Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 5/25/03
"For we know that if our earthly tabernacle dwelling is taken down, we have a building from God, a dwelling not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens" (II Cor. 5:1, Recovery New Testament).
The polar opposite of religion and the way out of it is to be "swallowed up by life." A friend mentioned recently that he had been meditating upon II Cor. 5:4, which I looked at again. As soon as I read the verse, I knew what the title of this essay would be. The imagery here is rich and clear: "For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life" (II Cor. 5:4, RSV). Lenny and I had occasion to visit with the father of a dear friend of mine, who is dying of cancer. Whether he has days or weeks is unclear, but unless God intervenes, he will be slipping away from his earthly tabernacle and taking up residence in his heavenly one very soon now. Cancer is such an ugly, debilitating disease, reducing the body to but a shadow of its former glory. Much like Job experienced, this man has lost his physical prowess, his dignity, and whatever control of his life he may have had. His life force is slowly ebbing away.
What he still has, however, is the hope we all share of the resurrection life that awaits us on the other side of Jordan. Many times, I have prayed for him. Before we left Monday, I laid my hand on his forehead and said simply, "Jesus, make him well," the way I used to do for my daughter when she was small. I told him, "When you are healed, we'll dance in the streets." He smiled faintly and said in his weak voice, "I don't know how to dance, but I would give it a try." Clearly, he has not lost his sense of humor either. That touched me deeply and brought me back sharply to the hope which many share today, "We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed" (I Cor. 15:51). In one way or the other, Paul assures us, "this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (Vs. 53). In II Cor. 5, the Apostle observes, "For also in this we groan, longing to be clothed upon with our dwelling place from heaven, If indeed, being clothed, we will not be found naked" (Vs. 2-3). Apparently Witness Lee may also have had the hope of being changed without dying. In his footnote on verse 3 above, he observed, "The apostles were expecting to be transfigured in their bodies, to be clothed with a spiritual body to meet the Lord BEFORE they died." (Emphasis mine). He continued, "The apostles groaned in the desire ...not to die but to be clothed, to put on the spiritual body, that is, to have their body transfigured (Phil. 3:21), to have their body redeemed (Rom. 8:23)."
The verse in Phil. 3:20-21 is so lovely that I want to include it: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (NIV). It seems that many here in the "Bible Belt," have only an expectation of molding in the ground until the so-called "second coming" of the Lord, when at that time, they believe they will get their glorious body in heaven. One old Saint I know and love worries about being in the grave for all that time. When I questioned her about this belief and pointed out that Elijah and Moses were with Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, proving that they weren't rotting in some tomb somewhere, she countered with, "Well, that was a miracle." I created a stir at Medicalodge once when I said that I believe the scriptures teach that only the flesh goes into the ground, the sea, back to the dust from which it came, but the spirit returns to God who created it in His image and likeness, there to await the grand summation He has ordained for the Saints in light and all creation. The Apostle Peter affirmed, "He (Christ) must remain in heaven (in spirit) until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets" (Acts 3:21, NIV).
When standing at the bedside of a dying man, there is absolutely no comfort in thinking that he'll be lying with the worms until, "..the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken it" (Isa. 40:5). The only scriptural proof I need to know that our friend's spirit will be with God immediately upon leaving the body is that Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). Surely no one thinks Christ is still in the grave with those who have died. By the Spirit of God, we know that we will be with Him in heaven (spirit) after we shuffle off this mortal coil. Jesus assured us that He goes to prepare a place for us, and He will come and bring us to this place with Him (John 14:3). Religion has thrived and prospered financially by scaring people with the grave and eternal torment in order to keep them attending, working, and giving. This horrible doctrine always leaves one teetering on the edge of potential disaster.
We had an e-mail today from a man who spoke of his genuine "born again" experience, his weeping for the sins he had committed, his gratitude to God for saving his soul, and his diligence in sharing his faith with all he met at work, on the street, or in any group in which he was present. He went on to say that when the Spirit revealed to him the reconciliation of all men, the leaders of his church stripped him of the office of deacon and refused to let him teach the children until such time as he recants this ancient truth. He wrote, "My study of scripture has brought me to change some of my beliefs. I have read a lot of books... I see that in the action taken against me that there is truly 'nothing new under the sun.' In fact, I guess in light of the actions and beliefs of church members throughout the Dark Ages I can be thankful that I have not been burned at the stake." End Quote.
As I have noted before, the ultimate salvation of all is extremely bad for church business. Some church leaders are genuinely concerned about the eternal welfare of the souls under their supervision, but others only see what this dangerous doctrine does to the Sunday morning head count, and the tally of the offerings each month. These same leaders have many programs for spiritual self-improvement, and often, these dogmas have been taught so routinely that we assume they are in the bible, when in fact, they are not. The essence of religion, as Job found out, is that listening to men always brings you under condemnation, while hearing from God Himself always sets you free.
John Gavazzoni and I were discussing this topic via e-mail and he commented, "I've found myself pondering what the pure extract of religiosity is. The thought comes to me that it's like trying to bottle the water of life, adding our own "scriptural" ingredients and slapping our label on it." That has certainly described me many times, and others I know as well. I read a book once by a man who had researched how the brain functions. Beginning with primordial man, he gave the example of early man seeing lightning strike a tree, starting a forest fire, which swept through the dry grass and trees, destroying everything he owned. The man further noticed that for a brief period, the moon was dark, which frightened him as it was the only light he had at night. He also knew that when it did not rain, drought would plague the land, making it difficult to find or grow food. From these phenomena, he concluded that there was a powerful force at work, perhaps a god who controlled nature, and if he wanted to survive, he needed to placate this being.
Accordingly, he began to offer sacrifices, preferably blood sacrifices to appease this deity and insure his safety. As I write this, it strikes me that Job was not far removed from this scenario, though we believe that he knew he was worshipping the one true God. Nevertheless, he offered sacrifices to make sure nothing happened to his children in the event they had sinned. He found, as many of God's children have through the ages, that in spite of his many good deeds, pious works, sacrifices and offerings, things still went very wrong in his life.
I had quite a bit of positive feedback from last week's writing, "I love you, signed God" (See note at end), and one man who knows our situation commented on the fact that we, who have lost everything the world holds dear, nevertheless count our trials as love from God, rather than retribution. I told him that in rereading Job, I had realized that, before our tribulations, God's answer to Job was puzzling to me, to my cognitive mind. I had often thought, "How did Job 'see God'? I don't get it." Finally, I got it when I realized that the essence of tribulation is the reduction of the power of the flesh and all it stands for. When the cleansing work is done, the spirit is freed, like an eagle flying over the mountain peaks and crags, to soar in the heavenlies with God who created us in His image and likeness.
That brings me to an e-mail which came recently from a friend who has had his own share of troubles escaping the confines of the religion he is in. He wrote, "Jan: I am coming across some terms in the scriptures that I need a little help on. They are: grace, baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost, calling and election made sure, overcome, justification, and sanctification." He asked, "Are all these different names for the same thing? Or do they each mean something different? Love, Harold." (Not his real name.) I was tired when I got his e-mail and groaned within me thinking, "I'm not qualified to talk about these deep things." Then, I felt the Lord patting me on the head and saying with a little smile, "Not to worry. I will help you."
Right before I drifted off to sleep, I realized that this list Harold had given me is "ground zero" in the battle between religion's soulish pursuits and Life in the Spirit. Remembering the title, "Swallowed up by life," I thought, "Brother, you are not far off, for these terms are all manifestations of the same Spirit."
We'll look first at the last two terms on Harold's list, those words theologians love to use. The dictionary defines justification as, "the act of God whereby humankind is absolved of guilt or sin." The word sanctify means, "holiness, saintliness, or godliness." I have observed that most Christians at least give lip service to their belief that "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (II Cor. 5:19). However, when they hear that they are therefore holy, saintly, or godly, they begin to squirm and protest, "Well, you just don't know me or you would know that I'm not holy or godly." Here is the evidence of religion's firm grip. Like the ancient man who wanted to make sure the capricious god out there didn't strike him dead with lightning or destroy his crops with drought, and like Job who went through his religious rituals out of fear of what might happen to his children if he did not, many Christians have their sacred cows, their shibboleths (Judges 12:4-6), to ward off danger and destruction.
I was not very far removed from that belief when God began our great emancipation in 1996. The appeal of the Word of Faith teachers, is that we can control God with what we confess, with our faith, and with how much scripture we can quote to remind God of His promises to us. No matter what I did to ward off the inevitable, however, God prevailed in our lives. Like Job, there was a part of me, which could say, "That which I greatly feared has come upon me" (Job 3:25).
And like Job, I saw the I AM in my life, which freed me from the superstitious nonsense which had characterized my religious convictions. It looks scary while it is happening, and it does bring forth the miserable comforters in one form or another, but the end thereof is glory to God and growth for us. The word "sanctify" is used in the Old Testament to describe God's action toward His children, "Then the nations will know that I the LORD sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary is in the midst of them for evermore" (Ezek. 37:28, RSV), and their reverence for Him: "For when he sees his children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name; they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel" (Isa. 29:23, RSV). In the New Testament, justification and sanctification are a "God-job" from start to finish, and like grace, they come not by works we have done lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:8): "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21, RSV.) "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life" (Rom. 6:22, RSV). God has graced us with a win-win situation, the end of which is ETERNAL LIFE NOW!
Paul explained it to Titus this way: "when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness (How much clearer could it be?), but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:4-7, RSV). Hallelujah, we are His heirs! "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.... And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:29,30, RSV).
To give a concise answer to Harold's question about the terms he mentioned, everything flows to us from God by His grace. All the action begins in heaven, never on earth. Heaven is the transmitter; we are the receivers. The Baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost are a promise, John the Baptist said, not a threat (Matt. 3:11). They are the catalysts which make our calling and election sure (II Pet. 1:10), and enable us to overcome. We are justified (pardoned, declared "not guilty") by the blood of the Lamb: "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (I Cor. 6:11, RSV); and we are sanctified (declared holy, saintly and godly) by the indwelling Christ, "even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph. 1:4, RSV).
Truly, God in Christ, has already swallowed up our mortality in Life. Our inheritance is His resurrection Life! (Rom. 6:22). Father, we thank You for Your life that dwells in our mortal bodies, and we ask You to fully reveal Yourself in us that we may be Your light shining in the dark places of the world. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"I love you, signed God"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 5/22/03
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/27/08.