Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 12/30/07
"I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
By nature, all of human kind are overcomers in one way or the other. Were it not so, we would not have survived against all odds. Created in the image and likeness of our Father, we strive to be like Him. To help mature us, He gave Moses the Law, which the Psalmist said was perfect, but since we're not, it did us little good, except as Paul put it, to show us how flawed and imperfect we really are. That never sits well with some, and so we tried harder, failed more dramatically, and got very frustrated and guilt ridden in the process. Some who were trying to "fake it until they made it," put on a good show of righteousness, but it was only skin deep. It did not affect the heart at all, and thus, was worthless. Jesus had strong words for the Pharisees, pointing out their hypocrisy every chance He got. The word hypocrisy comes from a Greek word meaning "actor," which puts a nice "spin" on the concept of trying to act like something or someone you are not. Many church members still do that today, putting on a good show, but dying inside, because they are trying very hard to be what they already are in Christ.
We had an e-mail this week from a man whom I've quoted before. He's cast off the hypocrisy and just says it like he feels it, very refreshing, to me at least, because being honest with God (surrender) is the only way to walk in what He has done for us in Christ.
He wrote, "I still have a hard time grasping Romans seven, where Paul said it's all up to Jesus, what He did and what He will do...The law causes borderline meanness, judgmental frame of mind and mental illness, or as I have noticed, people with a borderline mental illness problem, [which] throws them over the border into the roaring lion destruction. It is identical to how a mean and controlling parent can mess up a child by programming the child's mind horribly. The verse, 'to him that overcomes' is the biggest problem left; it reeks of religious, law dog overtones. It still messes with my mind. I can trade the word 'overcome' for the word 'endurance,' but there is still something that messes with my mind. If you get anything, I would like to see you articulate on this subject." End Quote.
Here's a man who is honest about where he is and where he isn't as well, and who has been thoroughly indoctrinated by orthodox religion that there is something he has to do, which, of course, he has failed miserably to do. We've all been there. I have been a "Dona Quixote" most of my life, tilting at windmills, trying without success to improve myself, and in the process, have learned very well what does not work.
Have you ever had someone lay a religious formula on you and when you protested, they insisted, "But it works." That's quite a good clue that what you've been advised to do is law, not grace.
The Spirit began to bubble in me as I was pondering our friend's comments, and I saw that he had articulated a common theme among Christians who are trying to be perfect, as Jesus admonished us, but because of the veil of law over our eyes, we misunderstood. Religion has blinded us to the truth of who we are in Christ, and what He has done for us. Bad translations and poor interpretations have made imperatives (commandments) out of the many indicatives (statements of what is), found in the New Testament.
The Bible is not a "How to get to heaven handbook." It is a record of God's relationships with men and women throughout the centuries, and it reflects Jesus' pedigree, His authenticity, and His power. The Bible is written for children, for young men (teenagers), and for Fathers. Figuring out which group is being addressed in any given passage is a job for the Spirit of God, who alone, leads us into all truth (I John 2:27).
Since God created us, He knows us inside and out, and since we were created to judge angels and "speak peace to the heathen," we are born "power brokers." In choosing to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve sealed our fate; their actions predestined us to fail in our attempts to be like God, or at least it looks like that at first glance, until we mature enough to realize that God bears the prime responsibility for everything (Rom. 11:32; Eph. 1:1).
Once you get it at a cellular level that ONLY GOD has free will, and ONLY GOD has control, you begin to understand what Paul meant when he said that "God consigned all men to disobedience" (Rom. 11:32). That is shocking at first glance, if you believe that your eternal destination is all up to you. Once the Spirit ministers the life in that verse to your soul, you can rejoice, for God alone can, and already has overcome all our problems and failures. Using our constant frustration, He shows us that we cannot do it, no matter how hard we try.
The sixteen century Spanish novelist, Miguel de Cervantes created a very funny caricature of man's feeble and futile efforts to save the world in his novel Don Quixote. If we're honest, we can all relate to the "man of the Mancha." He's the Romans Seven man, wearing a dented suit of armor, riding a broken down nag, tilting at windmills with his lance and sword, trying to save the fair damsel, Dulcinea, who in reality is a prostitute in the inn. We smile at his antics, because we do the same thing many times, making mountains out of mole hills, while failing utterly to fix what we think is wrong in our lives.
In Romans, chapter seven, Paul articulates the carnal Christian's dilemma: knowing what the right thing to do is, but unable to do it because he says, "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me" (Rom. 7:18-20). Most of us can relate to that situation, and can say with Paul, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" (Vs. 24).
Out of the depths of shame and despair, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, we rise up and shout, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2). This is very good news, indeed, but why doesn't it sink in quicker than it does? Perhaps it is the residue of the fruit of that blasted tree which tempted Adam and Eve to think they could be like God, or maybe it is a result of man trying to live by Law for so long. Whatever the reason, it takes the Spirit of God to deliver us from the self loathing and self recrimination which comes from our failure to keep the Law.
Christ paid the price once for all, or as Jesus told His disciples, "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." That's really good news for our friend who said he was troubled by the verse that talked about "he who overcomes," and for all the rest of us as well. There's nothing we have to do but ask God to show us that we are IN the ONE who has overcome the world. The verse our friend referred to is Rev. 2:10, which states, "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life."
Now there's a verse guaranteed to strike dread and even terror in the heart of the faithful, IF they have not had their eyes opened to see the Good News in it. Every honest person, like our friend we quoted at the beginning, KNOWS how unlikely it is that we can remain faithful "even to the point of death."
As an English lit major in college, I read George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan." In the story, the English were threatening to torture Joan of Arc if she did not recant her visions from God. As you may recall, Joan was a courageous and godly young woman who led the French armies against the British in the Hundred Years War. In Shaw's version of the story, she told her tormentors, "If you torture me, I will recant my visions, because I can't stand pain, but when you stop, I'll declare them again." In other words, she was admitting the frailty of the flesh and her own personal weakness. That struck a chord with me, big time! Oh, and by the way, the British burned her at the stake, not a happy ending, for sure.
But most of us, if we're honest, and even if we won't admit them out loud, do know our weaknesses. I used to go to church with a woman who worried that when the Antichrist made his appearance, she wouldn't be able to remain faithful.
For this woman, failure to stand up for Christ meant she would burn in hell, which is like being burned at the stake forever. Horrors!
So what's a child of the King to do about remaining faithful? The Apostle John spoke a great deal about overcoming, and he tells us how we can achieve it: "Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I John 5:5). And where do we get the power to believe? From God, of course. Paul tells us that faith is NOT our own doing, "it is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9).
Not being able to boast about anything is a "side-effect" of assimilating the gospel in its purity and simplicity at a cellular level. It means God has swallowed up our weakness, our frailty, our unfaithfulness, our hypocrisy, our carnal nature, and clothed us with His life, the victory of Resurrection Life so hard won by Christ on the cross. Our faith, itself a gift of God, is the very thing that gives us the power to overcome the world (I John 5:4).
Most of the time, the "world" we have to overcome is our carnal nature. The more we fight and struggle against it, the stronger it becomes; we always lose the battle when we rely on our own strength, and that causes us to go down for the count. For me personally, the way out of this dilemma is THE WAY into Christ by the Spirit. When God opened my spiritual eyes to see what He has done for us all, I began to enter into rest.
There's a reason the Hebrew writer admonished us to labor to enter into His rest (Heb. 4:11). Giving up our works in order to rest in Christ (who IS the finished work of God), is not for the faint hearted or fearful. It is part of each son's journey back home to the Father's heart. Each of us walk the path God chose for us before the foundation of the world. Admittedly, the struggles are difficult, but knowing that our Father chose them for us, not to kill us or hurt us, but to conform us into the image and likeness of His First Born Son, makes it bearable.
Not everyone sees or hears this truth right now. The Apostle John said, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death" (Rev. 2:11). In case you forgot what that is, John later defines the second death as "the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14). Talk about a scary scripture, all of us who grew up being threatened by hell, learned to fear the lake of fire, but John asserted that he who overcomes will not be hurt by it. And who is it who overcomes? It is Christ the Lord, who lives in us and we in Him.
I've written many times that fire is to be embraced, not feared, "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). And we also remember that "To the Israelites the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain" (Ex. 24:17). When I say that at Medicalodge, one of my "flock" always adds, "It burns off the dross." And what dross would that be? The residue of the carnal nature: "but as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). That which the trials and tribulations of this life doesn't burn off will be destroyed in the lake of fire, but the New Creation, who we are in Christ, will be saved, "as by fire" (I Cor. 3:15).
There couldn't be any better news than this. John's list of failures, just quoted, are BEHAVIORS characteristic of people who don't know what God did for them in Christ. The church has been trying for almost 2,000 years to get sinners to repent by threatening them with being burned at the stake eternally. It has failed miserably, but now, thanks to God's impeccable timing, unlimited grace AND the Internet, there are those who are seeing the truth, that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, not just the self righteous few (I John 2:2). There was no one righteous in Christ's day, except Him, and that's absolutely true today as well. Our ONLY righteousness comes from our relationship with Him and in Him (I Cor. 5:21).
Since He is in every man, and His blood paid the price for every man, then all are righteous, and all will be saved eventually, but some do not know it yet, and some do not want to admit it, choosing to hang on to whatever credit they can get for not sinning. Their confession has a familiar ring to it: "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men: robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Lk. 18:11). May God's grace overcome our compulsive urge to overcome, for if we could succeed, it would lead to pride, and we know what pride comes before.
Father, we fall on our faces before you in worship and adoration for Your plan of the ages unfolded and revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Make us instruments of Your peace, and bearers of good tidings of great joy to all the people. 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 12/14/07,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 12/30/07.