"MR. SMITH, MEET YOUR SUBSTITUTE"
by Charles (Chuck) R. Swindoll, (from his book "Growing Deep in the CHRISTIAN LIFE")
When Peter Marshall preached, people listened. Even if they didn't believe what he said. Even when they said they were not interested. The man refused to be ignored.
Who can fully explain it? There was something about his winsome, contagious style that made it impossible for people not to listen. Even when he became the chaplain of the United States Senate and prayed more than he preached, his prayers became legendary. Ask those who were fortunate enough to have heard him. They'll tell you that everywhere Marshall preached, crowds gathered. Even if it were raining or snowing outside, the main floor and balconies would be full, packed with people, with many others who could not find a sear were willing to stand and listen as he spoke the truth of the living God.
Peter Marshall was Scottish, but his popularity went deeper than his Scottish brogue. And it certainly was more than just a charming personality or his well-timed humor that would win a hearing. The man had a way with men as well as with women. He was admired by both. A man's man and yet such a sensitive touch. At times one would swear he was more a poet than a preacher. He wasn't extemporaneous. To the surprise of many, Marshall read his sermons, considered a no-no by most professors of homiletics. But I suppose if one could read like Peter Marshall, who really cared if he broke that rule?
A contemporary of Marshall's said it best with this terse analysis:
What Peter Marshall says, you never forget......But it isn't how he says it, so much as what he says, you never forget.....He has a gift for word pictures, for little dramas and folksy incidents; he takes you out on the road to Galilee and makes you think you belong there, and he brings you back sharply to Main Street. He never preaches over your head.
Perhaps that, more than any other single ingredient, was the secret of the man's success. He certainly had the ability to go much deeper, but he purposely restrained himself. He was always cognizant of his audience. Since he was from an improverished background, he understood the common man and woman. So he spoke in plain terms, colorful to be sure, and dramatic at times; but people never had trouble connecting with what Peter Marshall was saying. Listen to a part of one of his sermons:
Our country is full of Joneses, and they all have
problems of one kind or another.
Appropriately, he entitled that sermon "Mr. Jones, Meet the Master." I have hitchhiked on the man's idea by choosing a similar title for this chapter: "Mr. Smith, Meet Your Substitute." I figure that Mr. Jones has been picked on long enough. We need to give Jones a break. So, Mr. Smith, this is for you.....as well as for your wife.....and the Johnsons, the Franklins, the Clarks, the Parkers, or whatever your name may be. Because I'm writing to the common man and woman today who happens to find himself or herself in the same precarious predicament. The predicament is called sin. And that's why you need a substitute.
FOUR MAJOR ISSUES
Let's talk about that "why" issue.
The sixth book in the New Testament is the book of Romans. In the third chapter of that book (which is actually a letter originally written to some people who lived in Rome, Italy, in the first century), you may be surprised to hear that your biography is included. It doesn't actually include your name or your place of residence, but it does tell the story of your personal life. The stuff it mentions isn't very attractive, I should warn you, but it is the truth. And so, Mr. Smith, this is your life. I mentioned it earlier, but it bears repeating.
Our Condition: Totally Depraved
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written,
"THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.....For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:9-20,23).
Honestly, now, does that sound like your life? Is that a fairly apt description of the inner you.....down inside where nobody else can look? I think so. How do I know? Because it describes me, too. To borrow from my earlier comment, you and I are "blue all over." Even when we try to hide it, even when we put on our sophisticated best, it comes out when we least expect it.
Maybe you heard about the large commercial jet that was flying from Chicago to Los Angeles. About a half hour after takeoff, the passengers on board heard a voice over the loud speaker. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This is a recording. You have the privilege of being on the first wholly electronically controlled jet. This plan took off electronically. It will soon be flying at 30,000 feet electronically. It will ultimately land electronically in Los Angeles. This plan has no pilot or copilot and no flight engineer because they are no longer needed. But do not worry, nothing can possibly go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong, go wrong....."
God's Character: Infinitely Holy
Next, my friend Smith, I should mention something that
will only add insult to injury. God is righteous, perfect,
and infinitely holy. That's His standard. It is sometimes
called "glory" in the New Testament. We looked earlier at
Romans 3:23. Let me paraphrase it:
Unlike all humanity, God operates from a different level of expectation. His existence is in the realm of absolute perfection. He requires the same from others. Whoever hopes to relate to Him must be as righteous as He is righteous. How different from us! To relate to me you don't have to be perfect. In fact, if you act like you are, I get very uncomfortable. "Just be what you are," we say. But God is not like that. God doesn't shrug, wink, and say, "Ah, that's okay."
Let me put it another way. God's triangle is perfect. And in order for you and me to fellowship with Him, our triangles must be congruent. The sides and the angles must match. So must the space within. Perfection requires matching perfection.
Ah, there's the rub! We have sinned and fallen short of the perfection of God. No one qualifies as perfect. Don't misunderstand, there are times that our goodness is astounding. We take great strides, we produce great achievements. We may even surprise ourselves with periodic times of goodness, gentleness, and compassion. But "perfect"? Never. Or "infinitely holy"? How about "pure"? No, only God is those things. Romans 3:21 calls God's perfection, holiness, and purity "......the righteousness of God which is being manifested in the Law and the Prophets." Compared to that standard, all humans come up short.
J.B. Phillips, in his paraphrase, puts it like this:
..........indeed it is the straight edge of the Law that shows us how crooked we are.
Isn't that the truth? He is perfect and spotless white. Not a taint of gray. Not a hint of blue. And along comes our blue rectangle, trying to work its way into that perfect, holy and pure triangle. And the two just won't match! There is no way Mr. Smith, that we can match His righteousness.
Our Need: A Substitute
Here we are, sinners by birth, sinners by nature, sinners by choice, trying to reach and attain a relationship with the Holy God who made us. And we "fall short." We can't make it because we're spiritually crippled. In fact, the New Testament teaches that we're "dead in trespasses and sin."
What do we need? Let me put it plain and simple, Mr. Smith; we need help outside ourselves.
We need some way to become clean within so that we can relate to a God who is perfect. Scripture says, ".....God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (1John 1:5). If we hope to know God and walk with God and relate to God, we must be able to stand the scrutiny of that kind of light. But our light is out. We're all dark and He is all light. In his immortal hymn, Charles Wesley envisioned us in a dark dungeon, chained and helpless -
>Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature's night.........
We can't get out of the dungeon, not even if we try. Our own sin holds us in bondage. We need someone to rescue us from the hole. We need an advocate in the courtroom of justice. We need someone who will present our case. We need someone to be our substitute. So God provided the Savior.
God's Provision: A Savior
.......and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forebearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:24-26, NIV).
Is that great news? Mr. Smith, you have just been introduced to your substitute. He is Christ, the sinless and perfect Son of God. He is the One who accomplished your rescue. It occurred on a cross. It was effective because He was the only One who could qualify as our substitute before God. Sin requires a penalty - death - in order for God's righteous demands to be satisfied. The ransom must be paid. And Christ fills that role to perfection. You and I need to be washed. We need to be made sparkling clean. And God can't give up on His plan, for He hates sin. Being perfect He cannot relate to sinful things. He couldn't even if He tried, because His nature is repelled by sin. Sin calls for judgment. And that is why the cross is so significant. It became the place of judgment. It was there the price was paid in full.
In verse 24 of Romans 3, the term justified appears. Let's work with that word a few moments. It does not simply mean "just as if I'd never sinned." That doesn't go far enough! Neither does it mean that God makes me righteous so that I never sin again. It means to be "declared righteous." Justification is God's merciful act, whereby He declares righteous the believing sinner while he is still in his sinning state. He sees us in our need, wallowing around in the swamp of our sin. He sees us looking to Jesus Christ and trusting Him completely by faith, to cleanse us from our sin. And though we come to Him with all of our needs and in all of our darkness, God says to us, "Declared righteous! Forgiven! Pardoned!" Wesley caught the significance of all this as he completed that same stanza:
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray,
I like the way Billy Graham imagines all this in a
Can you imagine what a newspaperman would do with this event?
The reporter on a story like that would never be able to understand the irony of such a scene, unless he had been introduced to the Judge beforehand and knew His character. Pardon and Christ's righteousness come to us only when we totally trust ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Savior. When we do this, God welcomes us into His intimate favor. Clothed in Christ's righteousness we can now enjoy God's fellowship.
All of that is included in what it means to be "justified." I come to Him in all my need. I am hopelessly lost, spiritually dead. And I present myself to Christ just as I am. I have nothing to give that would earn my way in. If I could I would, but I can't. So the only way I can present myself to Him in my lost condition is by faith. Coming in my need, expressing faith in His Son who died for me, I understand that God sees me coming by faith and admitting my sinfulness. At that epochal moment, He declares me righteous.
On occasion I think of the cross as a sponge....a "spiritual sponge" that has taken the sins of mankind - past, present, and future - and absorbed them all. At one awful moment, Christ bore our sins, thus satisfying the righteous demands of the Father, completely and instantaneously clearing up my debt. My sin is forgiven. My enslavement is broken. I am set free from sin's power over me once and for all. Redemption, another significant word in verse 24, also occurs. I am set at liberty, so as never to come back to the slave market of sin - never again in bondage to it. And remember, the rescue occurred because of what Christ did - not because of what I did!
I love the way Romans 3:28 reads:
For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
I remember hearing a seasoned Bible teacher say, "Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation." What a waste! Scripture teaches that salvation is a by-faith, not-by-works transaction.
In Romans 4:4-5, this is made ever so clear:
Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Just think of your paycheck, Mr. Smith. When you boss or someone from your boss's office brings you your paycheck, you take it. You take it, I might add, without a great deal of gratitude. You don't drop to your knees and say, "Oh thank you-thank you so very much for this gift." You probably grab the check and don't give much thought to saying thanks. Why? Because you earned it. You worked hard for it. Now, if your boss attaches a bonus of a thousand bucks ( and maybe even adds, "Though you're dropping in your efficiency, I want you to know I love you), wouldn't that be great? Great? That would be a miracle! There's a lot of difference between a wage and a gift.
God looks at us in all of our need and He sees nothing worth commending. Not only are we dropping in our spiritual efficiency, we have no light, no holiness. We're moving in the opposite direction , despising Him, living in a dungeon of sin, habitually carrying out the lifestyle of our sinful nature. Realizing our need, we accept his miraculous, eternal bonus - the gift of His Son. And in grace, our dungeon "flamed with light." You and I didn't even deserve the light, yet He gave it to us as an unmerited gift. Look again at verse 5:
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
I love that verse! Because there's no way you and I can get any credit. We're bound in a dungeon, lost in ourselves. We don't even know where to find the light. Even when we try, we are like the line out of the country-western song, we "look for love in all the wrong places."
Reminds me of the story I read this past week about a drunk down on all fours late one night under a streetlight. He was groping around the ground, feeling the cement, peering intently at the little cracks. And a friend drives up and says, "Sam, what are you doing there?" Sam answers, "I lost my wallet." So the friend gets out of his car, walks over, gets down on his hands and knees with him, and they both start looking. Neither one can find it. Finally the friend says to the drunk buddy:
"Are you sure you lost the wallet here?"
Mr. Smith, I'm going to level with you. I know you fairly well, even though we've never met. You read these words about the gift of eternal life and you simply cannot fathom them, so you won't take them. I mean, you've got your pride so you will reject them. I can even imagine your reluctance: "Too good to be true, Chuck. Sounds great. Looks good in a book. And it's definitely an intriguing idea. Who wouldn't want to tell people that? But if I get into heaven, I'll earn it on my own."
Well, let me give you just a little logic to wrestle with. If you plan to work your way in, how much work is enough work to guarantee that you have made it? And if it's something you work for, why does God say in His Book that it's for "the one who does not work, but believes......"? Let me spell it out:
When God provided the Savior, He said to each one of us, "Here is my Gift to you," How often, when folks hear that, they shake their heads and mumble, "I can't believe it."
In Corinthians 5:20, we find these words:
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
That's the message of this chapter in a nutshell. I beg you.....be reconciled to God. Watch that barrier crumble, the one between you and God, as you step across by faith. Look at the next verse.
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
Now let me identify the pronouns:
He[God, the Father] made Him [God, the Son] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf [that happened at the cross], that we [the sinner] might become the righteousness of God in Him [Christ].
Let's boil it down:
How? The Cross.
But how can the sinner in the black hole of his need ever know God in the spotless white of all of His righteousness? Verse 20 tells us. By coming to know Him who knew no sin, the one who became sin on our behalf. Put your pride in your pocket, Mr. Smith. You need a substitute. You need a defense attorney......an eternal advocate. And in Christ - and Christ alone - you've got one.
THREE CRUCIAL QUESTIONS
Seems to me there are three crucial questions we must answer. Each has a two-word answer.
Now let me spell that out.
First question: Is there any hope for lost sinners? Yes. Christ. Not Christ and the church. Not Christ and good works. Not Christ and sincerity. Not Christ and giving up your sins. Not Christ and trying real hard. Not Christ and baptism, Christ and christening, Christ and morality, or Christ and a good family. No! Christ (period). Otherwise, it's works. He died for our sins and was placed in the grave as proof of His death. He rose from the dead bodily, miraculously, in proof of His life beyond. If you believe that He died and rose for you, you have eternal life. It's a gift.
Second question: Isn't there any work for a seeker to do? Don't I have to add to it? Answer: No (period). Believe!
One of my favorite illustrations of the importance of believing and not working is to consider a nice meal you and I enjoy together. You invite me over. I come to your home. We have planned this for quite some time, and you've worked hard in the kitchen. You have prepared my favorite meal. You are thrilled because you have a great recipe. And I'm happy because it's going to be a delightful evening with you. I knock on your door. I walk in and can smell the meal (ahh!) all the way to the front door. I'm starved. We sit down together at the table, and you serve this delicious meal. We dine and dialogue together. What a thoroughly enjoyable evening!
Then, as I get up to leave, I reach into my pocket and say, "Now, what do I owe you?" You're shocked! That's an insult. You knew what I needed, and out of love for me, you fixed it and served it. Why, a major part of being a good host is that you pick up the tab. For me to suggest that I'll pay for it is like a slap in the face. You don't even want me to help with the dishes. Love motivated your giving me this great meal. It is your gift to me. To ask to pay for it repels your love.
Do you realize that there are men and women all around the world who are reaching in their pockets this very day saying, "Okay, God....how much do I owe You?"
I have communicated this same message for years, but I will never forget the time I had a lady come to the platform after a meeting to see me. She has dissolved in tears. She said, "Here's my Bible. Would you sign your autograph in the back, just your autograph? And then," she added, "would you put underneath it in quotes 'Salvation is a gift"?
"You see," she explained, "my background is religious and all my life I've worked so hard. All my friends are from that same religion and they are all still working so hard. Now - for the first time in my life, I realize that God is really offering me a gift. The thing I have noticed about all of us, all these years, is that none of us has ever been secure. We've never known that salvation was ours forever - because we worked so hard for it. Our plan was to keep working so we could keep it in us."
She had been reaching into her purse all these years, trying to pay God for His gift. Was it free? No, not really. It cost Christ His life at the cross many centuries ago.
Third question: Is there any way to lose the gift? No, never! Now stop and think before you disagree. Stay with biblical logic, not human reasoning. If you work for it, then you can certainly lose it. And that would mean it is not a gift; it's what you've earned. We really confuse things when we try to turn a gift into a wage. Furthermore, just as no one can say how much work is enough to earn it, no one can ever say how little work is enough to lost it.
Salvation is simply a gift. It's simple, but it wasn't easy. It's free, but it wasn't cheap. It's yours, but it isn't automatic. You must receive it. When you do, it is your forever.
TWO POSSIBLE RESPONSES
We're back to basics, Mr. Smith. When you return to the roots of salvation, you can either believe and accept this gift, or you can refuse and reject it. And you can go right on living, by the way. You won't suddenly get struck by lightning if you reject Christ. I've noticed that God doesn't immediately start doing bad things to people who refuse His Son. He doesn't make you look foolish. He won't suddenly cut your legs off at the knees. He doesn't scar your face or make you lose your job. He doesn't keep your car from starting because you reject the message. He doesn't kill your closest friend or cause your mate to leave you as a judgment because you didn't believe. That's not the way God operates.
He simply waits.
And that fakes people out. That makes some folks think that if He really meant it, then He's zap them for refusing to take His gift. No. Not necessarily. Those who think like that don't understand God. He holds out His grace and He makes it available even if we choose to reject it.
ONE FINAL REMINDER
But I must remind you of something: You don't have forever. With no intention of manipulating you, you need to remember that death is certain. I wish I had kept track of the funeral services I have conducted in the last ten years on behalf of those who died before the age of fifty. Without trying to sound dramatic, I think it would shock you to know how many die before they turn fifty. And I'm sure some of them thought, "I've got a long time to go."
Listen, sin is terminal. And Mr. Smith, you've got that disease. It leads to death. It may not even be a year before you are gone......and you will have thought you had plenty of time.
I'm sure Peter Marshall thought he had a long, long time. May I return to his life? He was appointed to the Senate chaplaincy in early January 1947.....a specimen of good health. Yet is was a shade beyond two years that this forty-seven-year-old man was seized with a heart attack and died. He was as eloquent and creative as ever right up to the last.....but within a matter of hours, his voice was hushed forever. Only the printed page speaks for Marshall today.
A sermon of his that one can never forget is what he called "The Tap on the Shoulder."
We're only a little over halfway through this book, but you may have already felt God's tap on your shoulder. If so, respond. Stop reading. Close the book, bow your head, and tell the Lord you have felt His tap-and you want to accept His gift of eternal life. Thank Him for giving you His Son, Jesus Christ.
If you have done that, Mr. Smith.....you have just met your Substitute.
Charles (Chuck) R. Swindoll's book "Growing Deep in the CHRISTIAN LIFE" can be found in Christian book stores.
Swindoll, Charles R., "Growing Deep in the CHRISTIAN LIFE" 1986 Charles R. Swindoll, Inc., Multnomah Press, Portland, Oregon 97266, p.233-245
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