The following was the basis of a devotional given
at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on March 18, 2001
"But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions, it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6, NIV).
A couple of weeks ago, when I was with you, our lesson was on what it means to be born of the Spirit (End Note "A"). Last week, we talked about the Lord's Supper (End Note "B"), and what it means to commune with the Lord in spirit and in truth. In both of those talks, I stressed the need to see beyond the physical, beyond the natural into the realm of the spiritual. This is the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to teach us the deep things of God, the meat of the word, so that we can grow beyond our need for milk. Milk is perfect for babies, who cannot digest meat, but in order to grow and develop properly, eventually, they have to be given solid food. This is equally true in the kingdom of God. Paul said to the Corinthian believers, that he could not speak to them as spiritual men, because they were still carnal and fleshly. He described them as "babes in Christ" (I Cor. 3:1), going on to say "I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready" (Vs. 2, RSV). It is the solid food, the meat of the word, that enables us to grow spiritually past the baby stage of our development. When you see Christians who have been saved for decades, but who still demand to be fed the first principals of Christ (milk), you know that you are in the presence of spiritual babies, carnal Christians. The Hebrew writer rebuked them by saying, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of God's word. You need milk, not solid food" (Heb. 5:12, RSV).
Today, what I offer is meat. I want to talk about sin and challenge you to repent of, or change your mind about, the way you have looked at it. I want you to follow along with me and then ask the Lord to confirm for you the truth of what I'm saying. Here in Missouri, we live in what the rest of America calls "The Bible Belt." There are probably more people professing Christ here than in any other section of the country, and because of that, one would think that you would find power and glory and mighty works of the Spirit. Sadly, what I have encountered here are a great many people who are focused on sin. They have a sin consciousness, if you will. They feel burdened by it and trapped in it, and to hear them talk, you would think that this is the normal Christian experience, the best one can hope for.
Let me assure you that focusing on sin is not what Christ came to do for us. He came to deliver us from our sins, and unless we believe that He failed in His mission, then that's exactly what He accomplished, once, for all eternity (Heb. 9:28). The Hebrew writer tells us, "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:11,12, NIV). Christ made the sacrifice; paid the price, and secured our eternal redemption, but still, people carry on about sin as though it were the main problem in life. Sin consciousness has never done anything for us except bring guilt into our lives. If being rebuked for our sins would have delivered us from them, then Israel would have been delivered long since. This is what the prophets were sent to do. When you read the words of Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Hosea, Micah, Joel, Amos, Zechariah and Malachi, to name a few, you see that what they did was harangue on the children of Israel about their many sins, much like preachers do today. If telling people not to sin had worked, then Jesus would not have had to die. It did no good then to rant and rave about it and it does no good today. Knowing what is right has little to do with the ability to do what is right, as Paul expresses so well in Romans 7, where he laments, "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do" (Rom. 7:19). He asks the question that every sincere Christian has asked at one time or another, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" (Rom. 7:24). Thank God, he does not leave us on the ropes, trying to figure it out. In Rom. 8:1, the answer rings forth loud and clear: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, RSV). God gave me the title of this journal, this week, and then said to me, "Find a graphic of the golden calf to use with it." I found the graphic, and when I asked the Lord why He wanted me to use that particular one, He said, "The golden calf represents the work of men's hands. People would rather depend on their own works than on my hands to deliver them."
Probably everyone knows the story about how Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt in a spectacular way, with miracle after miracle from God's hands to display His might and power in the earth (Ex. 14:17-18, 31). Three months after leaving Egypt, with the people camped at the base of Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:1-2), Moses went up to speak to the Lord. God told him to tell the people that if they would obey Him fully and keep His covenant, they would be His treasured possession in all the earth, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. To this offer they said, "Go for it, Moses! Whatever God says is just what we'll do" (Ex. 19:3-8). So, Moses went back up the mountain to convey their reply and to receive the ten commandments along with the instructions on how to build the tabernacle and everything in it. Moses stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Ex. 14:18), which was just too long for the people's attention span. The scripture relates, "When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him" (Ex. 32:1). The subtitle here would be, "How soon they forget." I'm sure you remember what happened next. God told Moses to go back down the mountain because the people were sinning against Him. When Moses got close enough to see the golden calf and the people dancing and worshipping the idol, his anger burned and he smashed the tablets of stone into pieces. As the story continues, He said to Aaron,
"What did these people do to you, that you led them into such great sin?" "Do not be angry, my lord," Aaron answered. "You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, 'Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.' So I told them, 'Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.' Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!" (Ex. 32:21-24). Oh brother! Talk about a political spin doctor. Aaron could have gotten a job at the White House. This "whopper" he told tops Adam's lame excuse to God as to why he ate of the forbidden fruit, which was, "The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it" (Gen. 3:12). The human condition is that if you're caught with the goods, blame someone else.
I think it was the comedian Flip Wilson, who made a household expression out of his famous line, "The devil made me do it." It made him a ton of money, and got a lot of laughs, and it sounds a little like what Jesus told the Pharisees, "You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44, RSV). Having acknowledged the truth here that the devil is one bad dude, with no redeeming qualities at all, I want to also say that we need not fear him, because God has complete authority over him. (End Note "C"). Here are a couple of verses to show you why Satan is a defeated foe. The Hebrew writer tells us, "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, RSV). I have written about this extensively, but let me just add that when Christians fear death, as I did for many years, we have been deceived by the devil's lies, and have sinned, as surely as if we built a golden calf or ate the forbidden fruit. To this thought, John the Apostle adds, "He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work" (I John 3:8). Now, the logical question here is this: "If the devil's work has been destroyed, as both these passages and others proclaim, why do we still sin?"
I believe a part of the answer is that we have believed the serpent's lie to Eve, that by knowing good from evil, we can become like gods (Gen. 2:5; II Cor. 11:3). To repeat, knowing the commandments has nothing to do with our ability to keep them. When I was asking God about the golden calf, He showed me that the reason idols were so deadly was that they caused the people to forget His mighty works, and worship the product of their own hands. The Psalmist declared, "The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy" (Psalms 111:7, RSV). God had just shown the children of Israel the mighty works of His hands. He had delivered them from Egyptian bondage even as He promised them through Moses. He had parted the Red Sea in front of them and slaughtered Pharaoh's hoards behind them. He had brought forth water out of the rock, and had tended to their every need, and yet, the minute Moses' back is turned, they made a golden calf to worship and said of it, "These are your gods, Oh Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4). It really is difficult to understand such stupidity and such audacity. They saw what God did to the Egyptians when He killed the firstborn of every living thing and they saw His hand in parting the Red Sea so they could go across on dry land, and yet, they ascribed all this power and majesty to a lifeless idol made of gold. Truly, the devil's lies have caused a lot of grief in the lives and hearts of men and women, but God is sovereign over it all, and means all of it to us for good (Rom. 8:28).
Now that we see who is behind sin, what is the remedy for it? There was no long term remedy under the law, and in fact, Paul said, that the law is what brought sin consciousness to our minds. His exact words are found in Rom. 7: 9, "I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died." What he is saying there is that without the law, we didn't know we had sinned, but it took the law to make it abundantly clear that "..all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23, RSV). All mankind had to wait until Christ came to be delivered from the death of trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), which accrued to them from Adam's sin. Paul explained, "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned, for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law" (Rom. 5:12-13, NIV). Like it or not, fair or not, nevertheless, we all were born into the realm of death because of Adam's sin. Paul goes on to say that "For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!" (Rom. 5:15, NIV). This is pure gospel, folks. We all died by Adam's trespass, but we were made alive by the grace of one man, Jesus Christ.
The glorious good news of the gospel is in this one statement made by the Apostle Paul: "For as in Adam ALL DIE, so in Christ ALL WILL BE MADE ALIVE" (I Cor. 15:22). This life of Christ comes to us through faith, of course, but Paul explains in Romans 6, that, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life" (Rom. 6:4, NIV).
Perhaps, you've always known that you were baptized into Christ's death, but have you ever considered what that really means for your life in terms of sin? Listen to verses 6 and 7, "For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" Do you hear those glorious words? "ANYONE WHO HAS DIED HAS BEEN FREED FROM SIN." Why? Because dead men don't sin and they have no guilt either! The glory of the gospel is that after all these thousands of years of struggling with sin, we are free at last. "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36, RSV). Sin is no longer an issue for us. Now, I know there will be someone who will quote the Apostle John's statement, "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (I John 1:10, RSV). Of course, we have all sinned. I just read it to you in Romans 3:23, but we don't live there anymore. Let's go back to the book of First John, where the Apostle says, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (I Jn. 2:2). That is wonderful news, but keep reading. In Chapter 3, verse 9, he asserts, "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 want you to chew on this verse for a long time, because it definitely is the meat of the word. It is also protein, iron, calcium, vitamins and all the antibiotic you'll ever need for the disease called SIN. The reason we do not sin when we are born again is because God's seed remains in us, the Apostle says. Who or what is the seed? Paul tells us that the seed is one person, namely Christ (Gal. 3:16). When Christ is in us, we do not sin because it is His life, not ours that we live.
I have read Gal. 2:20, almost every time I've been with you, and I I'll read it again today, because it is central to the issue of understanding why we do not continue in sin when we are born again. The verse reads, "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 I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, KJV). If it sounds like I am beating this drum continuously, it is because I am. Based on what I hear from preachers and Christians around here in the Bible Belt, it appears that they have no understanding of the fact that we live the Christian life by the indwelling Christ, the power of almighty God, and not by our own feeble efforts to be good, which is what the golden calf represents. Trying to please God, to obey Him, and to live an overcoming life on our own steam, by our own works, is really as futile and as blasphemous as building a golden calf and worshipping that. Listen to the prophet Jeremiah's words on this subject: "And I will utter my judgments against them, for all their wickedness in forsaking me; they have burned incense to other gods, and worshiped the works of their own hands" (Jer. 1:16, RSV). What I want you to see is that trying to please God by your own works is idolatry. It is the exact same sin that the children of Israel committed when they said of the golden calf, "These are your gods, Oh Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (Ex. 32:4). The works of their hands did NOT deliver them from Pharaoh, which WE can easily see, but what we do not see is that the works of our hands today cannot save us from sin anymore than the golden calf saved them from the Egyptians.
There is a false spirituality present in many Christians who are fond of saying, "I'm just a sinner saved by grace." That sounds good to the religious mind, but it stinks in the nostrils of God, and it makes the Apostle John a liar when He says that "He who is born of God does not continue in sin." I told you once before that the only sin worth talking about is the big one, the one that says God is not able to deliver me from the world, the flesh and the devil, and I must do something to help Him out. Churches have made a good little business by telling you what you must do, think, and give in order to be pleasing to God, but it is VERY self serving. The Holy Spirit flows through us in love and in power, and He is the only one who can lead us into all truth (I Jn. 2:27). If we do not allow Him to lead us, we are like those of whom Paul said, "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people" (II Tim. 3:5, RSV). Allow Him to bathe your hearts and minds with the truth of what I have just said here.
Many dear, sincere people, wring their hands over their sins, proclaiming how guilty they feel about this and that, thinking that by doing so, they are getting closer to God and proving how godly they are in the process, but to the degree that you identify with your sins, to that same degree you do NOT identify with the Christ within. If you are counting on your free will choices or your will power or your prayers or your bible reading to help you quit sinning, you might as well punch your ticket for hell right now, because hell is where you will stay until you repent of your idolatry! You'll never get free from your sin consciousness or your guilt by using those methods. There are Televangelists every Sunday telling you how to prosper spiritually, which coincidentally helps prosper them as well; and there are Psychiatrists and Psychologists and Behavioral Modification gurus on the talk show circuits, telling you how to overcome anger; how to lose weight; how to spice up your marriage; how to forgive the monster who murdered your child, and on and on. It makes a nice "sound bite," but success depends only on limited soul power, rather unlimited spiritual power. Remember that Paul affirmed, "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power" (I Cor. 4:20, RSV). You show me someone who is still defeated by his or her past sins and still feeling guilty over them, and I will show you someone who has not seen the kingdom come with power in his or her life. I do not want to be one of those that Paul described as "Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Tim. 3:7).
I am going to say something here that is so radical that you will probably think I am crazy, but it's what the bible teaches. I do not have a sin problem. YOU do not have a sin problem, and God certainly does NOT have a sin problem, for the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). When God looks at Jan, He does not judge me by my puny, fallible flesh. How do I know? It's in the book, folks. It's in the book. Look it up. When the Holy Ghost shined His light on two verses in Paul's Ephesian letter, I was set free from wallowing endlessly in my sins. Here they are: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be HOLY AND BLAMELESS in his sight" (Eph. 1:3,4, NIV). I have read these verses to you before, but I read them again today, because this is not only the meat of the word, it is so delicious, that it is like a rich chocolate cake with fudge icing and whipped cream. It has no calories, and it is packed full of God's promises. Paul says here that God has blessed us in Christ, with EVERY spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; that He chose us IN HIM before the foundation of the world. For what purpose? So that we should be "holy and blameless in Him." Now a lot of preachers I have heard, want to make it our responsibility to become holy and blameless, but that's not what it says here. In fact, Paul says to the Galatian brethren, that, "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law (by your own efforts); you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:4, RSV). I know there are those who believe, "Once in grace, always in grace," but Paul just told us here how it happens. We fall away from grace when we try to finish in the flesh what was begun in the Spirit (Gal. 3:1-3). Transforming us into the image and likeness of His son is God's job, not ours (Rom. 8:29). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, that it is Christ's responsibility to "....present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." (Eph. 5:27, RSV). If it is Christ's job, as Paul says it is, then I can quit worrying about it, and I have quit worrying about it and I want you to quit worrying about it as well. This wonderful place of resting in Him is the Holy of holies, wherein is only the presence of God. It is the mountain top of kingdom living.
Stop focusing on your flesh. There's no good thing in your flesh, Paul declares (Rom. 7:18). There never has been and never will be until the Sons of God are manifested and these mortal, corruptible bodies are clothed upon with immortality and incorruptibility (I Cor. 15:53). Trying to fix up your old man, your carnal nature will get you no where in the kingdom of God. Here's an illustration to help you remember that. Freddie Clark, our local undertaker, does a pretty good job of making people presentable as they lie in state in their coffins, but you know, they're still as dead as a door nail. You'll have the exact same results if you try to improve old Adam. The only thing to do about him is, as Paul says, "...reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11). As we've already noticed, we are told to consider our flesh dead and buried with Christ because dead men do not sin nor do they suffer from guilt. Remember the essence of the Gospel, "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). Where your heart is, Jesus said, there is your treasure (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34). Set your heart on things above; see yourself seated in heavenly places, in spirit, in Christ. God has called you holy and blameless; do you dare to call yourself anything else? There is power in words. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he (Pr. 23:7). Stop thinking of yourself as a miserable sinner and consider, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (I John 3:1, NIV). That's who the bible says you are. It does you no good to camp out around Mount Sinai, and wallow in your sins. That's not the truth about you. The Hebrew writer talks about this very thing, saying, "You have not come to a mountain (Sinai) that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm" (Heb. 12:18, NIV). If that describes where you are living, the Spirit invites you to pull your stakes and move away from the blackness and darkness and tempest of trying to keep the law and move on into grace. The truth about you is this: "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel" (Vs. 22-24). I leave you with a choice. Are you going to believe the devil, the father of lies about who you really are, or our Heavenly Father, "who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17). He has taken faulty flesh, infused it with His Spirit and has called us His sons. Glory to God! May the Lord quicken these scriptures to your hearts and make them as real as He is real.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note "A": "Born of the spirit" by Jan
End Note "B": "Bread of heaven" by Jan
End Note "C": "Growing Pains," by Jan
"Joined to the Lord," by Lenny
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 3/19/01
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/30/08.