Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 5/26/02
"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23, RSV).
Last week, I shared with you the difference the Lord showed me between religion and life in the Spirit. Religion teaches people ABOUT God, with countless rules and regs about how to get the GIFTS He brings: salvation, holiness and righteousness. By contrast, the spiritual life of the indwelling Christ leads us to KNOW the GIVER personally: "Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Rom. 8:14). Sons are led into relationship with their Father, which is the goal for all of us. When Christ came to this sin scarred and death infected world, God's chosen people did not know Him as Father, but as Yahweh, the unapproachable God, whose name was so sacred, that it was printed out without the vowels so that no one could be found guilty of blasphemy, a sin punishable by being stoned to death (Lev. 24:16). He met His people behind the veil in the Holy of Holies, only once a year, between the wings of the cherubim (Ex. 25:22). The high priest, who approached Him on peril of his own life (Lev. 16:14-27), had a job so dangerous that they tied a rope around his ankle with which to drag him out in case he was slain. This was the closest man came to God under the law. When Jesus walked among the children of men, He revealed God to us as "Abba," which is the Hebrew word meaning "daddy" (Mk. 14:36; Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). The only begotten of the Father addressed the God who lived behind the veil between the wings of the cherubim, as "Daddy" (Heb. 1:5). What a gift that is to all of us!
The prime gift of God is eternal life: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23, RSV). What this verse shows us is that Christ Himself is the Gift. The great Chinese evangelist and writer, Watchman Nee, pointed out that we must come to God with nothing in our hands, so that we may receive whatever He has to give us. He also explained beautifully that Christ contains within Himself all the blessings we seek from God. He IS love and patience and faithfulness and kindness and forgiveness. Nee pointed out that when we ask the Father for any of these attributes alone, we miss the fact that we already have all these things in Christ who dwells within us. When the Father showed me last week, that religion is about the gift and spiritual life is about the giver, I was instantly brought to repentance for whatever degree I have been guilty of seeking the gift alone. When you are ill, or someone you love is, the cry of your heart is for healing. When you cannot pay your bills, the prayer on your lips is for provision, for that fish with the coin in its mouth (Matt. 17:27). When you are the primary care giver for a terminally ill loved one, and feeling overwhelmed, you beg for patience and long-suffering. When a loved one has been given six months to live, you plead for Resurrection Life NOW. When a Christian accuses you unjustly and judges you harshly, you pray for forgiveness. When you are afraid, you ask for perfect love which casts out fear (I John 4:18). Beloved Saints, Christ IS all these attributes we ask from God, and more! Christ is the greatest Gift we will ever experience in our lives!
There is a story recorded in Acts which illustrates some points about this truth: "Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. So there was great joy in that city. Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, "This man is the divine power known as the Great Power." They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw" (Acts 8:5-13, NIV). My NIV Study Bible indicates that "the city of Samaria," is a reference to the old capital city of Samaria, which is modern day Nablus, one of the West Bank towns in Israel which is a Palestinian stronghold today and the location of much violence.
The people in that city listened to Philip because they saw miraculous signs, such as healing paralytics and cripples, and casting out demons. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is often a counterfeit around. Simon was a sorcerer, one who had supernatural powers from "the dark side," from evil spirits, rather than from God. Since it says he amazed the crowds with his magic, I am assuming that part of his repertoire was trickery, much like what you see magicians doing on TV today, but whether he was fueled by the devil, or by mere slight of hand deception, Simon was so completely captivated by what Philip was accomplishing by the power of God, that he followed him everywhere. The text states that Simon himself believed and was baptized. That would be a good enough conversion experience for him to become a member of several denominations we can think of, but which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty from embarrassment.
The next thing that Luke reports is, "When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simply been baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:14-18, NIV). Notice here that the people of this city had believed in Simon's powers, but the Good News which Philip preached was greater than Simon's tricks, leading them to belief and baptism. In spite of that, however, they were not filled with the Holy Spirit at that time. This is why the apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to lay hands on them that they might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit which Peter had promised in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38). This event in Samaria clearly shows, that not everyone who is baptized receives the gift of the Holy Spirit. For whatever reason, the Samaritans did not receive this gift, requiring a further action from the apostles in order for them to receive all that God has promised believers everywhere.
As an aside, we often see people who are baptized believers, but who clearly HAVE NOT received the gift of the Holy Spirit. This is a simple matter to remedy, for Christ Himself is the baptizer. John the Baptist said, "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Matt. 3:11, RSV; Mark. 1:8; Luke 3:16). I grew up in a church which taught that the Holy Spirit was not for us today. Most of them have subsequently repented of that position, but having been there, let me just say that when you try to go it alone, trying to be good, to become holy and righteous on your own steam, you fail every time. Depending on your own efforts leads to frustration and guilt, lots and lots of guilt. This is a classic example of religion, by the way. Religion is always about the gift, whether that gift is salvation, or a holy life, or being a member in good standing of some church. And it is always something you have to do by exercising your so called free will. Let me be blunt here and say that if you are still operating under your free will, rather than by the grace of God, His unmerited favor, you are still operating under law.
God gave the law as an accommodation to the natural minds of men. There were 613 separate laws, but they could be boiled down to this: obey or die. It seemed so simple, and of course, "the law was perfect" the Psalmist declared (Ps. 19:7). Unfortunately, as the Hebrew writer explains, the law did not do us much good because a) we could not keep it, and b) we had a high priest who was as flawed as we were. Christ, the holy and sinless Son of God, became our great high priest, whom the Hebrew writer describes this way, "And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared: "You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:15-19, NIV). I want you to notice two important things here: 1. Christ's qualification for high priest is not based on ancestry, the way the Aaronic priesthood was, but on "the basis of the power of an indestructible life." 2. The Aaronic priesthood was done away with because "it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God." It would be difficult to state it much plainer than that. The law was weak and useless to us because it made nothing perfect in our lives. The closest we could get to God under law was when the high priest approached the mercy seat once a year bearing the blood of bulls and goats. About that the Hebrew writer states emphatically and unequivocally, "...it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin" (Heb. 10:4, RSV). When Christ walked on earth, here we all were, dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13), controlled by the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2), separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in this world (Eph. 2:12). The Lord spoke to me one night this week and used these very words to describe "the heathen" to whom the sons of God will speak peace, in His appointed time. (Zech. 9:10).
Into this bleak and gloomy landscape, Christ came, "The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world" (John 1:9). The light appeared to be extinguished when He died, but actually, the powers of darkness were defeated and the law with its ordinances and commandments was nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14-15). He arose triumphantly, and "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men" (Eph. 4:8). Here are the gifts and the reason they were given: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles" (Eph. 4:11-14, RSV). To repeat, the gifts are not for individual use or profit, but in order to build up the body of Christ, "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles."
That sentence is a pretty accurate description of religion. The sorry state of Christianity today is that there are over 30,000 denominations, each claiming to have the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. How can this be? I submit to you that this being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine is the problem that the Samaritan Saints would have had IF the apostles in Jerusalem had not sent Peter and John to lay hands on them so they could receive the Holy Spirit. Here's what happened, "Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit." When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money and said, "Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." Peter answered: "May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin." Then Simon answered, "Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me" (Acts 8:17-24, NIV).
Have you ever prayed for someone to become a Christian and when they finally did, you were astounded to see that their behavior did not change at all? They were as hateful and deceitful after baptism as they were before? What is wrong there? Like Simon, these folks have not received the Holy Spirit, and as Paul said, they are "holding the form of religion but denying the power of it" (II Tim. 3:5, RSV). The power he mentions is the same power which brooded upon the deep in the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2). "The Lord is the Spirit" (II Cor. 3:17), Paul says, which sets the stage for his statement in Gal 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ (the Spirit) lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Like some I have known, Simon was a baptized believer, but he was a child, tossed about by every wind of doctrine, seduced "by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles." He is the perfect "horrible example" of what religion produces: people who talk a good game, but who are trying to get the GIFT, which is often seen, when what they need is the GIVER, who is UNSEEN. Peter and John knew instantly what was in Simon's heart. Discernment is a gift which comes by the infilling of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 2:14). The apostles told Simon to repent and pray because he was full of bitterness and captive to sin, but still, he did not understand, because he asked them to pray for him. We do not need anyone to pray for us, to sprinkle the blood of bulls and goats on an altar so that we may approach God. We do not need a man to hear our confession, or stand in the gap for us before the throne: "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God....Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:14,16, RSV). Saints, let us lay aside our desire for the gift and ask God to open our eyes to see Him as He is, the Giver and the greatest Gift of all! Amen.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
"Seeing the Unseen"
"A lamp shining in a dark place"
"Baptized in the Spirit"
"Bearing fruit in the Kingdom"
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 5/23/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last edited on 10/29/08.