Given for the Saints of the World on February 28, 2010.
"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48).
In last week's offering, "Are You Enough" (Link at end), I shared that as a young Christian, Mt. 5:48, really brought me down because of the great gulf fixed between my life and perfection. That angst began to ease after my baptism in the Holy Spirit. The Divine Comforter revealed that I am in Christ, so that all He is and has, is available to me by the indwelling Spirit. Still, it has been a bumpy ride for me and for many others. One of our dear friends, who has recently joined the Presbyterian Church, commented on the writing:
"You used some of my favorites today! Presbyterians believe in predestination. I'm not sure about it but today it seems that the Bible says it. "For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called;and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified" (Rom. 8:30).
"I can't figure out if God knew how I would act before I was born, if God made me act that way or God gave me certain gifts and waits to see what I'll do with them! Is there no such thing as free will? If God loves everyone of us and forgives all of us of everything, why did he destine some not to be called? I'm missing something. If God is love and the power, the knowledge and in everything, why do humans hurt animals, children get beaten, etc.? I believe that God is the all of all, completely in control; however, that leaves Satan running loose.....I get myself confused. Thoughts?
"I always thought the "kingdom of God" was something that would come at a later time. I didn't know that if you have a right relationship with God, you are living in the Kingdom right now! Your earthly world may be in a tornado, but the Holy Spirit is still alive and well, regardless." End Quote.
Her concerns and questions are felt, if not voiced, all over Christendom in one way or another, reflecting the struggle of most of God's children to understand what it means to "be perfect as Your heavenly Father is perfect." Only by the Spirit, do we learn that it is doable in Christ; in the flesh it is just another religious "Mission Impossible" for human beings.
This is why it took decades for Rom. 11:32, to sink into my soul and release me from my performance anxiety: "For God has locked up all in the prison of unbelief, that upon all alike He may have mercy" (Weymouth). Since God consigned "all men to disobedience" (RSV), Satan does not figure into the equation at all! GOD alone works all things after the counsel of His own will. Binding, casting, and pleading the blood to cast Satan from our lives is an exercise in futility, because God is the only one who has free will. Men and Satan do not.
Many Christians think it is a horrible blasphemy to blame God for the evils of the world, and consequently have created a two party belief system led by God for the good and Satan for evil. That way, they can avoid the wrenching conflict that comes from considering Paul's affirmation that God was the one who "consigned men to disobedience." The Apostle was merely restating what the Old Testament prophets had revealed: "I am the giver of light and the maker of the dark; causing blessing, and sending troubles; I am the Lord, who does all these things" (Isa. 45:7, BBE). Amos left no doubt about who is the author of all things: "If the horn is sounded in the town will the people not be full of fear? will evil come on a town if the Lord has not done it?" (Amos 3:6, BBE).
Those two verses clearly indicate that God is the only force in our lives worth considering. Many people misunderstand predestination because of Calvin's conclusion that God predestined some to go to heaven and some to go to hell. The Good News that "He would have mercy upon all,"was too rich, too deep and too wide for him to get his carnal mind around. Thankfully, Paul declared that, God will have mercy upon all! NO ONE is predestined to an eternal burning hell, for "Mercy triumphs over judgment!" (James 2:13b). Hallelujah!
My friend's fear that God will not call everyone is based on religious doctrine, not on scripture, because the ALL who were consigned to disobedience are the same ALL upon whom God will have mercy (Rom. 11:32). Likewise, Paul assures us that "For as in Adam ALL die, so in Christ, ALL will be made alive" (I Cor. 15:22). It's the same ALL in both instances. I've never met a Christian who wasn't aware that because of Adam's sin, we're all in the soup; we all ate the fruit of the poisoned tree and we're all sinners, yet the second half of the equation remains a mystery to most who were birthed and tutored by Law. The fruit of that poisoned Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil is still being served in most churches. Knowing good from evil sounds righteous and desirable, but in the day we eat of the fruit of that tree, we shall surely die, just as Adam did.
Our friend just quoted, has discovered that Heb. 11:6 is still true: "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him." All of us are seeking more than we have, without realizing that in Christ, we have Him, WHO is everything we need or want or could ever hope to have.
It is in the seeking and stumbling and course corrections that we find not only God, but ourselves as well. The Prodigal Son didn't come to himself until he ended up in the pig pen eating the husks of corn left by the swine. Our journey home which we have called The Glory Road, is not a peaceful stroll through a beautiful garden. It is a hard slog through the issues God dealt us in our lives, making mistakes, taking wrong turns, falling into mud puddles, stumbling through cactus patches, climbing mountains and fording swift running streams. These are all metaphors to describe the "Perfection Process" that Adam's sin plunged us into. It is not pleasant, and rarely, do we say, "Oh, goodie, another trial" but our destination is the TREE of LIFE, who has been within us the entire way.
Do you envy Paul's revelation, his dedication to Christ, his faith? Here's his account of the many processings that brought him there: "Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches" (II Cor. 11:25-28).
Most of us have never been stoned, beaten, or shipwrecked. Our trials are perhaps less violent, but just as traumatic: addictions, disease, divorce, discrimination, bankruptcy, joblessness, homelessness, and rejection of all kinds, to name just a few. The tuition for God's University is steep, but the rewards are priceless and eternal. Why would a loving Father choose such a difficult road for His children to walk? It is so we may know Him, and participate in His sufferings, experiencing His power and grace up close and personal (I Pet. 4:13).
Paul said it better than I: "But join with me in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life, not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (II Tim. 1:8-10, NIV). According to Paul, grace was given us before we were born, before we did anything good or evil. Grace, therefore was an act of God's will, not our free will, which like the Law, was nailed to the cross.
Since the Lord has assigned me to write about self effort for lo these many years, I see that the Law was given to show us that we cannot obey God no matter how hard we try. Christ, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8), was God's eternal answer to man's inability to keep the Law. We just had to experience for ourselves, that we cannot keep it; we need the Son to usher us into the presence of the Father. Paul referred to the Law as "our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith" and he went on to say, "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian" (Gal. 3:24-25). This is another confirmation that we are no longer living under Law.
After reading last week's essay, Jonathan Mitchell e-mailed me his translation of Matt. 5:48, about which he says, "By the way, the verb tense in Matt. 5:48 is future indicative, not imperative. This verse is a promise, not a command:
48. "Therefore, you folks will exist being ones that have reached the goal: finished and completed ones; mature and perfected ones, in the same way as your heavenly Father (or: your Father which has the qualities of, and is characterized by, the atmosphere) constantly exists being One that is the goal: finished, complete, mature, perfect!" What good news this is! (There's a link at the end to Jonathan's New Testament Translation).
Harry Fox is the first person who pointed out to me decades ago that most of Jesus' statements which are interpreted in the imperative mood (a command), are actually, in the indicative mood (statement of what is). We've been trying to become what we already are in Christ. Jonathan's translation makes this clear. Being perfect is not ours to accomplish, because it's a "done deal" in Christ.
God knew what He was doing when He gave the Law, foreknowing that no one could keep it. He also knew what the Church would do with the inferior Bible translations we have. Perhaps what I've said about the Law (it was given to show us we couldn't do it by self effort), is also true of the extant church, which basically has had the same message: if you just cleanse your heart and mind and try harder, you can do it. That has been totally a Mission Impossible, of course, so that in the end of our journey, all we're left with is all there is: God Himself in Christ in us. The purpose of all our trials and processings, our discouraging failures, and performance anxiety, is that in our weaknesses, His strength shines through. At the end of the Perfection Process, we shall be like Him. Hallelujah!
Father Your ways are higher than the heavens above our ways. We rejoice that You, who do all things well, called us to be your children before the foundation of the world. You justified us, and glorified us in Christ. We praise Your name now and forever. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Lenny and Jan Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Is God Enough?
Are You Enough?
Jonathan Mitchell's New Testament Translation
The Glory Road
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