Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 3/23/03
Today, it pleases the Lord for us to explore more differences between Life in the Spirit, an organism birthed and nurtured by God, and Religion, an organization developed by men to manage the believer's relationship with God. Our text is John, Chapter 15, the beautiful metaphor of the vine and the branches. From The Amplified Bible: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing], He cuts away [trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit" (Vs. 1-2). The word translated "vinedresser" here is rendered husbandman, farmer, or gardener in other translations. I am soaking in the comfort of these words as I write, knowing that no one needs fret about His Christian growth, because God Himself is responsible for each one of us.
Religion has used the branches which are lopped off and taken away, ostensibly to be burned, to put the fear of hell into the flock, as though fear might be the fertilizer to produce a more abundant crop. Fear is associated with punishment, the Apostle John tells us. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love" (I John 4:18). If he who fears is not made perfect in love, how in the world could he produce more and better fruit? Impossible! Fear is one of religion's most effective tools to keep the flock in line, but rather than producing better results, it leaves the wounded Christian on whom this doctrinal travesty is perpetrated, with only a fearful looking toward the judgment. Fear is part of law, not the New Covenant (Ex. 20:20).
The antidote for fear is God's perfect (unconditional) love, which breaks up the clods in the soil, enriches it with just the right nutrients, and enables the new creation to meet its daily nutritional needs and therefore flourish. You might say that unconditional love is the Miracle Grow for the spirit of man.
I have quoted a friend before on the subject of being intimidated by religion's mandates. She is bright and articulate and can express in words what many of us have felt at one time or another. She recently wrote,
"When I read scriptures where Christ says "your sins are forgiven, go and sin no more" or "stop sinning or it will be worse for you than at the first," I get really nervous when my actions don't reflect sinlessness. Why would Christ tell them this if He knew they couldn't stop without Him? I still struggle to separate the different dispensations of the work and plan of God and it's applicability to me now. If the life I now live in the body, I live by the faith in the Son of God, then what kind of faith do I have that allows me to stumble, bumble, and fall (in my mind) so frequently? I still "work" to let go and let God." End Quote.
This dear woman is expressing the truth as it was taught her by church leaders, who gave her law when she was looking for life, and rules when she was needing grace. She is coming through to the light of the Gospel, but like many of us who want "instant gratification," she frets when she doesn't see results. As always, her e-mail came just at the moment when I was contemplating this week's sermon, and it illustrates what I "saw" about God being the gardener.
I don't resonate to all Witness Lee's conclusions, but his comments on John 15:1-2, in The Recovery New Testament are pregnant. He says the Greek word for husbandman means "cultivator of the soil, land-worker, farmer (II Tim. 2:6; James 5:7; Matt. 21:33)." When you look up these verses, you see that it is the farmer's efforts (God's in this case) which are rewarded with produce. He continues: "The Father as the husbandman is the source, the author, the planner, the planter, the life, the substance, the soil, the water, the air, the sunshine and everything to the vine. The Son as the vine is the center of God's economy and the embodiment of all the riches of the Father. The Father, by cultivating the Son, works Himself with all His riches into the vine, and eventually the vine expresses the Father in a corporate way through its branches." End Quote.
While I respect his scholarship and keen spiritual insight, I must differ with Brother Lee's apparent conclusion (gleaned from his comments on different passages), that all the goodies we receive in Christ are corporate in nature. He was a powerful "church man," who gave out what he got from the Lord, which has helped many people, no doubt, but each of us must go to the Source for ourselves.
My reality is that, except for some glory days I experienced at a non-denominational, charismatic fellowship in Thousand Oaks, CA, where there was Spirit led worship and powerful, freeing sermons by John Gavazzoni, church has never "done it" for me. I tried very hard to get with the program, especially since I was brought up in a church that damned us to hell if we weren't members thereof. Later, in the Charismatic fellowship, I also tried very hard in my flesh to follow their mandates, but God had other plans for me. It is as simple as that, really.
Because I saw such blatant failure by church leaders to understand, let alone follow the words of Jesus, I criticized the extant (visible) church for many years. God did NOT strike me dead for saying what I felt, nor for crying out my hurt and abandonment by folks who rejected me, because I saw things differently than they said I should. The Lord showed me many years later that what I had done was to replicate my "at home feeling," by finding a group who was very like my birth family, and childhood church. They loved me conditionally, based upon my adherence to their rules and acknowledgment that what they taught was true. I have long since forgiven them all, for they did the best they could with the light they had from God, even as I did. I needed those experiences to see that Religion is based on law, the fruit of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which always produces death. Life in the Spirit comes from the Tree of Life, who is Christ.
Gradually, over time, the Lord showed me that the church for which Christ shed His blood truly is universal and triumphant, the vessel through which "the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places" (Eph. 3:10). What I saw in Spirit was that the church "which is his body, the fulness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23), is not visible on planet Earth today. It has no snail mail or e-mail address, no phone or fax number, because it is the heavenly Jerusalem which dwells in our hearts by faith (Gal. 4:26). So, when I equate the church to religion, I am speaking of the church on Main St., USA, or anywhere else in the world for that matter, not the heavenly ecclesia. I realize that God has kept some people in the pews for His own purposes, perhaps to protect them from harm, much like hot house plants which thrive in a sheltered location, but would be burned up by the summer sun, or frozen by winter's bitter blasts of snow and ice. I have no problem with any of that, because God has shown me that He controls everything and everyone (Eph. 1:11).
I said all that to try to explain what I'm getting. First a disclaimer. I am not a trained theologian, but like all of you, I have the indwelling Spirit, who came, Jesus said, to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). Take the following thoughts to the Lord and He will show you whether to embrace them or toss them into the fire alongside the branches which do not bear fruit for the kingdom.
It comes to me that Jesus said the gates of hell will not prevail over the church (Matt. 16:18, KJV), He purchased with His own blood, but He did NOT say the church would be the only entity through which God relates to His creation. In addition to the church, Jesus also came to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Many have had the revelation that God will ultimately save everyone. It's on my heart a lot these days as I contemplate the many Muslim believers who will be killed in the conflict with Iraq. Since God is not willing for any to perish (II Pet. 3:9), they will ultimately be saved by God's grace and the blood of the Lamb. I asked Lenny for his take on this, in light of the scriptures which seem to indicate one must profess Christ, call on the name of the Lord to be saved, etc. Mystics always take the most direct route to God, and Lenny is no exception. He never sweats the small stuff, and is never limited by any need to be "theologically correct." He said instantly, "When they see Him, they will be like Him" (I John 3:2). Simplistic, you say? Yes, it is, but also true, which leads me to some interesting conclusions.
Last week, for instance, we read Heb. 3:6, which says, "we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope." That is a conditional statement. "IF we hold fast," indicates there is something we must do to remain His house. There are many, many scriptures which lead us to believe that we must do something, and yet, if all are to be saved (John 12:32; Rom. 11:32; I Cor. 15:21; 1 Tim. 4:10), the ultimate outcome cannot rest on man's actions, as it did under law, but only upon God's promise to Abraham that in his seed (Christ) should all nations be blessed (Gal. 3:8/16). The law itself made no one perfect (Heb. 7:19; 10:1).
This scripture in Hebrews and so many others caused me to think about the difference between the House, (church, or body of Christ) and the kingdom of God. They are certainly NOT the same. I grew up believing that the church was all there is, because even though they did acknowledge that it is the Lord who adds to the church such as should be saved (Acts 2:47), they stressed our part in it with what they called the five steps to salvation: hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized. It interests me that God caused me to be born into such a legalistic system, and I praise Him that He called me out decades ago, and even more so that He has spent the remaining time cleansing, pruning, lopping off the branches in me that were tainted by man's will, rather than His will.
God is in charge of everything! He is all and in all (Eph. 4:6; Col. 3:11). A respected friend who has been a gospel preacher for well over 50 years, recently made the shocking statement that probably 95% of everyone who ends up in heaven will never have heard the name of Christ, UNTIL they arrived there. Obviously, they will not have been church members, because the church clearly is limited to those who accept Christ. The kingdom, however, encompasses all of God's creation. He uses the visible church, flawed and imperfect though she certainly is, to call out a people for His name (Acts 15:14). These are the elect, the remnant that Jeremiah spoke of with this vine metaphor: "Thus says the Lord of Hosts: "Glean thoroughly as a vine the remnant of Israel; like a grape-gatherer pass your hand again over its branches" (Jer. 6:9). What a beautiful picture this is of the grape picker searching through the branches to find the best, the ripest, the fullest fruit to be used in the service of the Lord. Harry Fox would remind us that the Lord always works through a remnant, for the benefit of everyone else.
God is still doing working through a remnant, which I say to praise His name, not to strike a chord of fear and make you wonder, "Will I measure up?" "Fear not," the messenger of the Lord would say to you, for He is the husbandman, the farmer, the very soil into which we are planted. It is His job to supply the right nutrients, water, sunlight, and to pull the weeds so the tender plant can flourish. No one lectures the grape if it is sour. Instead, he adjusts the soil composition or the nutrients. Likewise, it is the vine who supplies the branches with what they need to produce good fruit.
This garden metaphor reminds me of Isaiah's prophecy that the desert will bloom like a rose (Isa. 35:1), which has come to pass in modern Israel. As we were traveling by bus through that country in 2000, we passed by thousands of acres of rich, luxuriant crops: grapes, olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, figs, even banana trees, all planted in desert sand. The secret? The nutrients and water were delivered to each individual plant via a drip system. They found out two things: one, they can grow anything in sand if the nutrients and water are delivered right to the roots, and two, there's no waste if they use a drip system rather than a sprinkler system where 60% is lost in evaporation. This is a perfect analogy of church membership. Of those who make a decision for Christ, how many people remain faithful to Him? I don't know exactly, but I expect there is a high percentage who drop out, precisely because they were introduced to church, rather than to the one who established the church. They die from lack of nourishment.
The church has become an addiction for some who need to "hold on to the rails." They are afraid to go to God directly, but are like the children of Israel standing at the base of Sinai, which was full of fire, smoke and rumblings. They said to Moses, "Go ask Him what He wants. We're afraid of Him, and oh, by the way, tell Him we'll do whatever He it is as long as we don't have to get close to Him" (Ex. 19:18; 20:18-19). So it is with a great number of Christians, who want to have a fence between them and the smoking mountain lest they die.
When I was still in the visible church, I saw that it was a nursery for babes in Christ, and it still is, to some degree. They preserve order (read law), and decorum. It's mostly about works. The kingdom, on the other hand is only about God, following Him, listening to Him, doing what we see Him doing and saying what we hear Him saying, and living under the rule and reign of Almighty God.
The mental picture of the crops in Israel being individually fed came into focus for me in John, Chapter 15, when I saw by the Spirit, that each of us is INDIVIDUALLY connected to the vine. Therefore, we get individual attention from the Gardener, who alone is responsible for what kind of fruit we produce. And by the way, I also saw that John is not talking about good behavior, such as the list found in Gal. 5:22-23, though that is an ancillary blessing. The fruit that we will bear is Christ Himself. When the world sees the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, reflected in us, that is ripe and delicious fruit, my friends. It is new wine; it is Life in the Spirit; it is glory for God, and there will come a day, Isaiah assures us when the whole world, A-L-L flesh will see the glory of God together!!! (Isa. 40:5). Father, open our eyes to see You as You are so that we can bring Your glory to a stressed out, angry and dying world. 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, 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"
"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 3/20/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/21/08.