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Acts 15, revisited

Are Christians obligated to keep the Law of Moses?

People frequently point to Acts 15 and the Council of Jerusalem as an argument against Christians keeping Torah. “Peter, James, and the other Apostles said that gentile converts only need to keep these four rules, so we don’t need to keep the Law of Moses.” The obvious counter is that, if eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, eating animals that have been strangled, and consuming blood (Acts 15:20) is the full moral standard for Christians, then we are free to dishonor our parents, thumb our nose at traffic signs, lie, cheat, steal, and curse God. Yet nobody believes that!

Clearly the ruling of the Jerusalem Council is just a baseline for new converts in the context of the pagan Roman Empire, who already had a basic understanding of right and wrong.

Here’s another statement extracted from a conversation from a long time ago, in an Internet forum far, far away:

Jesus’ entire ministry on earth was centered around clarifying the law, and in many places he criticizes those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law. an example is the “good samaritan parable”. The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremoniously clean and set aside for God. So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him. I believe as much is stated in John 1:1-14.

I do not believe that Acts 15 is suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc. etc., because such things were not included in the letter. Rather I believe that as Jesus said, the sum of the laws and the prophets, the spirit of them, is to love the Lord you God will all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself.

-Mr. B.A.D.

I don’t think that Mr. B.A.D. is very far from the truth here. Yeshua did spend much of his time correcting misunderstandings of the Law. God did give the Torah to Israel to set them apart from other peoples. Yeshua’s life and sacrifice did fulfill the spirit of the Law. The sum of the Law and the Prophets is to love God and neighbor.

But this is an incomplete understanding. Let’s look at each of these points in more detail.

Yeshua criticized those who live by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law.

Mr. B.A.D. is talking about the Pharisees in particular, I think. Here are some of the specific complaints Yeshua had against them:

  1. They replaced the commandments of God with the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)
  2. They held others to a higher standard than that to which they held themselves. (Matthew 23:4)
  3. Their obedience was done mostly for show and not out of love for anyone but themselves. (Matthew 23:5-7)
  4. Their false teachings made it more difficult for anyone else to know the truth. (Matthew 23:13)
  5. They abused the poor and weak. (Matthew 23:14)
  6. They didn’t make disciples for God, but disciples for themselves. (Matthew 23:15)
  7. They had their priorities all wrong. (Matthew 23:16-22)
  8. They were scrupulous on the minutiae of the Law while they ignored the most important commandments. (Matthew 23:23-24)
  9. Their public behavior was at complete odds with their private behavior and with their hearts. (Matthew 23:25-31)

It seems to me that all of this can be summed up in a single word: hypocrisy. Their problem wasn’t that they were obsessed with the letter of the Law. Their problem was an obsessions with appearing to keep the Law. They were so concerned with this appearance that the Law itself wasn’t enough for them. “Love your neighbor as yourself” isn’t showy enough for the Pharisaical mind. They had to make up more and more rules to follow so that everyone could see how very righteous they were, but in adding to God’s Law they were breaking the very thing they pretended to keep. They were hypocrites from their white-washed facades to their rotted cores.

I think Mr B.A.D.’s main point here is entirely correct. A preoccupation with the letter of the Law to the detriment of the spirit of the Law will destroy you, because it will tend to lead you to less obedience in the end, rather than more. It is easy to get lost in the details and forget what is most important. The individual commandments are not the goal, but only individual stones in the road. The goal is Yeshua, and we would all do well to keep our focus on him rather than on precisely measuring our tithes of mint and cumin.

The laws were given to the Jews in order to keep them ceremonially clean, and set aside for God.

The Law was given for many reasons, one of which was to keep the Israelites separate from the pagan nations around them, but this separateness is really more of an effect of the Law than an intent. God gave Israel the Law to teach them to behave better than the Canaanites, not just differently. The specific commandments weren’t arbitrary. God didn’t randomly pick which animals would be clean and unclean, or which fabrics they could and couldn’t mix.

Israel is a holy nation because God chose them from among all other nations to be his special possession. Holiness means “set apart for divine purpose”. Since he made them holy by election, he also wanted them to be holy by behavior. The goal of behaving differently isn’t just to stand out. The Pharisees were great at standing out from the crowd, but terrible at obeying God’s Law. Rather, the goal of God’s rules about behaving differently than the pagans, was to make Israel more beautiful and pleasing to him.

Why should Israel not eat pigs? Because eating pigs is detestable to God. Why should Israel not wear clothes made of wool and linen woven together? Because, whether we understand why or not, God hates it.

But that’s not the only reason God gave Israel the Law.

Paul wrote that the Law was also given to define sin for the whole world (Romans 3:19-20).

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:19-20

The whole world–not only the Jews–is accountable to God for their disobedience to the Law. As John wrote, sin is lawlessness, and he didn’t mean the laws of Rome or Babylon. He meant God’s Law. Sin is, by definition, breaking God’s Law. Now that we are saved from condemnation and our sins have been forgiven, are we supposed to forget what sin is and behave in whatever manner we feel is right? Of course not! God’s forgiveness of past sins is not a license to commit future sins.

Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
Romans 3:31

Now that we have been separated from the world, elevated to the status of a holy people along with the native-born Israelite, we demonstrate our gratefulness and maintain that separation by behaving differently than we behaved when we were still in sin. “Be holy, even as I am holy” in 1 Peter 1:16 is a quote from multiple passages in Leviticus. We have been made holy by divine action, and so God requires us to live accordingly by following the rules he gave for that purpose.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18

So when Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, his blood sacrifice has fulfilled the spirit of the law by making us clean before God and setting us aside for him.

When Yeshua died on the cross he fulfilled the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself more certainly than most of us ever will, but that doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of continuing to love our neighbors as ourselves. He took our sin upon him and shed his own blood to fulfill the Law’s requirement for the death of murderers, Sabbath breakers, and the sexually immoral. Yeshua’s blood atones for us and removes us from under the condemnation of the Law, but that is still not a license to ignore God’s standards of behavior. He didn’t die so that we can eat bacon cheeseburgers and sleep with whomever we choose. He died so that we can have eternal life despite our failings.

Acts 15 is not suggesting that Christians can lie, steal, etc etc because such things were not included in the letter.

I agree, and this is something that many people overlook when they read that passage. For the sake of theological argument they interpret James’ ruling as the definitive list of moral behavior for Christians, but then say that Christians also have to keep a long list of other rules. This demonstrates that they don’t even believe their own arguments. Very few people actually think the apostles were really giving new converts permission to steal so long as they didn’t drink blood. The only logical conclusion is that the apostles were giving a starting point and expected the converts to continue learning and improving their behavior from there. What curriculum did they expect these gentiles to use for furthering their education in morality and religion? Torah.

For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.
Acts 15:21

The controversy in Acts 15 was never about whether the Law applied to gentile believers in Yeshua–Romans 3:19 makes it clear that the Law applies to all people, believers or not–but about whether obedience to the Law was necessary for salvation. We are no longer “under the Law” because we have been set free from its power to condemn, but we are still accountable to God for keeping his commandments and maintaining his standard of acceptable behavior.

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”
Acts 15:1

Keeping the Law of Moses cannot remove the guilt of prior sins nor earn you eternal salvation, but if viewed properly, it can improve your life, your community, and your relationship with God. “Be holy, because I am holy,” God said, not because he wants us to be weird, but because he loves some behaviors and hates others. If we are the Bride of Christ, we should behave like it. What man wants his bride to wear filthy rags and smell like an outhouse?

How Do the Ten Commandments Relate to the Christian?

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments?

A long-time Internet acquaintance asked a couple of questions in an open forum many years ago, and I reproduce her questions and my responses here…

1) How should Christians regard the ten commandments? (Not rhetorical; I really want to know.)

Paul told the Roman Christians that the Law defines sin. Without the written commandments, our ability to discern what is and is not sin is seriously hobbled. He specifically used one of the ten commandments to illustrate his point.

Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

As Paul pointed out, it is impossible to sin by keeping the Law, aka Torah. (Of course, it is possible to sin by keeping one part of the Torah, while ignoring another part as the Pharisees did.) This is because sin is, by definition, the breaking of the Law, not the keeping of it (1 John 3:4).

You can think of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 as a summary of all of the rest of the Law (sometimes numbered at 613, by I think that count is dubious), and they are in turn are summarized by the Two Commandments that Yeshua quoted in Matthew 22 and Mark 12:

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind [Deuteronomy 6:4-5]. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself [Leviticus 19:18]. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Matthew 22:35-40

Allow me to illustrate with a short table.

The TwoLove GodLove Neighbor
An example from the TenHave no other godsDo not covet
An example from the 613Do not worship YHWH in the same way the pagans worship their gods.Do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain

Because we love God, we will have no other gods. If we have no other gods, we will worship him in the ways he wants to be worshiped and not the way those other gods want. Because we love our neighbor, we will not covet those things that belong to him. If we do not covet our neighbor’s possessions, we will not steal his crops.

Every Christian knows –or ought to know–that sin is a bad thing. If that’s a point of contention, then we have much deeper problems than whether or not the Law defines sin. And if the Law defines sin as Paul and John both said, then it logically follows that we ought to be studying and keeping the Law. Not because a single mistake will send us to hell, but because we owe it to God. How can anyone say he loves God and then ignore his commandments? Or do they really believe that Paul was lying when he said that all of the commandments are summed up in love?

2) As a relatively new convert, one thing that’s also confused me is how to answer people who ask why Christians include the Old Testament in the Christian Bible. I’ve encountered Jews who didn’t know that we include the Torah in the Christian Bible and study it in church. They were curious about this practice, but I wasn’t sure I had the correct explanation for them. Is it to establish the context for the New Testament?

One of the earliest major heresies that the Christian church had to deal with is called Marcionism. In some ways it was the opposite of the Judaizers that Paul dealt with through much of his ministry. Where the Judaizers added laws and traditions on top of God’s Law, the Marcionites threw out the entire Old Testament and much of the New as well. They taught that the God of the Hebrews was a malevolent deity who actually hated the Jews and gave them the Torah as a punishment. Jesus was a new God who overthrew YHWH and all of his oppressive laws. They kept Paul’s writings because it was easy to twist his words around to justify their lawlessness. These were the people that Peter warned so strongly against when he wrote,

2 Peter 3:16 …There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

This Marcionism is almost identical with the feel-good, no-rules Christianity of today. Marcion is alive and well in your home town and every place where Christians reject God’s word as outdated and superseded by a new gospel of “love” unfounded on any real principles or standards, but on feelings and that most deceitful of all voices: the heart.

What we call the Old Testament was the only set of scriptures the first century church had for many years. The apostles referred to them constantly throughout their letters. Yeshua preached from the Torah and the Prophets. Indeed much of the New Testament is completely incomprehensible without a solid foundation in the Old Testament.

The thing that baffles me is that most Christian churches really do understand this and yet they still ignore the Old Testament, especially the Torah, and so they keep falling for the same old lies. It’s truly a spiritual psychosis.

Should Christians keep the Ten Commandments? If they claim to follow the two greatest commandments, they absolutely should.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (the short version)

I shared this with my subscribers in May of 2021, but now I’m making it available here for everyone.

Romans Is Pro-Torah

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is among the most pro-Torah books of the entire New Testament, but it is commonly taught as if it’s one of the most anti-Torah!

Many people understand Romans 14 to say that all of God’s instructions concerning clean and unclean meat and the weekly Sabbath are no longer relevant to the Christian. They say that those who still cling to such distinctions are “weak in faith” because they aren’t trusting in Yeshua’s death and resurrection to fulfill all of the requirements of the Law. They make a point, in direct contradiction to Paul’s instructions according to their own understanding, of berating any brother who disagrees, shaming them, and even banishing them from their fellowships.

This chapter is almost always taken as a complete literary unit that stands on its own without reference to the surrounding text, to the rest of Scripture, or to historical context. In that light (or lack of light), it’s easy to make any passage say something contrary to its intended meaning. But after reading thirteen chapters of Paul repeatedly tell his readers that keeping the Law is a good thing–avoid sin, uphold the Law, live righteously, obey the commandments, etc.–does it really make sense that he would suddenly switch tack and say the exact opposite?

Since Paul didn’t write anything in this letter about pork or rodents, but he did write about vegetarianism, it makes much more sense to assume he is addressing eating meat versus eating only vegetables. And since he made no mention of the Sabbath or any other of God’s appointed days, doesn’t it make more sense that “one person esteems one day as better than another” in the middle of a conversation about food is about which days of the week are best for fasting?

To many readers today, that seems like a silly argument–and it is!–but it was a serious controversy in the first century, and Christians were still debating it decades later when the Didache was written. Some religious groups fasted on one day of the week and some on another. This Christian fasted on Thursday so that people wouldn’t think he was part of that new cult from Persia, while that Christian fasted on Wednesday so people wouldn’t think he was a Jew. When you could be ostracized, beaten, or even killed for being associated with the wrong religion, your choice of a fasting day becomes a much bigger issue than it might seem in today’s America.

Did this ever come up as a possible explanation for Romans 14 at Wednesday night Bible study? Probably not.

Romans, Chapter by Chapter

In order to get a more accurate understanding of what Paul was trying to communicate, I have written this brief survey of the book, with short summaries of each chapter.

The next time you read Romans, refer back to this survey to keep each chapter in the context of the whole letter, and I hope it will aid you in understanding some difficult texts and in refuting the antinomian lies we have all inherited and even internalized to some extent.

Chapter 1 – The righteous live by faith, but the unrighteous ignore the Law of God and their own consciences in order to do what they please. By consistently behaving contrary to what they know to be right, they eventually destroy their ability to make that distinction at all and earn the enmity of God and the condemnation of his Law.

Chapter 2 – God is just to condemn those who behave wickedly and to rescue those who behave righteously regardless of their ethnic origins. It isn’t enough to say the right things, you must also do them. All those who obey God out of love and faith are living up to the name of Yehudah (meaning “praised”), whether they are born into Israel or not.

Chapter 3 – The Jews have a great advantage in that they have inherited the Scriptures, but everyone is accountable to God for his own sin, and everyone sins. Fortunately, we are not made right with God by the merit of our works, but by our faith in the redemption purchased by Yeshua (Jesus). We don’t obey God’s Law in order to earn salvation, but because we have faith in him.

Chapter 4 – The covenant of salvation was given to Abraham for his faith, not for his obedience. Circumcision is not a condition of the covenant, but a sign of it, and his heirs also receive the covenant without regard to their prior obedience. If the covenant depended on obedience, we would all be lost, and now we too can inherit Abraham’s covenant through our faith in God.

Chapter 5 – Yeshua’s death enabled our reconciliation with God. The world was condemned by the sin of one man and saved by the obedience of Yeshua. The Law magnifies our individual sins, but it also magnifies the grace of God which rescued us from death earned by sin to eternal life earned by his righteousness.

Chapter 6 – Through his death, Yeshua rescued us from the eternal death we deserved because of our sins. The only appropriate response is to repent from all sin and live according to God’s Law. If we go on living in sin, we will be enslaved again to it. He set us free from slavery to sin in order to become slaves of righteousness to God. We obey God’s Law in response to his free gift of eternal life.

Chapter 7 – Through the physical death of Messiah, we died spiritually to the condemnation of the Law. Through his resurrection, we are enabled to live and bear fruit in righteousness. The Law defines sin, but our old sinful natures gravitate to that which is opposed to God, turning the Law that was meant for life into death through our disobedience. The Law does not bring death, but our violation of the Law does. Even while we believe in God and long to obey him in our hearts, a part of us is always in rebellion, drawing us back into slavery to sin.

Chapter 8 – Yeshua released us from the condemnation we deserved, enabling the Spirit of God to live in us, manifesting in a mind focused on the Spirit and living righteously rather than on the flesh and living according to its sinful desires. The flesh constantly pulls us back, but we have been made children of God and only have to cry out to him. His Spirit helps us and intercedes for us, gradually transforming us to be more like Yeshua through our trials and conflicts. We may suffer all kinds of external trials, but none of these things can ever separate us from the Love of God.

Chapter 9 – God’s promises to Israel are certain, but not all who are descended from Israel are counted as Israel. Believing gentiles are counted by God as his people, and only a remnant of natural Israel will be saved. Those Israelites who tried to earn their salvation through the Law will lose it because they didn’t obey through faith.

Chapter 10 – Messiah is the goal of obedience to the Law for all who obey in faith. The Law promotes a better life, but it is only through faith and submission to Yeshua that we are truly saved. The natural descendants of Israel can’t appeal to ignorance because all of Scripture points to Yeshua.

Chapter 11 – God has not rejected natural Israel. He will always preserve a remnant of those who believe in him rather than in their own obedience. Some natural branches of the tree of Israel have been cut off and believing gentiles have been grafted in, but God can as easily cut off those gentiles again and graft the natural back in. The whole tree of Israel will be saved by this process of cutting out the bad and grafting in the good, but God’s promises to the descendants of Israel can never be revoked, and he will forgive those who repent. We have all sinned and God shows mercy to us all equally.

Chapter 12 – God showed mercy to forgive your sins, so don’t live as if you’re still part of the world. Don’t be proud in your salvation or in the spiritual gifts that God has given. We are all one body and we are all important to its health and function. Work for each other’s good. Live in harmony with everyone as much as possible with humility and without prejudice. Respond to animosity with kindness, forbearance, and honor.

Chapter 13 – Submit to whatever authorities are over you where you are and give them the respect and honor due their position. All of God’s Law can be summarized in the single commandment, love your neighbor as yourself. We are living in dark days, so live in the light, by living in obedience to God’s commandments and showing love to each other. Live like Yeshua lived rather than giving into the sinful desires of your flesh.

Chapter 14 – Welcome those whose faith is not as strong as yours and don’t berate them for their weaknesses. Don’t get caught up in worthless arguments over whether to eat meat or be a vegetarian and on what day to fast completely. Live according to your own consciences, not condemning each other for differences of opinion. Our lives are no longer our own, but we all live and die for the sake of God. None of us are perfect, and we will all answer for our own failings. Be considerate of each other’s opinions and don’t tempt or offend a brother contrary to his conscience. Food and drink are relatively minor issues in the Kingdom of God. It’s not a sin to eat meat or drink wine, but don’t do it if it creates a problem for a brother.

Chapter 15 – We should make allowances for the weaknesses of our brothers. We should learn from the example of Yeshua and from the Scriptures and may God help us to live in unity. Messiah became a servant for all, both Jew and Gentile. Overall, you’re doing well, even if you need some correction. I will visit you when I can after I go to Jerusalem but pray for my deliverance from unbelievers there.

Chapter 16 – Be generous and welcoming to the men and women who serve the Kingdom in their various capacities and give my greetings to all those in your community who also work faithfully for the Kingdom. Do not allow anyone to cause division among you but remain faithful to God in the preaching of the Gospel and obedience to his commandments.

Conclusion

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is very clear in some ways and very cloudy in others. Chapter 14 is especially confusing for many Christians for two reasons: 1) They have inherited an antinomian (anti-Law) view of Jesus and Paul, and so they interpret everything in that light, and 2) At least half of the conversation is missing, so it’s easy to fill in the gaps with what we’ve been taught rather than what Scripture actually says. Reading our own assumptions into a text is known as eisegesis, and it’s always a bad idea.

Paul’s original readers understood the full context of his words because he wrote them in response to a controversy they were experiencing at that moment. In order to understand what he intended for them to get out of his letter, we need to separate what we think he meant from what he actually wrote. Once we are able to do that, we are free to consider his words within the context of the whole of Scripture (not just the New Testament or Paul’s other letters) and of the controversies that we know were an issue at the time (not just the controversies we’ve been told were an issue).

Taken at face value, Romans 14 isn’t really that difficult to understand and isn’t anti-Torah at all.

Gentiles and the Law in Romans 2

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. Romans 2:13

In another attempt to say that Christians have no obligation to keep the Law of Moses (aka God’s Law), Freddy wrote, “Paul tells us in Romans that the Gentiles who have no law do by nature what law empells them to do so they are a law unto themselves.”

Here is the passage to which Freddy is alluding:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:13-16 ESV

Clearly there is nothing here that implies that being “a law unto themselves” excuses Gentiles from keeping the Law. In fact, Paul said exactly the opposite in this very passage: God will judge them according to their obedience of what they understand of his Law, even if they don’t know that it is his Law. Let me paraphrase and expand this passage to clarify what I believe Paul intended:

Nobody is righteous in God’s eyes merely because he knows the Law. The righteous, those who are justified by God’s mercy, are not those who know what the Law says, but those who actually do what the Law says. Consider Gentiles who have never heard Moses taught in a synagogue. When they instinctively do what God commanded us to do in the Law, even though they know nothing of Moses, it is as if they are Moses, the stone tablets, and the scrolls in themselves. Their actions show that, in their hearts, they already know the basic dos-and-donts of the Law. Not just their visible deeds, but also when their consciences prompt them to do good or make them feel guilty for doing wrong. Since at some level they know what is right and wrong, that knowledge will serve as a witness to their obedience or disobedience to the Law when God, through Jesus Christ, judges all of our hidden deeds and thoughts, as the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven requires.
Romans 2:13-16 (Paraphrased and Amplified)

In other words, at the final judgment, God will hold everyone–Jew or Gentile–accountable for their disobedience to what they instinctively understand of his Law, whether they have read the Bible or not. As Paul pointed out in the previous chapter, Romans 1, everyone is born with a basic understanding of right and wrong as defined by God’s eternal Law. By refusing to heed our conscience, we gradually silence it, but our willful deafness will not be a defense. We can’t claim ignorance of the Law today when we knew yesterday.

The Curse and Curses of the Law

A few thoughts on The Curse of the Law and the many individual and national curses within the Law…

The Curse of the Law is the eternal condemnation warranted by every individual who fails to live by God’s standards of behavior. Since nobody except Yeshua has ever lived a sinless life, this curse would apply to everyone alike if God had not made a way for us to escape it. No amount of obedience to the Law can ever deflect the curse. Once the soul is stained with sin, no amount of obedience without faith in God can ever cleanse it.

The Grace of God is his willingness to forgive our sins and make a way for us to be reconciled to him, IF we repent of sin (behavior that is contrary to the Law) and put our full faith and allegiance in him. Yeshua takes our curse upon him, and his blood cleanses what we could not. This happens outside the provisions of the Law because the Law was never intended to provide a way of permanently restoring a man’s soul to God. (This is what Paul meant when he wrote “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law” in Romans 3:21.)

The Curse of the Law and the individual curses contained in the Law are different things. The former is eternal and only individual, while the latter are temporal and both individual and national.

A person who has been forgiven his sins and has been brought into relationship with God is not free to behave in any way he pleases. Absolution from a crime is not a license to commit more crimes.

Yeshua said that not a single mark will be removed from the Law, and that includes the various curses for individuals who commit serious crimes and the national curses for failing to keep God’s Law collectively.

These are curses in the here and now, in the temporal world, not the world to come. A promise of resurrection and eternal life in the future doesn’t mean there are no (or should not be) consequences for idolatry, murder, and sexual perversion today. Crime must be punished (cursed) by God’s people or else God’s people will eventually suffer national punishment (curses) that will be much more severe.

The Law actually predicted that Israel would fail to maintain God’s standards and would suffer the consequences. Those national curses are still in effect today as most of Israel remains in exile among the nations and will only finally return in full when the nation returns to obedience.

The End of the Law

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4) Did Jesus come to put an end to the Law? Or is he the aim of the Law?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:4

I can’t tell you how many times someone has quoted this verse to me as “proof” that Jesus (also known as Yeshua) annulled God’s Law. At first glance, it looks like a killer argument. QED. How much clearer could it be?

Eh. Not so fast.

Remember that not a single word of the Bible was written in English and, by the very nature of human languages, no translation can ever be perfect. The key word in this verse seems to be “end”, so lets take a look at the original Greek.

τελος γαρ νομου χριστος εις δικαιοσυνην παντι τω πιστευοντι

The first word, telos, is the word translated into English as “end”.

Thayer’s Greek Definitions defines it thusly:

1) end
1a) termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be (always of the end of some act or state, but not of the end of a period of time)
1b) the end
1b1) the last in any succession or series
1b2) eternal
1c) that by which a thing is finished, its close, issue
1d) the end to which all things relate, the aim, purpose
2) toll, custom (i.e. indirect tax on goods)

Termination of the Law would seem to be a reasonable translation, but Thayer gives us a number of other options too, including “aim” and “purpose”. “The aim of the Law” also seems pretty reasonable to me. Coincidentally, the English word “end” can be interpreted either way as well.

But is telos used in the sense of “aim” and “purpose” anywhere else in Scripture? Several places, in fact, by Paul, James, and Peter.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.
(James 5:11)

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
(1 Peter 1:8-9)

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(1 Timothy 1:5)

In the above three quotes, I bolded the English words used to translate the Greek word telos. Can the Lord ever be terminated (James 5:11)? Is our faith terminated by our salvation (1 Peter 1:8-9)? Should we stop avoiding pointless controversies once we have attained love (1 Timothy 1:5)? Of course, not! In these cases, translating telos as “termination” would be absurd.

So there is ample precedent for translating telos as aim or purpose instead of end, but how can we know for certain which one Paul meant in Romans 10:4?

Easy. Jesus said so.

Do not think that I have come to abolish (καταλυσαι: tear down, destroy, dissolve, overthrow) the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill (πληρωσαι: make full, complete, carry out, perfect) them.
(Matthew 5:17)

Does it really make sense for Yeshua to say “I have not come to tear down the Law, but to put an end to it”? No. If we interpret Romans 10:4 to mean that Yeshua ended the Law, then we make his own words in Matthew 5:17 into nonsense. However, if we interpret Romans to say “The aim of the Law is Christ…”, it agrees with Matthew perfectly: Yeshua did not come to terminate the Law, but to perfect it.

“The end of the Law” means exactly the opposite of what many people today claim that it means.

And if my word isn’t good enough, here’s what a few venerable Christian commentaries have said concerning Romans 10:4:

  • Jamieson-Fausset-Brown: For Christ is the end — the object or aim.
  • Matthew Henry: The design of the law was to lead people to Christ.
  • Geneva Bible: The law itself points to Christ, that those who believe in him should be saved.
  • Adam Clarke: The law is our schoolmaster to lead us to Christ; it cannot save, but it leaves us at his door, where alone salvation is to be found.
  • Albert Barnes: It also means the design or object which is had in view; the principal purpose for which it was undertaken.
  • John Wesley: The scope and aim of it. It is the very design of the law, to bring men to believe in Christ for justification and salvation.

QED, indeed.

So, let’s have an end of this foolish controversy so that we may allow the Law to fulfill its manifold purposes: to teach men about sin and their need for a Savior, to illustrate the identity and purpose of that Savior, and to show us how to love God and one another. All of these together are the telos of the Torah.

 


I recorded a video to go with this article!

One Law or Two?

Are there separate laws for Jews and Gentiles or One Law for both?

I teach that there is one Law for all citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, that those who have been grafted into Israel are subject to the same statutes and moral standards as those who were born into Israel. One common–and reasonable–objection is that if the law didn’t apply to gentiles prior to Yeshua’s incarnation, why should it apply after? Wouldn’t that mean a change in the Law itself?

For now, I’m going to set aside the distinction between such terms as Jews, Israelites, and Church. It’s an important distinction, but I’ll get to that in a separate article. In this article, I use the term “Jew” as shorthand for the people known as Jews in the time of Jesus and their heirs, because that’s how the term is used in the Apostolic writings.

If I wrote of every scriptural evidence that the Law applies to more than only the Jews, I would have to write a book. But then if I had the time to write a book, it would have to be a different one. So I’ll settle for a handful of evidences.

Evidence 1: Romans 3:9-11,19-21 (9) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; (11) no one understands; no one seeks for God… (19) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. (20) For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it…

The phrase “under the Law” does not refer to those who are obligated to obey it, but to those who have violated the Law and are therefore under its judgment. The Law testifies against the sinner, thereby making him accountable for his sins. Paul wrote that “both Jews and Greeks are under sin.” But how can a Greek be “under sin” apart from the Law if, as Paul also wrote, “through the Law comes knowledge of sin?” He did not write, “Through one law comes knowledge of sin to the Greeks and through another Law comes knowledge of sin to the Jews.”

Some will say that there are two different laws at work here, one for the Jew and one for the Greek. Don’t let the necessary improvisations of the English translators fool you. The same Greek word nomos was translated as law in every case, and there was no capitalization or punctuation in the Greek. Every use of nomos in this passage refers to the same Law as verse 21 makes clear. There is one Law for both Jew and Gentile.* The Israelites were only the vehicle through which God gave his Law. Verse 2 says that they were entrusted with the oracles (utterances or revelations) of God, not that they were the only people to whom those oracles were addressed. If it’s still not clear enough to you, read the next two verses:

Romans 3:22-23 (22) …the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

There is no distinction between Jew and Greek in our guilt before the same Law, just as there is no distinction in our salvation through faith.

Evidence 2: Galatians 3:8-14 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” (9) So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (10) For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” (11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Although I would like to focus on verse 13, I copied much more of this passage to give you a good idea of the context. The Letter to the Galatians was not written to Jews, but to Galatians. They were Gauls, Greeks, Romans, and other mixed gentile nuts. There were probably some Jews there too, but they weren’t Paul’s primary audience. Paul warned this mixed multitude of new believers against relying on the Law for their salvation, so we can be sure that he meant the Law of Moses. He told them that Yeshua set them free from the curse of that Law, but if the Law did not apply to the Gentiles of Galatia, how did they come to require salvation from its curse? Of course, the Law did apply to them. It wasn’t given only to be a witness against the Jews, but against the whole world! (See Romans 3:19.)

Evidence 3 & 4: 1 Timothy 5:18-19 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (19) Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

These are just two examples among many of Paul’s teaching of Torah to Gentiles. To what scriptures was Paul referring? Deuteronomy 25:4 and Deuteronomy 19:15. Since Torah doesn’t apply to Gentiles, why would Paul burden them with its instructions? His words make good sense, of course, but Paul explicitly founded his advice in the Law. He would later write to Timothy that all of scripture, including the Torah, is worthwhile to study and to teach. All of it. And going by Paul’s example, it’s not just good to study, it’s good to do.

Just ask James:

Evidence 5: James 1:22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

James 4:11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

James was specifically addressing the Twelve Tribes in Diaspora, so this doesn’t directly counter the original objection. But if the objection is correct, and Christians have no responsibility to keep the Law at all, then they should remove this letter from their Bibles altogether because it wasn’t addressed to them anyway. All this talk of law would probably only confuse them. On the other hand, I know that many people teach believing Jews that they must abandon Torah when they come to faith in Yeshua. James, the head of the church in Jerusalem, obviously disagreed. Faith in Yeshua (aka Jesus) does not abrogate the responsibility to keep the Law, but rather establishes obedience as effectual for the holiness of all believers.

Evidence 6: 1 John 3:4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.

John, in addressing some common early heresies, defined sin as living without the Law. One could object that John meant living without any law and not specifically the Law of Moses, but I think that seems a little silly after Evidences 1-5. I think we can all agree that he wasn’t talking about Roman civil law or Jovian ecclesiastical law.

I have already gone beyond the “handful” of evidences I intended, but I really should add a few from the older scriptures for the benefit of any Jews who might be following along.

Evidence 7: Isaiah 56:1-7 Thus says the LORD: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. (2) Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” (3) Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” (4) For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, (5) I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. (6) “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– (7) these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

This is just about as plain a statement as you could want. Those non-Israelites who join themselves to God must never say that they are separated from his people, the Israelites. Just as Paul would write hundreds of years later: under God there is no difference between Jew and Greek. If gentiles worship the true God and keep his commandments, then they will be invited into his house. The implication is that, if they do not keep the Sabbath, they will not be invited, and their offerings and sacrifices will not be accepted.

Perhaps this is why David wanted to teach God’s Law to everyone. He was a man after God’s own heart, after all.

Evidence 8: Psalm 119:46-47 I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame, for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love.

Although he used two words, “testimonies” and “commandments”, the context indicates he meant them to be synonyms. If you aren’t as sure as I am, that’s understandable. Look a little further into Psalm 119, and maybe you will be convinced.

Evidence 9: Psa 119:118-119 You spurn all who go astray from your statutes, for their cunning is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross, therefore I love your testimonies.

David wrote that God spurns all who go astray from his statutes. Not just the Israelites or the Jews. “All the wicked of the earth.” Since he did not want to be spurned, discarded like dross, he chose to love God’s testimonies. These lines are even clearer than the previous ones that “testimonies” was used synonymously with “commandments” and “statutes” throughout Psalm 119, and that all three apply to gentiles as well as to Jews.

Appropriately enough for the topic, I will conclude with a tenth scriptural evidence that the Law of God applies to all people, though there are many more to be found.

Evidences 10: Zechariah 14:18-19 And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the LORD afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

Sukkot (the Feast of Booths) memorializes Israel’s time in the wilderness and prophesies of the coming of the Messiah. One could spiritualize this passage to avoid the issue–and the allegorical interpretation might not be entirely incorrect–but the literal meaning is quite clear. The day will come when any nation on earth that does not keep Sukkot will also not receive rain.

Sukkot, which means “tabernacles” or “booths”, is a festival that happens every Fall. It memorializes the time that Israel spent wandering in the wilderness living in sukkot and is the most likely time when Yeshua was born, hence the prophecies of the Messiah coming to tabernacle among his people. The manger probably wasn’t a feeding trough, but a tabernacle, a temporary shelter constructed in obedience to the command to live in sukkot for one week every year. Although it isn’t kosher by rabbinic standards, we set up our tents in the yard every year and try to sleep in them as much as possible for that week.

So, keep Torah (the Law) or not. Just don’t say that God never intended for non-Jews to keep it. The Apostles disagree.

*Be careful not to conflate the Sinai Covenant with the Law itself. The Law was included in the Covenant–Jeremiah says that the New Covenant also includes the Law–but it isn’t identical with the Covenant.

The Fires of Edom

One of the greatest differences between Jacob and Esau was the immediacy of their passions.
One of the greatest differences between Jacob and Esau was the immediacy of their passions.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
(Galatians 5:22-26 ESV)

Passions are powerful. Love has built kingdoms and lust has torn them down. Ambition has built industrial empires and greed has bankrupted them.

We’ve all known someone who consistently allowed their passions to lead them into bad decisions. I had a friend who went from relationship to relationship–even if relationship wasn’t always the right word–and made major purchases that he couldn’t afford the moment he got his head above the financial water. He wasn’t a bad guy; he was a good friend who was there when I needed him. Unfortunately, his passions made all of his major decisions for him. He rarely considered how his actions today would impact his life ten years in the future. Most of his decisions were only about right now.

Much like Esau.

Esau’s birth name means “hairy”, which conveys a bit of his rough character, but I think his other name, Edom, is even more apropos. It means “red” like the earth or like the fire of his anger, ambition, and lust. He wasn’t a farmer like his father, Isaac, nor a shepherd like his brother, Jacob. He was a hunter. He started quarrels, married impulsively, made bad deals in desperation and then promptly forgot about them.

Esau was a sort of reverse spiritual alchemist, turning the gold inheritance of his fabulously wealthy father into the lead of struggle and broken relationships. The inevitable end of the exceedingly passionate, those people who see what they want and go after what they see, is to be consumed by their urges.

Passion is a good and powerful force when checked by the Spirit, but when it is allowed to run free, it is crippling. The words Esau spoke at his father’s bedside when he finally realized what he had done in selling his birthright to Jacob are heartbreaking, but hardly unexpected:

As soon as Esau heard the words of his father, he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”
(Genesis 27:34)

Solomon described Esau’s state of mind in Proverbs 11:3: “His heart rages against the LORD.” The passionate fool rarely directs his rage where it belongs. He lashes out at anyone nearby–which is why Rebekah was wise to send Jacob away to Laban before Esau could catch him–and against God when no more convenient target is available, but his ruin was his own doing. Whatever conspiring Jacob and Rebekah did, only Esau was in a position to sell his birthright. Nobody tricked him. Nobody forced him. He lusted after what was before him in the moment and didn’t value at all those things that he couldn’t see and taste.

Esau, enslaved to his passions, spent decades learning just a small portion of the peace and prosperity that he could have attained in his youth by submitting desire and passion to a higher calling in his father’s house. Although he learned to master his passions enough to reconcile with Jacob and build a legacy of his own, but his passed his anger and envy on to his descendants whose uneasy relationship with Israel simmered for more than a thousand years. His grandchildren and great grandchildren carried on his pattern of willful and ignorant self-immolation for many generations.

Concerning appropriate behavior of spiritual brothers toward one another, Paul wrote:

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:11-12)

In other words, be passionate about things that are not immediate and for which the ultimate rewards are more spiritual than physical, and restrain your passions concerning things that are physical. Be zealous, but not hasty; be passionate, but not vengeful.

Hunger will pass. God’s Word won’t, and neither will hell.

God can help you master your passions through prayer, study, and consistent practice. It’s not easy, but it can be done, and the earlier you start, the better. Your grandchildren will thank you.

Everything Hinges on Faith

If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. (Hebrews 11:1)

We’ve all heard that quote many, many times. It’s one of the most instantly recognizable verses in the Bible. We repeat it like a mantra and cling to it like a baby’s blanket, but hardly anybody knows what it means.

I realize that might sound a little presumptuous. Faith is a thing of the heart, and I can’t see anyone else’s heart. Right?

Yes and no. Faith is the evidence of something unseen, but things that are seen are the evidence of faith.

Faith is not believing that you’re going to get what you want. It is not believing in the existence of God or Jesus or anything else. As James wrote, even the demons believe that. (James 2:19) Surely we need to do a little better than them!

Faith is believing in the person of Yeshua haMashiach (Jesus the Christ), believing in his name. That has nothing to do with how the personal label that we commonly refer to as “name” is spelled or pronounced. Faith is not believing that his name is Jesus or Yeshua or Yehoshua or whatever flavor you favor. “Name” in this context refers to his reputation, authority, and trustworthiness, as in “A good name is better than great riches.” (Proverbs 22:1) If you believe in the name of Yeshua, if you believe in the name of YHVH, then you believe that he is who he says he is, that he means what he says, that he isn’t capricious, that he never changes, and that he keeps his promises.

Faith is trusting in God’s word. Faith equals trust.

How does your behavior toward another person change if you have faith in that person? You listen to what he says. You take his advice. How does your behavior toward God change if you have faith in him? You obey him. This is what James meant when he wrote that faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) If your faith does not lead you to greater obedience over time, then your faith is a vapor. Nothing but hot air.

What else happens when you have faith? Mountains and trees start moving. Probably not literally, but in a manner of speaking.

“Truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

According to Scripture, the sick, injured, and disabled are made well by faith. It doesn’t say made well if it fits into God’s plan or if the stars are aligned. James wrote, “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.” (James 5:15)

A couple more examples:

Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matthew 9:22)

And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:52)

There are a lot more where those came from if you need more.

This is a hard thing to accept. We all suffer. We are all sick. We all know of someone who died of an illness or injury. Nobody wants to believe that the only thing standing between wellness and suffering is a simple matter of trust, but the testimony of Scripture is crystal clear: “The prayer of faith will save the one who is sick.”

But we also know that many people of apparently great faith have suffered. Timothy had chronic stomach problems. King David grew feeble and died at a relatively young age. There is no question that these men had faith!

How is it possible for Yeshua to say that faith will make you well while we know that many great people of faith were not well?

I think here is where we encounter the problem of not being able to see into other people’s hearts. It isn’t necessarily that they don’t have faith–they might or might not–but that they have not yet attained the level of faith to which God is leading them in their current trial.

Personal trials–including sickness, persecution, and every other evil which the faithful suffer–are never without purpose, and that purpose is never to inflict pain simply for the sake of pain. Our God isn’t cruel or spiteful. Nothing can come against you unless God allows it, and “all things work together for the good of those who have faith in God.” (Romans 8:28)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. (James 1:2-3)

The purpose of all trials is the building of faith. If you have given your life to Yeshua, then you will suffer trials, if not by the hand of men, then by the hand of God. God doesn’t enjoy your pain. He hates it! But very little spiritual growth comes without hardship of some kind.

Almost anyone who has accumulated a great deal of earthly wealth will tell you that it wasn’t easy, and if it came easily, it goes easily too. It follows then that anything of eternal value–I don’t mean salvation itself, but the rewards of the faithful in Heaven–must be that much more difficult to obtain, and “difficult” is a relative concept. Some people learn multiple languages easily, while others struggle with even one language. Some people understand computers instinctively, while others can’t tell a boot menu from a Cavender’s catalog. The things that are hard for me might not be hard for you, so that you would shrug off the trials that severely test my faith.

If you have faith like a mustard seed, you can command mountains to move, but a mustard seed and a mountain might look very different from one person to another. The faith required to overcome any given obstacle depends on the person doing the overcoming. Whatever trial you are facing, it’s the trial that God has decided you need in order to develop your faith to the next level, and it’s not the same trial that I’m facing even if it looks the same from the outside.

You will always have trials because God wants you to continue to grow throughout your life. When all your troubles end, you should wonder if God has given up on you. But your goal should never be to accept pain and sickness as your sorry lot in life. It absolutely isn’t! God wants you to be well. Yeshua has already paid the price for your healing, and if you reject it, you are rejecting what he has done for you.

Your goal should not be to learn to accept your pain but to overcome it, to grow in obedience, in your relationship with the Father, until your trust in him crowds out that metaphorical mountain, and you or your daughter or your neighbor gets up and walks as you command it in Yeshua’s name.

Faith isn’t a name-it-claim-it game. You don’t get to bend reality to your every whim just because you claim to be a “child of the King.” Faith doesn’t say, “I’m healed because I said so.” Faith says, “I’m healed because God promised healing to his obedient, faithful servants, and God doesn’t lie.”

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

There’s nothing wrong with wanting and praying for nice stuff, but that’s not the point of faith. If you have faith that you will get what you want, you might or might not get it, but you definitely won’t get what you need. No, your faith belongs in God and in his Word. Not just the parts you like. If you really trust God, you’ll trust his word on all of the less pleasant stuff too.

As you mature in your spiritual walk, you will continue to encounter more obstacles as opportunities for greater maturity, your heart will become more aligned with God’s, and your desires will be conformed to his. Your behavior will conform more and more to his unchanging standards. Your prayers will become more effective because you will pray more for those things that God wants you to have in the same spirit of humility as the centurion in Matthew 8 and less for those things that you want you to have in the spirit of pride that Saul evidenced in 1 Samuel 28.

The faith that gives substance to our hopes is substantial in itself. It is founded in the very name of God and results in obedience as surely as light follows the sunrise. The faith that gives evidence to our spiritual eyes that God’s promises are sure is a faith that is proven by a history of reliance on those very promises.

Just as the last time I wrote about faith, I am addressing myself more than anyone else, because my prayers aren’t always granted. Real healing is a very rare thing in my experience. I need greater faith, which means I also need greater faithfulness. If you haven’t read my blog post from last week on faith (or even if you have), I invite you to read it and join me in creating a plan for developing greater personal faith in God. And I want to add one thing to the 4-part prescription in that post: obedience. It is self-evident that if we trust God, we will do what he says. So I’m going to find something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and I’m going to do it.

The Plan

  1. Alter my environment in a way that promotes faith.
  2. Feed my faith with regular, positive input.
  3. Take some risks based on God’s word.
  4. Actively invite more of God’s light into my life and look for ways to reflect it back into the world.
  5. Identify something God said to do, that I’m not doing, and do it.

If you want to grow with me, leave a comment below. You don’t need to say exactly what’s in your plan, though you can if you want. Just tell me that you’re with me.

Faith Is Like a Seed. Make It Grow.

Four essential elements to growing stronger faith in God.

Faith is ubiquitous in Scripture.

  • Faith makes us well. (Matthew 9:22 & 29, Luke 17:19, Acts 3:16, James 5:15, etc.)
  • Faith makes great works possible. (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6, Hebrews 11, etc.)
  • Faith inevitably leads to good works. (Acts 20:21, Romans 3:31, Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith makes our good works effective on the spiritual plane. (Hebrews 11, James 2, etc.)
  • Faith is essential to our eternal salvation. (Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 11, etc.)

Over and over, the scriptures say, “If you had faith, you would be healed.” If you had faith, big things would happen.

Clearly faith is vital. Without faith, we are powerless. Without faith, we are lost.

Yet we all struggle with insufficient faith. We believe, but, for most of us, big things aren’t happening. As the desperate father in Mark 9 said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Is it possible to develop faith, to start with a little and end with a lot? We know that God can simply give us greater faith–he is God, after all–but from long experience we also know that’s not how he usually operates. Yes, our faith can grow over time. Paul told the congregation at Thessalonika that he thanked God for their continually growing faith (2 Thessalonians 1:3), and Yeshua hinted at this fact when he compared faith to a seed. (Matthew 17:20) Seeds aren’t meant to be static. They were designed to sprout and grow into something much larger, which in turn produces many more seeds of its own.

The big question is how. How can we develop our faith from a mere seed to a plant? I know that this is a question that I have struggled with all of my life. Why aren’t people healed when we pray? The answer to that question can be complicated, but Scripture is very clear that, at least in part, people aren’t healed because they or the one praying for their healing have too little faith.

So how can we grow more faith?

Yeshua’s metaphor of the mustard seed implies that faith doesn’t grow only by virtue of its existence. No seed sprouts and grows without fertile soil, water, stress, and light. There are things besides faith itself, which we need to add to our little seed before it will grow to the piont of moving mountains and healing the sick.

Deep, Rich Spiritual Soil

Just as in the parable of the sower and the seed of the Gospel, the seed of faith also needs deep, healthy soil to prosper. It needs to be embedded in an environment which encourages long-term, meaningful maturity. The environment in which our faith sprout–or doesn’t sprout–includes the people, places, things, and habits with which we surround ourselvs.

We have all heard that you become like those with whom you spend the most time, and I believe it’s true.

Pessimists are like the weeds of the parable. Their constant negativity chokes the hope and life out of you until you can’t believe in that anything good could happen for you. They need love as much as anyone–more, evidently–but you can’t keep them as close friends. They will drag you down to keep company with their misery.

The proud and self-sufficient are like the rocks. On the surface, they might be very positive, but their hearts are hard. Why should they trust in God when they believe they already have all that they need. If you spend too much time with them, the seed of faith will have no opportunity to put down roots, and it will whither and die.

Maintaining and building faith requires keeping company with people of faith. Surround yourself with people who trust God. Be active in a community of faith. Be a friend to people who are where you want to be, and be careful not to speak negativity into their lives.

And not only company, but our home, work, and religious environments need to be conducive to developing faith. What kind of art hangs on your walls? What is the usual conversation like in the break room? Do your personal and spiritual habits focus on God’s faithfulness or on God’s wrath?

People like to denegrate religion, but ritual and tradition have always been very powerful instruments for building faith. Liturgy, rituals, annual observances, and the like will never save anyone. If your church teaches that they are necessary for salvation, that will tend to degrade faith. However, if they use these things to emphasize God’s dependability and mercy, they can be wonderful. The forms of traditional religion that unite people and build faith while honoring God’s commands are nearly endless. It’s important that your religion honors God by adhering to his standards, but don’t throw out all religion because some people and organizations have abused it.

If there are elements of your environment that discourage faith, consider how you can replace them with something more positive.

Good Spiritual Nourishment

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Romans 10:17)

The Bible is full of God promises and stories of those who trusted him and also those who didn’t trust him. Memorize God’s promises and read those stories often. They are all through the Scriptures, but especially focus on Genesis, the historical books1 the Psalms, and the Gospels2. There are also many stories of faith and miracles outside the Bible. The biographies of missionaries are especially rich nourishment in this respect.

Entertainment and education should also be designed to promote a strong faith and relationship with God. If your favorite author writes disdainfully of the miraculous and if your favorite bands mock the promises of God, how can they do anything but discourage you? It’s counter-productive to read about divine Providence in the morning and listen to someone talk about how it’s all “me, me, me” in the afternoon.

Pay attention to what’s being fed into your life, and try to filter out those inputs that aren’t helpful. Replace them with books, videos, podcasts, conversations, etc., that will encourage you and reinforce your faith.

Spiritual Stress

Yes, stress. Just like children, all plants need some kind of stress to mature and produce good fruit. Some plants need a touch of frost. Some need a hard freeze. Some plants need a strong wind to scatter seeds and some need to be eaten. Almost all plants need pruning in order to reach their greatest heights and productivity.

Your faith will never grow if it is never put to the test. How do you learn to trust someone if you never need to trust them. You start by acting as if you have faith, whether or not you do. You make yourself vulnerable and take a chance.

Take risks. Get banged up a little. If nothing else, you’ll toughen up a bit and gain some life experience.

Shining Spiritual Light

In Yeshua was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)

Faith isn’t the belief that God exists. Faith is the belief that God is who he says he is, that he keeps his promises, that he loves you and will never abandon you. Faith is another word for trust.

How do you learn to trust a friend, your husband, your wife? Through experience. You trust a good friend because he has been there for you in the past. He stood by your side when everyone else disappeared. If you want to trust God more, then you need to spend more time with him. Set some time aside every day to read your Bible, to pray, and to listen.

Your prayers don’t have to be limited to any particular format. Kneel and pray aloud if that works for you. Or sit in a comfortable chair and sip your morning coffee. Go for a walk. Dance. Whatever language allows you to speak most freely is fine because God speaks that language too.

Corporate worship is also important. Liturgical and informal prayer, singing of hymns, blowing shofars, dancing, waiving banners, pilgrimages… Like intimacy in a marriage and shared experiences with friends, all of these things create mental and spiritual reactions in us that draw us closer to God, that strengthen our emotional ties to the one being worshipped. (And be careful that your worship is directed upward and not to a performer on stage or to an experience.)

Getting to know God isn’t limited to the proverbial prayer closet and time spent focusing vertically. We can also gain a deeper knowledge of God by focusing laterally, toward the people around us.

The King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

Everyone around you–young and old, sick and healthy, good and bad–bears the image of God, and they are all the focus of God’s loving attention. If you want to know God better, go find someone with a need that you can meet and then meet it. Pay attention to the things that God pays attention to. Be kind. Be generous. Love your neighbor, and not just your wealthy and nice smelling neighbors. In showing love to people who desparately need it, you will learn something of God’s heart, of the love and the pain that God feels for each one of us, and God himself will draw nearer to you.

It’s not enough to let God’s love illuminate you, because you weren’t designed just to be a solar collector. You were designed to take the spiritual light of Yeshua and turn it into fruit full of good works meant to feed God’s people. If you want more faith, then you need to be the instrument through which God answers the faith of others.

Faith is a living, growing thing. It requires attention, care, and feeding. It needs a healthy environment in which to take root. It needs a constant stream of reinforcement and encouragement. It needs exercise. Most of all, faith depends on an ever-growing relationship with the King in whom we have faith and with his people for whom we ARE faith.

Gardens don’t spontaneously spring up from the ground. They take planning, deliberate action, and hard work. Even Eden needed a gardener.

When I sit down to write, I usually have an idea of what I intend to communicate, but sometimes God leads me in a direction I wasn’t expecting. This is one of those times, and this is a message I needed to hear. Using this structure of a seed needing good soil, nourishment, stress, and light, I’m going to develop a faith-growing plan for myself and my family.

I encourage you to do the same.

Evaluate your current environment and your life’s inputs and identify those things that would tend to discourage faith. Don’t try to fix everything right away. Remember that God told Israel only to drive the Canaanites out of the land as they were ready to advance and occupy it. Instead, remove a negative influence and replace it with a positive one. Then another. Have a plan with a definite goal in mind, and don’t be afraid to alter the plan as you go and circumstances require. As long as you continue to move forward, your faith will too.

 


1 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.
2 Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts.