When our preaching wanders into the realm of motivational speaking, we play right into Satan’s hand by delivering a less than complete gospel message. When our teaching takes the form of self-help pop psychology delivering ten steps to a better life, we have stripped the power from the gospel. But when we let the Bible speak for itself, the message of Christ is a message of an exchanged life. It is not a message of life improvement; it is a message of life transformation.
For the unbeliever, it is the exchange of my sin for Christ’s righteousness. This is the basis of my justification, my being reconciled to God. “God made Him [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (II Cor 5:21). When Christ died in our place, as our substitute, the penalty of sin was removed, and our “certificate of debt was cancelled being nailed to a cross” (Col 2:14). “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6). Christ died on our behalf.
Satan would prefer to keep this message quiet and have us teach a message of life improvement because without a recognition of our sin and it’s penalty; without an understanding of Christ’s substitutionary death in our place; and without placing our faith in Christ for salvation, we will never “receive Christ”. We will never become part of God’s family, a citizen of God’s kingdom. Satan would like to keep us in the dark regarding our need for salvation and Christ’s finished work on the cross to satisfy the need.
But what happens after our initial salvation, our justification, our reconciliation with God? All true ministers of the gospel agree with the concept of the exchanged life – Christ’s righteousness exchanged for our sin – regarding our justification. But it is uncanny to me how many times we stop here and, leaving the exchanged life concept behind, we address living the Christian life as a ten step process of self-improvement.
Again this plays right into Satan’s hand. He knows we cannot live an effective and growing Christian life in our own power and is happy for us to try. What we need to preach and understand is that our ongoing sanctification, growth, and maturity is, just like our justification, totally dependent on the exchanged life.
The great exchange – Christ’s life for mine, His moral purity for my moral depravity, His supernatural man for my natural man, His new nature for my old nature, His new heart for my heart of wickedness, His humility for my selfish ambition, His Holy Spirit for my ambivalence – is the complete foundation for living the Christian life. But too often, like the Galatians of old, we accept the concept of the exchanged life for our justification, but ignore its ramifications for our sanctification. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:1-3).
Rather than being perfected by the flesh, the New Testament teaches we are perfected by the Spirit of Christ who lives inside, who dwells in our new heart. Look at this recurrent theme. “Since Christ is in you (Rom 8:10)…Your life is hidden with Christ (Col 3:3)…Christ in you, the hope of glory (Col 1:27)…Christ who is your life (Col 3:4)…It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). And finally, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5:10).
The saving death of Christ took away our sins and reconciled us to God. The saving life of Christ now carries us forward. When we appropriate by faith the saving life of Christ and believe all that God promised regarding His indwelling presence and power, we will begin to experience the true joy of the Christian life; the joy of the truly supernatural life in Christ.