Atonement and the Great Exchange


About a year ago, I realized that my friend was driving a car that should’ve been impounded. No. Seriously. She lived where cars didn’t have to pass an emissions test, so she took full advantage of that.

Since I have somewhat of a hero complex, I determined that I would give her my old Ford Taurus (still running okay but had close to 200,000 miles on it) and buy a shiny new car for myself. I know. Pretty impressive.

I remember that I actually thought in my head, “Wow, this is such a picture of Christ, the great exchange: our poverty for his riches.” At that, I felt even more amazing.

The Great Exchange

But, after I gave it a little more thought, I realized that it’s not like Christ, not really at all.

My perspective that day really cheapened what Jesus did on the cross. Sharing it now is a little embarrassing, but I think it needs to be said so that we can see Jesus.

To look a little more like Christ, I would have purchased the new car for my friend and I would have taken on her dilapidated car as my own. I would have owned the stress of driving a car that may not make it to its next destination. I would have received the judgmental looks at the stoplight when the old car would spew some unhealthy dark smoke into the atmosphere. I would have assumed the burden of yet another prohibitively expensive repair and I would have routinely sweat buckets during a hot Georgia summer (the A/C was broken). I haven’t even mentioned the torn seats that would threaten to poke holes in her clothing. To be more like Christ, I would have taken the broken-down, dirty and sadly laughable car upon myself and given her the new one so that she would enjoy it, payment free, forever.

Now, that’s a better picture, nowhere close to a perfect picture, but a better picture of the great exchange. Jesus doesn’t give us his hand-me-downs, he made an exchange: his life for ours. And he made us new.

My thoughts that day helped me realize that I don’t really understand the depth of Christ’s love for me. When I so casually compared my minor act of kindness to his selfless, courageous and fierce act of love for us in his life and on the cross, I minimized him.  Please don’t get me wrong. It was a blessing for me to give my old car to my friend. It’s important to consider blessing others when we can. But, it is absurd for me to compare my giving an old car to a friend to the imputation of the Savior who actually became poor so that I might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

To Be Like Christ

We want to be like Christ, though, don’t we? So what does that look like? I think it looks like Philippians 2. It looks like considering others more significant than me. More significant. And, others…not just spouses, family members and loved ones, either. It looks like seeking the interests of others more than my own. It looks like making myself nothing, even serving in humility. It looks like dying. It looks like dying every day. It looks like being conformed to the image of Christ by grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11)

This is not what I normally pray. But, I’d like to grow in that. I think I usually pray that I can just survive the day and not offend too many people. What would happen in this world if we prayed Philippians 2 every day? What if we sacrificed for more people than just for our loved ones? One thing that I think would happen for me is that I would sense a much bigger picture of Christ and, therefore, a much bigger perspective on what he has planned for me. And, just maybe, the Holy Spirit would turn my eyes more toward Jesus. Maybe he would even make me more like Jesus.

When I think of the atonement and the great exchange, I recognize that I cannot imagine what Jesus went through on the cross for us. I can’t understand being beaten and torn for us. I can’t know what it felt like carrying the cross up the hill. I’ll never know the loneliness of being abandoned by the Father. Not only did Jesus rescue us from the penalty due our sin, but by his wounds, he healed us and made us co-heirs with him in our Father’s kingdom.

Jesus isn’t like me. He doesn’t give us hand-me-downs, he gives us an inheritance. He shares his inheritance with us. And, he doesn’t do it begrudgingly or out of a complete sense of duty, but because he loves us. It was his joy (Heb. 12:2) and he wants to make our joy complete (Phil. 2:2).

Sue Harris served Mission to the World for nine years challenging PCA congregations in missions as well as serving missionaries on the field through encouragement, teaching, and short-term teams. Previously, she spent 12 years as a college women’s basketball coach, earning her MBA at Texas Woman’s University. She earned her Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Atlanta in 2014. She has a passion for spiritual formation and serves the congregation at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church (Birmingham) as the Women’s Ministry Director.