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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.

What Is the Difference between Grace and Following the Law?

Choosing to continue in sin is rejecting grace.

This is from a conversation I had on Google+ today, but I thought it deserved to be preserved here at American Torah.

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Paul wrote “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.'” in Romans 7:7. The word for “law” is nomos, which is the same word used throughout the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew “torah”.

John wrote, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness, for sin is lawlessness.” in 1 John 3:4. His word for “lawlessness” is anomia, which literally means “non-law” or “a condition of being unlawful”. It’s the same word used by Matthew to describe people who break Torah. The KJV renders that phrase “for sin is transgression of the law.”

We have inherited a terrible misunderstanding of the phrase “under the law” as well as of James’ discussion of law and faith. This misunderstanding generates a “nomophobia” among many Christians, in which any mention of “law” or “torah” triggers a fight-or-flight reflex.

In reality, Torah and grace work together. Grace is God’s forebearance of our sins, His willingness to forgive us for our shortcomings. However, the word “sin” has no meaning without Torah for, as John pointed out, sin is Torah-lessness. Everyone sins. Except for the one man, Yeshua, every person who ever lived has violated Torah. Yet, by God’s grace alone, we don’t have to be condemned because of it.

Even after being born again into life with Yeshua, we continue to sin. Very few Christians would disagree. Paul wrote about this struggle in Romans also. Yet, how is it possible to break a law that doesn’t apply to you? Can an Australian break an American traffic law without stepping a foot out of Australia? That’s absurd! But that’s the gist of the argument that says it’s possible for a Christian to sin against a law that no longer applies to him. They might equivocate on the definition of “sin”, but I think Paul, John, and James do a pretty good job of establishing it’s meaning. And a very few people might assert that it’s impossible for a Christian to sin, but that’s so obviously unscriptural it hardly needs refutation.

There are three ways a person can live and only one of them leads to life.

1. Live without the law and perish without the law.
2. Live under the law and be judged by the law.
3. Live under God’s grace and be forgiven of one’s sins.

In none of these cases is a person free to behave as he chooses. The first person does what he wants and earns eternal damnation. The second person tries to earn his salvation through his behavior and inevitably fails. He too earns eternal damnation. The third person recognizes his inability to live a perfect life and throws himself at the mercy of the Heavenly Court. Then, having been granted grace by God who is eager to forgive, he doesn’t throw it in the trash by going on to live as if God had no standards whatsoever. He’d soon find himself in the same boat as the lawless pagan. Instead, he shows his gratitude for God’s grace and his love for his Creator by studying God’s instructions and applying them to his everyday life, “working out his salvation in fear and trembling.”

In summary, there is no difference between grace and following Torah. Indeed, to reject Torah is to reject grace also.

Every Journey Begins with a Single…Day?

He said to them, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.’” So they laid it aside till the morning, as Moses commanded them, and it did not stink, and there were no worms in it. Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is a Sabbath, there will be none.” On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and my laws? See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.” So the people rested on the seventh day.
Exodus 16:23-30

Before Israel arrived at Sinai, before God had spoken a single word from the mountain top or carved a single letter on the stone tablets, he said, “How long do you refuse to keep my mitzvot and torah?” God expected Israel to obey his laws, specifically the Sabbath in this case, before he had a covenant with them, before Sinai.

Before that, God commended Abraham for heeding his call, keeping his charge, his commandments (mitzvot), his statutes (khukot), and his laws (torot). Most people interpret that to mean the seven Noahide laws, but Noah certainly had more laws than those.* How else would he know what animals were clean and unclean? God’s Law (also known as the Torah) existed from the beginning. How else did Abel know what kind of animal to sacrifice, and how should Cain have known that his sacrifice would be unacceptable? How did Judah know about Levirate marriage?

God’s laws are eternal and not tied exclusively to any particular covenant, although they are included as terms of the covenant with Israel at Sinai. When you enter your neighbor’s house, he expects you to observe the rules of his house: don’t play football in the living room, don’t put your feet on the furniture, don’t open the refrigerator without an invitation, etc. This doesn’t mean that he invented those rules the moment you walked in the door. They were always the rules of his house because they are a part of his character. He doesn’t have anything against your shoes in particular; he just doesn’t like it when people put their shoes on his sofa. God’s laws are the same; they are a reflection of his character. They differ from our own because where our personal rules evolve with our character over time, God’s do not. One can make a case (a very weak case, in my opinion) that God invented the laws concerning tabernacle rituals and the Levitical priesthood arbitrarily or only for the specific nature of the Israelites, but one cannot make the same case regarding Sabbath, animals that are acceptable for food and sacrifice, acceptable and unacceptable relationships, and behavior toward your neighbors. God’s standards in those matters all clearly existed before Sinai and will continue to exist so long as heaven and earth remain.

There are passages in the Apostolic scriptures that appear at first reading to disagree, especially the writings of Paul: Romans, Galatians, Colossians, etc. When I tell people that I believe we should keep the Torah, they quote these scriptures to me as if they think I haven’t read them before. The bare truth is that most of those people never got passed a Sunday School level of Scriptural understanding. Torah contains the key to advancing that understanding if they would be willing to examine it a little more closely.

First, it lays out its dualistic nature.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. Deuteronomy 30:19

Torah is both a law of life and a law of death. It’s both, depending only on how you use it. If you keep it, trusting in God’s grace to cover our flaws and inevitable failures, you keep a law of life and liberty. If you refuse to keep it, whether by trusting in your own power to keep it or by simply refusing to even try, you will instead be yoked under a law of sin and death.

Second, Torah states unequivocally that nobody is authorized to change it in any way.

And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. Deuteronomy 4:1-2

It doesn’t get much plainer than that. The orthodox Christian view of the Bible for almost 2000 years is that it must agree with itself. No part of the Bible contradicts another part, and the clear passages must be used to understand the less clear. In various places, Jesus, James, Peter, and Paul all reiterate the point of Deuteronomy 4:2 in fairly unambiguous terms. Take Jesus’ words in Matthew 5, for example:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19

And Paul’s in Romans 3:

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

We must think very carefully about those passages that appear to be teaching in direct contradiction to the words of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, resisting the urge to interpret them in a way that makes large portions of the Scriptures to be meaningless or worse: lies.

One rule of thumb that seems nearly self-evident is that the more time and text God spends on any particular subject, the more important it probably is to him. Using this rule, mankind’s obedience to the commandments must be among God’s top two or three priorities. Among the commandments, some appear to be more important than others.

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbor.
  • Keep the Sabbath.

Among others.

To get back to the Sabbath, judging by the amount of text devoted to the topic, God cares very deeply about it, whether we understand why or not. It was among the first rules that God gave to Israel after they left Egypt, and He said that it will always be a special sign of God’s people. Keeping it on the seventh day as God commanded can be difficult at times in a culture that doesn’t cooperate–not difficult in the sense that it’s laborious, but in that lifelong habits are difficult to change and the rest of the world won’t rearrange its schedule to accommodate you. But I assure you that making a concerted effort to keep a seventh day Sabbath will be worth the inconvenience.

If you are unsure about whether or how much of God’s Torah you should keep, consider starting with the Sabbath. Don’t worry about getting it perfect and don’t worry about all of the complex rules that the rabbis have piled onto the simple day of rest that God prescribed. If you haven’t done it before, just start with this: between sunset on Friday and sunset on Saturday, don’t do anything that feels like work to you. If there is something you feel that you must do, relax about it. Don’t get yourself fired from your job or put anyone in danger, but take it slow and easy. After you’ve done this for a few weeks, come back to the blog and let me know how it’s going.

A holy Sabbath unto the Lord.

* Although based on Biblical principles, the Seven Noachide Laws are a man-made code imposed on the Biblical text. They were probably not codified until thousands of years after the Flood.

The Real Difference Between the Righteous and the Wicked

The Scriptures call Noah, Abraham, and David righteous men, but Paul said that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” The Biblical narratives of these men illustrates Paul’s point very well:

The second thing Noah did when he got off the boat was to plant a vineyard so he could get drunk. (You have to give him props for patience and long-term planning.) When push came to shove, Abraham lied and gave up his wife in order to save his own skin. And who can forget the story of David and Bathsheba? Over the preceding decades, he killed hundreds of men with his own hands and then topped it off by stealing a friend’s wife and having the friend killed to cover up his adultery.

After all that, how can Scripture call them righteous men, “a friend of God”, and “a man after God’s own heart”?

Psalm 32, written by David, is a chiastic song (see here for an explanation of chiasms) that helps us understand this seeming contradiction.

A chiasm in Psalm 32

  • A – V1-2 Blessed is the forgiven who honestly repents
    • B – V3-4 Living in unrepented, unconfessed sin is oppressive to a righteous man
      • C – V5 I determined to confess (speech) and I will be forgiven.
        • D – V6-7 Let the righteous pray to God before it is too late. God will save them.
      • C – V8 Let me tell you (speech) how to find the peace that I have.
    • B – V9 Don’t cling stubbornly to sin. Don’t prompt God to reign you in forcibly.
  • A – V10-11 Steadfast love and joy are for the righteous and upright in heart

David began by describing the reaction of a righteous man to sin in his own life. “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.” He vividly described a tormented, guilty conscience. He continued by describing the antidote to his shame: confession, forgiveness, repentance. He said the same will work for every righteous person: “Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may still be found.”

Adopting the perspective of God speaking to the penitent David, he wrote, “I will teach you how to walk and will watch over you as you go.” The wicked, to the contrary, do not repent, but cling stubbornly to their sin. If they feel shame’s call to repent, they suppress it until they can no longer hear it. Longing to be free, they reject God’s Law of life and love, and replace it with another, harsher law of death and hatred. “Many are the sorrows of the wicked,” David said, “but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in Adonai.”

David was a righteous man, yet he sinned. The difference between a righteous and a wicked man, according to David’s testimony, isn’t sin itself, but the man’s response to it. The righteous man doesn’t want to sin. He wants to be perfect, to be obedient to God’s instructions. He listens to his conscience and to God’s words. The wicked man hears the same words, feels the same shame, but trains himself to ignore it, to submit instead to a yoke of sin that can only lead to death.

Be the righteous man by confessing your sins to God, asking His forgiveness, and by endeavoring not to repeat them. In Romans 1-2, Paul describes what will happen if you ignore God’s call for too long.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
(Romans 1:28 ESV)

Eventually, it will be too late. You won’t be able to turn back, either because God won’t let you or because you have just run out of time.

(This post is about what separates the heart of the righteous from the heart of the wicked. Later this week, I’ll talk about a few outward evidences of what’s going on inside.)

Be Ye Perfect Right Now or Else!

Torah teaches us the meaning of grace and mercy.God wants us to keep His law, but He doesn’t expect perfection. He never did or else Torah1 wouldn’t include instructions for handling missteps. You will fail, but it will be OK in the end if you trust in God. That doesn’t mean obedience is optional. Knowingly disregarding what God has told you to do is the same as rejecting God himself. Either He is King or He isn’t.

Studying and living Torah helps a person to develop a better understanding of God’s character. It teaches us what mercy and grace really mean, and it should give one great hope in God’s goodness. Consider that the blessings & curses of Torah are guaranteed to the nation of Israel2, of which we have been made citizens, but the curses are temporary. If you repent, God is eager to forgive. According to Torah, all of Israel will repent. Whatever she has done in the intervening eras, she will return to Torah and to her Husband, and she will be restored in full.

See Deuteronomy 30:1-5 & Romans 7:25-8:4.

I talk a lot about “Law”. Keep the Sabbath. Keep the commandments. Study Torah. Et cetera. Sometimes I’m afraid that I give the wrong impression.

Recently I had a conversation with a man who couldn’t understand why I say that followers of Jesus should be keeping Torah. I explained from Scripture how Paul fought a persistent battle against Jewish teachers who taught that new converts must keep the whole Torah plus all of the rules that men had added to it (the “burden that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear”) in order to be saved. The Jerusalem Council refuted this false teaching, instead giving new converts four simple rules to start with, expecting that they would continue to study the Word and grow in maturity and righteous behavior. Obedience to God’s Law has never been a requirement for salvation, but it has always been a standard of behavior for God’s people.

When I had answered all of the man’s questions, he was in a near panic. He said he would pray about this because, if he had unrepented sin in his life, he needed to fix it right NOW! The next morning he said that the Spirit had told him that I was wrong and that Jesus cancelled all of the old laws and gave us new ones.

To be honest, I was relieved. This man clearly had an unbalanced perspective on sin, believing that any error would endanger his salvation. He was already a legalist. If he had been convinced that it’s a sin to work on the Sabbath or eat bacon, I’m afraid he would have become what’s known in Messianic Jewish circles as a Torah terrorist. I think you probably can guess what that means. A new set of rules to obsess over was the last thing he needed.

Long after Paul became a disciple of Jesus, he admitted that he still sinned. He didn’t like it, but he had to be honest.

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. (Romans 7:19-20)

The Apostles didn’t tell new converts to stop all sin immediately. That would just be replacing one unbearable yoke with another one. They gave them just four things:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. (Acts 15:28-29)

But that didn’t mean that it was now okay to steal and kill. This list was never intended to be the sum total of righteous behavior. It was just a place to start. “For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:21)

The fact is–and we all need to face this–nobody in this life will ever be sinless. It is completely beyond our power to be perfect. As a much greater man than I once said, If we could be saved by good behavior, then Christ would have died for nothing. Thank God for His grace and mercy!

I’m not excusing anybody’s sin. God hates it and wants us to keep working it out of our lives. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” Paul said. What he didn’t say was, “Do it right now or you’re going to hell.”

I’m going to give you the same advice that I gave to my friend, the same advice that James and the Jerusalem Council gave to the new converts at Antioch: Start with the big stuff, the things that cause you and your community and God the most grief. Next, work on those behaviors that the Holy Spirit convicts you of personally. Finally, keep studying, praying, worshiping, and fellowshipping.

Trust me. If you follow this plan, you will find no end of sins to work on.

 

1 Torah is God’s Law as written in the books of Moses. Extra-Biblical Jewish writings are the work of men. Some of it’s good–some isn’t–but it isn’t Torah. The same thing goes for extra-Biblical Christian writings.
2 The “nation of Israel” is not the modern state of Israel, although there must certainly be significant overlap.

The Law of Sin & Death: Sin Separates Us from God

2 Kings 7:8-9  And when these lepers came to the edge of the camp, they went into a tent and ate and drank, and they carried off silver and gold and clothing and went and hid them. Then they came back and entered another tent and carried off things from it and went and hid them.  (9)  Then they said to one another, “We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news. If we are silent and wait until the morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come; let us go and tell the king’s household.”

The four lepers had a major windfall. They expected death and found life and riches instead. They could have kept on gathering and stockpiling with no one the wiser, but they remembered their starving brothers and shared their knowledge, bringing life to the entire city.

Romans 6:20-23  For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.  (21)  But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.  (22)  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.  (23)  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tazria and Metsora (this week’s Torah readings from Leviticus 12-15) are about things that cause separation from God, i.e. spiritual death, among his people. Even if they are already saved, already members of “the king’s household,” they might not know that their actions adulterate their life with death. When we were slaves to sin, we were not bound by any considerations of righteousness. But now that we have been set free from sin, we are bound to obey God, i.e. to do what is righteous.

Therein lies life.

Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator.

We are not set free and given eternal life just to sin, but rather to obey a different master. Continuing in sin will only put us in bondage again because sin separates us from our Creator. Disobedience brings death. Once we know that there is a better way, that there are choices and actions that increase our separation from the world while decreasing our separation from God, like the four lepers in 2 Kings 7, we are bound by love for our neighbors to share that knowledge.

Look for opportunities in your day to share your knowledge of greater life, to tell someone how to reduce the separation engendered by disobedience and to draw closer to our Creator.

Why I Keep Torah

Over the last decade, as I have delved deeper into the Scriptures and spiritual things, I have become more and more convicted that I need to keep Torah, the laws of God as delivered through Moses. But even as I have obeyed God’s voice and laws, I have had to defend myself against ever increasing accusations of legalism, judaizing, and whatnot.

The most important thing to understand is that Judaizing really has very little to do with the keeping of God’s laws and everything to do with the keeping of man’s laws. Judaism teaches that the rabbis have the authority to change the Torah, and elevates the oral tradition of the Pharisees above the written laws of God. Some of the teachings of the Pharisees have value, but all of them should be regarded with skepticism and weighed carefully against actual Scripture. I do not teach that anyone need (or even should) obey the Jewish rabbis or the mountains of man-made law that they have heaped upon the Torah. I teach that we should obey God’s laws, because “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Paul wrote that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) He defined “all scripture” as the scriptures that Timothy had learned as a child, in other words, the Greek Septuagint, including the Torah. If Paul did not mean that the Torah is still valid for doctrine, then why did he say it? In fact, Paul often explicitly based doctrine on Torah:

  • Romans 7:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 are based on the law of the levirate (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) among others.
  • Romans 7:7 is based on Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21.
  • 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 is based on Deuteronomy 25:4 and other laws regarding the Temple services.
  • 1 Corinthians 14:34 is based on Genesis 3:16.
  • Galatians 4:22-31 is based on Genesis 16-17.

He taught other doctrines based on the Torah and the Prophets besides these, as did Yeshua. Obviously neither of them thought or taught anyone to abandon the Torah as a valid source of doctrine.

The New Covenant does not replace the old so much as it overlays it. Abraham’s covenant did not overturn Noah’s covenant, which did not overturn Adam’s covenant. Hebrews says that the high priesthood was transferred (the Greek word translated as “changed” in the King James Version is closer to “transferred” in today’s English) to Yeshua and that there was a transfer of the law also. This transfer isn’t a change in the requirements of the law, but a transfer of our allegiance. Like Paul, we are under the law for Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21) rather than under the law for the law itself. We are not to be lawless, but to continue to keep Torah as a sign of our allegiance to our Messiah. Yeshua said that he did not come to abolish the law, and Paul continued in that same vein when he wrote that we do not make the law void through faith, rather we establish it.

The Torah is an expression of God’s character in that it defines his standards of behavior. If God never changes (Malachi 3:6), then neither do his standards. The Torah says that no one can add or remove anything from its rules. (Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32) If any prophet were to preach against the Torah, leading people away from the proper worship of God, then the Torah commands that he be stoned. If Yeshua taught against Torah, then he was a sinner and ineligible as the Messiah. If Paul taught against Torah, then he too must be disqualified as a prophet of God. If Stephen taught against Torah, as only false witnesses were able to testify, then his punishment was just. (Acts 6:13-14) Since no true witnesses could be found to testify either against Stephen or Yeshua, the only logical explanation is that they never did teach against Torah. Even the Temple sacrifices only appear to have been suspended and not forever done away with. Ezekiel prophesied that the daily sacrifices will resume under the direct supervision of Yeshua our Messiah. (Ezekiel 40:41-43, 46:20) We are not made whole or justified by such sacrifices, but we never were, because Yeshua’s death was sufficient for all human rebellion from the beginning of time. (Hebrews 11, Revelation 13:8)

Jeremiah prophesied specifically that the Torah would carry over into the New Covenant, only transferred from tablets of stone to hearts of flesh. (Jeremiah 31:31-34) In that prophecy, God based the continuity of his covenant with the nation of Israel on the heavens and the earth. As Yeshua said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” Well, heaven and earth are still here, and all has not been fulfilled. The Messiah has not yet returned the second time, Israel and Judah have not yet been reunited in the land, and men still have to teach each other about God.

All scripture is inspired of God and profitable for doctrine. None of it has been annulled. Obedience to God’s laws is required under both the old and the new covenant. Through faith I will continue to establish the Law (Romans 3:31) and repudiate lawlessness. Through faith in Yeshua and through the power of the Holy Spirit, I will continue to try to live closer to God’s standards of perfections every day that I am able. So long as one man tells another to know God, so long as the earth continues to move through the heavens, I will continue to put my faith in God and his eternal standards rather than in the love of transient men.