For the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO 1/26/03
"....one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." (John 9:25).
The Lord gave me this intriguing title, when I was whining to Him last week about the many second hand pieces of equipment in our lives that need to be repaired or replaced. He said, "Think about those who are trying to survive with second hand religion." In that mystical way He has of speaking volumes in few words, I heard, "rules that bind, dogmas that don't deliver and eyes that never see my glory." Lights flashed, whistles blew and I saw what He meant. I ask Him now to help me put into words what I got in spirit. Unlike most teachers, including me, the Lord conveys His blockbuster sermons in only a few words.
When you begin to unwrap the meaning of second hand religion, you see it everywhere you look. Jesus encountered it constantly in His conflicts with the Pharisees and temple authorities. In John, chapter nine, we read one of the most thrilling miracles of Jesus' earthly ministry, the healing of the man, blind from birth. When Jesus and his disciples encountered him one day, "His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2, NIV). Some of us have thought the same thing when confronted with life's tragedies. When faced with life's many difficulties, one of my friends routinely asked "Why me?" This kind of thinking has been around for a long time. A footnote in my NIV Study Bible observes, "The rabbis had developed the principle that 'There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.' They were even capable of thinking that a child could sin in the womb or that its soul might have sinned in a preexistent state. They also held that terrible punishments came on certain people because of the sin of their parents." End Quote
It is easy to see how the rabbis could reach this conclusion. Read Deuteronomy 28, and then fall on your face in worship to God that we live under grace, not under Law. This chapter spells out the blessings we can expect if we obey the Law, and it enumerates the ghastly, grisly consequences if we do not. One of the hallmarks of religion, second hand or otherwise, is evaluating the will of God with the natural mind. Failing to go to the source of truth leads to absurd conclusions, like we just read, that the fetus somehow sins in the womb. Jesus cut through this religious quagmire, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life" (Vs. 3). Jesus was pointing out two things here, 1) all things come from the hand of God, and 2) He uses everything, good and bad, to reveal his glory in our lives.
The dictionary defines religion as "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe; a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects." Religion is about the search to find the right set of rules and then trying to obey them. Life in the Spirit, on the other hand, flows from the life of the indwelling Christ.
We get e-mail from people whose lives are a mess, and who are desperately trying to figure out where they went wrong, so they won't have to suffer. Lenny and I went through the refining fires in 1996-97, and lost all the world holds dear, but through it all, we knew that God had sent it for our eventual good and His glory. Had He not begun to show me His sovereignty in all things before this happened, it would have been a hideous experience. As it was, the pain was overshadowed by the glory that we knew would be revealed. Neither of us would take anything for that awful, glorious time, because through it, we learned at a cellular level that God is in charge of absolutely everything. During that time, we had friends who wanted us to use godly sounding religious principles, like tithing, confession of scripture, and repentance, hoping to reverse what was happening to us. They anxiously cared about us, of course, but I suspect, they were also trying to figure out how to keep it from happening to them. In spite of our efforts, God closed us down in California and brought us to Missouri, where we are beginning to reap the fruit of His labors.
What came to me then was that religion is man's attempt to control God. Remember Job? He used religion as a shield for his children: "His sons used to take turns holding feasts in their homes, and they would invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. Early in the morning he would sacrifice a burnt offering for each of them, thinking, "Perhaps my children have sinned and cursed God in their hearts." This was Job's regular custom" (Job 1:4-5). Of course, it did not save His children nor his possessions from destruction. About that he lamented, "What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me" (Job 3:25). Job is a classic example of a man who used religion to try to curry favor with God, to try to keep bad things from happening to his family. His three church friends came to comfort him, and ended up telling him that the whole thing was his fault, a result of some secret sin, some hidden hate in his heart, some incorrect doctrine. At the end of 42 long chapters of soul searching, seeking and finding, Job finally breaks through the gloom of religion into the light of Spirit, as he acknowledges to God, "My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you" (Job 42:5). This one verse perfectly illustrates what I see as the difference between religion and life in the Spirit. Religion is hearing ABOUT God, but when we are born again of the Spirit, we come to know Him as He is, and we become like Him (I John 3:2).
The healing of the blind man in John, chapter nine, is the perfect metaphor for this awakening of spiritual life. The Pharisees interrogated this man and even his parents to try to trap Jesus, because horror of horrors, He had healed him on the Sabbath Day (Vs. 13). This was a direct violation of the Law, which made work on the Sabbath punishable by death (Ex. 31:15). Trying to keep the rules always twists you up in knots because life is not black and white, but religion usually is, as this encounter between the Pharisees and the man who was healed reveals. When they asked him how he received his sight, he replied, "He put mud on my eyes, ...and I washed, and now I see" (Vs. 15). This should have brought great rejoicing amongst these religious folks, but instead, it brought indignation and fear, as well: "Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, "What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened." The man replied, "He is a prophet" (Vs. 16-17). When they first questioned him, the man had said "the man called Jesus" had healed him. This time, he called Him a prophet.
"The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man's parents. "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don't know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue" (Vs. 18-22). This passage illustrates how religion gains and keeps its power over people. The Pharisees threatened to put anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ out of the synagogue. This went far beyond kicking them out of church, as is sometimes threatened today. The synagogue was the center of Jewish community life, so excommunication cut a person off from many social relationships as well as worship. Fear of reprisals from the powers that be keeps many a timid child of God chained to the pew, until God's calling becomes so powerful that it breaks the ties that bind. The Pharisees' control through fear and intimidation reminds me of Sadam Hussein's control over the Iraqi scientists, who are terrified of reprisals to themselves and/or their families and have refused to speak to UN inspectors without an Iraqi official present.
Religion can and does sometimes operate much like a Totalitarian regime, using fear of punishment as a way to keep the flock in line. Jesus was fearless, however, because He knew who He was; He knew Who sent Him to do the job, and He knew that in spite of the hatred and fear He aroused in the Jewish leaders, God's will would be done. The only rest available to any of us is in knowing the absolute Sovereignty of God, who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). Anywhere else we try to take our stand is shifting sand.
Because his parents would say nothing, the Pharisees called the man in again. They demanded he give glory to God rather than Jesus, saying, 'We know this man is a sinner" (Vs. 24). The man had more than his physical eyes opened; he had received light from the Spirit, as His answer clearly shows, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
"Then they asked him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered, "I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?" (Vs. 25-27). I can't help but rejoice that Jesus' healing touch transformed him from a powerless invalid, begging for a living, into a man who had new eyesight and a new backbone as well. The Pharisees were incensed and defensively asserted that they were disciples of Moses, arguing, "but as for this fellow, we don't even know where he comes from. "The man answered, "Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing" (Vs. 29-33). His new found courage and in-your-face rhetoric infuriated the Pharisees. Only the infilling of Spirit could empower him to rise up and speak truth to his tormentors in the face of excommunication, which apparently he received because the text states, "they threw him out" (Vs. 34).
The only sure way to keep people in line is to threaten punishment and then execute it on a few here and there. This control regimen calls for written rules and regulations. The Law had 613 of these, with varying degrees of punishment for disobeying each. Jesus came to fulfill all righteousness and to fulfill the Law as well, for only Christ living in us can BE the righteousness of God. The book of Hebrews was written for Jewish Christians who were trying to add Christ to the Law, rather than seeing the New Covenant as a replacement for the Old. Along those lines, I have had two people recently ask me about this passage: "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:26-29). I grew up in a church that used this passage to terrify us into keeping their version of the rules, threatening us with a fiery judgment if we disobeyed. If you approach these verses with your natural mind, you can read that into them, but when the Spirit leads you, your eyes are opened and you see that it speaks of those who have received the knowledge of the truth. WHO IS the truth who sets us free? Jesus, of course, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6).
When we are born again, the Spirit reveals that the blood of the covenant, so much better than that of bulls and goats has sanctified us as He "entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). When we try to obtain salvation, sanctification or purification by our own works, we have indeed "insulted the Spirit of grace," and have nothing left to us but a "a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." This is but one of those "scary scriptures," which people write to us about, and I understand their fear very well, having walked in it until the Lord delivered me out of religion's merciless tenets and into life in the Spirit of the living God.
Far from being scary, this scripture gives us the good news that God, who IS a consuming fire, will come against any self effort, which is contrary to His will, like a "raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Any attempt to live by Law nullifies the blood of Christ and puts Him to an open shame, making it impossible to bring to repentance those who commit apostasy, "since they crucify the Son of God on their own account and hold him up to contempt" (Heb. 6:6, RSV). Most churches tell us that we become apostate if we abandon their fellowship and renounce their doctrine, whereas in actual fact, we are committing apostasy when we attempt to ADD TO what Christ has already done for us on the cross.
Last week, a brother sent me a statement of faith and asked for my comments. Many denominations have statements of faith, in which they codify and quantify what they expect their members to believe. To me, a written statement of belief is what religion is all about. If you need to write down what you believe, you have not met the Spirit of God. First Century Christians did not have nor need to have such statements or even a bible, which did not exist then, because they lived by the leading and the power of the Holy Spirit. Statements of faith are facts ABOUT God, second hand religion. Life in the Spirit is KNOWING GOD. The early church spread the gospel throughout the world because they knew the Father by the indwelling Spirit, and through His unbridled power and authority, they overcame persecution, rejection, imprisonment, lions and gladiators. Many today publicly profess a belief in a statement of faith, but their lives resemble the Apostle Paul's description of those, "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it. Avoid such people" (II Tim. 3:5, RSV).
Father, open our eyes that we might see You as You are, for when we do, we shall be like you. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To be continued......
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion II"
"Beyond the Veil, Second Hand Religion, III"
"Risen from the dead, Second Hand Religion, IV"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, V"
"All things under His power, Second Hand Religion, VI"
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"Connected to the Vine, Second Hand Religion, IX"
"Chosen by God, Second Hand Religion, X"
"Labor Pains, Second Hand Religion, XI"
"Coming Home, Second Hand Religion, XII"
"A New Beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIII"
"Declaring the end from the beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIV"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 1/25/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.