The Glory Road, A Kingdom Highway
This journal was inspired by a dialogue Lenny and I had with a reader. I had introduced this man, whom I'll call "Bob" (not his real name) to the writings of A.P. Adams, specifically the work entitled, "The Atonement." (End Note A) In talking about how organized religion has misrepresented the work of God through Christ on the cross, Adams observed, "God is not the God of the dead, (Matt. 22:32) but Christ took upon himself our fallen nature and thus died (for his incarnation was his death), in order that he might be one with the race in death as well as in life; in his humiliation, Jesus stands at the head of the race, for He was the only human being that was "holy, harmless and undefiled." (Heb. 7:26). He also stands at the head of the race in his exaltation, for he is the "the Beginning, that in all things He might have the preeminence." (Col. 1:18). End Quote. The offending sentence was Adam's aside, ("For His incarnation was His death.") Bob misunderstood that to mean that somehow Jesus was flawed, rather than perfect, sinful rather than sinless. He wrote, "I adamantly disagree with him (Adams) that 'Jesus entered into the condition of death at His birth and in His earth walk.' ...He did not experience His union with sin filled man until He went to the cross." Later, in his e-mail to us, he observed, "I do a lot of studying and reading. I do not close myself off to what other people say, but if it is not around a revelation of the work of Jesus on the cross, I stay away from it." He concluded that he could no longer learn from a man who had arrived at such a shocking conclusion that Jesus was born into death and therefore somehow contaminated by the human condition. Were it true, I would be joining him wholeheartedly, but as it is, his comments about the cross, together with my own observations and feelings lately brought about my answer to him, which I will enhance as other thoughts presented themselves. The Lord gave me the following answer for Bob:
Dear Bob, Thank you for your comments via e-mail tonight. Clearly, you are a seeker of truth. Heb. 11:6 tells us that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. You and we qualify to receive that promise, and so, in every situation, we trust the Spirit to guide us into all truth (Jn. 16:13). I bear witness that He has never failed me in this respect, nor has He left me comfortless when I veered off the path momentarily, but has always tenderly led me back into the way He would have me walk.
Having said that, let me agree with your decision to put Adams on the shelf for awhile in your studies. He's very deep and has some "strong meat" in his writings which you may not be ready for now. The Spirit ever leads us higher as we journey towards the "heavenly places" where we are seated with Christ (Eph. 2:6), and more and more reveals to us that this is where we live even now. It's a divine process of revelation from glory unto glory.
It is not my place to defend Adams' work to anyone, nor to amend anyone else's theology, but since I'm the one who introduced you to him, just let me say now that no where does he say or even imply that Jesus was sinful. Far from it. I've read many more articles of his than you find on the web. You misunderstood his meaning, perhaps because his vernacular is turn of the century, when he lived and wrote. What he does say is that Jesus entered the death realm when He took on flesh at His birth. To me, this is an inescapable conclusion from the scriptures. God said to Adam, "In the day that you eat of it (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) you shall surely die." (Gen. 2:17). He was not speaking of physical death here because Adam lived for 930 years (Gen. 5:5), but physical death is implied in the consequences of Adam's disobedience. What happened to him was that he died spiritually, and all men died along with him. Law always produces death, the reason being that it gives us knowledge of sin. Paul said, "For I was alive without the law once, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." (Rom. 7:9). Thus, we see that when Adam gained the knowledge of good and evil (short description of the law) he died and all of us followed suit. "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22 ). Praise God in the highest that Christ came, conceived of the Holy Spirit, because only in that manner could He escape the physical and spiritual death inherent in all flesh. As for all the rest of us, Paul proclaimed that we, who were "dead in trespasses and sins," were quickened by Christ. (Eph. 2:1).
The words of the old hymn express it well, "Out of the Ivory Palaces, into the world of woe. Only His great redeeming love made my Savior go." Paul wrote the Philippians that though Jesus was equal with God, "He took upon Himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." (Phil. 2:6-7). John tells us that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." (1:14). Paul wrote, that He was "made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead" (Rom. 1:3-4). He also said that "in the fulness of time, God sent forth His son, made of a woman, made under law" (Gal. 4:4).
It was the divine seed in Christ which a) made Him the seed and heir of God's promise to Abraham (Gal 3:16) and b) which allowed Him to be "without sin" (Jn. 8:7). Yet because He was born of a human woman, and tabernacled in the flesh, He was made "to be sin for us, who knew no sin; (why?) that we might be made the righteousness of God." (II Cor. 5:21). What Adams is saying, and what God has borne witness to me as well, is that when Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead" (Mat. 8:22; Lk. 9:60), He was referring to all of us trapped in the flesh realm, all who were dead in trespasses and sins. Christ Himself was in the flesh realm, but He was not OF the flesh realm for He was the offspring of the divine sperm of the Spirit and Mary's womb. Nevertheless, for our sakes, He entered into the death realm with us and for our benefit, that He might carry it (death) with Him to the cross. Isaiah, Chapter 53, is too deep and too wide, and too comprehensive only to be referring to the few hours when Christ was tortured and killed by the religious leaders and Roman soldiers. It speaks to me of His bearing the sorrows and carrying the griefs inherent in all of us who are clothed upon with mortality and corruptibility. Remember the man who came to Him and called Him "Good Master?" He said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Mk. 10:18; Lk. 18: 19). This was His acknowledgment of what He lost when He came from glory and clothed Himself in flesh.
We know that He was tempted in all points such as we are (Heb. 2:17-18), yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15). We know that He learned obedience by the things which He suffered, and afterwards, He became the captain of our salvation (Heb. 5:8-9). This term "suffering" also speaks to me of His entire earthly life, rather than just a few hours at the end of His life. Though it was an agony for Him to endure, nevertheless, it was not the worst pain He suffered. In no way am I minimizing the horror of the cross. I cannot bear to think of it or read about it, and certainly not watch a video of it, because Jesus has been my best friend, my life's partner, my constant companion for many years, and I cannot understand what they did to my sweet savior, nor does any amount of good that came from it really make it OK for me emotionally. I just can't stand the whole idea of the crucifixion, simply cannot contemplate it in any rational manner at all. Yet, in spite of my feelings of horror and despair about it, Isaiah wrote, "Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand" (Isa. 53:10). What I'm trying to say here is that Jesus experienced up close and personal what it meant to be human. In His short 33 years on earth, He heard, saw, felt, and tasted the lack of glory everywhere in the death realm, which to me, would have been even worse for Him to endure than the agonizing death on the cross. We're all invested in flesh, with the pain and suffering associated with it, but we really have no idea what glory He left to come here. Human minds cannot conceive the majesty of our Father's house and the glory which He bestowed upon His only begotten Son. We cannot begin to know the half of what He gave up when He came to earth and put on skin.
When He stood on the hill overlooking Jerusalem and wept (Mat. 23:37; Lk. 13:34), I believe He was seeing and experiencing first hand the consequences of sin and the depth to which human kind had fallen. He knew full well that their house was left to them desolate (Mat. 23:38; Lk. 13:35). No wonder the demons cried out everywhere He went (Matt. 8:29; Mk. 3:11; Lk. 4:41). They knew their time was short and that the one on the white horse with "King of kings and Lord of lords" written in blood on His vestments (Rev. 19:11-16) had finally come to bind the strong man and loose the children of Adam from demonic bondage (Mat. 12:29; Mk. 3:27; Lk. 11:21). He was truly God, the "fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Col. 2:9). Yet, If He had not been fully human, He would not have been the perfect sacrifice for us, nor could we ever identify with Him in His death, burial, and resurrection. The way I see it is that He set aside His glory for a moment in eternity to become flesh and he entered into death for us when He was born of a human woman. He then took the living death that we all have experienced since Adam, and allowed it to be nailed with Him to the cross. It was not just the incredible and incalculable pain of the nails in His hands and feet, or the spear in His side, that He felt on that cross, but rather, it was the sins of the whole world, the iniquities of us all that were laid upon Him (Is. 53:6). More than the physical body of the Son of God lay buried in that tomb on that shame filled day. Behind the rock that sealed the door of His tomb, lay death and alienation from God (Col. 1:21), the black heart of sin and all the frustration of those of us trapped in the flesh who had "no hope, and (were) without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). When He rose from the dead, He made it possible for all of us to leave our grave cloths behind and to escape the living death which human life had consisted of since Adam lost fellowship with God.
From our work with the Baptists and our conversations with other Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, for example, I have finally understood that the significance of Calvary is so much more than just His death on the cross. These good people wring their hands and weep over the crucifixion, and make it the centerpiece of God's work in atonement. Yet, think about it. If Jesus, perfect and sinless, had died on that instrument of Roman torture, yet had NOT risen again, it would have been a tragedy for sure, but He would have only been one of millions of people whom the Romans crucified, for it was their execution method of choice. As Paul put it, "If Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain; ye are yet in your sins....and ye are of all men most miserable." (I Cor. 15:17,19). During a recent service at the Baptist Church, the worship leader played a video depicting the torture before and the agony during the crucifixion. It was so very offensive to me because I felt it exploited the death of Christ in a manipulative way designed to produce guilt and thus increase the size of the offering which was taken immediately afterwards, and also to increase the number of people whose guilt drove them to the altar. I wanted to stand up and scream at them, "It's not the cross, stupid. It's His life." Pauline doctrine fully supports my feeling if not my vernacular expression: "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life!" (Rom. 5:10). What does this mean? To me, it means that the cross was merely the instrument God used to bring flesh, our carnal nature, our death realm to death. Hallelujah! We have been delivered. The Hebrew writer declared, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death" (Heb. 2:14-15). I'm going to tell you that the phrase, "held in slavery by their fear of death," describes my life and everyone else's in my family as well, before God continued His work in us. So, of course, the cross was essential, and Christ's death so crucial, in fact, to God's plan for the ages that Jesus is called "the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world" (Rev. 13:8). My purpose is not to make light of people who are still attached to the significance of Calvary, but rather to show that in order to mature, we have to go beyond the cross. We have to leave the cross on Golgotha's blood stained hill, and walk into resurrection life. This is part of what the angel meant when He said, "Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." (Acts 1:9). He has come! He came in like manner as He went, in majesty and power, on the day of Pentecost, and so I say, "You followers of Christ, why are you still standing weeping at the cross? He isn't there anymore. He has risen from the dead. He is seated at the right hand of God, clothed in glory and honor and power, and because of that, so do we in the heavenly realm." And yes, I know that some will protest, "but Paul said he could only glory in the cross of Christ." But listen to the verse again: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). The cross did it's job for Paul (and everyone of us in Christ) because we left the world, the flesh and the devil nailed up there and walked on into an overcoming life. Paul proclaimed the cross, no doubt, because he had the privilege of introducing the Messiah to people who believed anyone hung on a tree was cursed (Gal: 3:13). It was his way to show them that the kingdom of God operates exactly backwards to what the Jews were expecting, in much the same way that today, most church members are unaware of the presence of the Kingdom in their midst because they have projected its reality into a future time when Jesus comes back and reigns from the Throne of David in Jerusalem. God has always done everything opposite to what the mind of man has conceived, which is why that Paul said we can only see spiritual truth through spiritual eyes, not through our physical minds (I Cor. 2:14).
I realize that you may have already parted company with me by now, thinking "This woman is turning her back on the symbol of atonement that all of Christendom holds dear." So be it. Meat is much harder to digest than milk, but to grow in God, we have to go beyond childish things. The Hebrew writer put it this way:
"Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. (You cannot get to righteousness on milk alone.) But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so" (Heb. 5:13-6:3). There are some very interesting things in that list, things that the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals are loath to give up, such as repentance, faith, baptisms, and even the resurrection of the dead. Yet, the writer says, "God permitting, we will do so." This is what He has carefully and sometimes painfully worked into Lenny and me. We have come to see that unless God opens our eyes to see the truth, we will in no way see it. When His time is fully come for us to see, He turns on the light and then we see it in 72 point type! Only then, does it begin to jump off the page at us as we read the Scriptures. In other words, many things are grasped and understood only by divine revelation, and this concept that it is His life which saves us, rather than His death on the cross, is one of those truths.
But back to what it means to be saved by His life, one of the most important concepts to understand is that our old man, our carnal nature, our flesh was crucified with Christ. Why is that important? That "henceforth we should not serve sin" (Rom. 6:6). Why not, Paul? "For he that is dead is freed from sin" (Vs. 7). That is as plain as the nose on your face. Dead men do not sin. In fact, as an interesting aside, the Apostle Peter observed, "He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (I Pet. 4:1). Knowing that we died with Christ and therefore do not serve sin (Rom. 6:6) is the first step in this awareness, and I have received great and continued deliverance from the bondage of the flesh by "reckoning myself dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11). However, the victory was always moment by moment for me, with many relapses and failures, until I "got it" that since I was crucified with Christ, it is not I who lives, but Christ in me: "and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith OF the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me." Therefore, "I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness comes by the law, then Christ is dead in vain" (Gal. 2: 20-21). The concept of being crucified with Christ is difficult to get with our natural minds. It takes the Holy Spirit to reveal it, but perhaps this analogy will aid you. In speaking of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, the Hebrew writer says, "One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor" (Heb. 7:9-10). In like manner, our spiritual seed was in Christ (I Jn. 3:9) and because of this, we were crucified with Him. Because we died with Him on the cross, sin no longer controls us.
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about your letter, Bob, and how God would have me answer it. It is NOT my intention to "amend your theology" in any way. That's the Spirit's job. You clearly have the anointing within you and therefore have no need for any man to teach you because He teaches you all things (I Jn. 2:7). Yet, for some reason, it pleased the Father to pour out this to you tonight. So, I offer it to you in obedience to Him who has called us to be light bearers (Mat. 5:14) and also to give an answer to every man for the hope that is in us. (I Pet. 3:15). God does all things well. You are on your path and we are on ours, and if it's not the same path right now because of our Father's preordained plan for our lives (I Tim. 1:9-10), then we know that it will end in Him, the Father of lights in whom is no darkness (I Jn. 1:5), nor shadow of turning (James 1:17), and we rejoice that we are called the Sons of God (Rom. 8:14, 19; Gal. 3:26; I Jn. 3:1). End of my e-mail letter to Bob.
I am happy to report that Bob received my reply most graciously and acknowledged that our Sovereign Lord leads us both. Meanwhile, after I sent the letter to Him, God continued to show me scriptures that expand this theme. The problem I see in Fundamentalist circles is that they continue to plow the same ground. Week after week, they serve milk from the pulpit and then wonder why people don't come to church. The reason is very obvious to me. They have mastered 1/2 of God's plan only, i.e. the atonement. They've got that down pat, though they are still a little skewed in their visualization of it, making too much of it about what man must do, and too little of it about what God has already done. Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). On the Day of Pentecost, after Peter had told them to "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," he added this most important phrase: "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:38-39). After I received the revelation of the absolute sovereignty of God, statements like that just leaped right off the page at me, and I would exclaim (usually to Lenny who was the only one present), "Wow! Look at this. It's been here all along and I just now saw it." I've said in other writings that Peter did not rely on an invitation hymn that day, nor on an altar call that went on and on, but rather on the Power of the Holy Spirit to convict his listeners of sin and bring them to the question, "Men and brethren, what should we do?" (Acts. 2:37). When the power of God is present, a convicted heart will always ask, "What should I do?" Too many times, preachers rely on the power of persuasion, guilt and manipulation to bring souls to the front. That really bothers me, needless to say, because if you are harvesting souls in your own strength, you shouldn't be surprised if the crop is sickly, malnourished, and quickly withers away in the noon day heat.
Anyway, as I said, many in the church have focused their attention on the Atonement, to the neglect of the second half of God's purpose, which is the perfecting of the saints. This is also His job, by the way. By the statements they make, the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals lead me to believe that if we only study, pray, attend church regularly, and do good deeds, (all works of man) we'll be perfected, but Paul said, "For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law" (Gal. 3:21). And again in Gal. 2:16, "Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified." Therefore, it's fairly obvious why there are so many weak and sickly Christians. We just can't get there from here on our own steam. Paul wrote the Ephesians that it is Christ's job to perfect the church, "to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Eph. 5:26-27). Christ is the subject of that sentence! He is the one who is doing the cleansing and the perfecting, not me. That is so comforting to me, because thinking I had to make myself perfect would drive me around the bend and off the cliff in short order. One of my very favorite verses on this subject is Jude 24-25: "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy, to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen." Again, notice that God, rather than man, is the one doing the work in this verse.
When we remain "stuck at the cross," as though atonement is the only item on God's agenda, we are exactly like the man in Jesus' parable in Luke 11:24-26. I'm excited and grateful that the Spirit gave me this revelation because the story has often puzzled me. The text reads: "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first." What I saw here is that some who claim to be Christians, are in worse shape than the most miserable of sinners because they are still sniveling in their sins rather than living an overcoming life. They were saved from past sins (their house swept clean) but no one told them it takes the power of the Holy Ghost to live a Christian life, and so even more wickedness than they previously experienced came into their lives (house). They are fearful, weak and still in bondage to the elemental spirits of the universe (Gal. 4:3) which Christ overcame at the cross (Col. 2:14). They do not know the truth Paul proclaimed, i.e. that he was sent by God to the Gentiles "to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (God)'" (Acts 26:18). Since Christ "spoiled principalities and powers," and made "a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Col. 2:15). That being the case, how dare we continue to bow down to them and to identify with our sins, when they are remembered no more? (Col. 2:12-14). This is so shameful to me that I fervently beseech God to open their eyes to see Him as He is so that all will know that we are being transformed into His image and likeness (Rom. 12:2), here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept (Isa. 28: 10,13). The end result of this, according to the prophet Isaiah is glorious, "And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand" (Is. 28:18). Awesome!
Clearly the way to the throne is by way of the cross, but that does not mean we have to continually remain there, because we already went there with Jesus. Since we died in Him on that Cross, both Isaiah and Peter declared that "by His stripes we are healed" (Is. 53:5; I Pet. 2:24). Crucifixion, as you know, is one death that you simply cannot inflict upon yourself, which is no doubt why God chose it as the instrument of death. Staying at the cross also means hanging around and identifying with our sins, which were nailed up there, and blotted out of God's remembrance (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:12). Lenny has talked until he is "blue in the face," as they say in these parts, to the Baptist men (his "assignment" from God) about their weekly confession that they are just "sinners, saved by grace." What's wrong with that you ask? Well, for one thing, we were all sinners, saved by grace, but because grace is a moving living energy force which flows from the life of our risen Lord to us and through us, we are not sinners any longer. Dead men don't sin, Paul said, and we are dead in Christ, buried with Him in Baptism and raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4-6; Col. 2:13-14). Therefore, we are not bound by sin, condemned by sin, nor controlled by sin any longer. The Apostle John said, "No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God" (I John 3:9). Ask the Spirit to make this real in your life, for we were not saved to continue to sin, nor were we intended to live like miserable sinners saved by grace, barely scraping by like wretched spiritual beggars. We were saved to be joint-heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17), seated in the heavenlies with Him (Eph. 2:6). The Holy Spirit through Paul called us holy and blameless in His sight (Eph. 1:4), predestined to be conformed the image of His Son, called, justified, glorified, and perfected by Him (Rom. 8:29-30). Look these scriptures up. That's why I include them in my writings. Feed upon them. The one in Eph. 1:4 set me free years ago from my "Such a worm am I" complex. It raised me up from the miry clay of sin and despair and set my feet upon Mount Zion. This is the meat of the word! This is power! This is glory! Together, we join in with the angels and the elders and the beasts before the throne, who fell on their faces and worshipped God, "Saying, Amen: blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honor, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen." (Rev. 7:11-12). As it is written, so let it be done.
Jan Austin Antonsson
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note A: "The Atonement" by A.P. Adams
"Saved by His Life," a 1998 journal.
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Last edited on 11/5/08.
By Jan Antonsson, Webmeister.