Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 1/30/05
"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).
The Lord always provides grist for the mill, which He then grinds into something palatable for these writings. He may use a glorious event, or, at other times, something that "sticks in my craw," which I can't shake until I write about it. At issue today is whether the goal of the Christian life is achieving a servant's heart. A friend dropped off a booklet written by the pastor of a local church, entitled, "Developing a Servant's Heart." It brought the question of servant or son to a boil in Lenny and me. Not wanting to react just to a title, I read the first two chapters aloud to Lenny, until he finally said, "Enough! I can't take any more." As I intuited, it is a "how to" book, a workbook of scriptures and questions the reader is to answer and use to change his life from one of self indulgence to one of serving God. In those first seven pages, the writer mentioned conquering "the sinful nature" twelve times, causing me to wonder if perhaps he has a problem with it himself, or he thinks the congregation does. Mature Christians know that fighting the carnal nature with your own efforts, is like fighting the Tar Baby. The more you hit it, the more you get stuck. The only way to prevail is to "reckon yourselves dead" (Rom. 6:11), and though that's not the topic for today, it shows where the Pastor is, and reflects that the congregation is still living more by Law, than by the grace of our Father.
Before I go on, the Lord would have me add that the Pastor is right where God has him, and can go no farther until his eyes are opened, which we pray will be sooner rather than later. The man has a heart for God and when his eyes are opened, he will live what he is getting in Spirit. God is doing a work here and we stand on tiptoe to see the finished product: sons, rather than servants.
Lenny has often said, "The servant is worthy of his hire," which is a reference to Paul's comment, "For it is written in the law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain." Is it for oxen that God is concerned?" (I Cor. 9:9). The meaning here is clear, if you live by Law, you will reap what you sow and glean what you plant. Many Christians are stuck on this level, and though they have a heart for God, they have been misled into thinking that they have to earn what they receive from the Father. Someone wrote to me last week with the question, "What does it mean to fall from grace?" He mentioned Gal. 5:4, where Paul uses the example of circumcision, a righteous work under Law, to show that we don't attain perfection by works. To the Galatian brethren who were being harassed by Judaizers, he wrote, "Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:2-4). Falling from grace has come to mean among some Christians that a person has gone back into sin. Paul does mean that, but he is not referring to the sin usually thought of: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Paul is perfectly clear in this passage that the sin involved is seeking justification by Law rather than grace, which is the only way one can fall from grace.
The Apostle of grace, who declared that we are "the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:21), knew how difficult it is to see this truth, feel it and taste it, so he concludes, "But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love" (Gal. 5:5-6 ). Our ministry is to Christians struggling to believe that God loves them, that He accepts them just as they are, even though their puny efforts don't match up to what they've come to believe God expects. One man told us recently that he so wished he could read the Bible with the same zeal that he reads other kinds of books. He finally saw that his guilt over it came from the fact that his behavior did not conform with what religion had told him he must do to be pleasing to God. When I told him that if God wanted him to read the Bible, he wouldn't be able to put it down, the light came on in his eyes.
Since the difference between Life in the Spirit and religion is one of the major themes God has given us to write about, I might just as well say it. You can't get into the kingdom by works of any kind. God does not have a little check list by your name, where He marks off how many times you pray, read the Bible, go to church, take communion, take casseroles to the sick, visit those in prison, give to the poor and any number of other "good works" you may perform. And in fact, when you beat yourself up for not doing something, saying "I should have. I ought to have. Why didn't I?", you are living by law, not grace. If God wants you to do something, you will do it. If He does not, then you had better NOT do it.
To put it another way, did Paul have a choice about going on to Damascus when he was knocked off his horse by the blinding light of Christ? Did he say, "I'll exercise my free will now and do what God has asked?" I can't find that verse anywhere, can you? This brings me to another of Lenny's sayings, which is that "free will" belongs to the Law! Under the Law of Moses, it was plain that man had to chose whether to do good or evil. The proof text of this, beloved by legalists everywhere is Joshua 24:15: "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Reading Deuteronomy, Chapter 28, makes it clear that the servants of God under Law reaped the consequences of their choices. In a limited sense then, you might conclude that they exercised free will. This, I believe, is why God gave the Law, to show that free will or not, they couldn't keep it! If they could, then Christ would not have had to die!
Of course, God knew from the beginning what would happen when He gave the Law, and He chose EVERYONE "IN Christ, before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as his sons, through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will" (Eph. 1:5). With the Spirit's help, you begin to see that this so-called free will was merely a figment of their imagination, an accommodation to their natural minds, their carnal nature. Because of Christ's sacrifice, we live under grace, where the only will being exercised is God's will, and it is not free. He gave everything He had to free us from the bondage of Law.
More than any of the other apostles, Paul understood the sovereignty of God in our lives. To the Ephesians, he wrote, "For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:9-12). In this glorious passage, Paul makes it clear that God's will was a mystery throughout the ages, but now, in "the fulness of time," He is uniting ALL THINGS unto Himself through Christ, and to do that, He accomplishes ALL THINGS according to the counsel of HIS WILL! What is there for us to do? Absolutely NOTHING, though He uses us to accomplish His will. There's no place for free will in that scenario, no occasion for pride and ego, and likewise, no reason for guilt or condemnation to accrue for failure!
If you are beating yourself up for your lack of godliness, lack of holiness, lack of righteousness, stop it! Stand on the promises, or as Paul said so magnificently, "It is for FREEDOM that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourself be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1).
When I was pondering this topic, I looked up several phrases in my Bible dictionary: "servant of God" appears eight times. Such notables as Paul, James and Moses are referred to as servants of God. "Servant of the Lord" appears 23 times, all in the Old Testament and the names mentioned are Moses, Joshua and David. Paul refers to himself and to Epaphras, as "a servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10; Col 4:12). The Random House dictionary defines servant as "a person employed by another, esp. to perform domestic duties." Because the meaning of words change with the passage of time, I believe that the term "servant" in Bible times, would be closer to our use of the word, "slave," whose definition is "a person who is the property of and wholly subject to another; bond servant." I suspect that Paul's use of the word "servant" is his way to restate what he declares in Eph. 1:11, which is that a servant of God has no will of his own, but rather lives in Christ who is always in the Father's perfect will.
This flies in the face of everything I have ever heard from the pulpits of the land, or read in church literature, for they continue to make the Christian life something YOU have to do. Everything from avoidance of sin to attaining purity of heart is something that YOU have to accomplish on your own. "Developing a servant's heart" is no different. In it, the emphasis is on how YOU handle your carnal nature, and how willing YOU are to put your own needs aside and serve others. The dear old Saints at Medicalodge smile when I tell them that if you are compelled by guilt or an exaggerated sense of "duty" to take casseroles to the sick, clean someone's house, take care of their children, or a million other things that "good Christians" feel obligated to do whether they want to or not, then the person receiving the gift will be glad, and perhaps the giver's guilt will be momentarily assuaged, but, there is little eternal reward accruing for such behavior. I know a woman who works tirelessly to help the other old dears in her church, but since she delights in telling people all about it, I see the truth of Jesus' observation that she has had her reward (Matt. 6:3-6).
The Gospel of Christ is so exquisitely simple that children and the elderly can get it, even if they've lost some brain cells along the way. If God tells you to do something, He will empower you to do it and supply what you need to accomplish what He told you to do. If it is your guilt and sense of duty pushing you to do something, then you will be very disappointed, because guilt has a way of surfacing at the most inconvenient time, robbing you of peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Lenny tells the story of the time when the church he belonged to had a fund raising drive. He pledged a large sum, which he struggled and struggled with but could not raise. When he asked the Lord why, God said, "I didn't tell you to do it. It was your idea."
Regarding guilt, think of it this way, if Jesus died to save you from your sins (omission and commission), but did not take away the guilt, what good is His sacrifice in this life? Notice the Weymouth translation of this familiar verse: "whereas in the case of a man who pleads no actions of his own, but simply believes in Him who declares the ungodly free from guilt, his faith is placed to his credit as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5). If the ungodly are declared free from guilt, don't you think we sons of God are as well? Since we KNOW that He died to remove the sin and all its stains including guilt, shame, condemnation and depression, then where do you think guilt comes from? You're right. It's straight from the pit. I've been there, and felt that, and I do not have any desire to return. We're free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we're free at last!
In the beginning verse, Jesus told the disciples that He would no longer call them servants, but friends. Why? Because, He said, "everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). A servant does what he is told without asking questions. He expects to be paid for obedience, even if it is just board and room. Likewise, he expects to be punished for disobedience, a thumbnail sketch of Deuteronomy, Chapter 28. A son, on the other hand is groomed to receive his inheritance from the Father, which includes ruling and reigning with Him. This is why when things are tough, I ask God to catch me up to His throne to see what He sees. This is His grace to help us endure until the time is fully come for His perfect will to be performed in our lives.
Remember the Prodigal Son, who asked for and got his inheritance, only to waste it on wine, women, and song? (Luke 15:11-32). After running through the money, and nearly starving while working for a pig farmer, he came to himself (God can work good even out of sin). He said, "How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men" (Vs. 17-19). The Father was waiting for him, and ran to meet him, greeting him with a hug and a kiss. When the son said he wanted to become his father's servant, he heard the glorious words that Christians everywhere long to hear when the trumpet sounds for them: "Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found" (Luke 15:22-24).
We all were at one time, "separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:12-13). This is the glorious salvation message, beloved by evangelists. My question is why then do so many church leaders take the newly baptized believer and shove him back into the pigpen of works, duties, guilt and condemnation for failure? Why do they behave as though the blood of the Lamb is good enough to get you saved from sin, but after that, it all depends on you rather than God? The Prodigal came home asking to be a hired hand, a servant, but the father refused to take him back as a servant (conditional love), and welcomed him as a son in full standing in his household (unconditional love). This didn't go well with the elder brother, of course. Like many Christians I personally know and love, the thought that this wretched sinner could get back into the family when the older son has worked his fingers to the bone, causes anger, depression, and cries of "It's not fair!"
The prodigal's father and our Father God as well, loves us unconditionally, saying to us, "'My son, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'" (Luke 15:31-32). The elder brother's attitude is the antithesis of the Father's heart, then as now. In His parable about the eleventh hour workers, Jesus makes the same point in a different setting. When those who had worked all day for a denarius found out that the Vineyard Owner paid the same to those who had worked only one hour, they complained, even as "good Christians" often do when they think that they exhausted themselves in doing good works and yet a rank sinner will enter the kingdom along with them. The Father still says to them, "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. 20:15-16).
Father, we thank You that You are not trying to make us into better servants, but rather You are transforming us into SONS of the Most High. We rejoice in serving You, knowing that it is You doing the work through us. We rest in Your will for our lives; we listen to Your voice rather than to men and we will proclaim so long as there is breath in us that You are the Father of all, the Savior of all, the Lord of all in heaven and on earth and that nothing can stop the Your grace and unconditional love for Your creation. We give honor, praise and glory to Your holy Name. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
We're always glad to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 1/27/05
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/13/08.