Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 1/18/09.
"Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if you do this you will never fall" (II Pet. 1:10).
The "trigger" for this essay came from a long forgotten memory which the Lord unearthed from some dusty corner of my brain, dusted it off, and played it on my mental VCR, fresh as new. The memory was about sitting in church listening to the angry preacher rant. His topic was "Make it as sure as you can," taken from Pilate's advice to the solders after the chief priests and Pharisees had come to him worrying that the "deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.' So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."
"Take a guard," Pilate answered. 'Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.' So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard." (Matt. 27:63 -66). The preacher during my impressionable teen age years had many options for using this passage to inspire us. He could have pointed out that no matter what man or religion may try to do to box God in, Jesus broke forth and rose from the dead, O glory to God. He did not choose that option. Instead, he took the opportunity to point that how fragile our salvation really is, how close to burning in hell we all are, and therefore, how great the need is to be ever vigilant and zealous to confirm our call, as brother Peter expressed it. But was Peter really talking about working harder for Jesus in this verse? Walk with me to see what the Spirit might reveal about this idea.
During those impressionable years, I never doubted that we had to work hard to remain faithful to God, for haranguing on about avoiding sinful practices (by which was usually meant, drinking, dancing, divorce, adultery, and fornication, to name a few), were all a part of most sermons. Then, there were the hymns. I loved those old songs and sing some of them still at Medicalodge, because the old Saints like the familiar songs, but there was one I'd forgotten about called, "We'll work till Jesus comes." There were four or five verses and a chorus elaborating on the theme, ending with "We'll work till we are gathered home." Something like that. Makes you tired and in need of a nap, doesn't it?
In my youth, I was one of the "good kids," or as the old saw goes, "I didn't smoke or drink or chew or go with boys that do." It wasn't that I was such a goodie two shoes; I simply wasn't really attracted to the things that I knew would get me in trouble at home and with the church. My goal was to get good grades and get to college. I think you could say that I was a bona fide "nerd."
Hell was very real and sin was terrible and scary to my young mind. Of course, my idea of sin was what was preached against at church and at home, the sins of the flesh. The "invisible sins" of greed, envy, pride, enmity, idolatry, hate and judgment were mostly not mentioned, probably because the "sin police" had a harder time detecting them. Like most churches, the one I grew up in majored in "minors," and engaged in the great deception of weighting sins in terms of how bad they were in God's eyes. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how much more is sin made ugly by the prejudices of the denomination in question?
The History Channel did a special recently on the "Seven deadly sins," which turns out, were enumerated by a monk in the dark ages. I didn't watch it, having learned that if you want to know spiritual truth, you probably won't find it on the History Channel. Besides, I grew up thinking there were more than seven sins that would get you fried. There were tons of them.
Anyone with even a modicum of honesty realizes that no one is perfect; everyone sins a little bit here and there, and if it's as bad as they claim, what is one to do about it? How can one balance the scales? Working for Jesus was as good a remedy as any man can come up with, so work we did. Did it help with the guilt? Perhaps at the moment, we may have gotten some relief, but in the middle of the night, it was never enough, or so it seemed to me.
For me, the only relief for my anxieties about my personal inadequacies came when I was baptized into the Spirit. That was the quintessential "ah-ha" moment for me, when the heavens opened and I felt, tasted, and experienced the crucifixion of Christ for Jan personally. Until then, it was a historical event spelled out in the gospels, painful for me to even read, let alone contemplate for long. When He pulled the veil from my eyes so that I could see Jesus on that cross for me, the flood gates opened in my soul and I wept great tears of sorrow for my sins and joy that Christ loved me so much, He died that horrible death that I might live and fellowship with Him. After that experience with the Holy Spirit, I no longer had to wait for Jesus to come again. He was with me all the time!
It probably took years for all that really, truly Good News to sink in, but as it did, I began to blossom in my soul place. As He worked His unconditional love into me at a cellular level, I saw to my amazement that a lot of things which had worried me just began to melt away, judgment being one of them.
Have you ever noticed that good church folks who would NEVER commit adultery, or thievery or murder, still engage in judgment of others on a regular basis? I grew up hearing judgment laid on people not in our denomination, who the preacher said were bound for hell because their doctrine was inadequate; their worship missed the mark, and their method of baptism was wrong!
Until God showed me what my salvation cost, as pure as I thought I was, I never considered the strength and power of the cross; moreover, I had missed Paul's bleak assessment found in Rom. 3:9-12: "What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks (priests and pagans, believers and infidels alike), are under the power of sin, as it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one." But Paul, have you seen my works? All the things I've done to advance the kingdom? Don't you know that I'm a son of Abraham? Karl Barth stated it this way: "All men are standing on the same step before the righteousness of God." How that scalds the pride of the Pharisee. How it flies in the face of what we'd like to think of ourselves. How it smarts when God removes the cloak of self deception we've been hiding under.
Barth was verbally castigated and denigrated in his day, and I'm amazed that he wasn't stoned by the righteously indignant, but he prevailed, because God called him to say again what Paul first said. I highly recommend Barth's, The Epistle to the Romans (Link at end). The book is not for the faint hearted, but if you persevere, you'll get at a deeper level, what Paul was declaring, which was that "Now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:21-23).
Yet, until we get it that "No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin" (Rom. 3:20), we're on a treadmill of works, despair, guilt, and more works, none of which helps an iota to bring us closer to the heart of the Father. Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the LIGHT. When He died, the veil covering the Most Holy Place was rent in twain, which blesses me so much. It means that God is no longer stuck in a hidden place, accessible only to the High Priest and only once a year. He is out and among His people, accessible by all men through the blood of the Lamb which took away the sins of the whole world. Hallelujah!
Now there are those who say, "Fine, I'll give it to you that Christ paid the price and God is the one who justifies, but you still have to have faith." Most religions are based on the need for faith and what one must do to obtain it. But is faith obtainable by our works? No matter how you try to drum it up, by confessing, quoting scripture, and standing on the promises, actions described by our good friend Kenneth Greatorex as "Name it and claim it; blab it and grab it," faith eludes you. Been there, done that, and it doesn't work, simply put, nor should it; for if any tiny thing (not that faith is a tiny thing), but if anything at all depends on us, then our salvation cannot be secure, because we fail and fail and fail again. God knew that, and my personal conviction is that He gave Moses the Law to demonstrate absolutely that men cannot obey God without His help.
Remember the scene at the base of Mount Sinai when, after beholding the smoke and fire on top of the mountain and feeling the earthquakes, the traumatized children of Israel said to Moses, "We're terrified of Him, because if He speaks to us, we'll die, but please find out what He wants and tell Him that we'll do whatever He says" (Jan's paraphrase of Ex. 20:18-19). Moses replied, "Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning" (Vs. 20). I'm sure it seemed that way to Moses, and it has seemed that way down through the generations since the cross, but alas, the best laid plans conceived in human minds, never work. Fear didn't keep people from sinning in Moses' day and it certainly has not worked anytime since.
What the Law did, according to Paul, is bring awareness of sin. It seems to me that the children of Israel in Egypt did have faith, but where did it come from? The only ONE who can generate faith in our hearts is God. Paul said it so simply, and yet his words continue to be overlooked: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it (faith) is the gift of God, not because of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). By revelation of the Holy Spirit, Paul penned those words because he wanted us to know that even faith is a gift of God! It isn't our faith that counts, as I continue to say, "but the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20). That leaves us pretty much bankrupt and destitute in terms of what we can bring to God. No worries there, because, "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10). God has prepared our works and we do them only by His authority and power, not our own.
As Paul asked, "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); and "Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?" (Rom. 11:35). If that's true, and God needs nothing from us in order to do what He planned before the foundation of the world, then why am I talking about surrendering to God? Isn't that a work? Isn't that something we have to do?
Good question, and for the answer, we turn to Jesus' example in the garden of Gethsemene. He didn't want to go to the cross and who could blame Him for that? He showed us how to surrender when said about the cup of sorrow, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done." (Matt. 26:42). Someone said, "The prayer which cannot fail is, "Thy will be done." It may look like a work, or something we do with self effort, but if you've ever had to surrender something huge to God, you know that it is impossible to do on your own power (addictions, jealousy, fear, or unforgiveness come to mind here). What we cannot accomplish by working for Jesus on our own, the indwelling Christ does in us and through us when He opens our eyes to see: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).
There's nothing I could ever say or write that would convince you, because only the Holy Spirit can reveal it to you and empower you to do it. But, as John put it, "...the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him" (I John 2:27). If you haven't yet received this anointing, go straight to the source. Jesus is the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. On the occasion when John baptized Him in the Jordan, he testified, "I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, 'He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God" (John 1:33-34).
One last thought about working for Jesus comes from Lenny, who in his early years, served as church treasurer, song leader, and also filled the pulpit when the pastor had to be away. He remembers that one day the Lord said to him, "You are so busy working FOR me that you have NO TIME for me. I want you to give up all the jobs you do for the church immediately." Lenny recalls that this was terribly difficult because of the pressure he felt from the congregation, and from his own need to be useful. This is how he learned that God wants human beings, NOT human DOINGS.
Father, fill us with Christ, pressed down, heaped up, running over, so that all whom we encounter will see Him in us. We cannot do anything to make this happen, so we pray the prayer which cannot fail, Thy will be done. We are from You and in You and through You; we put our hands in Yours and walk with You through the kingdom rejoicing, day by day. Amen Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Surrendering to God is harder than giving a cat a pill.
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant With Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Epistle to the Romans by Karl Barth
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price,Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials, Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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This site was created on 01/14/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last updated on 07/29/09.