For years, Mom used to bless me on special occasions with her signature version of an applesauce cake. She had monkeyed with the recipe a bit over the years, and her rendition was unique and really quite delicious. As Mom got older and life became a little more challenging, she began more frequently to replace things she might be out of with substitutes. If she ran out of coffee, she might switch off to tea. Sugar might be replaced with an artificial sweetener, and certain spices might be switched around here and there. All in all, she had a pretty good system going, but as time went on, Mom’s substitutions became a little more creative.
Dried dates were one of the ingredients in Mom’s altered recipe for her applesauce cake, and she was usually careful to keep a supply on hand, but on one occasion, she had let herself run out. She discovered the oversight in the midst of last minute preparations to bake her cake for my birthday. Mom explored her cupboard for alternative possibilities and discovered to her delight a box of dried prunes. Prunes, she figured, must be somewhat like dried dates, so … problem solved. And to help make up for the deficit, she decided to add some extra. To say the least, my birthday dinner included an unforgettable dessert that year.
Replacements Can Be Detrimental ~
Substitutions are not always a bad thing, though. They can be positive and help to solve problems. Baseball has its pinch hitters, for instance, and football has its second string players. Famous actors with pretty faces and sculpted bodies have stunt men and women to take risks for them. Class clowns have always rejoiced at the arrival of a substitute teacher. And medical science has been cranking out substitute body parts for decades. I now have at least seven of them that have been surgically implanted at one time or another over the years. Substitutes can forestall failures, avert a crisis, and open doors to positive new discoveries, but they can also be detrimental and even dangerous. God pointed that out in an event involving the very first human family.
In the account of a particular worship session conducted by Adam’s sons, Cain and Abel, we discover that Cain’s sacrificial offering came from the fruit of his garden, but his brother’s was a firstborn animal taken from his flock. Abel’s offering was acceptable, but Cain’s was not (Genesis 4:1-7). Bloodless substitutes of other human contrivances can never illustrate the price that forgiveness and redemption demands . . . and God will reject every one of them.
An Unmistakable Statement ~
Later, when God gave His “recipes” for ensuring human peace and prosperity, His directions were very explicit. The intricate details for fabricating and equipping the Tabernacle, for instance, were described in precise terms and no substitutes or alterations were tolerated. God’s opinion about imitations was highlighted when two priests, Nadab and Abihu, offered incense that was not according to God’s direction. His reaction was immediate and painfully lethal (Leviticus 10:1-2).
The danger in allowing substitutions in spiritual matters was evident throughout Israel’s history. Again and again, they allowed pagan ideologies and lifestyles to replace God’s designs. Idolatrous rituals replaced the sacrifices and patterns for worship that God ordained. Lustful orgies around pagan idol temples took the place of divinely sanctioned feasts and celebrations. Personal indulgence prevailed over spiritual obedience, and the outcome was disastrous at every level. God’s protection was removed and His people were repeatedly overrun by opportunistic enemies and forced into national servitude and personal poverty.
Beware of Toxic Ingredients ~
For decades, we’ve witnessed a growing trend of replacing divine mandates with personal preferences, and the outcome is predictable. The protection and blessing associated with God’s original plans get lost, and so do the people and nations involved. Imitations are often easier, and so much more convenient, like biscuits out of a can, or a frozen meal made table-ready in minutes. We like things that, and most of them do, indeed, make life smoother and more manageable, but what if some of our substitutions contain a slow acting, but very deadly, poison? Here are just a few suggestions to think about:
- substituting transient, self-centered lust for committed, sacrificial love,
- substituting a physical building for God’s definition of the “Church”,
- reading a catchy meme off the internet in place of Bible study,
- sitting in a comfortable auditorium (or on our family room sofa) for an hour or so and calling it “serving the Lord”,
- hitting the “like” button on a Facebook post instead of sharing our personal testimony of how God has worked (and is working) in our lives,
- allowing our children to be indoctrinated by godless academics and entertainment idols, into believing empty and destructive philosophies, and calling it “parenting”,
- reciting ritualistic phrases we heard others say and calling it “prayer”,
- and most dangerous of all, replacing religious affiliation and denominational rituals for personal faith in Jesus Christ.
A Very Exclusive Exchange System ~
God’s concern about our tendency toward substitutions is understandable. His entire plan for redeeming a lost, rebellious, self-destructive race is absolutely dependent on the concept of substitution. There is one way, and one way only, to have the sins that separate us from God removed, and that involves a divinely ordained and sanctioned, but very exclusive, exchange system. Offering a collection of “good deeds” will never make us acceptable to God. He is the righteous Judge, and He has declared that the penalty must be paid for every sin. Jesus didn’t just come into the world to preach about love and peace and to do spectacular miracles. He came to absorb every punishment that sinners like me deserve. He is not just the chief ingredient in God’s recipe for salvation and eternal life, He’s the only one, and no substitutes are acceptable. Paul made God’s vicarious, substitutionary plan of salvation through Jesus Christ profoundly clear.
For He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NKJV)
Peter also adds his affirmation:
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 1 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)
[And of Jesus he said] … who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed. 1 Peter 2:24 (NKJV)
And Jesus Himself closes the door on all other substitutions and imitations;
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:5-6 (NKJV)
Personal faith in the risen Christ, will not only secure an eternal future with Him, but if we compare our own “recipe” for abundant living with the one Jesus offers, we’ll might discover a much healthier and fulfilling way to live. We might even realize that the devil’s been throwing prunes in our applesauce cake all along.
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“God’s concern about our tendency toward substitutions is understandable. His entire plan for redeeming a lost, rebellious, self-destructive race is absolutely dependent on the concept of substitution.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“There is one way, and one way only, to have the sins that separate us from God removed, and that involves a divinely ordained and sanctioned, but very exclusive, exchange system. A collection of “good deeds” will never make us acceptable.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“Jesus didn’t just come into the world to preach about love and peace and to do spectacular miracles. He came to absorb every punishment that sinners like me deserve.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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