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.

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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 38: All blessings are predicated upon obedience?

LDS Belief:

Jesus’ Atonement fulfilled the law of Moses. He gave us a Higher Law to follow. Our eternal destination is predicated upon our obedience to this Higher Law.

LDS Words

Found in lesson 38, page 168:
President Lee:
“In His Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of His own character, which was perfect, or what might be said to be ‘an autobiography, every syllable of which He had written down in deeds,’ and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives” (Stand Ye in Holy Places [1974], 342).

Page 172:
3 Nephi 14: 21 “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Why must we do the will of Heavenly Father to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven? See D&C 130:20–21: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated— 21 And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

Have a class member read 3 Nephi 15:1 aloud. “And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and said unto them: Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father; therefore, whoso remembereth these sayings of mine and doeth them, him will I raise up at the last day.”

The Bold Truth:

Jesus came to do God’s will and perfectly fulfilled His Law as our substitute. Our eternal destination depends upon what we believe: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

For most of my childhood my father held callings within the Church, including Bishop, Stake President and Stake Patriarch. The sentence I most remember my father saying was “All blessings are predicated upon obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel.” I am sure he taught this to me over and over because he loved me and he wanted me to learn what he believed was the only way to gain eternal life. These words are actually from a revelation given to Joseph Smith in D&C 130. In this week’s Gospel Doctrine Lesson we are referred to this revelation after the question is asked: “Why must we do the will of Heavenly Father to be able to enter the kingdom of heaven?” The answer, found in this section, is “when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.

God has given to us many laws that must be obeyed before we can dwell in His presence. By far the most daunting command given was when Jesus said we must be as perfect as Heavenly Father Himself! (Matthew 5:48 ) The Apostle Paul revealed that no unclean person can dwell with God (Ephesians 5:5). The sobering truth is that there is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins (Ecclesiastes 7:20).

This is why Jesus had to come to save us! He kept God’s commandments for us because we were doomed to failure without Him. Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s will in our place. He came to be our substitute for the righteousness demanded by Heavenly Father. The very purpose of His Atonement was to do what we were unable to do for ourselves—fulfill God’s law. “Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9). He is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believes (Romans 10:4).

From this week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson we see the Mormon belief that Jesus merely came to be our Example—to show us how to gain eternal life through our own obedience. LDS Prophet Harold B. Lee claimed that Jesus lived a perfect life “and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives”. What do you believe Jesus did for you? Did He fulfill God’s law for you? Or did he give you a blueprint showing you how to fulfill the law yourself?

The blessing of eternal life can only be gained as a gift. That’s what blessings are—unconditional gifts given by our loving Father in Heaven! Jesus testified that this unconditional blessing is actually God’s will for all who believe in Him: “And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Please don’t make the mistake that my father did and teach your children that eternal life is predicated upon their obedience to God’s laws. Instead, teach them the glorious message that, in love, Jesus kept those laws perfectly for them!

Eternal Consequences

If you believe gaining eternal life is predicated upon your obedience to God’s law you will not attain it. On Judgment Day you will be found unclean because you rejected Christ as your substitute for Righteousness. Consequently Heavenly Father will reject you and deny you eternal life.

Additional Testimony of the Bold Truth:
Jesus came to do the will of Heavenly Father:
– Hebrews 10:5-9
Messianic Psalm:
– Psalm 40: 6-8
Jesus submitted to God’s will:
Jesus:
– John 4: 33
– Luke 22: 42
God’s will is to give eternal life to believers:
Jesus:
– John 4: 38-40
Jesus came to fulfill God’s law:
Jesus:
– Matthew 5:17
Christ’s Atonement is the end of God’s law for believers:
The Apostle Paul:
– Romans 10:4