Substitution and Transformation

“The foundation and focus of the Christian faith is Christ’s substitution not our transformation. In other words, the language of Christianity is primarily substitutional not transformational.”
–Tullian Tchividian

When I read this quote, my brain went “Wait, what?”

Tullian is a hip pastor with a large church in his past. He was fired from said church due to an extramarital affair. He says things like this quote above that get a lot of applause, but probably also lead to extramarital affairs.

I really don’t get the statement. I have no larger context to judge his words by. All I have is this quote. So, I’ll examine the quote.

He seems to be saying that The Gospel is all about Christ. What happens to me is at least distant second, if not almost irrelevant.

I’ll grant some truth here. Christ’s Gospel is the foundation of everything. Me changing does not save people. So, if that’s all he means, then fine.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s all he means.

I think what he means is that transformation should hardly be talked about. That any talk of transformation is probably detracting from any talk of Christ’s substitution.

Transformation is a biblical concept. It is mention a number of times. Romans 12:2 would be the primary passage no doubt–be not conformed to the world bu transformed by the renewing of your mind.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says we will be changed into the same image of Christ from glory to glory. “Changed” is the same Greek word as “transformed” in Romans 12:2. The Greek word is metamorphoo from which we get our word metamorphosis.

Galatians 4:19 says that Paul labors until Christ be formed in them. “Formed” is the Greek word morph.

Transformation is a thing. It is also implied in many passages–we are now servants of righteousness not unrighteousness, we are new creations in Christ, old things are passed away and all things are new, put off the old and put on the new, raised up to newness of life, etc.

Meanwhile, substitution is mentioned zero times in the New Testament. It is mentioned twice in Leviticus concerning animal sacrifice.

In all honesty, I don’t see the substitution of Christ mentioned much at all. Substitution means in the place of.

Yes, Christ died for us, but nowhere does it say He died in the place of us, or instead of us. What it does say is that He died for us, and by faith we were crucified, bruised, and raised up with Him. “With” is different than “instead of.”

Tullian is emphasizing what Christ did to the exclusion of anything we do. Paul doesn’t put it that way. Transformation is the only way to know you are part of what Christ did.

Granted, my transformation is not as earthly significant as what Christ did for the sins of the world, but it’s pretty big for me! It lets me know if I’m in or not.

Tullian is not alone in this emphasis. Everyone wants everything to be about Christ, with no responsibility, transformation, or anything about me. But read the New Testament! It’s talking about what you do quite frequently!

Don’t make a false dichotomy where there is none. Everything Christ did, He did for our transformation. It’s the reason there is a Gospel.

Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
–Titus 2:14

One thought on “Substitution and Transformation”

  1. Everything Christ did, He did for our transformation

    Everything Jesus did was not done to save us from hell.
    Everything He did was done to enable us to be changed and made fit for His new creation. Those not fit to enter His new creation (where righteousness dwells) are destined for hell.

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