BY: JAN ANTONSSON
APRIL 29, 2013
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (II Cor. 4:7)
I toyed with the idea of calling this essay “Venting my Spleen,” but decided you would figure out that’s what I’m doing soon enough. Do you know Christians who present themselves as closer to God than you are? If so, do you like to hang out with them, visit with them, spend time with them? I didn’t think so. It is wearing on the nerves to say the least, and down right depressing to say the worst. And if I come across like I have all the answers, feel free to delete this writing in its entirety; do not pass go and do not collect $200.
A few years ago, an elderly woman dear to my heart was wringing her hands about some fear or another. In an attempt to save myself from hearing her recitation about how doom was upon us for the 100th time, I said something to the effect that I wasn’t worried about whatever it was because God was faithful and I trusted Him to protect me. She stiffened and visibly bristled, “You have a lot of confidence” she retorted. Clearly, in her mind, I was setting myself up as superior to her and that’s sad on so many levels and not how I meant it at all.
I’ve read several writings in recent days which affected me the same way as my remarks did the woman I mentioned, making me want to tear out my hair and run screaming into the night because the various writers made outlandish claims about their righteousness, their relationship with God, which if I were a gambling woman, I would bet are just positive confessions, rather than the truth.
The Pharisees of old loved to boast about their spiritual prowess, their superior ability to be exemplary sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They boasted a great deal about how well they kept the Law, and I’m sure it constipated them no end that Jesus continually poked holes in their works, proved their claims false, and showed them up to be the rotten pukes they really were.
Here’s a news flash that you know well: the spirit of the Pharisee is alive and practicing religion on planet earth today. Paul said that the only thing he gloried in was the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14), to which all his worldly ambitions and abilities to keep the Law were nailed. He wrote to the Philippians,
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss of the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the SURPASSING GREATNESS OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (dung) that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” (Phil. 3:4-7) If Paul had no righteousness of his own, how could any of us?
I included the whole passage because it is substantiation of what Karl Barth wrote that impacted me so dramatically. He said about these super religious types who like to call attention to their good works or their faith, “All men are standing on the SAME step before the righteousness of God.” I really resonate to that statement, having been on the receiving end of claims of righteousness designed to make me feel inferior. It used to do just that until the gospel of grace by faith which Paul delineated so clearly apprehended me. The power of that gospel is that it flows from God’s love which is UNCONDITIONAL!
The concept of the elect of God, the remnant, has caused some to be very puffed up, proud of their own accomplishments. Surely Paul could have been proud, and may have been were it not for the “thorn in the flesh” (II Cor. 12:7), God gave him to save him from himself. I’ve quoted Rom. 11:5-6, many times over the years, but here it is again: “So too at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer by works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.” How then could the elect, the remnant chosen by grace, boast of their accomplishments? Since no one can generate any righteousness or faith or trust on his own, no one is superior to anyone else!
Isaiah declared, “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I’.” (Isa. 65:1) Where is there room for human pride in that statement by God?
When the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus and asked that her sons sit one on His right hand and one on His left when he came into His Kingdom, He told her that the places were not His to give, but the Father’s choice. Then He dealt their egos a severe blow: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be first must be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28) Where is the boasting in being a slave, a servant? “But many that are first shall be last, and the last first.” (Mr. 10:31) How embarrassing that will be for many who consider themselves spiritual giants.
Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for wanting the honor and applause of men: He said, “They do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see: they make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the market places and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.”
He went on to admonish His disciples NOT to call anyone on earth “father” for we have but one Father and He is in heaven. Moreover, He said we should not allow anyone to call us teacher, for we have “one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:4-12)
All glory belongs to God! One of Isaiah’s prophecies which has always lifted me to Mount Zion is found in chapter 40:5: “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Where is there any room for man to boast in that promise? What man or group of men will bring this extraordinary happening to pass? The problem with boasting about ones abilities is that it cannot be sustained indefinitely and it causes people to stumble and doubt the real promises God has made. Someone sent me an e-mail recently asking if I’d like him to send me a healing handkerchief from his ministry? Really? Is this a revisitation of Acts 19:11, where handkerchiefs and aprons touched by Paul were taken to the sick who were healed? I don’t know, but I didn’t feel led to do it, so I kept walking.
Healing is the cry of my heart, always has been since I first met Jesus when He baptized me with the Holy Spirit, and only God knows how many times I have prayed for healing for people. I came to see that it is God’s will who gets healed physically and who doesn’t. Everyone ultimately will be healed, this side of Jordan or the other side, and there are many kinds of healing. I have been healed of my need to be a healer, for that job has been taken by the Lord Himself. I could have sent this reply to the man with the healing hankies, but I just blew it off. He meant well, no doubt, and lest I come across like a cranky old lady, let me say that sincere prayers are always welcome. My faith, however, is NOT in the prayer, or in the person who prays, or in his hanky, but in the living God.
Many of us feel the Spirit’s drum beat quickening, but only God knows what is coming or when. We received an e-mail this week prophesying that the worst tribulation the world has ever known is coming, and only those who trust in God will overcome. That flew all over me like scalding hot steam because it is fear producing, and VERY conditional, based upon the works, the accomplishments of men rather than upon the promises of God. If this person sought to be a messenger, an angel sent by God, she should have remembered that when angels appeared to humans in the Bible, they prefaced their announcements by the words, “Fear Not.”
Father, deliver us from the works of our own hands and give us the clarion call of support and comfort to Your children, most of whom are trying the best they know how to serve You. No one has arrived; we are all on the same step before Your holiness and righteousness. Because You give strength to the weary and increase the power of the weak, our hope is in You, Father, to renew our strength. In Christ, we shall rise up with wings of an eagle; we will run and not grow weary; we will walk and not faint. Help us Lord, Oh help us Lord, to wait. Amen.