3/17/06, Sky Valley Park, CA
Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/14/06"You are the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14).
All through the Bible, the question rings forth, "Who are you?" Isaac asked the deceitful Jacob this question, and received a lie for the answer. When Esau came later for the same blessing, Isaac realized he had already given it to Jacob. (See Gen. 27:18, 32.) Boaz asked the question of Ruth when she came to him at night and lay down near his feet on the threshing floor. Her answer established that he was her kinsman-redeemer and as such, responsible for her safety and protection (Ruth 3:1-14). The Jews sent priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist who he was, demanding to know if he was the Christ, to which he said, "I am not," and next, if he was Elijah, which he also denied. When they insisted on knowing who he was, he replied, "I am the voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord'" (John 1:19-23). John's disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" In other words, "Who are you?" He answered them clearly, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Matt. 11:3-5). Since John was in prison at the time, he was no doubt depressed and disappointed that Jesus didn't include something about setting the captives free, but the answer was plain nevertheless. Jesus was the Lord whom John had announced and baptized.
When Jesus asked His disciples who men said He was, and then who they thought He was, Peter gave what has come to be known as "the good confession." He answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Matt. 16:14-16).
And when Saul of Tarsus was knocked from his horse on the Damascus Road, he asked "Who are you, Lord? 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:5-6). The answer changed his life forever; God's chosen instrument to carry the name of Christ to the Gentiles got a course correction in who he thought he was. I think most of us have missed the full implications of the tremendous change in Saul's life that day. He encountered a "C change" in his thinking (business speak for a "U" turn). Today, people change their minds routinely, sometimes depending on the last person they spoke with. People change their clothes, their religion, their politics, and even their in-laws in an attempt to get more comfortable, shall we say, or to find that which suits them best, but God is the ultimate "changer" of our self image.
The meaning of "repentance" has been explained as "to change your mind." The effect of the cross on creation had exactly that effect, of changing our self image from death to life, from alienation to relationship, and from sin to glory. Paul put it better than I ever could in his letter to the Ephesians: "You were then without Christ, you were utter strangers to God's chosen community, Israel, and you had no knowledge of, or right to, the promised agreements. You had nothing to look forward to and no God to whom you could turn. But now, in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off are brought near through the shedding of Christ's blood. For Christ is our living peace. He has made us both one by breaking down the barrier and enmity which lay between us" (Eph. 2:12-14, Phillips). It may help to understand the enmity which existed between Jew and Gentile in Paul's day by considering the animosity, hatred, and violence which exists today between the fanatical Islamic faction and everyone else whom they consider "infidels." It helps me to keep my perspective on the Middle East situation by remembering that Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to capture Christians (known then as those who belonged to "the Way"), and bring them back to Jerusalem where they would be imprisoned, or worse, tortured and killed. It's a story still in the headlines today: Abdul Rahman, the man who was recently captured in Afghanistan, and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity has been released due to "lack of evidence," and a whole lot of pressure from Washington, but as Lenny said, he'd better flee fast and far, for his life isn't worth much with all that hate accruing to him by the Muslim faithful.
Because Saul of Tarsus was this kind of radical convert in his day, the rabid Jews hounded him from city to city seeking retribution. For the cross of Christ, he experienced hell on earth: "Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (II Cor. 11:24-28).
What sustained him throughout his ordeals? What kept him going, enabling him to preach and teach? In his letter to Timothy, he mentions a fact that will change your life when God opens your heart to the truth of it: Paul said that God, "...saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.... And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher" (II Tim. 1:9-11). Paul knew who he was, which gave him confidence that Christ would sustain him through problems and testings, abundance and want, sorrows and joy. When God reveals Christ in us, faith is born to believe what He says about us rather than what others may say.
Sometimes well meaning parents pointed out our flaws when we were young, in an attempt to get us to change our ways, mend our bad habits, and become model citizens. That never worked, of course, but many of us still carry those negative voices in our heads. Churches haven't helped either because when they major in sin and transgression, the net result is a wounded, crippled Christian, who thinks maybe, just maybe he can escape the wrath of God by good works and positive confessions, but he's never totally sure of that. So many describe themselves as "sinners saved by grace." While that is a true statement, nevertheless, it emphasizes sin more than the grace by which we are saved.
It took a lot of counseling and a large measure of God's grace to help me choose which voices I would believe once God revealed His love to me. His Grace helped me internalize the great and precious promises, the many statements about who we are and how God sees us that I had over looked for so long.
Religion has confused people about the difference between saints and sinners. In some denominations, for instance, they serve wine in the communion cups, while other groups denounce all wine drinkers as drunkards bound for hell. Christ observed to the hypercritical scribes and Pharisees: "For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, 'He has a demon.' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, 'Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and "sinners" (Luke 7:33-34).
When He was condemned for eating with tax collectors and sinners, He gave them a sublimely simple reply: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick... For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:12-13). Thankfully, God's grace covers sinners, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). All Christians give lip service to the truth that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:15). That being the foundation upon which our faith rests, the question then is, DID HE SUCCEED OR FAIL? If He failed, then we're all in the soup, but if He succeeded, then why do we still refer to ourselves as sinners? Paul did call himself the "chief of sinners" (I Tim. 1:15), but he was using hyperbole to make a point, in the same way advertisers boast, "If this works for me, it will work for anyone." The difference is that Paul knew who he was because of what God in Christ did for him before the foundation of the world.
Of all the New Testament writers, he alone stated clearly God's plan for the creation: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19); "For as in Adam ALL die, so in Christ ALL will be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). In his letter to Ephesus, Paul wrote that we were "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him" (Eph. 1:4); and glory of glories, that "God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6).
Consider also that when he wrote to the folks at Corinth, some of whom had committed egregious sins, he addressed them this way: "To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, CALLED TO BE SAINTS together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours" (I Cor. 1:2). The New Testament routinely refers to "the called of God" as "Saints." Here's a definition of "saint": "a person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death." Paul tells us that we don't have to wait until we die to be seated with Christ in heavenly places. Therefore, we ARE saints NOW. By the way, if the thought of being called a saint, holy and blameless, makes you squirm and causes you to refute it, it's proof that you've been thoroughly brainwashed by religion, even as the First Century Jews were.
That brings me to another question designed to help you know who you think you are. Who are you, a servant of God or a son? Many God fearing Christians refer to themselves as servants of God. What's wrong with that? Jesus' answer to it is, "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15). I recently felt urged to study Moses' relationship with God. Here was a man who had to rethink who he was several times. Saved from the fate of other Hebrew male infants by God and Pharaoh's daughter, he grew up thinking of himself first as a slave and later, as a Prince of Egypt, educated and treated like royalty (Ex. 2:1-10). After killing an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, Moses fled to Midian where he met his wife and obtained his third identity, shepherd. It was there on the far side of the desert, near Horeb, the mountain of God, where his real identity began to be revealed: deliverer of God's people, nemesis of Pharaoh, servant of the Most High.
Moses is one of my favorite bible heroes, of whom it was said, "Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face" (Deut. 34:10). God loved him and trusted him with great power and glory, but a greater than Moses is here. Moses was a servant; Jesus Christ is a Son. "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are His house" (Heb. 3:5-6). So who do you think you are? Servant or son?
Animals are not tormented about who they are, nor do they make apology for it. Lenny and I have two kitties which travel with us. We've had a merry time and a lot of laughs about how they managed to outsmart us and get out of the confines of the deck and patio area of the little house we rented for the winter in Sky Valley Park (near Desert Hot Springs, CA). Time and time again, they would give us the slip and escape, having a high old time cavorting around the neighbors' houses and back patios. We scolded them, cajoled them, and spanked their little bottoms before putting them back in the house. Nothing worked. Why? They were just being who they are: cats.
They don't have guilt and shame written in their psyches precisely because they are not subject to Law, as we are. They don't hear our pleas to "be a good kitty." Are you kidding? They know they are the best kitty they can be. This is the point of the writing today, in case you haven't figured it out. Let us ask God who we really are, and then repent of who we thought we were based on what others have told us, so that, with His help, we may choose whom we will believe: flesh or the Spirit of God.
Most of my life, I was conflicted about who I was, and often "went down for the count" as the internal voices told me what I "shoulda, coulda, woulda" done if I had been "a good Christian." What an odious term. Is it possible to be "a bad Christian?" The truth about us is written in the cosmos, and in the Bible. "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called CHILDREN OF GOD" (I John 3:1). Do you believe it? Who do you think you are? Where is your life? The glorious answer to both questions is "In Christ." That phrase occurs 89 times in the New Testament, which when God opens our eyes to see it, will convince even the most skeptical that we are IN HIM: "For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority" (Col. 2:9-10). You say you believe the Bible, every word? Good, feast on these verses.
Father, we thank You for the knowledge of who we are in Christ: the Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are Your sons, joint-heirs with Christ. We await Your pleasure and timing for sharing Your love, mercy and grace with the world, the cosmos, the entire creation. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 04/25/06,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 10/06/08.