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Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/15/08

"But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him" (Rom. 8:11).

Inspired by Karl Barth's book, Epistle to the Romans (See Link at End), I've been digging a little deeper into Paul's letter to the Romans, burrowing beneath the surface to see what new depths and insights the Spirit will open. Romans, chapter eight, is a soaring leap heavenward in Spirit, after the grinding and sometimes depressing litany of man's futile efforts to defeat sin and the flesh in chapter seven. Our friend whose "hallelujah e-mail" we rejoiced over last week wrote with questions about spirit and flesh, which provided the springboard for this writing.

"I'm wondering if all God is talking about is in regard to the spiritual life only.  Does He only give us the faith to hang on while we go on the wild rides we get here on the physical plane? Does He  intervene in ordinary, daily life or are our battles on the spiritual plane that get played out in the physical plane? I'm wondering if this life is just as unreal as a movie we watch that seems so real we get caught up in it. Is it all about a life in the spirit and not the flesh? Are we always going to be using our training wheels in this life?  Do we ever get to ride without them? I can't get this all sorted out in my mind.  Any thoughts?" End Quote.

We hear from a number of people who also wonder what all the trials and tribulations of their lives are about. Does God care or even notice their pain and struggles? What spiritual good can be brought about by physical and emotional hardships, suffering, deprivation, and seemingly random chaos? What does it mean? Paul surely must have asked the same questions at some point during his ordeals: "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea... I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked" (II Cor. 11:24-28). If Paul could have been interviewed for the evening news, eventually, by God's grace, he would have concluded that all which happened to him was but a "temporary affliction preparing him for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (II Cor. 4:17).

By the Spirit, he understood the difference between the flesh, the things that are seen, transient, and temporary, and the spirit, which is unseen and eternal (II Cor. 4:18). Elaborate religious doctrines are built on the perceived differences between flesh and spirit; how to conquer the one and enter into the realm of the other. Many words have been written about how to discern between them, but Karl Barth observed that if a man claims to be able to discern the difference between flesh and spirit, he is most certainly in the flesh!

Barth did not put much stock in man's ability to get it right before God: "All that religion can do is to expose the complete godlessness of human behavior. As a concrete human being and having and doing, religion is flesh: it shares in the essential worldliness of everything human, and is in fact the crown and perfection of human achievement... Religion casts us into the deepest of all prisons: it cannot liberate us. Flesh is flesh; and all that takes place within its sphere, every step we undertake towards God, is as such weak. Because of the qualitative distinction between God and man, the history of religion, Church History, is weak, utterly weak. Since religion is human, utterly human history, it is flesh, even though it be draped in the flowing garments of the 'History of Salvation'."

There, Barth fired the "kill shot" for all human achievement, echoing Paul's conclusion: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Php. 3:8, KJV). If we can't count on our own efforts to obey God and keep the commandments, what hope is there for us? Thanks be to God, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:1-2). To Christians still locked in the grip of sin consciousness, the flesh seems powerful, pervasive, and unbeatable. Religious men despair of EVER gaining the upper hand and winning the victory over their sinful flesh. God foreknew our terrible predicament as well as His eternal solution for it: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom. 8:3). In the likeness of sinful flesh, God, in Christ made the atoning sacrifice for us that, "we might become the righteousness of God" (II Cor. 5:19, 21).

Barth declared that "the illusion of the flesh" has been "done away in Christ. In Him the flesh has been deprived of its independence and restored to God who created it. In Him the disorder and corruption under which it groans has been laid bare, and thereby the hope of redemption which it awaits has also been exposed. In Him its independent might and importance and glory have been condemned, and thereby its glory and significance as the creation of God have been restored. God sends His Son in the midst of sin-controlled flesh, in order that there, sin and rebellion against God with all its consequences may be condemned and struck down; in order that, where the arrogance of the flesh has willingly taken to itself a false infinity which is its own dissolution, the curse of death may be done away." The incarnation was God's "secret weapon" against sin; Christ sanctified flesh and canceled sin on the cross!

We all live in the flesh, in the body. From the beginning, the Gnostic heresy that plagued the early church taught that flesh is evil and only Spirit is good, concluding that Christ could not have come in the flesh because He was good and flesh was not. These are the deceivers which the Apostle John referred to as the antichrist (II John 1:7). Listening to sin conscious Christians today, I sometimes think Gnosticism is still alive and well, even in Fundamentalism. Their proof text is Paul's statement in Rom. 7:18, "For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh." This becomes their rationale for self deprecation and their chief stumbling block toward embracing the liberty of the sons of God about which Paul also spoke passionately (Rom. 8:21: Gal. 5:1).

Picture an old fashioned scale made of weights and balances. One side of the scale holds Law, which Paul said was weakened by the flesh of man (Rom. 8:3) and the other holds Grace, the free gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9). Under the Old Covenant, the side which held Law seemed much heavier, at least at first glance, because men were held accountable as to how they obeyed the Law; but under the New Covenant, the side which holds Grace carries the most weight, because grace contains God's power, having nothing to do with man's efforts, his intelligence, his abilities, his pedigree, or his flesh. In fact, Paul affirmed that "The law was added so that the trespass might increase. 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. 5:20-21). The sinful flesh has been put to death on the cross with Christ, buried with Him in baptism, and the new man is risen to walk in the power of the resurrection. The glorious result of this process is that "anyone who has died is freed from sin" (Rom. 6:5-7). The death, burial and resurrection of Christ is the means by which we are saved, justified, sanctified, and glorified. In Him, we have become the New Creation in Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15).

In spite of all the glorious promises found in scripture, religion has continued to make our eternal destination and our present overcoming up to us, to what we do for God, rather than what He has already done for us in Christ! A well meaning reader insisted on sending me a booklet which he said would change the way I look at the Bible. It is called "How to Scripturally Study the Scriptures." A Concordant Publishers offering, it is a typical Fundamentalist admonition to "live by the letter," how to achieve righteousness by correctly studying the Bible. Since I grew up in a denomination which stressed the importance of Bible study in order to "get it right," I knew what was coming from the first page. "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15), was a proof text I cut my teeth on. This is a different group, of course, so their conclusions about how to rightly divide the word of truth are based upon their own particular interpretations.

The problem I have with this kind of thinking is that it makes the New Covenant simply an extension of the old, with man being responsible to learn what's right by diligent study, and then doing it. If it didn't work for the people living under the Law of Moses, who in their right mind would think it would work for people living under grace? If Bible study would save us, then Christ would not have had to die. Here's a quote from the little pamphlet: After giving eight different translations of II Tim. 2:15, the writer concludes, "A hearty study of these translations should reveal to the reader the profound seriousness of the admonition of this text. It allows no place for the modern religious pastime of just reading the Bible, but lays upon the heart of every believer in Christ Jesus, Divine counsel to 'study,' 'give diligence,' 'earnestly seek,' 'do your utmost,' 'strive diligently,' 'endeavor to present yourself to God, approved or qualified...' Therefore, to indifferently neglect this solemn counsel of endeavor, and fail to 'rightly divide the word of truth,' is sure to result in being unapproved, disqualified, ashamed workmen when called to stand before Him in that day." End Quote. According to this, our ability to survive Judgment Day depends solely upon our efforts to read and interpret the Bible correctly and successfully apply it to our lives.

What a bleak outlook the author presents of God's ability to get His own Word, which is Christ, across to us, but then, there was no mention that I could find of our being Spirit led and Spirit taught. I saw no acknowledgment of the Apostle John's good news: "Yet I know that the touch of his Spirit never leaves you, and you don't really need a human teacher. You know that his Spirit teaches you about all things, always telling you the truth and never telling you a lie. So, as he has taught you, live continually in him" (I John 2:27, Phil.). The only way I came to know this firsthand was when God broke though my religiosity and baptized me in the Holy Spirit. The Counselor changed my program from the roots up, because only HE can produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

Regarding our friend's question about when or if we can lose our training wheels, it seems to me that if you look at the Holy Spirit as our "training wheels" you never want to do without Him, any more than we would want to be severed from the Vine Himself. Trying to do it on our own is what has brought about the dreadful religious chaos we see today. Paul said of Christ that He abolished "in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace" (Eph. 2:15). It is that New Man who has redeemed our flesh and ignited our spirit with His Spirit. "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come" (II Cor. 5:17). It is only IN Christ, where we stand victorious over sin, death, the devil, and the works of our flesh.

I can't improve on Barth's observation about Christ's role in God's plan of the ages: "In Jesus, and precisely in Him, the Love of God breaks through all historical and psychological analysis, and in directness and in mediation transcends both, for it is bound neither to this or that thing nor to this or to that place. Because God is eternal and omnipotent, He is unique and once-for-all. To this, Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Christ, bears witness... He is 'very God and very Man,' that is, He is the document by which the original, lost-but-recoverable union of God and man is guaranteed... God sends HIM, not to change this world of ours, not for the inauguration of a moral reformation of the flesh, not to transform it by art, or to rationalize it by science, or to transcend it by religion, but to announce the resurrection of the flesh; to proclaim the new man who recognizes himself in God, for he is made in His image, and in whom God recognizes Himself, for He is his pattern; to proclaim the new world where God requires no victory, for there He is already Victor." End Quote. Christ IS the healing and the authentication of all our trials and tribulations in the flesh!

That man still thinks he can figure out God with his mind, his intellect, and his ability to study, shows the great gulf fixed between God's righteousness and man's good intentions. None of us can stand on our own merit before the righteousness of God and live. In Christ, we call the Creator of heaven and earth, the lover of our soul, "Abba." In Christ, we call the Savior of all mankind, the redeemer of ALL God's lost children, our "Brother and friend." Hallelujah!

Father we fall on our faces before You in worship and adoration, respect and love for Your faithfulness to us. It is Your limitless grace which will bring us through to who You planned for us to be before the foundation of the world. Pour out Your love through us on a lost and dying world, that all may know you from the least to the greatest. In Christ, we ask it, 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

Freed From Sin, Healing, Part XI

Money, the Kingdom, and Bifocal Vision, Healing, Part XII

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

We always enjoy hearing from you!

jantonsson@aol.com

 

This writing was uploaded to the web 06/10/08,

by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,

and last updated 11/19/08.