Given for Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 7/30/06
"When sin overflows, grace floods in" (Rom 5:20, Grady Brown).
My thanks to Grady Brown for the translation of Rom. 5:20: ["But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound."] We heard him speak at the Inclusion Conference, held in Leslie, AR, on Father's Day, 2006. Last week, the Spirit began talking to me about grace, what it is, what it is not, and can there ever be too much of it? Years ago, I heard the expression, "cheap grace," but I wasn't exactly sure what was meant by it. Now, after being back in the "Bible belt" for lo these past eight years, I get what it means. I'll give you a personal example. Lenny and I attended a Wednesday night class at a local church a few years ago when the preacher was teaching on Romans. This particular evening, he asked the class what grace is. A dear old saint whom I've known most of my life, stuck up her hand and said, "Grace is what God gives us when we obey Him." That, my friends, is a great definition of cheap grace. When we think we have to follow all the rules, obey the leadership, and march by someone else's drumbeat to please God, we have cheapened the concept of grace, and in fact, we have nullified the death of Christ. Paul put it this way: "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal. 2:21). If it takes obedience of rules to obtain salvation or justification, then it is NOT grace, but man's works which count.
Later on in that epistle, Paul calls into question the idea held by some, that you cannot fall from grace. His reference is the demand of some Jewish Christians that you must be circumcised in order to be pleasing to God. To those Judaizers, Paul asserted, "Now I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who receives circumcision that he is bound to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace" (Gal. 5:2-4). I believe you do no injustice to Paul's thought here by replacing "circumcision" with other things that some Christians insist you must do to get into heaven. That list can include baptism (what type), communion every Sunday, speaking in tongues, instrumental music or not, good works, church attendance, tithing, proper wearing apparel, women's role in worship, Bible study, and more, but you get the point here. When you add ANYTHING to the finished work of Christ on the cross, you have embraced law and have FALLEN FROM GRACE! You cannot live by law and grace at the same time. Paul declared, "So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace" (Rom. 11:5-6).
As I left Medicalodge recently, I heard the saints in the Alzheimer's Ward singing, "When we all get to heaven." It's a catchy old hymn that rocks through your brain, but I was thinking about the words of verse 3: "Let us then be true and faithful, trusting, serving, everyday. Just one glimpse of him in glory will the toils of life repay. When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we'll sing and shout the victory." The aged Saints love these grand old hymns of the faith, perhaps because they are all they can remember. I noticed when I was ministering in the Alzheimer's Ward, that though they might not be able to tell me their name, yet when I sang a song they knew, they could sing along. What came to me in the context of our topic today is the great gulf fixed between church going Christians and the rest of the world. What about the people who either can't or don't want to be faithful, trusting, and serving everyday? What about the ones we all love, family members and dear friends, who have no relationship with the Father at all? Or worse, what about those who were raised to believe in Him, but when they grew up, fell away?
I am NOT putting down the trusting or the serving, but I am painfully aware that the majority of the world has either not met God, or if they have, they want nothing to do with Him, probably because of the way zealous Christians represented Him to them. What about those miserable folks? If we were to believe much of church doctrine, they would be consigned to an everlasting, burning hell, but have you really thought about that seriously? It's one thing to damn a total stranger to hell, but what about your family, your close friends? "Well, that's what the Bible says," someone insists. Does it?
That brings me back to grace. When I was running references for this writing, I came across Paul's comment to Timothy regarding the awesome power of God: "For he has saved us from all that is evil and called us to a life of holiness, not because of any of our achievements but for his own purpose. BEFORE TIME BEGAN he planned to give us in Christ Jesus the grace to achieve purpose, but it is only since our saviour Christ Jesus has been revealed that the method has become apparent. For Christ has completely abolished death, and has now, through the gospel, opened to us men the shining possibilities of the life that is eternal" (II Tim. 1:8-10, Phillips). Please notice, that God's grace was given us IN CHRIST before the foundation of the world! That squares with the Apostle's statement in Eph. 1:4, that we were chosen in Christ before the creation of the world.
When the Spirit shined His light on this truth for me, rockets went off in my soul and my spirit leapt into the heavenlies, raptured to the throne over the glorious plan of God, hidden for ages, Paul said, but now revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. What did we have to do with this plan written before time began? Not a single thing! Not one! To illustrate, Paul used the example of God choosing Jacob, rather than his twin brother Esau, who was the firstborn. Paul concluded about that event: "Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad, in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls, she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:11-13). These twins perfectly exemplify God's election. He chose Jacob and each one of the elect not for that person alone, but for the purpose of blessing others in the community.
Other examples of God's elect include Abraham, the first Gentile to hear the gospel (Gal. 3:8); Jacob, through whom the seed which was to bless the nations was passed; Moses, whom God raised and educated in the Egyptian royal house, to whom he was later sent to declare the freedom of the captives to Pharaoh; Rahab, a harlot, through whose efforts God saved the Israelite spies whom Joshua had sent to reconnoiter Jerico prior to their taking of the city. Rahab is named by Matthew in the lineage of Christ (Matt. 1:5). This is but a short list of those whom God sovereignly chose to bless His people. The Hebrew writer says of each one that "by faith" they served God (chapter 11), but another way to look at it is "by grace," they did God's will on earth. Some of the elect were in the "gypsies, tramps and thieves" category, while others like Joseph and Daniel were in the "pure of heart" division. What they were before He called them, mattered not to God, for He knew what HE was going to do through them.
Yet amazingly, no matter how immoral, cowardly, or brave, dedicated, faithful, clever, and devoted to God they were, the Hebrew writer asserts, "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect" (Heb. 11:39-40). To me, this says that we're all in the soup together; we all need each other and ultimately depend on each other as we journey through the kingdom. I do commend the churches who send missionaries to foreign lands, and the missionaries themselves who risk their lives to declare the name of Christ to all the world. This kind of sacrificial love represents the determination of the Father's heart to go upon the mountain dark and bring the sheep back home. He will never sleep nor slumber until every child rests safely in His bosom (Luke 15:2-6). I thank God that Paul was caught up into the third heaven, and given God's plan from before the world began (II Cor. 12:2).
Jesus' teachings were implicit. He was a mystic, who spoke from the Father's heart. Because His words were translated mostly in the imperative mode (commands). He appeared to "raise the bar," so to speak, on the Law's demands. Under the Law, for instance, they were allowed to exact retribution for crimes done against them, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Jesus told them they had to love their enemies, among other things, an example of how the translators and commentators made many of His statements a command (imperative mode), whereas in fact, Jesus spoke in the indicative mode (a statement of how God reckons us to be). This was one reason why Jesus was shocking to the Jews, for the Law told Israel how to act, but He told them how to BE by showing them WHO they were and HOW God saw them, and sees us as well.
Harry Fox has observed that because of this misunderstanding of Christ's words, if God had not raised up the Apostle Paul to make the gospel explicit, Christianity would probably have died out by the end of the first century, when in fact, by then, it had spread over the known world, a result of the persecution of Christians by the Jews and the Roman Empire. (See link at end to Harry Fox's article entitled "The Beatitude Experience," in which he discusses the Implicit and the Explicit teachings of Jesus and Paul). God used all these horrific events to spread the word, preach the gospel from the roof tops and in the caves, that all the world might know that Jesus Christ is Lord! (Rom. 10:18).
I said last week that some Christians leave me with the impression that only good people without sin need apply for membership in their church, which would have excluded Abraham, Jacob, David, Peter and even Paul before God got hold of them and turned their lives upside down. Once when I was a teenager, I heard a radio broadcast put on by a local Baptist Church. They were praying for a drunk to find God. They witnessed to him, prayed for him, finally got him clean and sober and took him to church. That amazed me because at that time, I had no idea that the gospel had that kind of power. The gospel had been presented to me as something we have to do to clean ourselves up so that God will save us, but these people seemed to know something I'd never heard, that God saves sinners like that drunk. I pondered this long and often over the years, because I didn't have any inkling that the drunk and I were just alike, both sinners.
It wasn't until God opened up the windows of heaven and showed me Christ on the cross for Jan that I realized just what a gift I had been given when Christ came to dwell within me. It is very dangerous to consider other people as worse sinners than you are, because that was the position taken by the Pharisees. Luke tells the story of two men who went up to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. You remember that Jesus rebuked the Pharisee for saying "'God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'" (Luke 18:11-13). The point I'm making here is NOT that we should go around and say "Oh what a miserable sinner I am," which is as far off the mark of truth as the Pharisee's confession that he was better than the other man, but rather that we humbly recognize how blessed we are that because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross, God does not consider us a sinner anymore. It helped me so much long ago to realize that when the Father looks at Jan, He doesn't even see my warts and zits, my flaws, major and minor. He sees Christ in me, my hope of glory. And it helped me even further, after years of pondering it, to see myself IN CHRIST, which is where I live and why God sees me as holy and blameless. (See link at end for an excellent discussion of Paul's use of "In Christ" and "Christ In us," entitled "Paul's Two Ins," by John Gavazzoni).
When I can see the drunk, or the drug addict, the thief or adulterer in Christ as well as myself, it helps me not to condemn them. God doesn't, so how can I? Here's the text: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). There's a lot of misunderstanding about judgment afoot in Christendom. Some think it is OK to avoid sinners because Christ will judge them and toss them into hell, and they might actually be "contagious" to the faithful. In contrast to that idea, Jesus said, "As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it" (John 12:47). The sinner has either never met Christ personally YET, or has been given the wrong impression of God by some well meaning but hell fearing Christians. We can be part of the problem, or we can be part of the solution. Paul quotes Isaiah in saying, "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God'" (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11). To those who insist that the power of God will force them to bow the knee right before He tosses them into hell for all eternity, I ask, "Have you ever met the Father? Have you ever experienced His love?" If so, you could NEVER blaspheme His holy name in such a way, for you know by the Spirit, that where SIN overflows, GRACE floods in.
Christ is the most attractive person who ever lived. He humbled Himself to endure the cross. "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).
Father we thank You and praise You for Christ and we ask that You display Him through us to those who do not know Him, and to those who fear Him. Let Your love flow, Father. We lift our voices to praise you and honor and worship you and declare Your name in all the earth. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Too Much Grace? by Jan
Predestined by Grace by Jan
Grace for our Children by Jan
The Beatitude Experience by Harry Fox
The Glory Road
We're always happy to hear from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 7/27/06
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/09/08.