Alan E. Stout
One of the most common practices of man is substitution. Sometimes it is necessity. Sometimes the substitution is better than the original product. But granting that substitution is sometimes necessary, we must remember that substitution has its place.
The wise may substitute for the ignorant, but the ignorant cannot substitute for the wise. Instead of making all men suffer the eternal consequences of their sins, God substituted His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for all who will to escape the just penalty for his sins (Heb. 5:8-9). But man may not substitute for God. Nevertheless, it has been one of the chief endeavors of man through the ages to substitute something he thought would do just as well for the commands of God. That has always failed and will never succeed.
Man attempts to substitute sincerity for truth. The doctrine that, “It makes no difference what you believe, as long as you are sincere” is one of the most popular in religion. Saul of Tarsus was a sincere religious man, serving God according to his own conception of the scriptures, yet he was “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:9). In regard to this false doctrine of the devil, look at Philippians 1:18: “…whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice…” Here we find rejoicing because insincere men preached the truth, but no where in the Bible do we read where God or any faithful man of God rejoiced when a sincere man preached error. Jesus said, “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). Nothing else will do.
Men have also sought to substitute excuses in place of obedience to the will of God. Many have—and still do—substitute the excuse of ignorance. But ignorance of God’s will is no excuse. “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). Neither ignorance, lack of time or convenience, nor any other excuse will suffice for complete surrender to the will of God.
Some substitute prayer or sacrifice in the place of obedience to God’s will. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Sam. 15:22). And Paul writes, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17- 18).
No amount of sacrifice, prayer, or good moral living will take the place of obedience to God’s will. Christ saves only those who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9). The Bible teaches us that faith in Christ, repentance from sin, confession of Christ and baptism for the remission of sins are necessary before the promise of salvation is ours (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:10). Prayer is of no effect if we neglect to obey these commands.
Paul was a penitent believer, had confessed Christ and spent three days in prayer, yet he was told to “Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins…” (Acts 22:16). If these commands are not obeyed, even our prayers are an abomination (Prov. 28:9). We are destined to certain eternal punishment unless we obey these gospel commands while we have opportunity in this present world (2 Thess. 1:8).
Many people have always substituted the precepts of men for the doctrine of Christ. We cannot hope for a happy resurrection unless we remain faithful to His doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). Those who teach any other gospel or doctrine rest under the curse of God (Gal. 1:9).
Those who are deceived by false doctrine are likewise condemned (Matt. 15:9, 14). A curse instead of a blessing will be their surprising disappointment in the day of judgment (Matt. 7:22-23). The only sure preventive against false doctrine is to, “search the scriptures daily, whether those things are so” (Acts 17:11).
Entertainment has been substituted for worship of God. The items of divinely appointed worship are these: Eating the Lord’s supper, prayer, singing, teaching of the word of God, and giving of our means to support the Lord’s work. All of these are to be performed on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Eph. 5:19-20).
This is a simple system in which all men can engage to worship and thereby glorify God. But men have substituted elaborate systems of entertainment by which they glorify themselves. One of the first lessons ever taught to man was that God will not accept substitutes in worship (Gen. 4:5).
Men have substituted all sorts of religious entertainments in lieu of worshipping as God commanded. God is not glorified by concerts, puppet shows, dramas, skits, or comic performances and He will not accept those things which appeal to men’s lust for entertainment. God is the audience in acceptable worship—not man.
God has ordained that the church should preach the gospel to the world. But men have substituted missionary societies which usurp that work of the church. We cannot substitute a missionary society to do that work and please God at the same time.
God accepts no substitutes in religion. He is the Creator and only He has the right to command what He wants from His creatures. While man has the free will to obey or disobey God, substitute in religion or follow God’s commands, man must also realize that he will be required to accept the consequences of such choices. Obey God and live eternally, or disobey Him and be lost forever. The choice is yours, but God will accept no substitutes for the things He has commanded.