The highpoint of the work of atonement is the substitution of one life for another. This important aspect of the atonement has often been limited to the vicarious work of Christ. The word ‘vicarious’ is sometimes used by Bible teachers or commentators to describe the work that Christ has done ‘on our behalf’. The death of Christ on our behalf has enabled us to be reconciled to God. However, the principle of atonement extends far beyond the work of reconciliation.
The substitution of one life for another means that the life of Christ has been given to us, to become our life. When the Law Covenant was given to the nation of Israel, it revealed that people have no capacity to please God through their own fleshly, or religious efforts. Endeavouring to live this way only leads to sin and death. The life of Christ is given to us to replace this way of living. As we live by the life of Christ, we are able to serve God and be assured that we have eternal life.
We are being saved by His life as this exchange takes place. This is ‘true substitution’. When we consider this element of Christ’s atonement, we can understand why the apostle Paul could say, ‘I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.’ Gal 2:20.