"For it is by grace that you are saved, through faith. This does not depend on anything you have achieved, it is the free gift of God" (Eph. 2:8, Phillips).
Writing is a lonely business, sitting alone with a blank piece of paper and pen, or a blank computer screen, and waiting for what develops. In my case, the Spirit gives me what I write and so I must wait until He stirs something in me. When that happens, I write it as quickly and accurately as possible. Sometimes, as in the case of last week's writing, "When we all get to Heaven, The Gospel According to Cats" (See Link at End), what I get is rather shocking, even to me, and I can't help but wonder what people who read it will think. It's never my intention to offend, but in spite of good intentions, I occasionally raise someone's hackles. Last week's piece did just that, and the term "greasy grace" came from an e-mail sent by a man who was upset by what I said.
He wrote, "Going to heaven is not the object of salvation; being changed into the image of God is! And suggesting that ultimate reconciliation will bring the worst of mankind into heaven, using cats as type, does a gross disservice to the gospel message... What I have discovered over the years is that preaching this doctrine, along with God's unconditional love, has produced a 'greasy grace' that does not encourage the believer to embrace his cross and deny the carnal appetites of his Adamic nature...Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me" (Lk. 9:23). Thus, discipleship does require cross-carrying and self denial. No, we are not saved by works; we are saved by grace through faith, but true faith works...
"The Lord Jesus never once spoke of ultimate reconciliation; rather he spoke of hell and of judgment. In fact, he mentioned hell more times than he did heaven. He also said in Matt. 25:41: "Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." End Quote.
Clearly this man is coming from the orthodox position that there is something we must do to be acceptable to God, and though he insists that we are not saved by works, when he says we have to carry our cross and deny our carnal appetites, he is splitting hairs, for that is the hardest and most futile work anyone ever did since it never accomplishes anything but frustration. Only those who have not confronted their own carnal nature could maintain that human beings ever have any success at this endeavor. If we could, by self denial and suffering, make ourselves worthy of God's grace, then Christ would not have had to come and die on the cross. God could have just sent better "naggers," to whip us into shape, and the prophets of old were no slouches in that department.
The term "cheap grace" comes to mind here, which to me, refers to the preposterous idea that we must add to what God has done for us in Christ; that self effort must be incorporated into our salvation, justification and sanctification. If that's true, then the blood of the Lamb was inadequate for the job.
Or perhaps the writer of the e-mail was one of those who couldn't believe that any unrighteous person should be forgiven, which as another reader reminded us was the elder brother's position. She wrote, "Reading your sermon this week, I visualized again the older son looking down at his father and brother, unapproving, hurt, resentful at his father's reception/grace towards his returning younger son: an amazing painting that depicts the Father's love and acceptance."
Judgmental people forget that Paul said we all sinned and fell short of the glory of God, and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 3:23; 5:6). We rejoice that, "....where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 5:20-21). The Apostle Paul also answers our e-mail correspondent's concern about bad people being encouraged to sin: "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (Rom. 6:1-2) That brings me finally to the flawed women in Jesus' genealogy.
On Christmas Eve, I tuned in to TBN, something I rarely do, but in this case, the show provided "grist for the mill." The speaker, who said he had a message for all women, was standing on a hillside overlooking the "little town of Bethlehem" in Israel. He pointed out that in Matthew's genealogy of Christ, there are five women mentioned, something unheard of in that day where lineage was always traced through the males, never the females.
Jesus' ancestors include Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. The TBN preacher's premise was that these women typify women found in the churches today, a shocking statement since two were prostitutes, one was a Gentile (a heathen), and one was an adulteress. He assured the viewing audience that his own wife was perfect. "If you don't believe, me" he said, "ask anyone in the congregation. She never says anything wrong and she never does anything wrong." He was comparing his wife to Mary, rather than the first four women mentioned, who were all flawed. Here are brief bios on the first four women:
1) Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah (Jacob's fourth born), becoming pregnant as a result (See Gen. 38:1-30). She escaped being burned to death for her sin by handing Judah his own seal, which he had given her as pledge for the money he owed her for services rendered. Convicted that he was the father of her child, he said, "She is more righteous than I..." (Vs. 26). Perez was one of the twin sons she bore. The study note on Gen. 38:30, indicates that he "became the head of the leading clan in Judah and the ancestor of David (see Ruth 4:18-22), and ultimately of Christ" (see Mt. 1:1-6).
2) Rahab was the harlot whose house was part of the wall of Jerico. She hid the two spies Joshua had sent to reconnoiter the city in preparation for the Israelite attack against it, thus saving their lives. She asked them in return to spare her life and that of her entire family when Israel came against the city, which was quaking in fear at this impending threat. The spies told Rahab to bring her entire family into her house, and tie a scarlet cord in her window, so that the Israelite fighters would know to spare her, which they did, allowing her family to escape, before they burned the whole city and everything in it (See Joshua, Chapter 6).
Rahab was the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth and bore Obed, the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David. The way I calculate it, Rahab was King David's great, great grandmother.
3) Ruth, who would have been David's great grandmother, was not a sinful woman, but she was a Gentile (a heathen) from Moab (See Ruth 1:1). This is significant because the inclusion of those "outside the gate" in the ancestry of Christ shows that God has always been inclusive. She came to believe in the living God and in fact, is admired greatly for her devotion to Naomi, her mother-in-law.
4) Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. The church I grew up in blamed her for David's sin with her because she "exposed her body" on the roof top where the king could see her. From that they concluded that skimpy clothing, and certainly "mixed bathing" (by which is meant swimming with the opposite sex) is sinful. To hear them tell it, David was a pure boy corrupted by the wiles of a seductress. For sure, he was led astray by his hormones, but no matter how you slice the pie, Bathsheba was as guilty of adultery as he was. This timeless story of lust, sex, and murder can be found in II Samuel, Chapters 11 and 12.
5) Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. I'm not convinced that God chose her simply because she was a virgin, for there were many of those in Israel, but because He had given her a willing heart. When the angel Gabriel told her that she would be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and would bear the Son of the Most High, conceived by divine seed, she accepted his words, saying, "I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said" (Lk. 1:38). That willingness to bear the shame and reproach of becoming pregnant out of wedlock was God's grace to her. Since fornication was a sin punishable by death, she risked her life to be obedient to God. In that sense, she did indeed pick up her cross to follow the One who came forth from her womb.
Because I doubt most churches have many prostitutes as members, though possibly a few guilty of adultery, I think the message in Matthew's list of five women has a higher purpose than the preacher on TBN saw. As Gabriel said to Mary, "Nothing is impossible with God" (Lk. 1:37). The only Begotten of the Father came from imperfect ancestors, male and female, but that did not deter God. He who knows the end from the beginning knew what He would do about imperfection. He would swallow up mortality, frailty, and imperfection with immortality, strength and perfection. He's still doing today what He ever did, which is why my writing last week about sinful men getting into heaven is not far fetched at all. If only the righteous get in, how would God get the glory for that?
Paul's question to the Corinthians bears remembering: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (I Cor. 4:7). That's another way to say that since faith is a gift of God, of what can we boast? Why, NOTHING AT ALL!!!
Those who think we have to deny our flesh and work hard to enter God's presence, have missed the point entirely, and like the Pharisees of old, have depended upon self effort, rather than the divine seed within to conform us to the image of Christ.
If you plant wheat seeds, you won't get a crop of tomatoes, because the pattern God set up in the beginning is that vegetation and animals alike were to produce according to their own kind (Gen. 1:11-24). This is why we must be born again, born "not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (I Pet. 1:23). His seed in us produces "like kind" to Him!
Our friend who was upset at the writing was quite correct that the object of salvation is our being changed into the image of God, but we don't get there by our own self efforts, for Paul said that we are "PREDESTINED to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom. 8:29). We are also called, justified, and glorified, not by any actions on our part, but by the imperishable seed, "through the living and enduring word of God." It is NOT our job to polish the exterior of our lives, which is about all most churches accomplish. It is Christ's responsibility to wash us white as snow, and present us to HIMSELF "in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she (we) might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).
That's the VERY good news, my friends, because like the four women Matthew named in Jesus' genealogy, we are all flawed and in need of greasy or any other kind of God's grace. Once we begin to understand the gift God gave the WORLD in Christ, we can enter into rest, knowing that He has everything under control and doesn't need anything from us to accomplish His perfect will in our lives. That does not mean, of course, that we sit on the couch and eat bonbons, doing nothing, but it does mean that He does His works through us. Like Christ, we only say what we hear the Father saying and we do what we see the Father doing. It also means we give up judgment of others.
Our e-mail correspondent who commented that Jesus never spoke of reconciliation, has overlooked this statement: "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL MEN to myself" (John 12:32). I'm told by those who know Greek that the essence of the word translated "draw" here is actually, "drag," with Christ doing the dragging and all men being the ones dragged. That dovetails with John's statement that "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (I John 2:2).
When our e-mail friend said that Jesus spoke a lot about hell, he failed to mention, or perhaps did not know that "hell" to Jesus' listeners was a physical location outside the City of Jerusalem, the city incinerator where the bodies of criminals and dead animals were burned, NOT a destination for the wicked after death. It was In fact, the very location where the disobedient children of Israel burned their children in the fire in worship of the pagan god Moloch (II Kings 23:10; II Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31). Jeremiah said about this abominable practice, "They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin" (Jer. 32:35). And though God says such a practice never entered His mind, millions of Christians have said this is what our Father has in mind for His children who disobey Him. Now, that's what I call an abomination!
After being on the Internet for the past ten years, dialoging with Christians of every stripe and flavor all over the world, it is clear to me that only God can change what we believe, and when He is ready to move us along, He will open our eyes to see what He wants us to see. Until then, we're all like the blind men who were asked to describe an elephant by feeling it with their hands. The man touching the trunk had a different description than the man touching the tail. So it is with us. We can only testify of what we've been shown, even as the Apostles did, and we dare not judge those who haven't received what we have.
Father, we praise You for GRACE, greasy, amazing, overflowing and wonderful grace which is the ONLY way we can come to You, love You, and worship You. Make us vessels of Your unconditional love to those who don't know You, or worse, think they are unworthy to be loved by You. Honor and praise and glory to You, now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
When we all get to Heaven (The Gospel according to cats).
That OTHER Place
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 01/09/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 01/23/08.