Once in the early years of my speaking career I was invited to fill in for Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, who was taken ill. The audience was obviously disappointed that they had to listen to me instead of the famous Dr. Peale, but I tried my best to fill his shoes. After my speech, an elderly woman, perhaps a bit hard of hearing, approached me. She didn’t fully understand who I was and why I had spoken instead of Dr. Peale, but she had heard me described as a substitute and she asked me to tell her what a substitute was.
I told her a brief story of how, when playing ball as a child at recess in elementary school, one of my friends hit the ball through a window, smashing the pane of glass. A teacher cut out a piece of cardboard as a substitute pane to fill the hole. So, I told her, I was like that substitute pane, filling in for Dr. Peale. Meaning to be kind, she told me, “Well, Mr. Ziglar, not for a moment did I think of you as a cardboard substitute. I thought you were a real pane!”
I managed to suppress my laughter as I thanked her for thinking of me as a “real pane.” But seriously, I have always thought of that illustration when considering what Christ did for me. He was my substitute—and yours. God’s justice required that someone pay for our violations of His standards. Either we would each have to die for our own sins, or someone could die for us. But that someone would need to be sinless—not guilty of his own sins. The only person who could do that was God Himself. And that is why Jesus Christ came to earth—to be our Substitute—to pay the price you and I could never pay.
As a result, when I die and it comes time for my entrance into heaven, it won’t be decided on the basis of whether my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds. It will be on the basis of only one thing: Have my sins been paid for? Have I embraced God’s Son as my saving Substitute? Have I received, by faith, God’s gift of grace with open hands and heart, not relying on anything in myself to earn my way into heaven, but relying on Jesus alone?
Zig Ziglar, Better than Good: Creating a Life You Can’t Wait to Live (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006).