Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 6/29/08
"For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified" (Rom. 10:4).
The more I read Karl Barth's Epistle to the Romans (See Link at End), the more I thank God for bringing the book into my hands, for this German Theologian burrows deep into the gospel presented by Paul, and draws out deep implications in the passages that we have all read, but maybe not considered in their full application and meaning. Early in his letter to the Romans, Paul made clear the advantage that the Jews had in their covenant relationship of God, saying "They have been entrusted with the very words of God" (Rom. 3:2). Yet, in spite of God's calling and promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and even though He gave them the Law, which the Psalmist called "perfect," nonetheless, Paul says of Israel and himself, "Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written, There is no one righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:9-10). Barth, quite appropriately, equates Israel with the Church, which he splits into two categories: the Church of Jacob and the Church of Esau. I was excited when I saw this because it helps understand the difference between what I have called "the church universal and triumphant" that Paul describes so brilliantly (the Church of Jacob), and the other version which most of us have experienced, the one which elevates man's works and self effort above what God has already done for us in Christ. This one, Barth calls the Church of Esau.
The beautiful thing about Barth's concept though, is that he expands and makes crystal clear what Paul said about there being no difference between Jew and Gentile. He summarized this truth by saying, "All men are standing on the same step before the righteousness of God." That is a hateful teaching to self righteous, religious people, but I saw by the Spirit that it is the meaning of Paul's statement, "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him" (Rom. 10:12). In Paul's theology, the Jew refers to those in covenant relationship with God: the church, the righteous, the saints; the Greek or Gentile refers to the world, the pagan, the sinner. Can Paul be correct, that there is no difference between the Church and the world, the righteous and the unrighteous, the saint and the sinner? How can that be? Because "There is no one righteous," he declared, "not even one. There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Rom. 3:10-12). The reason for that, he said, was that we "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Gal. 2:16).
This verse describes another difference between the Church of Jacob, which bows before the sovereignty of God, and the Church of Esau, which judges men by their works or lack thereof. So, where is this Church of Jacob that we might become members of it? Barth concludes that it is nowhere in time and everywhere in the eternal. We are ALL members of the Church of Esau, but at the moment that faith rather than works, becomes our reality, we become the Church of Jacob. Ultimately, all will belong to the Church of Jacob, which is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ: "In Him, God reveals Himself inexorably as the hidden God who can be apprehended only indirectly. In Him, He conceals Himself utterly, in order that He may manifest Himself by faith only. In Him, He makes known His infinite love by allowing the miracle of His freedom and of His Kingdom to be proclaimed with penetrating absence of all ambiguity" (Barth, Chapter 10).
Our readers give us the best practical examples of the difference between Law and works (the Church of Esau), and Grace (the Church of Jacob). A woman who hasn't written in a long time, e-mailed us this week with her account of receiving judgment and condemnation from the Church of Esau:
"Do you remember that my husband died? Almost a year has gone by. I met a new man who loves God and fell in love with him; he asked me to marry him and I said, "Yes." But I didn't want to do it the conventional State-way because of our finances. He is a disabled Vietnam Vet who has been divorced for 10 years, but has four children and six grandchildren. So, you can see how complicated inheritances and so forth could become. So, we said our vows in front of a minister and two witnesses, but did not register with the state. I told my Pastor that I had done this in honesty before God and I was satisfied that it was perfect for us, but the Pastor had a girl on the worship team go to him and tell him we were living together; he said it was OK, and for me to just bring him a State of Oregon marriage license or he could not let me be on the worship team nor teach anymore. So, I resigned. This has left me discouraged; and another minister's wife told me I was living in sin. I really need encouragement." End Quote.
There, you have it: judgment, guilt by appearance, not scripture, and a rupture in the fellowship of the body of Christ. Thus has it ever been. I pointed out to her that there is no commandment in the Bible to have a marriage ceremony. When Isaac saw Rebecca, he helped her down off the camel she was riding, and took her into his tent and made her his wife (Gen. 24:67). Yes, Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana in Galilee, but there's no record that it was a state sponsored, legal ceremony. It was a celebration of the joining of two lives before God in the tradition of that time (John 2:1-10). Our friend who wrote pledged her vow before a minister and two witnesses, which is more than the New Testament commands about such matters.
I told her that if she allowed her ship to be sunk by the doctrines of men, then she'd better learn to swim because she'll be in the water all the time. I also told her that Lenny and I each were married before and each of us has a living spouse, which means that the Church of Esau could condemn us for living in adultery, because by definition, they live by the letter, not by the Spirit. We don't choose to live that way, because God sovereignly put us together, and together we move and function in the Spirit as He flows through us. We have been set free, and we intend, by God's grace, to "stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has set us free, refusing to submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1). After all, if Christ had worried about what the Pharisees thought of Him, He might have lived to a ripe old age, and sin and its ugly consequences would then not have been nailed to the cross, leaving us still in the swamp of sin, shame, and guilt.
I no longer condemn the Church of Esau for their failings, because we all share their guilt in one way or the other. There is no difference between the Jew and Gentile, the righteous and the unrighteous, the church and the world, for all are standing on the same step before the righteousness of God, which, as Lenny often says, is "God's fault." This is the true meaning of the verse I quote so often, "For GOD consigned ALL men to disobedience, that He may have mercy upon ALL" (Rom. 11:32). If God consigned all men to disobedience, that includes all of us. Likewise, if in "Adam all die," we are all therefore, dead in trespasses and sins (I Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:1). Thankfully, mercifully, gracefully, God did not leave us in that sorry state, the Church of Esau. "In Christ shall all be made alive" and all will be counted as members of the Church of Jacob. "But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness" (Rom. 8:10).
Barth concluded that the failure of the Church of Esau is that it does not "joyfully accept the divine order, whereby God chooses us and not we Him... However apparent the failings of the Church may be, it's superficiality and dullness, its worldliness and its asceticism, its useless humility and its equally useless pride, its misplaced zeal in trivial matters and its equally misplaced and helpless unconcern with the things of existence and nonexistence, these, and many other accusations which may brought against the Church, would not be sufficient to secure its condemnation, were it not that it stood already condemned by its failure to accept the judgment pronounced over men as men, before ever they have committed this or that offense or failed in this or that particular... The Church, however, which sings its triumphs and trims and popularizes and modernizes itself, in order to minister to and satisfy every need except the one!; the Church which, in spite of many exposures, is still satisfied with itself, and like, quicksilver, still seeks and finds its own level; such a Church can never succeed, be it ever so zealous, ever so active in ridding itself of its failings and blemishes. With or without offenses, it can never be the Church of God, because it is ignorant of the meaning of repentance." End Quote.
Hard though this is to hear, especially for righteous men, this is the truth about all of us, for each of us has failed in many respects to see or accept our own worthlessness before the righteousness of God, to understand that our only justification comes from the indwelling Christ. Who of us has not at one time, put stock in our own works, our self efforts to be good and keep the Law, pitiful though the outcome usually was of such folly? Who of us has not judged ourselves better than someone who has sinned "worse" than we have, in our opinion of course. Who has not exchanged the glory of God for the works of his own hands (Isa. 2:8); and forsaking the "spring of living water," has became "broken cisterns that cannot hold water"? (Jer. 2:13). Heal us, Father, for we are sick!
I have been dialoguing via e-mail for over a year now, with a friend who has wrestled long and painfully with her sins. My response to her anxiety over what she counts "her mistakes" is that there are no mistakes in the economy of God, for if He has consigned all men to disobedience, then the buck stops on His desk for all things. Either He is totally sovereign, or He is not, and if He isn't, then we've all got an unsolvable problem on our hands. He has nailed all our sins and unrighteousness to the cross, and there we must rest, but instead, most people fall into one of two categories: 1) those who blame themselves for everything (usually the ones who have themselves been abused), and 2) those who blame everyone else but themselves (usually the Pharisees, the abusers).
Those in Category one know they have sinned to the point that they think God doesn't love them; they are hopeless, and can't get anything right, no matter how hard they try. Because they feel so badly about themselves, they cannot believe that "they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:23-24). They have to work for it, but since they have huge inadequacy issues, they will never get it right by their own efforts, leaving them in despair, mired in guilt and shame.
Category two types think their sins aren't very bad compared to the awful things other people do. They cling to the small things they do right, concluding they are keeping the Law because they "tithe mint and dill and cumin," but as Jesus said, they "have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith" (Matt. 23:23). After reading my assertion that there are no mistakes, our friend wrote one of the best "Hallelujah e-mails" I've ever read as she describes her journey out of darkness into the light. She wrote:
"Well, I am definitely Category one! The processings of the Lord have been a lifetime. I feel though that the past four years have been total fire, earthquakes and hail storms, one right after the other, sometimes all at the same time! Every foundation that I have stood on through out my life is no longer there, except for Him. He has ripped it out from under me. There is nothing there anymore to stand on. How I think, feel (or not feel), relate with others and the Lord, all the 'old tools' are gone and I don't know how to use the new ones yet. The only thing I can stand on, is Him.
"That 'free' gift of grace, that He paid for dearly, whether I have acknowledged it, believed it or accepted it, He has worked it in my life always. He has surrounded me, all my life, with His grace and mercy, with Himself. Was it a mistake that I had the family I had? Was it a mistake that all my responses and self protective ways, the fixer (codependent) ways, that developed because of that?
"Was it a mistake that I couldn't overcome lesbian tendencies within, because of my desperate need for my mom to touch me and say I love you? Coupled with a father that sexually abused me, set me up for that battle.
"Was it a mistake that nun lied about me and kicked me out of school in 8th grade, turning my heart cold hard against God, and anything to do with religion, when I had such a profound knowledge of the Lord's presence as a child? (He was my hiding place all those young years). Was it a mistake that I turned to hard core drug usage and sexual promiscuity after that?
"No, you are absolutely right, there are no mistakes. From age 17 on, He has, little by little, here a little there a little, line upon line, caused me to walk in an overcomer's path. He foreordained me. He chose me; I didn't choose Him. I've run as hard and fast as I could away from the calling on my life. I have been angry with Him, yet so desperate for Him. He's the only one that could go deep into my inner being and touch me, make me feel anything. He really did win my heart at 17. He has been the driving force in my life since. There was NOTHING without Him. Yet, all my inadequacies and 'mistakes' made the journey very long and difficult causing much condemnation. But He is the one who put me there to begin with, which I have been aware for a long time. That is part of what made me so angry with Him. I didn't understand His plans and purposes, really until last year. I am just beginning to get free from that. He is making me free now. He will be glorified in and through my life because He ordained it!
"You were so right on in saying we can't touch the hem of His garment, but He touches us everyday in every way. Oh, how He has done that with me all along!" End quote. God's healing is glorious to behold!
If her e-mail made you squirm and triggers you to condemn her or feel superior to her in any way, it might be an indication that you need to take your judgments and self righteousness to the Lord. We are ALL on the same step before the righteousness of God (Barth) and there is NO DIFFERENCE between Jew and Gentile, the Church and the world, the righteousness and the unrighteous, the saint and sinner (Paul the Apostle). God, who knows the end from the beginning, knows what He will do with each life, no matter how sinful or worthless it may seem to others. Isaiah was referring to the Church of Esau AND to the Church of Jacob, the Jews, the Gentiles, the saint and the sinner, when he declared, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Isa. 9:2). Jesus was and IS that light, and in Him, we will never be ashamed (II Tim. 1:12).
One last observation about Paul and Barth's declaration that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the POWER of God unto salvation for the Jew and the Greek, is therefore, for the righteous and the unrighteous, the church and the world, the saint and the sinner, the saved and the heathen, and I think you'll agree that really does include us all.
Father, we thank You that You have lifted up the fallen and cast down the proud, healing us where we are sick and restoring us to relationship with You. We thank You especially, that the Church is Your domain, Your plan, and Your assignment, and that we are all members of the body of Christ, cleansed by His blood, perfected by Your Spirit, united with Him and with You for all eternity. In the resurrected and restored New Creation, make us a blessing to all who long to know You as You are. 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, Part V
Organizing the Church, 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
Flesh, Spirit, & the New Man, Healing, Part XIII
The Church, The Gospel, and God's Will, Healing, Part XIV
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 06/19/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 11/19/08.