For the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 3/30/03
"This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Let them glean the remnant of Israel as thoroughly as a vine; pass your hand over the branches again, like one gathering grapes" (Jer. 6:9, NIV).
In our consideration of Second Hand Religion, the beautiful metaphor of the vine and the branches found in John, chapter fifteen, reveals an important difference between Religion and Life in the Spirit. Religion has to do with bearing fruit by self effort and main strength, while Life in the Spirit involves producing fruit as an expression of His life within us. Jesus made this extremely clear: "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned" (John 15:4-6, NIV). Church leaders encourage us to do more, read the bible, give, teach, all worthy endeavors, but the passage makes it clear that if it is not Christ doing it in us, it is filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), and in fact, all such self efforts will be picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.
As we noted last week, this is not a threat of hell after we die, but rather the encouraging truth that God Himself is the gardener, the husbandman, the vinedresser, and it is HIS responsibility alone to plant, water, fertilize, and cultivate the soil, which HE IS, in order for us to bear fruit while we are connected to the Vine, which is Christ Himself! In announcing the coming kingdom, and speaking of Christ, John the Baptizer said, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3:16,17, RSV). This verse clearly reveals that the intention of our Father is to baptize us with the Holy Spirit and WITH FIRE! The hell fire and damnation preachers terrorize the flock into repentance and white knuckle righteousness by threatening them with fiery torment when they die. That's an interpretation passed down for centuries by corrupt church officials who used fear of hell to fleece the flock and keep them in submission. It is useful for filling church coffers, but it is NOT what the bible teaches! This verse alone shows that fire is a promise of God, not a threat. Following after the Spirit's leading, I consider the fire as a great comfort, for it will burn off the chaff, and as Paul said, "If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire" (I Cor. 3:15, RSV). As we have noted many times, fire is part of the nature of God, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29, RSV).
It is not up to us to separate the wheat from the chaff in our lives. That is God's work, for only He knows what tares need to be pulled out and when to do it in order to preserve the plant's life. Connected to the Vine, we only need rest in Him, for His very life courses through us, producing a bountiful harvest of good fruit for the kingdom. Jesus explained works in terms of our relationship with Him: "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love" (John 15:7-9, NIV). Continuing the garden metaphor, we could say that a plant thrives and flourishes when it is rooted in rich, fertile soil, but if it is plucked up and laid out on the ground, cut off from its roots and nourishment, it will die in a matter of minutes, to produce fruit no more. When we try to go it alone, without Christ's life to nourish us, we remain barren.
Jesus' remarks to the disciples came shortly before His death, and thus carry a great weight for us. He told them to keep His commandments, which He summarized in one statement: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you" (John 15:12). The Law had 613 commandments. Spinning off of that, Religion also has many rules and regulations. Life in the Spirit keys off our Love for each other. It sounds simple to say that we must love each other, but wars, schisms, church splits, family feuds and the entirety of human history show that it is the MOST difficult commandment to keep. In fact, it is impossible to do without the indwelling Spirit loving others through us. On our own, we can fake it to keep up appearances, but we cannot pull it off. It is simply impossible.
Religion mandates our response to God's commands, as though everything rested on our shoulders. Yet Christ said to the Disciples, the pillars of the church, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name" (John 15:16). It appears that people who proudly boast that they "made a decision for Christ," are trying to get some of the glory, and to justify their belief that those who did not make such a decision will burn in hell, and rightly so, they claim. This position is not supported by scripture. God has always chosen a remnant, the elect, through whom to flow in the world. This is not something to become puffed up about, because as I've said for years, it merely means that you get dragged through the cactus patch first in order to help others coming behind you. God has always worked through a remnant to benefit the rest of the world.
Abraham is the original prototype of the elect. I find it interesting that Ur of the Chaldees, his home town, located in Southern Iraq, is not far from where some fierce battles are being waged. Abraham was an idol worshipper like his forefathers, but that did not matter to God, who tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1, RSV). Based upon what we read about his life, there was nothing special about Abraham, other than God's selection of him to be part of His plan from eternity to bless all nations in his seed, which is Christ (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:8,16). God did not need a perfect man because He had a perfect plan, and the power to call the things that are not as though they were (Rom. 4:17). Enter a flawed man; exit the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11).
A dear friend wrote me asking what it means to be a sinner saved by grace, because she said, she didn't feel she had sinned. She has possibly misunderstood the "positive spin" put on our position in Christ by some of the teachers out there who, in reacting against the sin consciousness so prevalent among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, have gone overboard in the other direction. I pointed out to her, that if we never sinned, Christ did not need to come, suffer and die for us. He could have stayed home. Paul said, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). This is the glorious gospel of Christ, which Paul affirmed that God preached to Abraham. Imagine that! Centuries before Christ walked among us, clothed in flesh, God preached the Gospel to Abraham. "...saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:8, RSV). The Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), is the reason that Abraham's moral character or lack thereof did NOT affect God's plan. The success of His plan rests solely upon His promise to Abraham, not upon man's response! He does what He wills with each of us, "For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32, RSV).
Moving along with our consideration of the elect, the Jews were God's chosen people. Moses declared to them: "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6, RSV). God called them to be in a covenant relationship with Him. They sinned against him when they asked for an earthly king, for He was to be their King. The nation of Israel dwelling safely and securely in the Promised Land was a multilevel prototype of our present day reality, for, no matter what storms rage without, we dwell in safety and security within, in Christ Jesus our Lord, our Promised Land, our King.
I lay awake a long time one night recently, unable to sleep, contemplating God's plan for the ages, and it was like He caught me up, on a journey beyond time, through the history of His relationship with men, beginning with the first Adam and ending with the last Adam, Christ. Throughout the ages, no matter what it looked like, and it did look very grim at times to the children of men, He was in control, and all of history so far, is the opening scene in a drama of grand scale, one which affects every person of every race, creed, and nation. Men have always speculated about what went wrong that the world is in such dreadful shape, and what needs to be done to fix it. Nations wage war on other nations, make rules, shape doctrines, and administer government programs in an attempt to right the wrongs of the world. It all sounds so good. Why doesn't it work? Those wrongs were put there by God, Paul said, in order that He may have mercy upon all, and in order that no one except Him gets the glory.
There are those souls, born on the "good" side of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, who seem to have an easier time than the rest of the world in being good, acting good, and doing what APPEARS right. To these, the idea that God is responsible for the mess we're all in is horrific at best and blasphemous at worst. Like the Pharisee in Jesus' account, who thanked God that he was not a sinner like other men (Luke 18:10-14), they are convinced that if the rest of the would just shape up and fly right, they too could be loved by God. To tell such a one that God will eventually save everyone is enough to drive them mad.
Those who belong to the "white knuckle club of righteous living," derive a certain comfort that others without their self control will be punished for their sins. Lenny had met a contractor to do some work on a property we were managing in our former life as real estate agents, and in the course of the conversation had told him that everyone will be saved. He thought no more about it, until about a week later, when the man showed up at our door one evening. He stormed into the house and demanded of Lenny, "You believe all men will be saved?" When Lenny answered in the affirmative, the man snorted, "Well, if I believed that I would have sex with every woman I could find." And this, my friends, is the rational of a man who only refrains from sinning because he believes he will burn in hell if he does not. Lenny explained to him that God's unconditional love swallows up the carnal nature, and when you fall in love with Christ, you cannot sin against Him because of the great love He has planted in your heart. The man wasn't having any of it, and left as quickly as he had come, shaking his head and muttering to himself. If anyone, like the Pharisees, who gave alms on the street corners to be seen of men, only restrains from sinning because of fear of hell, assuming that this fear could bring that result, he has had his reward already: self righteousness and pride.
Jesus talked about the resentment which those who labor long and hard in the Vineyard often bear toward those who labor very little. "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard" (Matt. 20:1-2). He relates that the landowner went out again on the third hour, and again on the sixth and ninth hours, with the same offer of pay to work in his vineyard. When he went out at the 11th hour and found workers standing idly by, he offered them the same pay if they would go in and work for him, which they did.
When evening came, he told his foremen to pay the men for their day's work, beginning with the last ones hired and ending up with the first hired. To the eleventh hour workers, he gave a denarius (about twenty cents). When he got to the ones hired first, he also gave them a denarius, though they had expected to get more. Listen to this account and see if you don't hear the whining and complaining of some church members who really don't want everyone to be saved:
"When they received it (the pay), they began to grumble against the landowner. 'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' "But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' "So the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Matt. 20:11-16).
This compelling story reveals the hearts of men. The ones complaining were neither slackers nor lazy. Their true heart condition was revealed, however, when they did not rejoice that they got what they agreed to work for, but rather were jealous that ones who didn't do nearly what they did got the same pay.
This brings me to the question, "If all will be saved, of what value is it to be the elect?" It is simply this, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). We are friends of God, who have "been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:4-5). In the world there is tribulation, Jesus said, "....but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, RSV). The bottom line is this: "For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God" (II Cor. 1:20, RSV). Father, open our eyes to see Your glorious plan of the ages, fulfilled in Christ and carried by Your children to a lost and angry world, struggling to find its way home. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To be continued...
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Second Hand Religion, Part I"
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion, Part II"
"Statement of Faith, Second Hand Religion, Part III"
"Risen from the dead, Second Hand Religion, Part IV"
"Anointing the Lord, Second Hand Religion, Part V"
"All things under His power, Second Hand Religion, Part VI"
"The Kingdom Option, Second Hand Religion, VII"
"My Father's House, Second Hand Religion, VIII"
"Connected to the Vine, Second Hand Religion, IX"
"Labor Pains, Second Hand Religion, Part XI"
"Coming Home, Second Hand Religion, XII"
"A New Beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIII"
"Declaring the end from the beginning, Second Hand Religion, XIV,
"Primrose Path to Gehenna"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 3/28/03,
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.