Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 06/01/08.
"But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life" (Rom. 6:22).
Sin is the "mother's milk," of religion, its prime rationale for being. Each denomination or group has it's own remedy for sin, mankind's ancient illness. Most of what is taught can be boiled down to Law, which is only beneficial in so far as one is able to keep it. As Moses found out, the benefit of Law quickly wears thin when confronted with the unruly heart and stubborn will of man. Even when they witnessed God's punishment, death at the hands of an angry God, the Israelites left standing could not manage to keep from sinning most of the time.
When I was young, I used to think, "Oh, you stupid, stupid people. Can't you see if you don't obey God, you're going to die, and in a most horrific way?" I was under the assumption that sin is a choice we make, rather than a "primal force" which caused our ancestors to be evicted from the Garden of God. The more I ponder Barth's description of original sin as an inherent factor, a "primal force" built into the creation, rather than a specific event, the more it makes perfect sense to me. Long before the Law was given, or punishments laid out for failing to comply, God said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it" (Gen. 4:6-7).
Cain was angry and jealous that Able's sacrifice was accepted but his own was not. His dilemma is symbolic of that which has confronted every human being since Adam: the choice between righteousness and sin, obedience and rebellion, life and death. Based upon the scriptural evidence and the evening news, man's choices have not been much better than Cain's, whether they be religious men or slimy pagans. That truth may seem grim and gritty, but the end is glorious, for "God works ALL THINGS after the counsel of His own will" (Eph. 1:11). Man lived under the curse of sin and death until Christ came to break it.
After pondering this heavy topic, I dreamed I was directing the heavenly choir; they sang, "Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth among men in whom He is well pleased. God has sent a Savior to His people Israel; He will be to all nations the salvation of the Most High." I woke up thinking, "What?"
When the Life of God appeared in the blackness of the rebellious human heart, the people walking in darkness saw a great Light. They were drawn to it and to the One who called them out of the pigpens in which they lived. The prison doors were flung open; the bars cast away; and the Lord said to him who has ears to hear, "For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). Oh the wonder of that thought, the glorious liberty of the sons of God made manifest; the glory of God filling the whole earth.
But what is sin exactly? Is it still as black as ever, or did Jesus eradicate it? There are over 30,000 different denominations, each of whom claim to have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I suspect that were you to poll them, you would come up with 30,000 different definitions of sin. Every group has a different idea about what it is and, of course, what you must do to be forgiven for it. That says a lot about religion's inability to deal with evil, but thanks be to God, "Christ died to sin, once for all," nearly 2,000 years ago, breaking its power and delivering us from "the curse of the law" (Rom. 6:10; Gal. 3:13).
My friend whose e-mail began this series on healing wrote after this week's writing ("The Death He Died, Healing, Part 10." See Link at End):
"That was a huge hunk of pot roast you served today. It was tough and needed to be chewed a good amount of time before I could swallow it. Even then, I choked on some of the bites! I need it to be chopped up into smaller bite sized pieces in the Cuisinart... I know that I don't understand your sermon today. Please don't pull out your last few remaining hairs and hide the matches at the following questions."
Her questions concerned sin. "Was it always a part of human nature, a 'sin gene' of the Spirit, so to speak? When Christ arrived did He absorb all the sin in the world forever? And if so does the world now not have sin? Or is it only the believers who have no more sin if they believe the Christ story? Do they not sin regardless of what they do? Are believers coated in Teflon so they can be in the slime but it doesn't stick to them? Do we need repentance or to ask forgiveness anymore, or is sin already forgiven and forgotten the minute we do 'wrong' ?"
Our friend is a sincere seeker of truth and we rejoice that God is opening her eyes to see Him as He is. In "The Death He Died, Healing, Part 10," I quoted Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans, rather extensively, and I realized at the time that his writing is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. However, because he has sparked me so much, I have felt led to share him with you. Only the Spirit can reveal truth to us; words are totally inadequate to do so, but I always ask God to shine His light on these pitiful offerings of mine for any who may be struggling with the same issues.
Barth's definition of "original sin" as a primal force built into the human model seems shocking at first, or at least it did to me, but the more I consider it, the more merit it has to me spiritually and scripturally. It answers a lot of my questions about sin and grace, man's will versus God's will, and the need for a sinless Savior who was born of the seed of God, incarnated in flesh, sacrificed on a Roman cross, raised in glory, the "firstfruits of them that slept," and "the firstborn among many brothers" (I Cor. 15:20; Rom. 8:29).
Barth believed that the sin which caused Adam to fall from "primal union" with God was NOT an event, an act of disobedience as most people view it, but rather, the eruption of a "primal force" placed in him by God. Think of it as "a little something extra" God mixed into the "cookie dough," at creation. When the "cookies" are baked, the "sin crouching at the door" becomes a reality. This thought is also reflected in Psalms 51:5: "Behold, I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." Clearly, he is not saying that his sin was an act committed in his mother's womb. He didn't participate in "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" while floating in the amniotic fluid, but rather the propensity for sin was a force lurking within him and in his mother as well, all the way back to Adam and Eve. This is why Paul declared that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24).
Barth's view of original sin also helps illuminate Rom. 11:32: "For God consigned all men to disobedience that He may have mercy upon all." Lest you be confused, God did NOT say, "YOU will be a drug dealer; YOU will be a robber; and YOU will be a murderer." It was the "primal force" which caused men to disobey, and because He put it there, God therefore has mercy upon all through Christ, who is the ONLY antidote to sin's toxic effect in the world.
Now, as to our friend's question about whether there is any sin left in the world, the answer is a decided, "Yes, indeed!" Sin still crouches at the door of everyone, all the time, "but 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). Always, when sin breaks out, grace floods in. Some may ask, "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). John has the answer to her question about repentance and asking forgiveness: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9).
Regarding sin and forgiveness, all men seem to be teetering on the edge of a precipice; grace and forgiveness are on one side and sin and death are in the abyss below. God's GRACE is our safety net to catch us when we fall. Paul answered the question about who receives this grace: "For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of A-L-L men" (Tit. 2:11). Grace is for all men, but only those whose eyes are opened by the Holy Spirit can receive it in this life.
Until I read Barth's commentary on this subject, I hadn't a clue what Paul was talking about in this verse: "Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it" (Rom. 7:20). What is this sin which he says is living in me? He describes it as an "other" from us, something outside our ability to control or reform, reminiscent of the "beast" crouching at Cain's door, which in fact, is lying on all our doorsteps. By now, all of us know that we cannot keep from sinning by means of our own self efforts, no matter how diligently we may try. This is especially true of all addictive behaviors. We hear from people who are trying to quit smoking, quit over eating (yes, this is as much a sin as alcohol or drug addiction, in that it misses the mark of our high calling in God), quit drinking to excess, and on it goes. Even codependency (rescuing someone who is addicted to something else) is itself an addiction, and one which is reinforced and praised by the church because giving up your own life to save someone else seems so righteous, so "Christian."
The first step in the powerful "12 Step Program" is "I admit that I have no control over it" (whatever "it" is). The second step is, "I came to believe in a higher power which can help me." Each of the following steps builds on the first two. Everyone who has been afflicted by addiction knows that admitting the problem is the beginning place AND the most difficult step to take.
Barth does NOT call religion an addiction, though it most certainly can be, but he has some pointed things to say about it:
"Do we now at last recognize what sin is, and how impossible it is for us to escape from it? So deeply does it penetrate every human capacity that the attempt to elude it by taking up with religion entangles us more surely in its guilt and plunges us into the destiny of death....
"Conflict and distress, sin and death, the devil and hell, make up the reality of religion. So far from releasing men from guilt and destiny, it brings men under their sway. Religion possesses no solution of the problem of life; rather it makes of the problem a wholly insoluble enigma. Religion neither discovers the problem nor solves it: what it does is to disclose the truth that it cannot be solved. Religion is neither a thing to be enjoyed nor a thing to be celebrated; it must be born as a yoke which cannot be removed."
What a sorry state of affairs he describes here, the focus of so many of my writings, i.e., the difference between religion (the doctrines of men) and Life in the Spirit (Christ in us, the hope of glory). The very organization which claims to save men from their sin and guilt, ends up laying more of the same on them. How can this be? To the degree that any religious group functions by the doctrines of men, rather than flowing in the Life of Christ within, to that same degree they are peddling death of a deadlier variety than any the world has to offer.
Lest you think that Barth is advocating that men flee from religion, he is not, for he said that if you think you can bail out of religion, you cannot. You'll end up much worse off than you were before. Surprisingly, he advocates,
"Let us be convincedly nothing but religious men; let us adore and tarry and hurry with all the energy we possess; let us cultivate, nurse, and stir up religion; and above all, let us reform it; nay more, revolutionize it... But, the more zealously this labor is undertaken, the deeper we penetrate the valley of the shadow of death." End Quote. That's another way to say, "There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death" (Prov. 14:12). I don't agree with his conclusion on this, by the way, but in fairness to him, I include it here.
What God has put on my heart to write has been misunderstood by some who think I'm trashing the church; maybe having a bad day and taking it out on godly men. What I'm trashing is the devastating effect these "godly men," and I use the word advisedly, can have on folks who haven't met Jesus face to face, have not fellowshipped with Him, the ones trying to find inner peace by means of a formula, rather than a gift from our heavenly Father. Failing to find it, they go down in guilt and shame thinking they are not worthy of God's love. This sad scenario reminds me of the Pharisees that Jesus blasted: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves" (Matt. 23:13). The church that Jesus gave His blood to establish is perfect, but like the kingdom, does not come with observation. It does not have a street address on planet Earth, in other words, but all of us who have believed, by God's grace, ARE that church, that "ecclesia," the called out ones. A building with a steeple or a cross on top is no more a church than a bakery is a bagel.
God never leaves us comfortless or in doubt of our standing. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus... because the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2).
Father, thank You for setting us free from the law of sin and death, for gifting us Your Life! Heal us of our diseases, our failures, our neuroses, our missing the mark of our high calling in Christ Jesus our Lord. May we be instruments of Your peace and joy and unconditional love to a lost and hungry world. When all flesh beholds Your glory, we will worship You together. Amen. Jan Antonsson
To Be Continued.....
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)
Healing, or Stealing God's Glory?
Risky Business, Healing, Part II
The Royal Priesthood, Healing, Part III
Rest in the GIFT, Healing, Part IV
Restoring the Glory Land, Healing, Part V
Organizing the Church, Healing, Part VI
Victory Through Helplessness, Healing, Part VII
What Does Faith Have to do with It? Healing, Part VIII
The Death of Death, Healing, Part IX
The Death He Died, Healing, Part X
Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, the Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
The End of the Law, Healing, Part XV
The Divine Possibility, Healing, Part XVI
What Shall We do? Healing, Part XVII
The Tyranny of the Vegetable Eaters, Healing, Part XVIII
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
Harry Fox's Website
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 05/22/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.