clear: We believe that the Scriptures call all believers to a life of holiness in Christ. We believe that without such no man shall see the Lord. What we do not believe is that that is the life which is the ground of our acceptance with God. What we do not believe is that that life is to be our confidence now or ever in the sight of God and our brethren. The hope and confidence of the believer is the life of Christ which He lived out precept by precept for us nearly two thousand years ago, which life is now in heaven at God's right hand.
Perhaps it would be helpful if we set out the reasons why the life of the believer here and now, however glorious, cannot (and should not) be seen as that which finds us acceptance with God:
a. To begin with, the former (i.e., the life of the believer) is the life of faith (sanctification), while the latter (i.e., the life of Christ) is the Object of faith (justification). Any theology which confuses justification and sanctification is bad theology. Indeed, insofar as evangelical theology does this, it is the theology of antichrist. It confuses the act of eating with the food which is eaten, the grasp of the drowning man with the Lifeboat of God — Jesus Christ our Lord. Such a theology substitutes the "thank you" of the beneficiary for the Gift of the Benefactor. Such a theology has the world of the Bible upside down and has man looking out from heaven and God with His arms outstretched for man the almighty to fill!
b. To substitute the life of faith for the Object of faith, the life of the believer for the Life for the believer, is to substitute an imperfect title for a perfect one. The best life of faith is as ineffectual as the worst life of faith when it comes to gaining acceptance with God.
c. To substitute the life of the believer for the Life for the believer is to substitute a visible righteousness for one that is hidden. Nothing visible to the believer and the world finds the privileged place as the ground of God's good pleasure toward us. Paul makes this clear when he says that the real life of the believer is not the one seen on earth but the one hidden with Christ at the right hand of God. It will not appear until Christ appears from heaven (see Col. 3:3, 4). Nothing visible is worthy to be the ground of God's good pleasure toward us—no holy feat, no statistics, no impressive ecclesiastical programs or structures, nothing at all! The eye of the believer should be fixed on Christ by faith if he would find unshakable confidence before God and man. Remember the words of Paul: ". . . we walk by faith, not by sight. . ."
d. To substitute the life of the believer for the life of Christ for the believer is to use God's gift to us to rob Him of His glory. Notice, we have called the life of the believer a gift, for such it is. It is a gracious donation of God in the Spirit. But it is insulting God to offer it to Him for our justification. It is substituting the partial gift for the full one. The present life of the believer in the Spirit is an anticipation of the last day. The new life of the believer is the eschatological era breaking into our existence here and now. Such a life is a down payment and the first fruits of the final harvest (Eph. 1:14; Rom. 8:23). How foolish it is to substitute the part payment for the full payment and the first fruits for the full harvest!
e. Also, to substitute the life of the believer for the One who is believed is to confuse the Persons of the Trinity. The life of faith is that which is created by the Spirit. The great Object of faith is the life of Christ for the believer. It is bad theology which substitutes the work of the Spirit for the work of the Son. Indeed, the Spirit's real work is to show us that work of the Son which has no substitute. The true Spirit never puts Himself in the place of Christ. To do so is the essential nature of the spirit of antichrist.
f. Finally, to substitute the life of the believer for the life of Christ is no work of true faith. Faith is never affixed to anything on earth. Faith is vertical. It looks to the right hand of God alone. Think of those things which are on earth—the life of the believer, the church, inwrought holiness, the work of the Spirit (yes, the Spirit) — all these things are on earth, and as such they cannot constitute the Object of faith. There is not the slightest depreciation of the Third Person of the Trinity meant here. The Spirit has been sent by Christ to all who believe to lead them to Him day by day and to whet their appetite for the Banquet of love. The Spirit never turns the eyes of the believer away from heaven.
This is why it is so foolish to offer the life of the believer on earth for the life of Christ in heaven. When Christ ascended to heaven, He took the acceptable Life of the believer with Him. In a very real sense we can reiterate the words of Jesus in this context: ". . . he that loses his life . . . shall find it." Those who wish to hold on to it here and now will have lost it there and then, and those who will lose it now on earth will have it there and then. We do not have our reward here and now as the hypocrites in Matthew 6:1-18. Only those who are hungering and thirsting will be filled. Those who think that they are filled here and now need to beware lest they hunger and thirst there and then.
Evangelicalism needs to take stock. There is strong evidence to show that the believer has been turned into the "Christ" who has satisfied the righteous demands of God. Another way to say this is that the Spirit has been turned into Christ and Christ has been turned into the Spirit. The Spirit's work in the believer is offered in the place of the work of Christ for the believer. Brethren, these things ought not to be. There is one saving coming, one saving crucifixion and one saving Life. This is the coming, dying and rising of Jesus Christ—not that of the believer. We challenge evangelicals to defend much of their popular and influential theologies and the truth at the same time. Such cannot be done, because the former is, in all too many instances, an attempted negation of the latter. What we surely need to hear about is the Substitute for the evangelical and not the substitute work of the evangelical.
Geoffrey J. Paxton is an Anglican clergyman and principal of the Queensland Bible Institute, Brisbane, Australia.