Is Jesus Your Substitute or Your Exemplar?

As a Mormon I thought I knew what Christ did for us in His Atonement. I knew He was my Savior and Redeemer. What I didn’t know is that His Role as the Exemplar is unique to Mormonism. LDS Prophets claim that Christ paid for our sins and became our Creditor through the Atonement. He gained immortality for us (bodily resurrection) but we have to qualify for eternal life through our obedience. Heavenly Father sent us to earth to be tested and we needed someone to show us how to be perfect through obedience.

Christ came not only into the world to make an atonement for the sins of mankind but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and of obedience to the Father. In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfect… and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives.”

I was amazed when I learned that Christ is our Substitute–not our Exemplar! For thirty six years I never once heard the word “Substitute” in connection to Christ or His Atonement. When I first heard it—I rejoiced because of what it meant. I knew how sinful I was and how much I needed a Substitute. I knew that if my eternal life depended upon how well I followed Christ’s example, I was doomed. I learned that I was not the only person who was unworthy. I discovered that the very reason Christ came to this earth was because every person is unworthy and sinful (Romans 3:10-12). None of us has the ability to meet Heavenly Father’s demands. By nature we are children of wrath! (Ephesians 2:3) No one is righteous; in fact we’re not even good (Matthew 19:17). The Prophet Isaiah testified that even our righteous works are like filthy rags in God’s sight (Isaiah 64:6). Since our eternal destination hangs in the balance of meeting God’s demands, we need a Substitute–not an Exemplar.

The idea of a substitute is not foreign to God’s people. Heavenly Father had actually instituted Christ’s role of substitution through animal sacrifices. He declared that anyone who did not obey His commands must pay for their sin through eternal death. But since every person is sinful no one could be saved without an alternative plan. We see that plan demonstrated in the Old Testament sacrifices. A man’s sin could be atoned for by the shedding of the lifeblood of a substitute sacrifice. When an Israelite sinned, he brought a perfect animal to the Temple and the Priest sacrificed it as an atonement for his sin. If the sacrifice wasn’t perfect it was declared unfit to atone for another’s sin. All these animal substitutes merely pointed ahead in similitude to the perfect Substitute sacrifice—Jesus Christ! And, His perfect sacrifice was the final sacrifice—once, for all (Hebrews 10:10).

Before Christ could sacrifice Himself and become our Substitute, He first had to do what we could not do–live a perfectly obedient life. He successfully obeyed all the commands that God required of us, like visiting the sick, loving our enemies and forgiving those who despitefully used him. He did all of these things for us, in our place, as our substitute! (Romans 5:19) He did this because we couldn’t meet God’s demands to be obedient for ourselves! In a similar way that a substitute teacher takes over and accomplishes the work the teacher was supposed to do, Jesus lived His entire life doing the works we were supposed to do. When you read in scripture that Jesus prayed for His enemies, rest assured that this obedient act has been credited to your account. Jesus took your sins as if they were His own; and in exchange, gave you His perfect works, as if you yourself had accomplished them (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be our Substitute and not our Exemplar (53:4-12). He testified that Jesus would suffer the penalty for our iniquity. We all have gone astray, just like sheep! Even though we deserved punishment, God laid all our iniquity on Jesus. As our substitute He was wounded, bruised and stricken. Our eternal consequence for sin was to be cursed to eternal life with Satan because we failed to continue doing everything God commanded. As our substitute, Jesus became a curse for us! (Galatians 3:10-13). We were all unclean and not able to enter God’s presence; (Ephesians 5:5) but Jesus washed our sins away with His own blood and became sin for us.

In Hebrews we read that Christ offered His body as a perfect sacrifice and in exchange, we have been perfected forever! (10:10-14) “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” We who were sinful and imperfect, are found perfect in God’s sight. This is because Christ was punished for our sins, and covered us with His righteousness: Isaiah 61: 10 “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,” Heavenly Father loves you so much He sent His Son on a Mission to be your Substitute! Believe it and then live it through a life of joy and thanksgiving by committing your life to him as a gift of love.

Click here for additional LDS and Bible references


  1. shematwater said,

    February 28, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    In all my ready of the doctrines of other faiths I have always come against a wall that I cannot pass. It will alway keep me from understanding, or excepting the teachings of mainstream Christianity. The teaching is always filled with the idea of the disgusting nature of men, which I cannot accept. Men, in general, want to live good lives. In general the human race are good people. Yes we have all sinned, and no we cannot be like God on our own. But his continual tearing down of the worth of the individual, or the group, I cannot stand, and it is in everything that I have read.

    As to the main point of this article, I think the author is misunderstanding the doctrine of the church. Christ is our examplar. If we do everything in our power to follow his example he than becomes our substitute at the judgement. If we do not follow his example he will not be our subsitute at the judge.
    He is both, not one or the other.

  2. osbornekristen said,

    March 2, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that I am thrilled that I found your blog! My husband is a former member of the Mormon church. Over the years, I have spent much time comparing the truths taught in the Bible to LDS doctrine and teachings.This particular post points out such a huge and important difference between Christians and Mormons. For years, I struggled to understand the difference in how the LDS church views Christ’s death on the cross. I have heard the exact same explaination of Christ being our Exemplar from my mother-in-law (a mormon) as the one you gave in your post. It is REALLY confusing to the average Christian to hear Mormons say that they believe that Christ died for our sins……sounds the same…….but it isn’t. My mother-in-law explained that she believes when Christ died on the cross, it was for everyone…….so everyone has immortality…but then, she went on to add that entering in the highest level of “heaven”=works, temple cermonies, etc.. Yes, Christ’s death was for everyone……..everyone who accepts Him……..and this gift is unmerited free grace….. with nothing attached. The commenter above stated the exact belief that seperates Mormons from Christians…..”If we do everything in our power to follow his example he than becomes our substitute at the judgement. If we do not follow his example he will not be our subsitute at the judge.” Dear friend please read what you wrote….you said “everything in OUR POWER.” We could NEVER, EVER follow His example close enough or be “good” enough to EARN Him being our substitute. It isn’t at all about us…… is ALL about you Jesus!!!!! Mormon friends, do you realize that when you add “being good enough” or “works” to the cross you take away its power and devalue HIS death……..and let me tell you, Satan loves that you think Jesus’s death wasn’t “enough.” His grace IS enough……it is free… is a gift of love. As Christians, we live for him not because we have to try to earn His good favor, but beause we love Him and are thankful for this free gift. The bible tells us that Jesus is our “High Priest”…….so just like the priests of the old testament made animal sacrafices for the sins of the people (standing in their place)…Christ stands in our place. He is the substitute for our sins like a lamb that was slain……once……..for all people……..who BELIEVE and put their trust in Him. I’m afraid, dear Mormons, that you need to reread the New Testment……..listen to Paul as he tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Thankfully, Jesus is our substitute…….we could never, ever be good enough to please Him… for God desires ultimate perfection………something that we, as inherently evil, sinful people could never be!! Again, I love this blog! Praise the Lord that you understand His perfect grace and are sharing the Good News with others!

  3. shematwater said,

    March 3, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    I have read the New Testiment, and when people tell me to read certain passages again I must respond by asking them to read a few myself.
    First, verse 10 in the Ephesians reference tells us that God has ordained us to walk in Good works.
    Now let me get right to it. Matthew 5: 16 tells us that it is through our works that we glorify God. Revelation 22: 12 tells us that God will reward us according to our works. In Philipians 2: 12 we are told to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. And last of all, the entire second chapter of James tells us that our faith is good for nothing if we do not have the works with it.
    All of this, at least to me, shows that our works are just as important as our faith. Peter tells us (2 Peter 1: 5) to add to our Faith virtue, which indicates works. Notice he does not say that Christ will add virtue, but he tells us to add virtue, and then knowledge.
    So, I have read the New Testiment, and I paid very close attention to it.

  4. golds2 said,

    March 4, 2009 at 9:53 am

    The problem with ldswoman’s perspective (ie. Orthodox Christianity’s perspective) is that it is not entirely biblical. You need to be very aware that Orthodox Christianity has this bad habit of only portraying half the bibilical picture when it comes to defending their faith, or criticizing the Mormon faith. Is Christ our subsitute? Of course. He paid the price for all of our sins…He stepped up and took our whipping for us for which we should all be eternally greatful. However, she states that Christ is not our example…hmmm:

    John 13:15 – For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.

    1 Peter 2:21 – For even herunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow in his steps:

    So you have to ask yourself, how can ldswoman look at those scriptures, and then turn right around and tell you that Christ is not our example? I find that Christians have this escape plan: “Oh, it doesn’t really mean what is says”…The reason they have to do this, is because it is the only way to defend their false theology. If they took the scriptures as face value, they would have no choice but to be Mormon.

    Ldswoman cites Hebrews 10 in support of her position that once saved, always saved…Christ has perfected forever those that are sanctified. What she fails to explain (again, its half the story) or understand, is that you have to work to remain sanctified. She clearly doesn’t understand ALL of Hebrews 10, or she is intentionally trying to mislead us. I’m hoping its the former…Hebrews 10:26 makes if perfectly clear that Mormon Christianity is correct and Orthodox Christianity is in error:

    Hebrews 10:26 – For if we sin wilfully after that we have recieved the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth NO MORE SACRIFICE FOR SINS…

    And verse 36 is interesting also: For ye have need of patience that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.

    Now, be very, VERY wary of the fact that ldswoman, or whoever will come back and give us the old “it doesn’t really mean what is says…” comeback, but you have been warned and you now need to take this very seriously, because you will be held accountable for you knowlege. As Christ said:

    John 8:51 – Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.

    What was Christ’s saying? How about the sermon on the mount…or Matthew 19 is always fun for Orthodox Christians to explain…Christ is asked point blank: What must I do to gain eternal life? And Christ’s response? KEEP THE COMMANDMENTS.

    Thats precisely why Revelations 22:14 says “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right tot eh tree of life, and may enter in through the gates to the city…”

    Now, as I said before, watch out for the “Oh, you’re so wrong…It doesn’t mean that…” Join the Mormon Church. Its the the only true/biblical one out there, whether you like it or not.

  5. shematwater said,

    March 4, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    On one other note: I find it very odd that people interpret the phrase “after all we can do” to mean that we have to do everything perfectly and earn salvation. This is not what it is saying at all.
    I like the song “The Quest” from The Man of La Mancha. It says it so beautifully, I will quote it here.
    To Dream the Impossible Dream, To Fight the Unbeatable Foe
    The Bare with Unbarable Sorrow, To Run Where the Brave Dare not Go
    To Right the Unrightable Wrong, To Love Pure and Chaste From Afar
    To Try When Your Arms are Too Weary, To Reach the Unreachable Star
    This is my quest, to follow that star.
    No matter ho hopeless, no matter how far
    To be willing to fight for the right without question or pause
    To be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.

    The song continues, but this is sufficient for my purpose. Notice how he is trying to do what is impossible. The entire scene illustatrates it in greater detail, but it is sumed up in the sentence “It doesn’t matter whether you win or loose, as long as you follow the quest.” When it is said after all you can do, it is not expected that you be perfect, or that you even be good enough to earn anything. Only that you try to be. That you put every ounce of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength into being perfect, and it doesn’t matter if you succeed, as long as you tried.

  6. latterdaysaintwoman said,

    March 4, 2009 at 2:51 pm


    You write:
    “When it is said after all you can do, it is not expected that you be perfect, or that you even be good enough to earn anything. Only that you try to be. That you put every ounce of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual strength into being perfect, and it doesn’t matter if you succeed, as long as you tried.”

    Please show me one place in the Bible that agrees with your words. Where does God say that we aren’t expected to be perfect? Or, that it doesn’t matter if we succeed at keeping his commandments? Or that all He cares about, is if we tried?

  7. golds2 said,

    March 4, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    How about this one:
    Romans 2:7 – To them who by PATIENT CONTINUANCE IN WELL DOING seek for glory and honor and imortality, eternal life…

    or this:
    Philippians 2:12 – Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, WORK OUT YOUR OWN SALVATION WITH FEAR AND TREMBLING…

    or this:
    Romans 6:16 – Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

    or this:
    1 Peter 1:13-14 – Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. AS OBEDIENT CHILDREN, NOT FASHIONING YOURSELVES ACCORDING TO THE FORMER LUSTS IN YOUR IGNORANCE…

    BTW, where is my first post on this thread?

  8. osbornekristen said,

    March 4, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Please know that I write this in love..
    You quoted Matthew 5:16 which says that our works glorify God. Of course they do; and everyday, I want to please Him in all I do because he is already my Savior, and I love Him. But, what I do does nothing to get me to Heaven or to a higher place in Heaven…it’s all about Jesus. Please read on in Matthew: “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” Matthew 5:20
    You mentioned that you just have to try your best and that God doesn’t seek perfection. Yes, He absolutely does! “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:48 That is why He sent Jesus to stand in our place. He knew that no matter how hard we tried, we could never be righteous enough…….for he seeks ultimate perfection….that is the whole point of Jesus coming as our perfect sacrifice…..and again, when you add anything to this perfect sacrifice you are devaluing the cross.
    You quoted Philippians 2:12: “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.” (I realize that your church only accepts the KJV of scripture [that is a whole separate issue] but other versions such as the New Living & NIV are translated just as correctly but not written in difficult Old English. They help us to understand that as Christians, we do works because of our salvation not to gain it. Again, in the life of a believer, works follow because we love the free gift God has given us in Christ…they do nothing to earn our place in Heaven. )
    Also, reading on in Philippians, Paul explains that we can put no confidence in human effort……and if we could, no human would be more righteous than him. Before he came to understand grace, he attempted to lead the PERFECT life….following every Biblical law to the best of his ability….he even persecuted/martyred Christians for teaching the concept of grace and that following the Biblical laws did not help one gain salvation. But, here he says that though he once thought that trying to keep the laws were valuable to his salvation, he now knows that his righteousness depends all on faith in Christ alone. Here it is from the KJV:
    3For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. 4Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. 8Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, 9And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” Phil. 3:3-9

    As a Christian, I live my life according to the lyrics of this song “Who Am I” by Casting Crowns

    Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
    Would care to know my name
    Would care to feel my hurt
    Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
    Would choose to light the way
    For my ever wandering heart

    Not because of who I am
    But because of what You’ve done
    Not because of what I’ve done
    But because of who You are

    I am a flower quickly fading
    Here today and gone tomorrow
    A wave tossed in the ocean
    A vapor in the wind
    Still You hear me when I’m calling
    Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
    And You’ve told me who I am
    I am Yours, I am Yours

    You see Shem, It’s not about what I’ve done (though I strive to please Him out of love)….it’s because of who He is and what He’s done.

  9. shematwater said,

    March 5, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    Let me give a complete explanation of what I mean, as it seems you are grasping it. First, there are few words that need to be clarified.
    Works – Thoughts, desires, and actions. These are the things we engage in daily.
    Belief – An understanding that something unproven is true.
    Faith – The hope that what you believe in will lead you greater things.

    People may find it odd that I separate belief and Faith, but they are vary different in nature and function. In James 2: 19 we are told that even the devils believe in God. How than are we different from the devils if we have a simple belief. We must take that belief and turn it into faith to gain salvation. How do we turn our belief into faith? We do it by works. Earlier in the same chapter James tells us that faith without works is dead.
    James gives us two examples. Abraham, who after he had offered his son was his Fatih counted as righteousness, and Rehab, who was justified by works.

    It is our faith that saves us. However, without our works we cannot have faith, only a belief which cannot save.

    As to perfection, I agree that God wants us to be perfect. I never said he didn’t. I will also agree that it is through the Grace of Christ that we are made perfect. This does not change what I said concerning “all we can do.” Whether we succeed or not, as long as we try as best as we can God will give us of his grace. Now, I do not think it a one time gift that makes us instantly perfect. I believe that he gives his grace in portions, or as Isaiah puts it “Line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little (Isaiah 28). We do what we can and we receive a portion of the grace of God. This gives us the power to do a little more, and we receive a little more, and so on until we reach perfection. I do not think very many people will reach perfection in this life, but I do think it is possible and has been done. However, thoe of us who do our best in this life will reach perfection in the next.

  10. shematwater said,

    March 5, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Also I have to make a comment on these other translations that you mention. I do not except them because they alter the meaning of the Scriptures in several places. An example is Philippians 2: 12. As you quote it it says:
    “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.”
    In the King James Virsion it is written:
    “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

    Let me explain the difference here. In the quote you give it puts works as a result of salvation. This is perfectly in line with what you believe, so you have no problem with it. However, when you read the KJV you will notice we are not asked to show the result of salvation through works, but to attain salvation through works. The order is changed.

  11. latterdaysaintwoman said,

    March 5, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    Hello golds2,

    I’m so sorry but you have misunderstood much of what I have written.

    You write: “However, ldswoman states that Christ is not our example…hmmm:
    John 13:15 – For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
    1 Peter 2:21 – For even herunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example that ye should follow in his steps: So you have to ask yourself, how can she look at those scriptures, and then turn right around and tell you that Christ is not our example?

    My post was comparing Christ’s role of Exemplar as found in the Mormon Church with Christ’s role of Substitute as found in the Bible. I wrote, “His role as the Exemplar is unique to Mormonism.” The LDS Church teaches that through His Atonement, Jesus merely opened the door so that a person can gain eternal life by their faith and works. LDS Prophets claim that eternal life depends upon how well you follow Christ’s example. (See my Post from December 11th titled: “First Presidency Message: The Best Christmas Ever” which also explains this LDS teaching.)

    Christians recognize and admit that we have been commanded to follow Christ’s example, and to do so perfectly! We also know that Christ came to this earth to save us, because we could not follow His example perfectly. In humility, we give up on our efforts to gain eternal life by our own righteousness and turn to Jesus as our Substitute who, through faith, gives us His righteousness. This role is unique to Christianity and not found in Mormonism.

    You write: “ldswoman cites Hebrews 10 in support of her position that once saved, always saved…

    You have misunderstood me. I do not believe in the teaching “once saved always saved”. Jesus clearly taught differently, as seen in Matthew Chapter 13 in the parable of the Sower. Jesus explains “Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

  12. latterdaysaintwoman said,

    March 5, 2009 at 7:22 pm


    I am not sure what you are trying to show to me with these passages.

  13. shematwater said,

    March 6, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I have to agree that having Christ only fuction being that of substitute is unique to mainstream christianity. However, having him as a substitute is not. As I pointed out the LDS do believe in him as a substitute. As it says in the Book of Mormon, he makes intersession for us.

    The part that seems so clear to me is that if you take the view of the mainstream christians God is no longer just, and he is a liar. He has said that we will be rewarded for our works (Rev 22: 12), and has commanded us to obey his commandments. If he then tells us to give up and he will do everything for us he has not kept his word.

    When I think of the LDS doctrine I think of a loving Father who knows that if he does too much for his children they will not learn, and therefore will not progress. He will not spoil us, but requires us to do what we can before he will do the rest. Nor will he tell us that we must do something, and then reward us for not doing it.
    When I think of the mainstream christian doctrine I think of a conceited being who’s only thought is to have as many creatures acknowledge his supperiority as he can. Caring nothing for our progression, and not relly caring if we learn anything, he tells us how perfect he is and constantly beats it into us that we could never be like him so we should just sit down and watch his glory.

    With these two pictures it seems odd to me that the LDS are accused of taking glory and power away from God when they make him seem so much more beautiful and glorious.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s