BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
OCTOBER 1, 2016
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“For you are all sons of God, through the faith which is in Christ Jesus….There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither servant nor free; there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28, Catholic Public Domain Version)
Sometimes I wonder what the Apostle Paul would think about all the divisions among Christians. He called upon us to, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3, NIV) How are we to do that Paul, when there are over 30,000 different versions of Christ’s message calling themselves “the church?” No doubt his answer is, “There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV) The church you belong to is not identified by the sign over the door, according to Paul, but according to the ONE who chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.
In spite of Paul’s words, there is great division among people who love the Lord. They are not trouble makers, nor evil doers, nor rabble rousers. Most Christians truly believe that their church is the right one. People are so afraid of failure that they cling to what has been presented to them as “the truth.” Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32, NIV) The Jews were very offended by this because they argued that they were sons of Abraham, never slaves to anyone (even though in actuality, they were slaves to the Roman Empire), so, how dare Jesus tell them they needed to be set free? (See John 8:33).
Jesus’ answer to them was that they were slaves to sin, and since they were, they had no place in the family of God, but “a son belongs to it (family of God) forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36, NIV). There’s an analogy here between the Jews’ pride in being sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and some Christians’ pride in their membership in the right church. I sometimes refer to the church I grew up in as “the true church,” because they thought they were not only true, but “the only church” who could deliver eternal salvation to their members. I believed that and was prepared to defend my belief to anyone who might challenge me. I wore out a Bible with underlining, and cross referencing all the passages which appeared to proclaim the church’s position on any doctrinal matter.
I was a “true believer” in the “true church” until God baptized me with His Spirit. In that mystical and powerful experience, the heavens opened and I saw Jesus on that cross and knew He was there because of my sins. Mine! I was born knowing Christ died for our sins, but never really comprehending that my sins were what put Him there. When Jesus baptized me into His Spirit, it rocked my world, caused me to weep over my sins, and finally brought me to rejoice that He had saved me from them.
And dear friends, He died not just for the sins of the righteous, those seeking truth, those who attend church, pray and read their Bibles, and do good works, but John explained Christ’s mission: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (I John 2:2, NIV)
Mark proclaimed, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” (Mark 9:49, RSV) That’s the polar opposite from what many churches teach, where the flames are reserved for the wicked, the unrepentant, the sinner, not for everyone. Mark said, however, that the fire is for everyone and we get his meaning from this verse from Hebrews: “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29, NIV) All will be baptized (immersed) in fire (Matthew 3:11). God is for everyone, no exceptions!
In that same passage, we find solace to help ease the pain over the division among Christians and the many different churches, each claiming to be the right one. God prophesied, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens. The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken, that is, created things, so that which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:26-29, NIV)
My good friend Jonathan Mitchell, who has devoted his life to translating the New Testament from the Greek to English, answered my question about whether the Greek word used for fire in Hebrews 12:29, is the same one used in the terrifying passages in Revelation regarding “the lake of fire.” (Revelation 19:20; 20:14,15). Jonathan confirmed that the same Greek word is translated “fire” in both instances. Knowing that this terrifying lake, in reality, is God Himself, the consuming fire, takes the fear out of it, because over and above all, God Himself is Love, unconditional love, glorious love, forgiving and merciful love, never ending love. He created us for fellowship with Himself, chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, and since He works all things after the counsel of His own will, nothing will keep Him from His eternal plan of salvation for all of us.
The Apostle Peter said about that, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” (II Peter 3:9, KJV) Who then can stand against God’s will? Who will not repent if it is God’s will that he should? Could Pharaoh resist His will? Could Nebuchadnezzar? Could King Herod? Could Judas? If you think Judas succeeded, remember that either by his treachery, or his bungling effort to coerce Jesus to reveal Himself as the King of Israel, Judas inadvertently brought about the salvation of the whole world!
The Apostle John made this astonishing statement: “He who commits sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8, RSV) When I was at Medicalodge, I often asked the old dears if they thought Christ succeeded or failed at destroying the devil’s work. They always looked shocked at the thought that Christ could fail at anything, and answered, “He succeeded.” I agree with them. How about you?
Jesus described His Father and ours, this way: “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.” (Luke 6:35, RSV) His love includes all of us, even when we are ungrateful and selfish!
In New Testament times, believers were divided into Jew and Greek (Gentile), rather than all the denominations we have today. Jonathan Mitchell wrote the following regarding the inclusiveness found in Christ:
“It was the Law that created the “wall of separation.” (Ephesians 2:14) Christ took away the Law, and now none of those prior categories apply. There is only freedom, for which we have been set free (Galatians 5:1). This is true, whether we believe it, or not. It was an act of God, in Christ. So now, all (each in their own group) will be made alive in Christ. What Paul is saying in Romans 2:28-29, is not that being a believer means “being a REAL Jew,” but that in fact, true relationship with God (e.g., as with Abraham, in Romans 4, who was NOT a Jew), is in the realm of the “inward,” in the “heart,” and in the “spirit.” What we become is “a new creation” (where there is neither Jew, nor Greek) that does not have any of those dividing categories.” End Quote.
Lord haste the day when Christians will stop bickering and competing about whose church is the true one, and realize that we are all ONE in Christ!
In His Wednesday, September 28 meditation, Fr. Richard Rohr talked about the inclusiveness of God, referring to it as “the flow.” “This is the great surprise, and for some a disappointment: this divine Flow has very little to do with you. The Flow doesn’t have to do with you being perfect, right, belonging to the right group, or even understanding the Flow. Jesus never has any such check list test before he heals someone. He just says, as it were, “Are you going to ask for or allow yourself to be touched? If so, let’s go!”
“The touchable ones are the healed ones; it’s pretty much that simple. There’s no doctrinal or moral test whatsoever. Jesus doesn’t check if the people he heals are Jewish, gay, baptized, or in their first marriage. There’s only the one question, which he asks in various ways: Do you want to be healed? If the answer is a vulnerable, trusting one, the Flow always happens and the person is always healed, usually on several levels.” End Quote.
Father, we are so thankful to be in Your Flow, in Your unconditional Love, experiencing your kindness, even when we are ungrateful or selfish. Because You chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, we rest in Your perfect will for our lives, trusting our calling in You. Flow through us to those You put in our path, and together, we add our voices to “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.” Amen. To God be the Glory, now and forever!
INCLUSION [Jan A. Antonsson] 10-01-16 1