One particularly intense way of describing our salvation keeps repeating itself in the history of theology. The second century author of the Letter to Diognetus calls it “the sweet exchange”, the great Reformers, Luther and Calvin, refer to it as “the wonderful exchange”. Twentieth century theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg talks of “the happy exchange”. All these godly teachers were searching for a term to adequately describe the wonder of God’s saving work in Christ. The basis for their excitement about salvation is found first in the scriptures.
Exchange in Scripture
The notion of an exchange between God and humans is foundational to most religions. The deity is thought to be most favourable towards those who put the greatest effort into reaching him/her. It is assumed that sacrifices and offerings can induce the God/gods to be kind to devotees. This is a common sense way of understanding an exchange because it is the way things happen in the ordinary world of commerce. This is the opposite ofwhat is meant by the wonderful exchange. What makes this exchange in Christ so great is that the initiative and effort all come from God.
Paul teaches, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21). In his great love for a lost humanity, the Father placed the sin of the world on Christ (John chapter 1 verse 29) so that we might become completely righteous in Jesus. As an early Church Father strikingly put it, “Christ became what we are to make us what he himself is.” (Irenaeus). Or as Luther said, “You have taken what you were not and given to me what I was not.” This sweet sentiment has a comprehensive scriptural basis. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 9). The “poverty” of the Son of God meant his graciously taking on himself every evil thing we have (sin, guilt, curse, eternal death) in order to bestow on us every good thing he has (holiness, righteousness, grace, eternal life).
Salvation comes to us through a great exchange whereby the lost life of sinners is taken up by Christ so we might be made, “sharers in the divine nature” (2 Peter chapter 1 verse 4). The life we now enjoy is nothing less than a life “in God” (Colossians chapter 3 verse 3). Eternal life is much more than having our sins forgiven and getting to heaven, eternal life means sharing in Christ’s own relationship with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit (Colossians chapter 3 verse 4). The fruit of this great and wonderful exchange is overpoweringly wonderful.
If Adam and Eve had understood that what was offered through obedience to God’s Word was to be perfected in the image of Christ (1 John chapter 3 verse 2) they would never have sinned. If the modern-day prosperity preachers grasped that the Lord gives much more than the good things of this world, rather, God gives God, they would repent of their base teachings. In scripture, the great exchange is the key to motivating Christians.
In the letter containing his most outstanding exchange passages Paul exclaims, “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 14). When we understand in our hearts that, “He gave body for body and soul for soul, the whole person for the whole person, this is the reconciling exchange of Christ.” (Athanasius), we will freely want to offer up our heart, soul, mind, and strength as a living sacrifice to the Lord (Romans chapter 12 verse 1). Our problem is that when we see God as a “bits and pieces” God who has offered something less than his whole fulness in Christ (Colossians chapter 1 verse 29) we become “bits and pieces” Christians who only offer a little to the Lord.
Salvation in Christ is a most beautiful and glorious exchange whereby the Lord Jesus left the heights of heaven for the humiliation of a mortal body and ignominious death so that in returning to heaven he might share with us his eternal glory with the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Since he gave his utmost for our highest, we are called to return the same.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed athttp://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html