We Do Not Make One Side of the Exchange

Neo-Calvinists often tell us that “God wants us to exchange our self-righteousness for Christ’s righteousness.”  As the old slogan has it–all you contribute is your sins. But it is not so. God has already (or not) made the exchange. For some, that is for all elect sinners, God has already imputed their sins to Christ. In time, it is God (not these sinners) who will impute Christ’s death (His righteousness) to the sinners.

But why be picky about this?  Because the gospel of Jesus Christ is about God’s sovereign JUSTICE.  The gospel is about the salvation of the elect which God owes the elect, not because of any exchange the elect make, but because God has already atttributed all the sins of all the elect to Christ. Since Christ has already died for all those sins, it would be unjust for God not to save those sinners.

Now, some liberals (Socinians) don’t like that idea of retributive justice. If it’s strict justice, they complain, then it can’t be forgiveness. And if it’s forgiveness, then no justice was absolutely or strictly necessary. (Some of them think a governmental display of “absorbing sins” would be good for apologetic order.)

And the neo-Calvinists who still want to be “evangelicals” (Arminians also) also have a problem with the idea that what Christ did entitles Christ to the salvation of His specific individuals. So they don’t talk about election, or about the elect having already been given to Christ, but instead they talk about “the covenant” or “those who believe” (what?).

RC Sproul in his book on the Holiness of God (p 111)  explains it this way: “Mercy is not justice, but also is not injustice. We may see non-justice in God, which is mercy, but we never see injustice in God.”  But this is not the way the Bible explains the righteousness of Christ.

Romans 5: 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also would reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Grace reigns through justice, and all for whom Christ did His obedience unto death will one day be constituted righteous. Christ did not die for Judas. Judas never sinned against God’s grace or Christ’s love, because Christ never loved Judas. But it would be injustice for a person for whom Christ died to not be forgiven because they had failed “to make the exchange” or “to accept the exchange” .

Those who know the gospel know the good news of election and justice, and so they know that it was not their contribution of sins which makes them to differ from those who “didn’t contribute their sins” or “give up their self-righteousness”. The problem with talking about God’s “non-justice” is that it effectively turns the gospel into a “possibility”. And if salvation is possible if you “make the exchange”, then Christ’s death is possibly ineffective if you don’t make the exchange.  “Non-justice” only makes mercy possible. The righteousness of Christ makes divine mercy to the elect (all for whom Christ died) a matter of justice to Christ.

This wonderful truth is perhaps seen at its clearest in Isaiah 53:

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his blood makes an offering for guilt,
he SHALL see his offspring; he SHALL prolong his days;
the will of the Lord SHALL prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul’s death he SHALL see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge SHALL the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be counted righteous,
and he SHALL bear their iniquities.
12 THREFORE I WILL divide him a portion with the many,
and he SHALL divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

If we sing about having ourselves put Christ on the cross, we do not yet understand what the gospel teaches about the transfer of guilt. We are not the imputers. We do not get to decide when and if we put our sins on Christ. We do not get the opportunity to contribute our sins so that then Christ contributes His righteousness. Neither election nor non-election is conditioned on our sins. Although those who believe the gospel are commanded to reckon what God has already reckoned, we can never be the original reckoners.

Yes, those specific lawless men who put Christ on the cross were guilty of what they did. But the cross is not what condemns.  The non-elect do not sin against God’s grace. The gospel is good news for the elect, and the gospel is not what condemns the non-elect. Rejecting the cross is not what condemns the non-elect, because we are all already condemned in Adam . The false gospel which says that Jesus Christ died for every sinner is not gospel. The false gospel turns a supposedly universal death into guilt for those who don’t meet the conditions which supposedly make that death effective.

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7 Comments on “We Do Not Make One Side of the Exchange”


    John Newton, The Look

    Thus while his death my sin displays
    For all the world to view
    (Such is the mystery of grace)
    It seals my pardon too
    With pleasing grief and mournful joy
    My spirit is now filled
    That I should such a life destroy
    Yet live by Him I killed

    Zechariah 12:10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.


    David Bishop: God’s grace is either possible or always effective. If grace is only possible, then salvation is not by grace, but rather by works.

    Mark: God’s grace is either according to justice or it is not. If grace is only non-just, then grace is only about the sovereignty of God and not about the justice of God. But if God’s grace is not only about what God “can do” but what God has done in Christ, then God’s grace is not about what you “can have if you accept it”.


    The next time somebody asks you if you want justice or grace from God, remember that God never gives grace without justice. Our only hope is Christ’s death as the justice for all for whom God has grace. God only has grace for the elect band we know that because Christ only satisfied God’s law for the elect. Christ already did justice for only the elect because God has never had grace for any but the elect. And this is the only gospel there is for everybody.


    I quote from a “new legalist” definition of legalism. “Legalism is the belief that God does not act of grace but acts out of justice in giving his favor.” There you have it; the false gospel of Chuck Swindoll –unmerited favor.

    Missing from this “gospel” is the righteousness the God-man obtained for those God favors. Yes, the Bible teaches God’s love for the elect. But the Bible has no either/or between grace and justice, because God is both just and justifier.

    When God justifies the ungodly elect, God is not justifying the better performers or the better non-performers. When God justifies the ungodly elect, God is acting out of justice to Jesus Christ and to Himself by crediting these elect with the righteousness the incarnate God-man established for the elect in history.

    This righteousness is not simply God’s inscrutable “act of grace”; it is perfect satisfaction of God’s law and there is legal solidarity between the elect who need this righteousness and Christ who JUSTLY earned this righteousness.

    Are YOU willing to define your gospel and then to have it judged by the Christian Scriptures? You are cultic if you don’t want to be questioned about your teaching. I am not saying we should spend all our time arguing and debating. But unwillingness to be tested (according to the Scriptures) is very arrogant and very dangerous.


    Alec Motyer, p 251, From Heaven He Came—Isaiah’s “Behold, my servant shall succeed” matches the great cry, “It is finished (John 19:30) and forces us to ask what “finished” means in John and what “succeed” means in Isaiah. On any “open-ended” view of the atonement–that is, that the work of Christ only made salvation possible rather than actually secured salvation–“finished” only means “started” and “succeed” only means “maybe, at some future date, and contingent on the contributions of others”.

  6. markmcculley Says:

    They won’t get to the bottom of the problem until thy start talking about election and the death of Christ being a particular propitiation only for the elect. He needs to ask himself: whose sins were imputed to Christ? (election) and when were those sins imputed to Christ by whom? (by God, not by sinners, by God before the propitiation, not after faith) But Vickers begins badly by quoting Spurgeon on his conversion: “all this is for you”, “great drops of blood for you”. And Vickers can say: well, I didn’t mean everybody, I meant only those who believe. But first, what’s wrong with talking about election, if indeed you believe in election? And second, unless you talk about justification of the elect by blood for the elect, you will –if even by silence-agree to the idea that everything is conditioned on faith. And then when it comes out that you agree that, in some sense, God Himself counts faith as the righteousness, you have at the end of the day simply reinforced the idolatry which conditions salvation on what God does in the sinners, instead of what God did in Christ. Sure, that’s important but since it was for all, then the decisive thing becomes regeneration in order to have faith. And as we shall see, faith alone gets denied, faith gets redefined, and assurance is held hostage to perseverance not in faith but also in works. Faith gets seen not as empty hands but as the faithfulness which results from our regeneration. And so you join hands in the Southern Baptist Convention with those who say to everybody “the blood is for you”,even if they don’t agree with you that regeneration causes the faith which God counts as righteousness.

  7. markmcculley Says:

    The concern with homosexuality in Romans 1 is not because it’s a worse sin than other sins, but because of the focus on “:exchanging” the glory of the true God for idolatry. This is what happens when we think of the good news as Jesus having died for all sinners, even the sinners who perish. When we do that, we substitute what we want to worship in the place of the Christ who died according to the Scriptures to actually satisfy the law for all the sins of the elect. There is a false gospel which claims that God only imputes Christ’s death to us after we impute our sins to Christ. That is idolatry. God the imputer has already either counted your sins to Christ or not, and if you do not believe that, you are still an idolater Romans 1: 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles…. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever.

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