Sugar substitutes may save the lives of diabetics, but they possess a rather long-lasting aftertaste, and we're told they may even contribute to additional health problems. Sugar substitutes are better than no sugar at all, but they just don't match the taste and texture of sugar. They are, in many ways, deficient.
The same could be said for substitute teachers (sorry to those of you who are substitutes!) ... although it may not always be the case. We all recall how our classmates responded to a substitute teacher. The sub rarely taught anything new. He never required the class to complete assignments. Usually, the sub's job was to keep the students from inciting a riot, or shooting one another's eyes out with spitballs and homemade paper footballs.
Substitution, though, is an essential doctrine to Christianity, and contrary to our culture's view of substitutes, Christ's death as our substitute is in no way deficient. Instead, Christians laud the biblical view of substitution--even though it's a bloody reminder of our sin. In the Old Testament, lambs died as a substitute for believing Jews. In the New Testament, Christ died as a substitute for believers past, present, and future. Romans 5:8-9 clearly teaches substitution: Christ took our place, so that we are spared the need to die there.
"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God."
It's a precious and essential doctrine to our salvation. Christ died in the place of sinners. And in doing so, as a real substitute, Christ accomplished and secured something--actually some things--universally beneficial on behalf of those for whom He died:
"For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)."
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree'" (Galatians 3:13).
"Who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:10).
"Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works" (Titus 2:14).
"By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers" (1 John 3:16).
"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2).
It's the Greek word "hupo" and it means "in the place of" or "on behalf of." It means an actual flesh and blood substitute ... like that substitute flesh and blood teacher came and actually stood in your classroom in your teacher's place. And because Christ really died as a flesh and blood substitute on behalf of and in the place of sinners, consider what the aforementioned Scriptures promise:
1) The wrath of God against our sins has been satisfied, absorbed, and saturated by Christ.
2) We know--experientially--God's love.
3) We've been redeemed from lawlessness, and are being purified so that we zealously pursue good works.
4) We might live with Him.
5) He took the curse for us so that we might be freed from it.
6) We possess the righteousness of God in Christ.
Those are real promises, based upon a real flesh and blood substituion--Christ dying in our place. Yet for all who purport an "unlimited or universal redemption" view, Christ cannot be a real flesh and blood substitute. Why? Because there are people for whom Christ substituted Himself who don't enjoy any of the benefits of that real flesh and blood substitution. And if that real substitution did not result in securing those benefits in the lives of all for whom Christ substituted Himself, there must be something deficient and defective about the substitute--just like the sugar and classroom substitutes. How could Christ die as a flesh and blood substitute for those who are facing in hell the same wrath He faced in their place on the cross?
What's so dangerous about purporting a "universal substitution" view? It seems to destroy (or at least confuse) the meaning of "substitute," and it may well lead to an abberrant view of Christ as being deficient as a substitute. Nothing could be more dangerous to the reality of our faith than a defective substitute who did not actually substitute Himself in the place of sinners.
We then are left to embrace one of two views: either Christ's died in the place of real people and thereby secured the benefits of a substitutionary atonement for them (real and particular redemption), or Christ's death was less than actually substitutionary in nature because it did not secure the benefits of a substitutionary atonement on behalf of all for whom He died (universal or unlimited redemption).
Real-life, flesh and blood substitution has actual benefits attached. With Sweet-N-Low or Splenda, you get the taste without the calories. With a substitute teacher, you get a real living human to facilitate the class. True substitution, then, provides real-life benefits.
"For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him" (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10).
So that. Christ died for us ... so that ... we might live with Him. There is no actual substitution without actual accompanying benefits.
If that's not the case, I'm going to get fat ... really fat. One of my neighbors loves to bring me cheesecake laced with Splenda!