Law, Grace, and Cranky Old Things
by Jan Austin Antonsson
The Glory Road
April 7, 1998
"Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God,' So each of us shall give account of himself to God." (Rom. 14:10-12).
A couple of weeks ago, a friend whom I've not seen in years, one I used to attend church with long ago and far away, called me out of the blue and invited me for a luncheon at her home. She's a dear lady, whom I'll call Lucy Jane for the sake of this narrative, and I thought, "Why not? It would be fun." Then, she said, "And I've invited Mae Bell and Lu Bell (not their real names, of course), to join us." My first reaction was, "Uh oh, here comes trouble." The last time I saw Mae Bell was at the funeral service for Lucy Jane's husband a couple of years ago. This dear old lady's first question to me after she said hello that day was, "Where are you going to church?" When I told her "No where right now," she assumed "the position" - you know the one I mean. Church gatekeepers use it to inflict maximum guilt on their postulants.
With stern eyes glaring, and finger pointing at my nose, she said, "Well, you need to come to church and take communion every Sunday. You know you do. It says so in the Bible." She went on to insist that I should come and worship right there with her at that very church. Isn't it amazing that people like her think others would want to rush right out and sign up for their brand of religion? If going to church would make me warm and loving like her, how could I possibly refuse? I don't remember what I said to her then, probably nothing. No doubt, I just walked away, gritting my teeth, doing a slow burn, because it was typical behavior for her.
What stands out in my memory on the rare occasions when I think of this woman at all, is that some twenty eight years ago now, we were both attending a little Church of Christ here in Thousand Oaks, California. She was some years older than the majority of us, for it was a congregation of young families. Then, as now, she had a mouth on her, quick to tell you what to do, quick to judge, criticize, and give her advice, if things didn't suit her. In those days at least, this denomination insisted that the age of miracles has passed, and that the Holy Spirit did His work when the Bible was inspired, and consequently, after the last Apostle died, He went back to heaven - took a Sabbatical, I guess you could say, leaving us to fend for themselves and get what we might need by reading a book.
What happened next in this group was pretty spectacular, as I recall. One by one, the Holy Spirit began to come upon some of the members of that congregation and they began to speak in tongues and worship the Lord with hands raised in the air, speaking prophecies, and other "unscriptural madness," according to Mae Bell and the rest of the right wing contingency. Those of us filled with the Spirit were full of fire from on high, heady with intoxication, as the joy of the Lord came upon some of us, but not upon all of us. There was division in the camp, hurt feelings, brother pitted against brother, anger, betrayal, and outrage. It was the best of times for some and the worst of times for others. When I think of the pain of those days, my stomach still hurts.
The stage was set for high drama. Sure enough, one Sunday morning, Mae Bell rose up during the service, and with hell fire blazing out of her eyes, her voice quivering and quaking, she pointed her finger at all of us sitting there dumbfounded in the pews, and thundered, "You are demon possessed. The devil is in you! He's got hold of you! If you don't repent, you will all burn in hell!" There was much more to her speech than that, for she went on and on, endlessly, it seemed, but those words were seared into my mind as I sat there horrified. I doubt I'll ever forget that occasion. It was very clear to me then what spirit was driving Mae Bell.
Without help, none of us change very much. If we could, of course, we wouldn't need Jesus, and for sure, as the encounter at the recent luncheon proved, she has not changed a whit. Age has not improved her. She has gotten quite a lot older, but not much wiser. When she asked what I was doing these days, I reported that Gary Sigler had offered to build a Web Page for my writings, and that this was confirmation that what I'd heard from the Lord was valid. "Well, why don't you get your work published?" She demanded. She meant by that, why didn't I REALLY get it published, as in a book that you could buy at Amazon.com/ or Crown Books. "I doubt any commercial publisher would publish my writings," I hedged. "Besides, they are being published - on the Web. Regular publisher's only produce books to make money, you know." Then almost as an afterthought, I added, "I really think that I'm too profane for the church and too spiritual for the world. But God has shown me my niche."
She assumed "the position" and with narrowed eyes, continued, "Where are you affiliated?"
"With the Lord," I replied softly, knowing what was coming next, "and with the body of Christ at large." I tried, not too successfully, to keep a smile on my face. "Well," she snorted, "I see that you have gone off and started your own religion."
Never mind that she's never read one word of my writings; never mind that she knows nothing about what I say or think, or what is in my heart. She judged, tried, and condemned me in one sentence. Bang! went the judge's gavel. Next case, please.
When I got home and told my husband Lenny about it, he asked, "Well, why didn't you bust her chops?" Now, Lenny is the meekest, mildest man that ever drew breath, and lest anyone should think he goes around "busting people's chops," he never does, but he was rather outraged at her behavior to me. I said, "Because she's 80 years old, and she's a cranky old lady. She always has been, cranky and without God opening her eyes to see the truth, what good would it do to tell her? I'll just be sure that I never have lunch with her again. Let Lucy Jane deal with her, if it's her calling from the Lord. It's surely not mine!"
But, when I tried to call Lucy Jane to tell her not to include me in any of her future plans that might involve Mae Bell, she either was not home; or the line was busy 5 times; and finally, when I did get her, her kids were over for dinner that night making a real dialogue impossible. After I hung up, I said, "OK Lord, what is it that you want me to learn from this experience?"
There are no coincidences and no happenstance meetings in our lives. God sends everything and everyone our way for His glory and our growth, no matter what it looks like on the outside. Many times, that aggravating, irascible person that drives us nuts turns out to be a mirror in which we can see ourselves. What a horrible thought, I know, but it's true! A week later, when I still couldn't shake my irritation at Mae Bell's conduct, I knew for sure that He was dealing with me. She was obviously the instrument of my deliverance from something inside me. So, as I usually do when I need an appointment with the Divine Counselor, I went into my mental bunker created years ago for just such a purpose, and said, "Jesus, please help me. Please show me what it is that is keeping me from forgiving Mae Bell and moving on." No sooner were the words out of my mouth than I saw it. Horrors! I have a cranky old thing living inside me! God first showed her to me in the mirror called Mae Bell so that I would see her in myself and know how dreadfully miserable, cross, and yes, even physically sick she is. (Mae Bell herself has had cancer 5 times. Who could be surprised? She's toxic in her spirit and the poison is coming out in her body for real!)
Immediately, I said, "Is there a cranky old thing in here who would like to speak to me?" Right away, I heard this shaky old voice say, "Yes, I'm here." "What is your name?" I asked her.
"Never mind my name." she said. "I know the drill. Just get me baptized and I will be OK." I knew what she meant, for "the drill" as she called it, goes back to the fall of 1996, when we were losing our house to foreclosure, and at that time during my meditations, I discovered that this mental bunker where I regularly met and talked with Jesus had a baptistry in it. Yes, that's right. A baptistry. Once Church of Christ, always Church of Christ, I suppose. Anyway, during that powerful, painful time of testing, refining and chastening, there were many voices and sub personalities that the Lord flushed out of my subconscious into my awareness, and the way they received deliverance was to be baptized by Jesus in that baptistry. If you find all this bizarre, remember that before He ascended into heaven, Jesus said, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." (A combination of Mk. 16: 15; and Matt. 28:19). I came to see that He was talking not only about the world out there but also the world inside Jan! If the temple is within me, (I Cor. 3:16; 6:19) and the kingdom of heaven is within me, (Lk. 17:20), and Christ lives in me, (Gal. 2:20), then God's deliverance will absolutely, and ultimately include everything else that is within me as well.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say that until He has redeemed the world inside, I'm probably just flapping my gums if I try to go preach to those on the outside. They can plainly see that I need to get those big beams out of my own eye before I try to extract the mote from theirs! (Matt. 7:3-5; Lk. 6:41-42). I need to clarify here that these voices were NEITHER evil spirits nor demons. Everyone has sub-personalities prancing around on the stage of their mind, pulling strings in their lives, whether they are aware of them, or willing to deal with them or not. I'm convinced that these are "left overs" from the collective unconscious, the garbage passed down to us from Adam and Eve's disobedience. They rule and reign in our minds, and so much the more so, if we're not aware of them. They are part of the kingdom of darkness from which we've been delivered, (Col. 1:13) and they are why we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. (Rom. 12:2). Voice dialogue (See end note "A") is one way we can deal with them, but they only talk to us if we accept them for who they are, if we welcome them, and that's why I never attempt to communicate with them unless Jesus is present.
At any rate, it is obvious to see why Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 2:5). We need the mind of Christ. It is the ONLY way we can all be of one mind, as Paul admonishes us to be. (II Cor. 13:11). Without the mind of Christ, (I Cor. 2:16) there is absolutely no human way we can accomplish on our own steam what Paul says we must achieve: "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought." (1 Cor. 1:10 ). Is he kidding? Not at all. This is the goal, folks, though at times, we all seem miserably short of attaining it.
Back to my story, the cranky old thing in me, who later said her name was Amelia, was baptized by the Lord and came up out of the waters of baptism speaking in tongues and praising God in the highest. From that moment to this, I've had no more problems with Mae Bell, no more irritation, no more "Who does she think she is?" kind of thoughts. I have completely forgiven her, because when the cranky old thing in me got saved, the light arose upon her (Is. 60:1) and she walked out of darkness and into unconditional love. (I Jn. 4:18). I have had years of counseling from various secular and spiritual counselors, for which I'm grateful, but none have been as effective at deliverance as THE COUNSELOR, whom Jesus said would come. (Jn. 14:16).
God uses many ways to deliver us, including showing us what put us into bondage in the first place. This brings me to Romans 14, which I had occasion to reconsider in depth a couple of weeks before the encounter with Mae Bell. As always, God's timing was matchless, perfect, and designed to deliver the maximum punch exactly were I needed it.
Lenny and I had spent a few days with our dear friends Harry and Jeri Fox down in Oceanside, California. Harry, a retired minister of the Gospel and missionary to Japan, has been teaching a Wednesday night class on Romans at the Church of Christ in Escondido. Since he is the one who first preached the Gospel to me some 28 years ago, I was eager to attend the class with him. Romans 14 has always been difficult for me to understand in the light of perfect grace, for it seems so legalistic. Or to put it another way, for years, I couldn't imagine why Paul didn't stop while he was ahead, and write "The End!" after he finished one of the most magnificent chapters in the Bible, Romans 11. However, he did not stop there, and having explained the background for God's purpose in showing mercy toward all, (Rom. 11:32) presumably, he wanted to explain how it is that we can all live together in peace, now that we have Jesus in our hearts.
He begins chapter 14 by saying that we should welcome the man who is weak in faith, "but not for disputes over opinions." He gives an example of that with the illustration that "One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables." His advice? "Let not him who eats despise him who abstains, and let not him who abstains pass judgment on him who eats; for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Master is able to make him stand." (Rom. 14: 1-4).
Now on the face of it, you might think, "Well, that's OK. I don't care if anyone eats meat or is a vegetarian. So what?" Unfortunately, however, this verse has been used by churches as the standard for handling doctrinal disputes as well, with the goal always stated that we are never to offend someone for whom Christ died. "What's wrong with that?" You ask. Nothing, if we're only talking about vegetables and meat, but I have witnessed over the years that it has been used by elders and preachers to keep the church doctrine statis quo, rather than moving on with the leading of the Spirit, because if you change anything about the way we've always done it, then you might offend someone. If you've always had church twice on Sunday and once on Wednesday night, then in some places that gets canonized into law. Don't rock the boat. Thursday night meetings? Horrors! That's unscriptural! The net result, as Jeri Fox points out so well, is that church growth sinks to and stagnates at the level of the weakest brother's faith, all in an effort to keep the rules seemingly laid down in Romans 14.
I've been wrestling with this chapter ever since we came back from our visit with the Foxes, and then when Mae Bell laid her judgment on me, I remembered how she stood up that Sunday morning and denounced those of us who had been baptized in the Spirit. Now, if the elders of that congregation had said, "Oh my, Mae Bell's faith is weak; so, we'd better not offend her. Therefore, there will be no more tongue talking and no more Holy Ghost outbursts around here! We can't afford to cause our sister to stumble." (Rom. 14: 13). Paul admonished, "If your brother is being injured by what you eat, (or think or do?) you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat (or think or do) cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died." (Vs. 15). This verse could have been used by those elders to keep the congregation held back from the liberty of the Spirit. However, if the elders had said that to us, would they not then, have been guilty of quenching the Holy Spirit, even as Mae Bell herself was? (In my opinion anyway). Quenching the Spirit has always seemed to me to be a serious thing, which Jesus and Paul both warned about. (I Thes. 5:19). Right after May Bell's outburst, I was really afraid for her and prayed for her to repent, because Jesus said, "Wherefore I say unto you, 'All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men'." (Mat. 12:31).
There are two sides to every story, and in actuality, the elders in that congregation were guilty of despising and judging Mae Bell even while she was judging and despising them. In fairness to her, I saw at the time that they handled the situation with the heavy hand of law and judgment rather than the loving touch of love, mercy, and kindness. Moreover, as it turned out, these elders who were newly baptized in the liberty of the Spirit, quickly quenched it themselves, turning grace into law. Having begun in the Spirit, they attempted to control the situation with law, which always brings forth death. The congregation split right down the middle with hurt feelings, despair and anxiety on both sides. God's wheel of judgment grinds slowly, but exceedingly fine, and today, some 28 years later, there is not a trace of that congregation left! The hand of God blew it all away. If we refuse to grow and leave the nursery, then He will burn it down or bankrupt it, but He will not allow us to stay in our babyhood drinking milk forever. Whether those elders or Mae Bell learned anything from the debacle, I cannot say, but I certainly did.
Then as now, the dilemma for the church everywhere is clear: Shall we go on in the Spirit of truth and risk offending our brothers? Or, shall we take the course which has been followed by congregation after congregation for years and years, and lose our freedom to follow on in the fullness of Christ? If we take the latter course, how shall we preserve the personal growth of the individual without infringing upon the needs of the group? Paul wrote the Galatians, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and BE NOT ENTANGLED AGAIN WITH THE YOKE OF BONDAGE." (Gal. 5:1). As most Bible students will remember, the Judaizers were telling the Galatian Christians that in addition to having faith in Christ, they had to be circumcised as well, in order to be pleasing to God. Now, if Romans 14 means what many in the church say it does, then Paul would have buckled under and said, "Oh go ahead. Be circumcised. We don't want to offend them, after all."
In fact, he said nothing of the kind in that letter. Yet, in the case of Timothy, whose father was Greek, Paul allowed him to be circumcised so as not to offend the Jews. (Act. 16:3). So what's going on here? Was Paul a hypocrite? We are not told what his motives were, but as Harry Fox pointed out, Paul was acting in the office of priest in one instance and as prophet in the other. Timothy was to be Paul's companion and helper in the missionary field, and perhaps it was more expedient that he be circumcised considering the job they had to do. Paul wrote the Corinthians, "I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some." (I Cor. 9:22). Truthfully, that verse has always bothered me, but it's not my job to judge Paul. He answered to a Higher Power than Jan, and I answer to a Higher Power than Mae Bell. In the case of the Galatian Christians, however, he was acting in the office of prophet, warning them of a grave danger that faced the entire fellowship. He is very clear throughout the entire letter to them that those who preached circumcism were deceived if they thought that righteousness came by the works of man. He chastised them for this thought, saying "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose." (2:21). He called those who advocated circumcism, deceived and bewitched. (3:1). "Let me ask you only this:" he reasons, "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?" (3:2-3). He saw clearly that the great deception which threatened the church at Galatia was that they were trying to achieve right standing with God through works rather than through Faith in Christ, and he concludes, "For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, BUT A NEW CREATION." (6:13-15).
Thank you Father, for telling us through Paul about the new creation. This new creature in Christ, is the only hope the world has for all of us getting along together, either inside or outside the church! This is the very reason that Paul said of the Corinthians, that he no longer knew any man after the flesh. Why? Because in our flesh dwells no good thing. (Rom. 7:18). In our flesh, we are still the sons of Adam, having inherited the sin nature that came upon mankind when he sinned. Paul says that "death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression." (Rom. 5:14). This means you. This means me. In our flesh, death reigns. This was why Jesus said, "the flesh profiteth nothing:" (Jn. 6:63). Paul wrote, "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom. 8:8) I believe a better translation for the word flesh here would be "natural." We dwell in tabernacles of flesh, but where we live and move and have our true being is not in the flesh, in the natural, but rather "in the Spirit!" Paul went so far as to say "But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his." (Rom. 8:9). How can this be accomplished? Not by the works of man, but by God's grace. Paul wrote the Galatians, "I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I NOW LIVE IN THE FLESH (the natural), I live by the faith OF THE SON OF GOD, who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20).
Paul consistently proclaims that in the flesh, the natural, the carnal, there is only death. In the carnal realm, he says, I am "sold under sin." (Rom. 7:14). This is the nature we inherited from Adam's transgression. When he ate of the tree that fine day, we were in him, and the consequences of that transgression, spiritual death, accrued to us. It was charged to our account. We came into the world with our ledger page marked in red in the debit column. We are guilty because of Adam's sin. Because of that, Paul wrote his famous treatise on the folly of trying to keep the law, of trying to "be good." Let's include the whole thing here, for Paul says it better than anyone ever has:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me." (Rom. 7:15-20). What's the result, Paul? What are you saying about yourself? "O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh (the natural) I serve the law of sin." (7:24-25, RSV).
Well, that's a bad deal, Paul. Where does that leave us? If sin is what's causing the problem, how can I even get along with myself, let alone anyone else? How can I possibly NOT cause my brother to stumble, offend him, drive him away? I can barely stand to be with myself! As one writer said of herself, "My mind is a bad neighborhood that I dare not walk around in alone." What I know would be a good thing to do I can't do it. So what's the use?
Paul never keeps us in doubt for long. We all know this next verse as well as we know our own names. We can quote it. We can all say it and in fact, shout it to the housetops: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death." (8:1-2). Someone accused me recently of not believing in law, of wanting freedom so much that I have sailed off the edge of the known world into a lawless universe. Mae Bell herself said that I had thrown over all law and order and gone off to start my own religion. Nay verily! Nothing could be farther from the truth. The law that rules my heart is "THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT OF LIFE IN CHRIST JESUS." Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Glory to God in the highest! This law from above has "SET ME FREE FROM THE LAW OF SIN AND DEATH."
This is the law of the new creation! This is the law that reigns in our spirit, which is why Paul said he no longer knew any man after the flesh. (II Cor. 5:16). He didn't want to deal with those brethren after the flesh, in the natural. Neither do I. There's just no way to prop up the flesh and make it lovely. It's kind of like the way undertakers fix up a dead man for his "viewing," his lying in state in the casket at the funeral home. They pouf out his cheeks, cover over his wrinkles with make up, put on his best suit, and make him look better than he often did in life, especially if he were old and sick to begin with. There he lies, beautified, and stately, but he is still dead! And we, my brothers and sisters, were dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) before Christ came to live in our hearts. "Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; OLD THINGS ARE PASSED AWAY; BEHOLD, ALL THINGS ARE BECOME NEW." (II Cor. 5:17).
This is why I don't want to know you after the flesh and you don't want to know me that way either. Trust me on this one. You want to know the Jan who is the new creation, the one born from above, the one whom the law of the Spirit of Christ has made free from the law of sin and death. On that basis, we can fellowship. On that basis, we can walk trough the kingdom of God together. No one will need to admonish us not to offend one another, not to pass judgment on one another. We just wouldn't do it. On that basis, we will welcome each other. We will accept each other. (Rom. 14:1) Why? Because we know that "the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit; he who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men." (Rom. 14:17). This means you, Mae Bell. I got the Divine amendment to my thoughts when I was despising you for the judgment I felt coming from you. God brought me up short as only He can. He died for you as well as for me. If you have not seen what I've seen, so what? That's God's job, not mine. So, I have forgiven you and have asked God to help you forgive yourself, for unforgiveness is truly a poison that corrupts every cell in our bodies.
The answer to the world's problems and certainly the church's dilemma is the New Creation! Only when we are born from above can we see the kingdom of heaven at work within us. (Jn. 3: 3). Paul prayed for all of us, which prayer I can certainly say amen to:
"May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15:5-6). What would the answer to this prayer be? "Welcome one another, therefore, AS CHRIST HAS WELCOMED YOU, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy." (Rom. 15: 7-9).
To summarize, what has been troubling me about Romans 14 for the past month, since Harry Fox brought it to my recollection, and especially after my encounter with Mae Bell, was that when I would read it or think about it, I would feel the silver cords of the law entwining themselves about me. Then I would reproach myself and feel guilty about having despised all the cranky old things in all the churches I have attended who have annoyed me over the years. No matter how hard I tried in the past, I couldn't prevent myself from being irritated, irked and incensed. I could hear my Mother's voice admonishing me to "be bigger than that, Jan," but good advice though it was, still, it didn't work! I couldn't pull it off; I was stuck in Romans 7 on this topic, until the cranky old thing who lives in me was baptized....until she got born again. Paul, of all people, understood that we can't get there by our own works. He understood God's grace probably better than anyone except the Lord Himself, and as he says so masterfully in Romans 11:6, "But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works: otherwise grace would no longer be grace."
Now this brings me to ask, did you ever wonder why there are so many grouchy old things in churches everywhere? Well, bless your heart, they are grouchy, cranky, mean and miserable for the same reason that the heathen rage. (Ps 2:1). They are pissed! They are as mad as an old wet hen, as we say in Missouri. Why the rage? Why the judgment? Why the mean spirited attitude? It's simple! Works don't work! The truth is that good works come from the same tree as evil deeds and both bring forth death! (Gen. 2:17). Only fruit from the Tree of Life, Christ Himself, dwelling within us, brings forth love, joy, and peace. Were I one to wager, I would lay odds, that Mae Bell has tried to be a good Christian woman all her life. I think she has read the Bible frequently, prayed, and most certainly gone to church and taken communion each and every Sunday unless she was hindered from going because she lay on a "bed of affliction" or other distress. She no doubt gave of her means as the Lord prospered her and did all the other things the elders and preachers and her understanding of the Bible led her to do. Then, why isn't she happy? Why didn't that give her peace? Because you can't get there from here, folks. Those good works I mentioned here as well as all the other ones Christians press themselves into doing out of guilt, OBLIGATION and D-U-T-Y are the natural man's way to please God, "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (I Cor. 2:14).
Christians who like to enumerate their good works in hopes of getting many stars in their crowns (a myth, by the way, as there's no such promise in all the Bible), are like the Pharisee who said about himself, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men &emdash;robbers, evildoers, adulterers &emdash;or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." (Luke 18:11-12). But Jesus was not impressed, which is why He said, "Except your righteousness shall EXCEED the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matt. 5:20). Please remember that the Pharisees were not slouches in the good works department! They followed the law to the letter, well sort of. Yet, on another occasion, the Lord said to the chief priests who were grilling him, "Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you." (Matt. 21:31). Now if that isn't enough to make you cranky, I don't know what would!
Our feelings about it notwithstanding, not only can you NOT work your way to heaven after you die, but you cannot work your way into the kingdom of heaven in this life either. It simply can't be done. What the Psalmist wrote about the heathen, Christ will likewise do for those stuck in bondage to law in the churches across this land. The sweet singer of Israel prophesied, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." (Ps. 2:9). This severe correction from God is not to kill them - or us, but to bring repentance and correction to them, and to us as well. God's judgments are always redemptive, for when His judgments come upon the earth, the inhabitants of the world, (and the church), learn righteousness! (Is. 26:9). Counting upon our own self righteousness, our own pride, ego, and control to please God is described by Paul as building upon our own foundation, rather than on Jesus Christ. He said, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay stubble: Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, BUT HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED; YET SO AS BY FIRE." (I Cor. 3:11-15).
The cranky old things in the church and out of it are cross, judgmental and unhappy because what they were told to do did not bring them the peaceable fruit of righteousness that the Hebrew writer says only comes from the chastening and discipline of the Lord. (Heb. 12: 11). Without it, he says, they are not sons at all, but bastards. (Heb. 12:8, KJ). Amos says of such people, they have turned judgment into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock, (Amos 6:12) which as we all know is a lethal poison to the human body. Self righteousness is lethal to the spirit as well. Here is Paul's evaluation of trying to be good by keeping the law, "I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but it is not enlightened. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified." (Rom. 10: 2-4). God will continue the chastening process described in Heb. 12:5-11, in order to transform those who were servants under the law into sons with whom He will share His glory. (II Tim. 2:12). It's the only way. If Christ learned obedience by the things that He suffered, (Heb. 5:8), how can we expect otherwise? The cranky old things and all the sons of Levi, which includes all of us, will be transformed by the refiner's fire and the fuller's soap. (Mal 3:2). We may be redeemed from the consequences of the fall on this side of Jordan, or on the other side, but we will be redeemed, saved, and sanctified. That is a promise of the Father! (Jn. 3:16: I Jn. 2:2; 3:1-2; 4:14).
My confidence in Paul is such that having expressed fully and completely why the law will not bring righteousness or salvation in Romans, chapters 1-11, he would not then in chapter 14, drive us back into law to seek a solution as to how to behave toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. So what did he mean? What in the world is he talking about that the whole church has struggled with for 2,000 years? Whatever it was, I am positive that he did NOT mean that we are to be mealy mouthed wimps who don't witness to our faith for fear of offending our brothers.
If that were the case, then Paul would not have had to write to the Corinthians,
"I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." (2 Cor. 11: 23-27, NIV). He would never have had those hair raising experiences if he had not been willing to speak truth no matter whom it might offend! It was his boldness in preaching Christ, no matter what the cost, or how many he upset, that earned him a life of trial, suffering, imprisonment, and death. Had he been a "good boy," a nice Christian, a people pleaser, a "yes man" to all who confronted him, he would probably have lived to a ripe old age, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ would not have survived the first century. Paul had spunk. He had the prophet's fire, and like the Civil War hero, Admiral David Farragut, the apostle's attitude was "Full speed ahead!" and "Damn the torpedoes!" He never shrank back for fear of what someone might think of him or the dangers that lay ahead.
It should be obvious to any thinking person that the same is true of Jesus. How else could He say, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matt: 10: 34-39, NIV).
Last year, Harry Fox let me borrow one of his commentary's on Matthew. I read it through, and then re-read the whole gospel of Matthew in one or two sittings. As I saw how Jesus lashed out at the Pharisees, and confronted them endlessly about their hypocrisy, I cringed inside. Before I even realized it, I found myself thinking, "Oh, please don't say that. They are going to hurt you if you don't keep quiet!" And so they did. They nailed Him to a tree for His trouble. His honesty cost Him His life, as He knew it would. That generation of vipers (Matt. 12:34); those blind guides whom He said strained at a gnat and swallowed a camel (Matt. 23:24); those whited sepulchers (Matt. 23:27); those hypocrites (Matt 23:23,28-29) did not like the light He shined on them. They preferred to scurry around in darkness along with the other creatures of the night. So, because He did not fear to offend them; because He was NOT a people pleaser; because He spoke the truth whatever the price, they killed Him.
Thus, I conclude that Paul is NOT telling us that we cannot speak what God has put in our hearts, that we cannot bear witness to the light within us. We may recall that the Apostle Peter says that we are to be ready "always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." (I Peter 3:15). So, if Paul does not mean for us to deny the truth we have been given for the sake of harmony, then what does he mean? How are we all to all stay together in this little play pen called church and still get along?
Clearly, a lot of people have had difficulty in figuring out what he meant, which may be one reason there are some 28,000 denominations out there all trying to serve God. If I don't agree with you, and take Romans 14 upon myself as law, then I may think in order to be free, I have to either quench the Spirit within me and keep quiet lest I offend you, or leave and stop fellowshipping with you altogether. Isn't this how the denominations came about? I think so. I think that when two could not agree, one picked up his marbles and moved across the street to start his own church. This is what Mae Bell accused me of. And while it is true, that I did leave church, I did so because God called me out of organized religion years ago and has taught me Himself ever since.
Now I have always been a feisty little girl, as my Mother will tell you. So, when God tossed me out of church the second time, I said to him , "Well fine, but it will take an Angel of the Lord standing before me to tell me I need to go back. Otherwise, I'm NOT going!" Have I seen an angel? Oh, Probably; they are everywhere around us, but what has happened in recent months is that the still small voice has been whispering to me that where Jesus went and where Paul went to preach the gospel was church! That's right. They called them synagogues back in those days, but it's the same thing. And believe me, that's the very place where the gospel is in very short supply! (See Mk 1:21;6:12; Lk 4:16; 6:6; 13:14; Acts 13:14; 13:42; 17:2; 18:4).
So then I said, "Ah yes, Lord, but Paul and Jesus went to preach the word, not to listen to law. So that lets me off the hook because they are men and I'm a woman. How could I go and preach? Impossible. The plumbing is all wrong, don't you know? Besides, I can't go back to church without the power and authority of the Spirit to back me up. I'd be a sitting duck without it. Surely, you see that." His answer to me on that was simply, "You have the power." It's true that I taste and feel the power of His Spirit in my own life, but rarely do do I experience it in someone else's life; so I conclude that until the power manifests itself on the outside of Jan, I'm off the hook - or maybe not. It shall be revealed in His time. Since He has absolute authority and dominion in my life, I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.
As I explained in my introduction to Jan's Journal, The Glory Road, I grew up in a church that forbade women to speak, pray, or minister in the church service because the Apostle Paul said so. (I Cor. 14:34-35). He's on my list to have a few words with when the time is ripe, but never mind, he knows better now. At any rate, even HE did NOT say that women couldn't write journals. So, I do.
I realize that what I write is considered radical by some, including those in my own family. However, be that as it may, what I get from Romans 14 is simply this: we must accept each other exactly where we are. I have been every bit as guilty of despising my weaker brother or sister as they have been of judging me. When someone gives me a burst about my ideas, I usually don't get in their face. Instead, I do a slow burn, grind my teeth, and despise them for being so small. The ones criticizing me do not hesitate to judge me, even as Mae Bell did. For a long time I couldn't understand why people do that, or for that matter, why I myself was so quick to judge others. Then it came to me that if we're trying to get to heaven by keeping the rules, then of course, we will obviously be up tight and judgmental about it. It is a terrible strain to even figure out what the rules are, let alone how to keep them properly! Once I was delivered from that kind of mind numbing legalism, and entered into what grace means for the believer, then I could relax, and so could Mae Bell, if God would shine His light of truth on her. I say it that way, because she is so contaminated with the doctrines of men, that she would not listen to anyone unless the Spirit opened her heart. Like a lot of others, she probably sings "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah," as loudly and as often as anyone else, but it never occurs to her that the song means exactly what it says, that each of us have to look to Him for guidance, not to her or anyone else!
By the way, the Lord showed me that the problem, was not that she judged me, but that I accepted the condemnation on some level. Some of my charismatic friends would say that the accuser of the brethren was busy that day. (Rev. 12:10). Perhaps that's so, as is always the case when Satan plagues us, God sent it to me to show me the truth about myself. Paul wrote, "The spiritual man judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one." (I Cor. 2:15). That doesn't mean I have to try to stop her from doing it, for that's God's job. It just means that I don't accept it when she does it. Jesus is my judge, (Jn. 5:22; II Tim. 4:8) not Mae Bell.
Yet, neither of us was righteous in our actions and reactions with each other that day. Paul said to each of us. Stop it! You who think you are strong, don't despise the weak. You who are weak, don't judge the strong. Why? Because "God has welcomed him (or her)." (Rom. 14:3). He or she is God's servant! (Vs. 4). What does that mean in the real world? It is the responsibility of the master of the servant, or the Father of the son, take your pick, to discipline and bring to order his own servant or son. It is simply NOT our job. Mae Bell is God's problem, in other words, not mine, and I am God's problem, not hers!
So, if by the power of the indwelling Christ, I give up justifying myself, defending myself, and turn it over to Him who knows the end from the beginning, (Is. 46:10), then all will be well in my spirit. For only by the grace of God and the empowerment of the indwelling Spirit can we live in such "harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Rom. 15: 5-6). Without it, we will be as chaotic as those well meaning folks mentioned in the Old Testament who thought they could get to heaven by the strength of their own right arm. To accomplish this carnal purpose, you may recall, they built a tower of Babel. "That is why it was called Babel &emdash;because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth." (Gen. 11:7-9, NIV). In one of his meditations, my husband Lenny saw that in all probability God did the same thing to the churches.
Radical as it sounds, God Himself caused the division and confusion among the believers for His own purposes. To say He had nothing to do with it is to say that man slipped out from under God's sovereignty and authority, took control of the helm for awhile, and crashed the ship of man's fate into an iceberg. Because God is omnipotent, that could not have happened. Our confidence, peace, and joy lies in the fact that our heavenly Father "works all things after the council of HIS OWN WILL." (Eph. 1:11; see also Deut. 32:39; Hos. 6:1; Rom. 8:28).
Think about it this way: if there were one church, one religion, one correct translation of the Bible, man would assume he did not need to go to God. He could just show up on the church doorsteps and turn himself in for instruction, doctrine, reproof, and a plan of salvation. That's how some churches lead you to think it is even today, especially those who maintain that you can figure it out on your own by reading the Bible. But that is not how it was ever designed to be. God Himself will be King on the throne of each life. The nations will not turn to man's system of religion for guidance, for healing, or for instruction in righteousness. That is a part of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of the law. Partaking of the fruit of that tree was what got us into this soup of sin and death in the first place. When we return to the Garden of God, we will feast on the Tree of Life and be healed.
"Then He showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. There shall no more be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall worship him; they shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads. And night shall be no more; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they shall reign for ever and ever." (Rev. 22: 1-5). Isn't that glorious? Do you know that we are the city? That the tree of life abides in us? That the throne of God and the Lamb is within us? Knowing by the Spirit of truth that this is the promised result of all the tribulation, pain and turmoil, actually enables us to be patient with one another! Glory to God!
We all will get there together, or not at all! Many people have bailed out of the churches and divorced God in the process because of the cranky old gatekeepers and doctrinal watchdogs that hang out in organized religion. Disillusioned, they gave up on God and everything associated with Him. The good news is, that He has not given up on these prodigal sons and daughters (Lk. 15:22-24), or on the elder brothers like Mae Bell as well. (Lk. 15:25-32). What the gatekeepers and watchdogs forget is that even on the day of Pentecost, the only ones answering the invitation hymn that day were those the Lord our God called, (Acts. 2:39) i.e. "the ones ordained to eternal life" were the ones who believed. (Acts. 13:48). The rest will come in later. Whether they come in as church members or simply as kingdom dwellers, is not ours to say, but come in they will, for our Father and our God will not rest, sleep, nor slumber until He has accomplished the "restitution of all things;" (Acts. 3:21) until in everything (and everyone) He might be pre-eminent. In speaking of Christ, Paul wrote the Colossians, "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him TO RECONCILE TO HIMSELF ALL THINGS, WHETHER ON EARTH OR IN HEAVEN, MAKING PEACE BY THE BLOOD OF HIS CROSS." (Col. 1:18-20).
What the gatekeepers and law givers don't realize is that these verses DO NOT CHARGE THEM with the responsibility of accomplishing this incredible feat. No, this is God's job. Trying to do it on our own will steam will make any one of us very cranky as we've probably already observed. This is why I love all the old prophets, who foretold the glory of God manifesting Himself in flesh. How do we know it will happen? "FOR THE MOUTH OF THE LORD HATH SPOKEN IT!" (Is. 40: 5). Isaiah wrote, "Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The ZEAL OF THE LORD OF HOSTS WILL PERFORM THIS." (Is. 9:7). This takes all of us off the hook as to HOW the end result will occur, or when!.
Though we each have to work out our own salvation (our path, our course), with fear and trembling, nevertheless, "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." (Phil. 2:23-24). Meanwhile, we're waiting for God to complete the work He started, (Jn. 4:34), which He "destined for our glory before time began." (1 Cor. 2:7). By the power of the life giving Spirit, we will welcome and accept each other just the way we are, warts and zits and all, because that's the way God has welcomed and accepted us through Jesus Christ.
We did not have to clean ourselves up to come to God. He took us while we were in the ditch, sinners all, and justified us "freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23-24). It is on that basis that we are empowered to accept and minister to each other. Together, we can glorify God that He knows all about us; including our sins and failures, and still He loves us. In spite of who we are and how we think, the invitation is the same for all mankind: "The Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come,' And let him who hears say, "Come.' And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires, take the water of life without price'." (Rev. 22:17). Will you join me Mae Bell? Come, let us go in and dine with the King together.
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
To Return To "The Glory Road," Click Here!
A. For more on voice dialogue, and sub personalities, read Embracing Our Selves by Hal Stone and Sidra Winkleman, published by New World Library, San Rafael, California.
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This page was uploaded to the web on 5/30/1998
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/02/08