By Elizabeth Prata
If some of you plume yourselves with the notion that you are righteous, I pray God to pluck those fine feathers off you and make you see yourselves, for if you never see your own nothingness, you will never understand Christ’s all-sufficiency. Unless you are pulled down, Christ will never lift you up.~Charles Spurgeon, Sermon 3392, “Justification by Faith”
There is something called The Great Exchange. Sinclair Ferguson explains the positive side of it here as he goes through Romans 1:
Exchange number three is the gracious, unmerited (in fact, demerited) exchange that God provided in Christ. Without compromise of His righteousness revealed in wrath, God righteously justifies sinners through the redemption He provided in Christ’s blood-propitiation for our sins. This Paul states in the rich and tightly-packed words of Romans 3:21–26.
It is only later in the letter that he gives us a different, and in some ways more fundamental, way of looking at this: the Son of God took our nature and came “in the likeness of sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3) in order to exchange places with Adam, so that His obedience and righteousness might for our sakes be exchanged for Adam’s (and our) disobedience and sin (Rom. 5:12–21).
Exchange number four is that which is offered to sinners in the gospel: righteousness and justification instead of unrighteousness and condemnation. Moreover, this Christ-shaped righteousness was constituted by His entire life of obedience and His wrath-embracing sacrifice on the cross, where He was made a sin offering (He came, says Paul in Rom. 8:3, “on account of sin,” or “to be a sin offering”; NIV).
In short, on the cross, Jesus exchanged His righteousness for our sins, so that when God looks at us He sees Christ’s righteousness, and when He looked at Jesus on the cross, He saw our sins that must be punished. Praise Him who knew no sin for taking upon Himself our sins, so that we may be justified before a Holy God!
There is a negative exchange too.
The sorrows of those who have bartered for another god will be multiplied; I shall not pour out their drink offerings of blood, Nor will I take their names upon my lips. Psalm 16:4.
Woe! They have bartered away their life and soul for an evil vapor that will only send them to their position in the Lake of Fire! Gill’s Exposition says of the verse in Psalm 16,
“that hasten after another god”; a false god, an idol, to serve and worship it; for, generally speaking, idolaters are more forward, eager, and hasty to attend a false worship, than the worshippers of the true God are to attend his service: now their sorrows are many, even in their worship, by cutting their bodies with knives and lancets, as the worshippers of Baal did; and by sacrificing their own children, which, notwithstanding their rash and precipitate zeal, could not fail of giving them pain and uneasiness; and, besides temporal punishments inflicted on them for their idolatry by God, and stings of conscience, which must sometimes attend them, the wrath of God lies upon them, and they will have their portion in the lake of fire, and the smoke of their torment will ascend for ever and ever.
Back to Romans, this verse also makes mention of the negative exchange the pagan makes:
Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures. (Romans 1:23).
Faithlife Study Bible explains Romans 1:22, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools A fool is not merely someone who is ignorant or lacks intelligence. The term has moral connotations that include a rejection of God (Psa 14:1; Jer 10:14). By refusing to acknowledge God, people reveal their foolishness.”
Matthew Henry put it concisely:
They ascribed a deity to the most contemptible creatures, and by them represented God. It was the greatest honour God did to man that he made man in the image of God; but it is the greatest dishonour man has done to God that he has made God in the image of man. Henry, M. (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 2195). Hendrickson.
We should be eternally and powerfully grateful for our salvation. The Great Exchange is initiated by God at His timing and choosing. We have no merit in ourselves that sparks his attention, or in any way influences Him. Gratitude and eternal worship of our Holy God is the proper – and only – response.