Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 8/25/02
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is, his good, pleasing and perfect will" (Rom. 12:2, NIV).
Last week, we talked about the transformation that occurs in nature, when a caterpillar spins a chrysalis, remains hidden from sight for a while, and then miraculously emerges as a butterfly. That which is earthbound sprouts wings and flies free through the air, painting in nature's glorious colors, a beautiful picture of our spiritual journey. The dilemma for all of us "mud creatures," formed from the dust of the earth, is to see ourselves seated in heavenly places with Christ. Most of us are hindered from seeing ourselves there because of a religious system which portrayed us as guilty sinners in need of repentance in order to avoid hell fire and damnation. I struggled for decades to get free from this negative self evaluation. Some Christians major in minors, emphasizing their sinfulness and the power of the devil, rather than the power of Almighty God. The only antidote for that I know, is the Word of God (Christ), who dwells in us richly (Col. 3:16). His word is echoed on the printed page of scripture as well. In Romans, Chapter Six, Paul gives another picture of our transformation: "....don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 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... 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" (Rom. 6:3-4,6-7, NIV).
The death we enter into is the chrysalis stage of our development. Who we are in Christ is temporarily hidden from view. In baptism, we symbolically participate in His death, burial and resurrection. Unfortunately, preachers and teachers have not taught us what this really means. In their enthusiasm to save us from hell later, they failed to mention how it benefits our lives, now, today! About Baptism, Peter said, "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" (Acts 2:38). I knew nothing of this gift, until the Lord sent a woman to our congregation, who laid hands on us that we might receive the Holy Spirit. Without Him, we are trying to live our lives while wearing a blindfold, shackles and handcuffs, trying to be good and please God by keeping the law.
Sadly, many Christians are still in this place, as evidenced by little lawful tidbits, which seem to have eternal life in Cyberspace. The following came in an e-mail this week. It sounds so good, so religious, but listen with your spiritual ears.
"TOO many people are not faithful in little things. They are not to be absolutely depended upon. They do not always keep their promises. They break engagements. They fail to pay their debts promptly. They come behind time to appointments. They are neglectful and careless in little things.... One who can be positively depended upon, who is faithful in the least things as well as in the greatest, whose life and character are true through and through, gives out a light in this world which honors Christ and blesses others." Someone is sure to say, "Well, what's wrong with this? Isn't this what Christians are supposed to do?" I saw a news clip recently about some local church members who were painting and repairing a children's facility. Their spokeswoman said, "This is what Christians are supposed to do." I groaned because it reminded me of the hackneyed slogan, "What would Jesus do?" Well, for starters, He would heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, raise the dead, and set the captives free, and we are to do greater works than these (John 14:12). This, my friends, is what Christians are destined to do! We are not YET doing these works, because for a season, God has withheld the power to do so, even as we keep loaded weapons out of the hands of children. Does this mean then, that all we can do now is paint walls, clean up debris, and criticize those with character flaws? Have you studied the lives of the Patriarchs recently? Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Rachel were guilty of lying, cheating and stealing. If God were looking for moral excellence and good behavior, He would not have picked them! Have you ever wondered why God invested Himself in flawed human beings? Lenny pointed out that God's success depends on HIS glory, NOT man's. "...Since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself" (Heb. 6:13).
In spite of all the moral posturing, being ethical, helpful, kind, punctual, and cheerful, is easy for some people, Christians and non-Christians alike. This behavior would qualify you for the Boy Scouts, but does it qualify you for the Kingdom of God? How did we get so confused? Remember that tempting tree in the Garden? The one which had BOTH good and evil on it? Some people are born on the "good side of the tree." I have known pagans (for lack of a better way to describe those who do not know Christ), who APPEAR to be moral, helpful, kind, considerate, generous to the needy and cheerful. Sometimes, they put Christians to shame. Yet, the judgmental statements some church goers make about others, cause me to wonder if "only good people need apply" for membership in their church. When those born on "the bad side of the tree" check out their rules of behavior, they may decide to keep on walking, and not even try, because they've blown it all their lives, after all, and there is no reason for them to think they can change now.
This is where the power of the WORD OF GOD (rhema) comes in, the power to transform the lowly worm, the miserable sinner, into a Son of the Most High. Paul's statement, "be transformed by the renewing of your mind," was never meant to be a self help program! Christians who study the bible and then discuss what kind of behavior qualifies one to be a church member in good standing, are like some of the Rabbis who studied the law diligently, and debated endlessly about what it actually meant. Because they were trying to see how much they could get away with and still be OK with God and/or the temple authorities, Jesus raged at them, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices, mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law, justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former" (Matt. 23:23, NIV). And this is a telling comment, even for us today: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are" (Matt. 23:15, NIV). If we are only teaching babes in Christ how to behave, without turning them over to Christ Himself, who, through the Holy Spirit, does the transforming of their lives, we have made the convert twice as much a son of hell as we are. Make no mistake, trying to keep the law by being good and obeying the rules is hell right here on earth. It cannot be done, and there are only two kinds of people: those who know this and admit it, and those who "fake it until they make it," another expression which turns my stomach.
So what IS the solution to the problem of being transformed? God must show us the difference between eating the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and feasting on the Tree of Life, which is Christ Himself. Paul put one short sentence into the passage in Romans six, which is a blockbuster, a mind liberating truth. He said, "we should no longer be slaves to sin, because anyone who has died has been freed from sin" (Rom. 6:6-7). Had someone shown me that verse when I first became a Christian, it would have killed the power of the accuser's lies in my life, stopped them cold. Dead men do not sin! We are dead in Christ; therefore, we are freed from the power of sin!
Being dead to sin is difficult to grasp, impossible to do with our natural minds, because of our flesh, in which, "dwells no good thing" (Rom. 7:18), but the Apostle also affirms, ".... we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16). When he said, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out" (Rom. 7:18, NIV), he was referring to when he was, "in the flesh" (Vs. 5), which he labels, the "body of death" (Vs. 24). Sadly, many Christians remain stuck in Romans, Chapter seven, which Paul would be horrified to hear, because he said, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1, RSV). And, "You, however, are controlled NOT by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9, NIV). We must have the Holy Spirit, for without Him, a person has no chance of avoiding the carnal nature, no matter how hard he or she tries to be good. The Holy Spirit is a gift from God, "who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were" (Rom. 4:17). If you are troubled by your carnal nature, consider this: you are no more identified by your carnal nature than the butterfly is identified by the chrysalis which housed it for a time. The real you is the life of Christ inside you, which in God's time, will be manifested in freedom and holiness and glory and POWER!
Let's return to the benefits we enjoy from our baptism into Christ, by which God sets us free from the carnal nature. Paul advises, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:11, KJV). "Reckon" is an old fashioned word which means, "count, compute, or calculate." Here is the Phillips' translation, "In the same way look upon yourselves as dead to the appeal and power of sin but alive to God through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:11, Phillips). The NIV renders it "count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus." If we don't get it, that we are DEAD IN CHRIST, yet alive in Him, we will never see ourselves free in Spirit, chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) and seated in heavenly places (in Spirit) with Christ (Eph. 2:6). Our Father "has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). In fact, Paul says, WE are His inheritance, the result of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. When the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, we will know what is the hope to which He has called us, and "what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18, RSV). Harry Fox and John Gavazzoni have recently written excellent commentaries (links at end) on the process by which God enables us to see that we are saints, not sinners.
In Ezekiel 36, we learn WHY God has so much enthusiasm for transforming "mud creatures" (caterpillars) into spiritual beings (butterflies). When he wrote the book, Ezekiel was in Babylonian captivity with the children of Israel (Ezek 1:1). Under extremely adverse conditions, he was caught up in Spirit time after time and given the Word of the Lord for His people. No where in the Bible, is God's grace more clearly expressed than in this passage: "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes" (Ezek. 36:23, NIV). Here, the prophet passionately declares that God is going to show His holiness through us "mud creatures," so that the nations round about will know that He is the Lord. All the diligent efforts which Christians use to try to be good and appear righteous are as "filthy rags" before God (Isa. 64:6). When the "slime bags" of the world see these futile efforts, they are not moved to repentance, but rather to more shame and guilt, condemned by behavior that they could not emulate if they tried a life time, as some have. Last year, we corresponded with a man serving time in a correctional facility. He laboriously enumerated for us his efforts to fast and pray and read the bible and attend all the services the facility offered. None of it worked for him, because he saw himself as a guilty sinner. The prison guards reinforced his evaluation, and as a result, he was not only in the slammer, but often in solitary confinement for his outbursts of temper. He never got it that it is Christ within Him (Gal. 2:20), who manages his anger, and who will ultimately triumph over his bad behavior. He never saw that he is free in Christ.
Pat (Gus) Savas is a dear sister, who has gone to greater extremes in trying to serve God, than most of us can even imagine. She was a nun for many years, serving a sentence of "hard labor," in a convent which nearly destroyed her sanity. God brought her out, and has richly blessed her with spiritual insight. In an e-mail this week, she wrote, "There is absolutely nothing we can do to hasten His coming in fullness. We cannot work it up, pray it up, fast it up, talk it up, read it up...Going to another church service, conference, prayer meeting, worship or bull session won't do 'diddleysquat.' (These are all the religious works of our own hands, which we must give up, in order to enter His Rest). Her conclusion, based on Psalm 46:2-10, is "When the earth shakes and the waters roar, when the nations, within and without us, are raging, we are told to 'Be Still and Know that I am God.'" End Quote.
Being a Christian is not about behavior, but about birthing. We are the seed of the Father, currently housed in flesh. He is transforming us into His image and likeness (Rom. 8:29). Be of good cheer and rejoice, because it is His job, not ours to set us free from the chrysalis of flesh. The same power which transforms the lowly caterpillar into a butterfly, is at work within us even now. No matter what it looks like, or how we feel about it, God is doing His transforming work so that the Saints in Light, will reflect His Light and His Glory. The nations will see it and come to the brightness of our rising (Isa. 60:3). Selah. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Struggling to get free, Part I"
"Struggling to get free, Part III"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 8/23/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/07/08