Ending with the flesh?

Jan Antonsson

flesh-spirit

The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway

August 20, 2016

Neosho, MO

“Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3, RSV).

Each time I think the Lord has finished directing me to write about trying to become righteous by the works of our flesh (self effort), He brings me to this topic again.  “Why?” You ask.  “Surely no one still thinks we can work our way to heaven.”  I would agree with your conclusion were evidence to the contrary not staring me in the face.  Those of us who were brought up in Fundamentalism, have law keeping programmed into our psyche by well meaning Bible teachers and church leaders.  Paul did say, after all, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24, NIV).  When we mature, however, we must press on into the spirit of grace or perish in the flesh:  “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing  (Galatians 2:21, NIV).

Before He ascended to heaven, Christ gave the following charge to His followers: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you(Matthew 28:18-19, NIV).  Therein lies the rub, because each church has a different idea about which commandments of Jesus should be followed to the letter, and which are less emphasized.

When one of the Pharisees asked Him which was the greatest commandment, Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourselfAll the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-39, NIV).  Jesus is repeating the bedrock of the Law which God commissioned Moses to deliver to the children of Israel:  “Hear, O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, NIV). This is known as the “Shema Yisrael, sometimes shortened to simply Shema), a prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.”  Jesus expanded this foundation to include loving our neighbor as ourselves.

The Apostle John repeated Jesus’s commandment that we love one another seven times (John 13:34; 15:12; 15:17; I John 3:11; 3:23; 4:7; 4:11-12; and II John 5.  The Apostle Paul repeated it three times: Romans 12:10; 13:8 and I Thessalonians 4:9.  The Apostle Peter stated it once: I Peter 1:22.  How different this is from the Law, which allowed as punishment,  “life for life, eye for eye. tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (Exodus 21:23-24; Leviticus 24:17-20). If someone killed a member of your family, you could hunt him down and kill him, if it was premeditated.  If was accidental, the culprit could flee to a refuge city (Numbers 35:10-15; Deuteronomy 4:41-43; 19:4-8).

Jesus’s admonition to love one another radically changed this dynamic.  Why is this important?  Because Jesus Himself called it “A New Commandment.” He taught His disciples,  “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:38; 43-44, RSV).

Now, we’re getting to the meat of this writing.  “Love one another” sounds like a good plan, a place we’d all like to live, but seldom even get to visit.  Perhaps that’s because we fail to heed Jesus’ admonition, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1, NIV).  In the next verse, He tells us that before we go digging around in someone else’s eye to get the speck out of it, we need to get that beam out of our own eye.  That’s tough stuff, my friends.  Hard to hear and harder still to do because love and judgment just do not mix even as law and grace do not mix.  Judgment is a God job from start to finish.  Our responsibility is to ask the Spirit to love others through us, because doing that on our own is also impossible!

The knee jerk reaction to judge others who offend or displease us in some way seems to be hard wired in us.  In his August 16 meditation, entitled “Dividing the field of the moment,” Fr. Richard Rohr spelled this compulsion out succinctly:

“Most of us tend to cut every new idea or situation in half and eliminate that which we do not understand or things that are beyond our present experience.  Not only do we divide the field of the moment, but we almost immediately judge one half to be superior and one half to be inferior!  Watch yourself do this almost automatically.  We compare, and as soon as we compare, we compete.  Then, as some have said, we also crucify.  This is the mental basis of much racism, sexism, war, homophobia and prejudice.  

“The Eastern traditions have called this mind game dualistic thinking:  where you divide, separate, and conclude what’s up or down, in or out, with me or against me, right or wrong.  Pick your category:  Catholic or Protestant, black or white, gay or straight.  Everyone’s going to find some categories whereby they can divide the world to their liking.  And isn’t it convenient that our particular group always happens to be on the up side?  End Quote.

Having been on the receiving end of this dividing process recently, judged and found lacking by someone I had just met, reminded me that we all have a long way to go before we can fulfill Jesus’ admonition to love one another unconditionally.  Oh yes, and while I was licking my wounds about the judgment I had received, the Lord sweetly and gently let me see that I had judged this person right back, even as she was judging me.

I’m indebted to Harry Fox for his comment that people who think they are keeping the Law today, have watered it down to its lowest common denominator, usually those visible things that others can see, like church attendance, moral purity (at least in action, who knows about thoughts?), abstaining from adultery, stealing, lying, cheating, and other nefarious practices.  That leaves a lot of room for hiding what only God can see: judging others being one of the easiest sins to hide if we keep our mouths shut.  Who knows what our thoughts are?  God knows and He is transforming us into the image and likeness of Christ.

That’s what all those tailor made, pesky cactus patches He drags us through are designed to reveal.  He wants us as clean on the inside as we pretend to be on the outside.  Trust me, I speak from experience.  He never lets me get away with anything.  He’s never preachy or condemning.  He just shows me my heart, and now that I’m old and have been taken to the “woodshed” too many times to count, I know that if He shows me something in myself that I don’t like and certainly don’t want others to see, then He is going to amend it for me, because I cannot do it for myself.  With age comes a modicum of wisdom, and for me, it means that long ago, I gave up trying to change myself, fix my problems, or cover up my warts and zits, because even my best efforts simply do not achieve the goal I set out to meet.  Self effort never works for the long haul for anyone, though many Christians are not convinced of that yet.  If it did work, Christ would not have had to die to save us from ourselves.

Paul wasn’t quite so gentle when he challenged the Galatians for their worthless attempts to become righteous and follow God in their own strength.   “O YOU dear idiots of Galatia, who saw Jesus Christ the crucified so plainly, who has been casting a spell over you?  I will ask you one simple question: did you receive the Spirit by trying to keep the Law or by believing the message of the gospel?  Surely you can’t be so stupid as to think that you begin your spiritual life in the Spirit and then complete it by reverting to physical observances?  (Galatians 3:1-3, Phillips).  That’s about as plain as I’ve ever heard it said by anyone.

Father, we love You, and thank You that You have called us to be sons of God.  Forgive us for continually trying to earn what You have given us as a free gift in Christ, our Lord. You alone know the Path You have called us to walk.  We rest in Your promise that You will complete the good work You have begun in each of us.  You are a light unto our feet and the joy of our hearts.  We give you honor, and glory, and blessing, now and forever, and we add our voices with the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.  To God be the glory, world without end. Amen.  Jan Antonsson

Jan Austin Antonsson

17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail Address)

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