The 12 Things the Old Testament Teaches Us about God’s Grace (Part 3/4)

IS THERE A CONNECTION BETWEEN GOD’S LAW AND GRACE?    In this last part of this series, we will examine what the Old Testament teaches us about the connection between grace and the law.  This is an extremely controversial point, since for centuries, Christianity has argued that Grace and Law were opposites, and that if someone tried to follow the Law, then they were attempting to earn their way to heaven, and the cross of Christ was no longer beneficial to them (Galatians 5:4).  But is this correct, or has the writings of Paul been taken out of context and misunderstood?  In this third part of this four-part series, we are going to look at this controversial topic.

CHESED [GRACE] IS CONNECTED TO OBSERVANCE TO THE LAW.

Interestingly, the first One to explicitly connect law and grace (Heb. chesed) together in the Bible is God Himself at Mt. Sinai as He is giving Israel the Ten Commandments.  So am I saying that God taught that we are justified by the keeping of the law?  Did He not know about the cross here?  I have heard many ministers make the claim that in the Old Testament, God taught a “legalistic approach” to Him, but as we will see, the Old Testament does NOT teach what they claim.  Those who think it teaches a “legalistic approach” do NOT really know the commandments, nor have they given them any real consideration beyond just a superficial reading of the text.

In the giving of the commandments, God first of all introduces Himself to the people of Israel:

I am the LORD [Heb. YHVH] your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  (Exodus 20:2)

I am the LORD.”  The word “LORD” here in all capitals is YHVH, the covenantal name of God, and when it was originally written, as all words in the ancient Paleo-Hebrew of the Old Testament, there were no vowels added to the words.  The vowels were added to the written text much later, and as a result, there’s been a lot of dispute as to how His name should be pronounced, which is why I just gave the consonants here.  But in this introduction, He not only tells them His name, which is what we do when we introduce ourselves to someone, but He reaffirms their relationship with Him by saying “your God.”

But not only does He introduce Himself to them and tell them that He is their “God,” but He also tells them that He is the one who had just redeemed them from slavery in Egypt; consequently, then, His relationship to them is based on the redemptive act that He had just done for them [i.e., His act of grace], “which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”   And so even in the New Testament, our relationship with God is based on His grace, i.e., His redemptive act: Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins.   So has God changed?  Absolutely NOT!  In fact, throughout the Scriptures, we find a consistent portrait of the behavior of God: He redeems us by an act of grace, His chesed, in order to establish His relationship with us.  This is true in the Exodus, it is true in the New Testament, and it is true in our lives today.

THE LAW’S TEACHING ABOUT GOD’S GRACE [CHESED]

It is only after establishing His identity and His relationship to them,  which is based upon His act of grace, His redemption of them from slavery, that He then gives to them His commandments.  The first one being,

You shall have no other gods before Me. (Exodus 20:3)

So what we learn here in the law is that once we are in a relationship with God, which is based on His redemption, an act of His grace, then we are expected to live in obedience to Him.  So what the law teaches us, contrary to what many mainstream ministers teach,  is that OBEDIENCE FOLLOWS REDEMPTION (i.e., “salvation”), which is always an act of grace, and the obedience does NOT cause or bring about the redemption or salvation.  Therefore, the law teaches the exact same thing as Paul in the New Testament.  Grace and law are NOT in conflict at all, but both of them do have a purpose and a role in our relationship with God.

But there’s more that God wants us to learn here about His grace, God’s chesed, but to see it, we must continue on.  The first thing God requires in our obedience to Him is that He is to come FIRST and FOREMOST in our lives, and nothing else.  If we put anything before Him, including our own needs, wants, our dreams and desires, our families and yes, even our own lives, then we are in violation of this commandment.  And secondly,

You shall not make unto you ANY graven image, or ANY likeness of ANY thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  (Exodus 20:4; Emphasis mine)

God clearly prohibits here the use of ANY type of pictorial representation of Him.  But it’s in the next two verses, which is actually a continuation of this commandment, that we find the next connection between God’s commandments and His chesed (or grace).  Although in the King James, the word chesed here is NOT translated as “grace” but as  “mercy”:

You shall not bow down yourself to them [idols or other gods], nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing MERCY [Heb. chesed] unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.”  (Exodus 20:5-6; Emphasis mine)

So in this part of the commandment, we are also NOT to “bow down” and “serve” any other gods.  To “bow down” was the common position of worship, so God here is telling them (and us) that we are not to worship any other god or idol, only Him.  And we are also NOT to “serve” any other god.

What does it mean to “serve” any other god?  The word “serve” is the English translation of the Hebrew word ‘avad (Strong’s #5647), which means “to serve, work, or toil, or to work as a slave.”  I think a good modern example of this can be seen in traditional Buddhism.  The Buddha (“the Enlightened One”) is a title given to Siddhartha, the son of a king in India, who renounced his position, wealth, power, and even left his wife and child, to go and discover the cause of human suffering.  Siddhartha lived the same time as the prophet Isaiah, about 500 years before Christ.

In traditional Theraveda Buddhism, although the Buddha is not seen as “a god” (since there are no gods in Theraveda Buddhism), he and his teachings do come first and foremost in the minds of his followers; consequently, then making him an idol. And every year on his birthday, his statue is cleaned, a ritual called “bathing the Buddha.” And another form of this happens during the “Vesak Ritual,” in which devoted followers “pour scented, blessed water over an image of an infant prince [the Buddha].” In “bathing the [statues of the] Buddha,” these followers are “serving” him and, therefore, violating this commandment that we are not to serve any other god (or idol), but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But you say, “I don’t have any statues in my home, nor do I serve any,” but do you spend all your time working?  Is your job an idol in your life?  Does your service to your employer come before your service or obedience to God?  What about sports?  Do you spend all your time watching one game after another?  Do you serve your enjoyment of the games by learning all you can about them and the players, rather than spending time with God by reading your Bible?  What about other possible idols: video games, parties, money and materialism, drugs and alcohol, or even your own family?  ANYTHING that comes first and foremost in our lives before God is an idol; it doesn’t have to be a statue.  But regardless of what it is, do you “serve” it?

And why are we NOT to “bow down” or “serve” them?  For three reasons,

  • Because God says, “for I the LORD your God am a jealous God.” 

This word “jealous” is the English translation of the Hebrew word qanna (Strong’s #7067), and it’s only used of God.  In doing some research, I found out in Chris Poblete’s online article “The Names of God: Qanna,” that he writes,

The fundamental meaning relates to a marriage relationship. God is depicted as Israel’s husband; He is a jealous God, wanting all our praise for Himself and no one else.

So just as any human spouse would expect complete loyalty and faithfulness, so God, as Israel’s husband, is expecting complete loyalty, devotion, and faithfulness from His people.  In the next part of the verse, God alludes to the fact that God faithfully keeps His covenant, and when that covenant is broken, God will faithfully punish those who violate it, which is what He means when He says,

  • visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.

And finally, it’s in this third reason where the next chesed-connection is seen.

  • and showing MERCY [Heb. chesed] unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.

Throughout the Scriptures, God consistently describes Himself, or is describes, as Him being a God who “keeps covenant” and “mercy” (Heb. chesed; or “grace”).  For example,

Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, which KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with them that love Him and keep His commandments. (Deuteronomy 7:9; Emphasis mine)

What is it that we are to “KNOW” about YHVH, our God?  There are FIVE important things I’d like to point out from this verse:

  • “He is God.”  There’s no other God but Him.  Hes “the real thing,” all other gods are man-made and false.
  • He is “the faithful God.”  The word “faithful” is the Hebrew word ‘emunah (and it can mean “faith” or “faithful” or both at the same time).  So this could also be translated as “the faith God” or “the God of faith.”  So then how does God demonstrate His emunah, His “faith” and His “faithfulness”?
  • “which KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with them.”  But who are the “them”?
  • “that love Him…”  Notice that our “love for Him,” is mentioned first.  So just as we discussed before, RELATIONSHIP COMES FIRST, and then secondly,
  • “and KEEP HIS COMMANDMENTS.”  OBEDIENCE always follows RELATIONSHIP, NOT the other way around.

From this, we can see that “grace,” God’s chesed, is not only involved in us coming into a relationship with God, but it is also central to our on-going relationship with God, which includes our obedience to His commandments.   So to see grace [Heb. chesed] and our obedience to God as being diametrically opposed to one another is a clear misrepresentation of what is taught here within the Scriptures.  These two things are not opposites, nor are they opposed to each other, but it is this connection between God’s grace [Heb. chesed] and our obedience to His commandments that traditional mainstream Christianity has not correctly understood.

So now let’s look at some more examples of this connection being made:

And he [Solomon] said, ‘LORD God of Israel, there is no God like You, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] with Your servants that walk before You with all their heart.  (I Kings 8:23; Emphasis mine; see also 2 Chronicles 6:14)

And I [Daniel] prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, KEEPING THE COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments.  (Daniel 9:4; Emphasis mine)

And [Nehemiah] said, ‘I beseech You, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed] for them that love Him and observe His commandments.  (Nehemiah 1:5; Emphasis mine)

As we can see, Solomon, Daniel, Nehemiah, all understood that the God of Israel was a God who “KEEPS COVENANT AND MERCY [Heb. chesed; or grace]” and the people who He “keeps covenant and chesed [grace] with are described consistently the same way: as those “who love Him and keep His commandments.” So as Christians, we might ask the question, So why is “keeping His commandments” important?  It is NOT just about the obedience, there is something more here.

THE REAL INTENT AND PURPOSE OF THE COMMANDMENTS

God introduces Himself to His people – His Bride, Israel – His “new family,” and He wants her to know who He is and what He’s like, and what He’s NOT like.  This is the ultimate intent and purpose of the commandments, to describe God to us.  And by having us “keep His commandments,” He is trying to teach us, by using concrete examples, how we can become imitators of Him, which is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (NASB).  In the King James, it states, “Be ye therefore followers of God as dear children.”  A “follower” is one who imitates the teacher, the one they are following, so in actuality, the same message is being taught here: to “be imitators of God.”

And like any loving father, God wants us, as His sons and daughters, to imitate Him, and the commandments He gave to Moses teaches us how to do that. But another essential concept that most traditional mainstream American Christians don’t understand is the concept of KINGDOM.   In Myles Monroe’s book Rediscovering the Kingdom: Ancient Hope for our 21st Century World (2004), he points out the importance of this word:

The concept of “KINGDOM” is critical, essential, necessary, required, and imperative in order to understand, appreciate, and comprehend the purpose, intent, goal, and objectives of God and mankind’s relationship to Him and the creation.  (25; Emphasis mine)

For one thing, what we need to understand is that a KINGDOM is NOT a democracy.  God does NOT rule and reign in a democracy.  What He has is a KINGDOM, and in describing the citizenry of a KINGDOM, Monroe describes them in the following:

The Citizenry is the people that live under the rule of the king.  Citizenship in a kingdom is NOT A RIGHT, but a PRIVILEGE, and is a result of the King’s choice.  The benefits and privileges of a KINGDOM are ONLY accessible to citizens and therefore, the favor of the KING [called “grace”] is always a privilege [“unmerited favor”].  (65)

Notice that we put the Scriptures back into a “KINGDOM CONTEXT,” everything that Paul taught about how we are “saved” [become citizens of God’s Kingdom] make sense.   For example, in a democracy, citizenship is a right, but in a kingdom, it is NOT a right, but a privilege.  In a democracy, we can earn the right to become a citizen, but in a KINGDOM, there isn’t anything that anyone can do to earn that right; it is entirely a result of the King’s choice.

IT IS THE KING WHO CHOOSES

Consequently, when the King chooses who He wants in His Kingdom, then by choosing them, that person is receiving the King’s favor, or in other words, His grace.  Throughout the Gospels, it is Jesus, the Anointed King, who chooses His followers, the people of His Kingdom:

You have NOT chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain:…” (John 15:16; Emphasis mine).

It is NOT us who found or choose God, but it is God who found and chooses us to be in His Kingdom.  This is the right and privilege of a King.  For example, God chose Abraham, He chose Isaac, and He even chose Jacob, as well as Joseph.  And in Deuteronomy 7, God tells the people and nation of Israel,

For you are a holy people unto the LORD your God: the LORD your God HAS CHOSEN YOU to be a special people unto Himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.  The LORD did not set His love upon you, nor CHOOSE YOU, because you are more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, has the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the Pharaoh king of Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Emphasis mine)

God is telling them that He chose Israel and redeemed them because of the oath He had sworn to the fathers – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  And even among the prophets and kings, it is God who chooses them.   And because God chose and redeemed them, He led them to Mt. Sinai to make them a part of His KINGDOM by giving them His KINGDOM LAWS.  Israel, itself, is NOT the whole KINGDOM, but it is part of the KINGDOM, just as the church is NOT the whole KINGDOM, but a part of the KINGDOM.   And just because people begin in the KINGDOM does NOT mean they’ll finish in the KINGDOM.  We see this in the Exodus, and we see this in the life and ministry of Jesus.

THE ROLE AND RELATIONSHIP OF THE LAW

Another concept we in American Christianity don’t understand is the role and relationship of the Law in God’s Kingdom.  In His book, Monroe describes it this way:

The Law constitutes the standards and principles established by the king, himself, by which his kingdom will function and be administered.  The laws of the kingdom are to be obeyed by all, including foreigners residing in it.  The laws of the kingdom are the way by which one is guaranteed access to the benefits of the king and the kingdom.  Violations of kingdom law place one at odds with the king and thus interrupts the favorable position one enjoys with the king.  (65-66)

Every word spoken by a king is law, so how much of the Bible is “the law of God”?  All of it, since all of it is the spoken word of the King.  Any violation of kingdom law is what the Bible calls “sin.”  In the United States, when someone “breaks the law,” we call it “a crime,” but in God’s kingdom, it’s called “a sin.”  But what I found really interesting about Monroe’s discussion of Kingdom law is the following:

The laws in a kingdom CANNOT BE CHANGED by the citizens, nor are they subject to a subject to a citizen referendum or debate.  Simply put, the word of the king is law in a kingdom.  Rebellion against the law is rebellion against the king.  (66; Emphasis mine)

WE CANNOT ADD OR DELETE FROM IT

Nowhere in the Bible does God ever give people the right to alter or change or even delete any of His commandments; in fact, twice in the Bible, He prohibits this.

You shall NOT add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you diminish aught (subtract or delete) from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you. (Deuteronomy 4:2; Emphasis mine)

What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall add thereto, nor diminish from it.  (Deuteronomy 12:32)

Consequently, then, whenever Christians say, or teach, that any or all parts of the Law, or the any other part of the Bible is not for today is, in fact, a violation of these two commandments.

ABRAHAMIC OR MOSAIC – WILL THE REAL RELATIONSHIP COVENANT PLEASE STAND UP?

And finally, a third point that traditional mainstream Christianity has NOT understood is that the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai, is NOT the relationship covenant between God and His people.  Instead, the RELATIONSHIP COVENANT of the Old Testament is the ABRAHAMIC COVENANT.  We see this repeatedly alluded to throughout the Scriptures.  For example,

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.  (Exodus 2:24)

And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty [Heb. El Shaddai], but by My name the LORD [Heb. YHVH] was I not known to them.  And I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, where they were strangers.  And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel, whom the Egyptians keep in bondage; and I have remembered My covenant.  (Exodus 6:3-5)

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary to Me;…Then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.  (Leviticus 26:40, 42).

O ye seed of Abraham His servant, ye children of Jacob His chosen.  He is the LORD [Heb. YHVH] our God: His judgments are in all the earth.  He has remembered His covenant forever, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations.  Which covenant He made with Abraham, and His oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant:…”

Over and over again, we can see that the covenant that God remembers is NOT the covenant He made with Moses and the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai, but the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Why?  Because the covenant He made with Abraham, that was then passed down to Isaac, and then again with Jacob, is the RELATIONSHIP COVENANT of the Old Testament, NOT the Mosaic covenant.

The Mosaic covenant is, in actuality, an extended development and explanation of the Abrahamic Covenant.  In Genesis 17, God tells Abraham to “walk before Me, and be perfect” (Genesis 17:1), as well as to give him the covenant of circumcision (Genesis 17:10-14).   But what does it mean to “walk before Me,” and “be perfect”?  To “walk before Me” means “to have an ongoing relationship with God” and the word “perfect” is the English translation of the Hebrew word tamiyd (Strong’s #8549), which means, to walk or live in “integrity, truth:- without blemish, complete, sincerely, without spot, undefiled and uprightly.”  But what does that look like?  How are we suppose to understand what all is involved in that?  And God’s answer to these questions is the Mosaic Covenant, the commandments God gave to Moses and the children of Israel at Mt. Sinai.

So what’s my point??  Throughout the Scriptures, RELATIONSHIP ALWAYS COMES BEFORE OBEDIENCE, and GOD’S GRACE (Heb. chesed) IS ALWAYS THE BASIS OF THE RELATIONSHIP, and the BASIS ON WHICH THE RELATIONSHIP CONTINUES, WHICH WILL ALWAYS INVOLVE OBEDIENCE TO GOD AND TO HIS COVENANT.   This was true with Noah, Abraham, the children of Israel, Jesus’ disciples, and with us today.  To teach that we’re saved by grace through faith, which is true, but that NO OBEDIENCE IS REQUIRED FOR OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD is absolutely NOT TRUE, and is a clear misrepresentation of Scripture.

The final part of this series, which will come out in two days, will cover the last three things that the Old Testament teaches us about God’s grace.

 

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The 12 Things the Old Testament Teaches Us about God’s Grace (Part 2/4)

GRACE IS A MAJOR CONCEPT THROUGHOUT THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS.   As I discussed in the first part of this series, grace is NOT a New Testament revelation as mainstream Christians usually teach, but it is seen throughout the Old Testament as well. The reason that Christians do NOT see the same amount of discussion of “grace” in the Old Testament is because of how the Old Testament equivalent of “grace” has been translated into English.

THREE HEBREW OPTIONS

Although there are three Hebrew words – chen, techinnah and chesed – that contain the meaning of “grace,” only one of them is used in the same way as the Greek word charis (“grace”) in the New Testament.  Over the years, most ministers and teachers have erroneously thought the Hebrew word chen was the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek charis since both are translated in English as “grace.”  The Hebrew word chen (Strong’s #2580) does appear 67 times throughout the Old Testament, but in most cases, it is not translated as “grace,” but as “favor.”  For example, we do find it translated as “grace” in Genesis 6:8, “Noah found GRACE in the eyes of the Lord,” and in Ruth 2:2 when Ruth tells her mother-in-law, Naomi, “Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find GRACE.”  But even when the word chen is translated as “grace,” it still carries with it the idea of “favor,” rather than being used in the context of the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation that we see used in the New Testament.  Another word translated as “grace” is the Hebrew word techinnah (Strong’s #8467), such as in Ezra 9:8,

But now for a brief moment GRACE has been shown from the LORD our God, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in this Holy Place, that our God may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage.

This noun is translated as “grace” in this verse, but in Joshua 11:20 as mercy,” and then again as “supplication” (i.e., a cry for mercy) in Psalm 6:9; 55:1; and 119:170.  So although the Ezra 9:8 reference comes close to the use of the meaning of charis (“grace”) in the New Testament, this is not the word’s dominant use.   However, the best choice for the equivalent of the Greek word charis (grace) is the Hebrew word chesed (Strong’s #2617).  Regularly, the Greek word charis (grace) is translated by Jewish scholars and in songs translated into Hebrew by the word chesed, as my wife and I experienced in the three months we spent in Jerusalem (Aug. 2 – Oct. 31, 2016).  And chesed is seen and used throughout the Old Testament just as the Greek word charis is seen and used in the New Testament, as I’ve also shown in part 1 of this study.  But now in this second part of the study, I want to continue discussing what I’ve learned about chesed [grace] in the Old Testament.

INDIVIDUALS MAY WISH GOD’S CHESED [GRACE] ON OTHERS.

In the Old Testament, we are taught that we may wish God’s chesed [grace] on others.  For example, in 2 Samuel 15:20, David offers “mercy [Heb. chesed; grace] and truth be with you” to Ittai the Gittite, a Gentile.  Consequently, Paul may be following David’s example by offering “Grace and peace” to his Gentile audience in his epistles.  We do see it used in reference to forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God as in the New Testament, such as the following passage in Hosea,

Who is God like unto You, that pardons iniquity, and passes by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in MERCY [Heb. chesed].  He will turn again, He will have compassion on us; He will subdue our iniquities; and You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.  You will perform the truth to Jacob, and the MERCY [Heb. chesed] to Abraham, which you have sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.  (Micah 7:18-20; emphasis mine)

God not only forgives us of our great sins against Him, but He casts them “into the depths of the sea,” and all of this He does as a result of the promise He made to the fathers, “Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  But in addition to this use of grace, the Old Testament provides us with a wider array of its use and understanding.

ISRAEL’S RELATIONSHIP TO GOD IS BASED ON HIS CHESED (“GRACE”).

Throughout the Old Testament, we read how Israel’s relationship was based on God’s chesed [or grace].  In many of the references, the word chesed is translated either as “lovingkindness” or “mercy.”  For example, in Hosea 2:19, God prophecies about His future restoration of the Northern Kingdom back to Himself:

And I will betroth you to Me forever; yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] and in compassion, and I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.  Then you will know the LORD.

And then after the Babylonian exile, after the Jews had returned and were rebuilding the city of Jerusalem and the Temple, we read in Ezra 3:11,

And they sang, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, saying, ‘For He is good, for His LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] is upon Israel forever.’  And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

So in what specific ways has God shown chesed [grace] to the people and nation of Israel?  Some of these will fit our Christian understanding of grace, but others will challenge Christians to look at other unexpected expressions of God’s grace.

GOD LED THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL OUT OF EGYPT BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].  In the Song of Moses [Exodus 15[, Moses is exalting God for His redemption of the people, and he says,

In Your LOVINGKINDNESS [chesed] You have led the people whom You have redeemed; in Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation. (Exodus 15:13; emphasis mine)

Has God changed?  No, He still leads His people by His chesed [grace], and it is in His strength that He guides us to His holy habitation.  Another place we see this is in Psalm 136.  This Psalm provides a beautiful overview and reminder of all the acts of chesed [grace] that God did in the Creation (Psalm 136:5-9) and in Israel’s Exodus from Egypt.  And throughout the Psalm, we read the same refrain: “For His LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] is everlasting.”  And what were His acts of chesed [grace]?

  • He “brought Israel out from their [Egypt’s] midst with a strong hand and an outstretched arm” (Psalm 136:11-12);
  • He “divided the Red Sea asunder, and made Israel pass through the midst of it” (Psalm 136:13-14); and
  • He led “His people through the wilderness” (Psalm 136:16).

It was only AFTER redeeming His people by His grace, His chesed, and bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea [a picture of baptism], that God gave to His people His commandments.   He did NOT give them His commandments and THEN redeemed them, which would be a legalistic approach to God, but He redeemed them FIRST, and only AFTER REDEEMING THEM, did God give His commandments to His people, consisting of both Jew and Non-Jew.  This hardly sounds like the “legalistic approach to God” that Christians often accuse the Old Testament of teaching.

GOD DESTROYED ISRAEL’S ENEMIES BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].

This is a point that I believe many American Christians will find challenging to their preconception of grace.  We have been taught to view grace only within the context of “forgiveness” and love, not in the context of God destroying our physical enemies, and yet this is exactly what the Old Testament teaches us about grace as well.  For example, in Psalm 136, and again as before, there is this repeating refrain after each statement, “For His LOVINGKINDNESS, His chesed [or “grace’] is everlasting.”

  • To Him who smote [or killed] the Egyptians in their firstborn (vs. 10);
  • To Him who smote [killed] great kings (vs. 17);
  • And slew [killed] mighty kings (vs. 18);
  • Sihon, king of the Amorites (vs. 19);
  • And Og, king of Bashan (vs. 20);
  • and gave their land as a heritage (vs. 21)
  • even a heritage to Israel His servant (vs. 22).

Does our Christian concept of grace include the idea of God taking human life for the benefit of His people?  Some say, “Well that was the Old Testament.  God is not like that since the death of Jesus on the cross.”  Really?  Did you know if you treat the Communion /the Lord’s Supper (a covenant meal) in an “unworthy manner,” we eat and drink God’s judgment upon ourselves:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord…For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are WEAK and SICK, and a NUMBER SLEEP [i.e., have died].  (I Corinthians 11:27, 29, 30; emphasis mine].

Am I saying that when a Christian becomes physically weak, or sick, or even dies, it is because they have irreverently ate of the Communion?  No, it’s not the only reason for these things to happen, but Paul is saying that it is A REASON.  So even in the New Testament, God does judge us for our sin, including killing those who does not reverently treat those things that are holy to Him.

Has God changed?  No, He hasn’t.  He is still the same God who punished the Egyptians with plagues, who drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea, who oversaw the destruction of the Canaanites so that Israel could inherit the land, and it is the same God who judges those who irreverently treat His holy things.  So when we think about this aspect of our God, do we see all of this as “God’s grace”?

GOD ESTABLISHED DAVID AS KING BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].

According to Psalm 89, God had NOT only made David king by His chesed [grace], but unlike Saul, God would NEVER remove His chesed [grace] from him or his family line.

I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, with whom My hand will be established; My arm also will strengthen him…And my faithfulness and My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed;  grace] will be with him, and in My name his horn [rule] will be exalted.  (Psalm 89:20, 21, 24; emphasis mine)

God then again reconfirms His covenant with David,

My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips.  Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David.  His descendants shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me.  It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful.  Selah.

GOD ESTABLISHED SOLOMON AS KING BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].

After Solomon is made king, He prays to God and says,

You have shown great LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed] to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed], that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day.  (I kings 3:6; emphasis mine)

GOD SHALL ESTABLISH THE MESSIAH ON DAVID’S THRONE BY HIS CHESED [GRACE].

Throughout the writings of the ancient Hebrew prophets, there are prophecies of the coming son [or descendant] of David who will come and one day rule and reign from his throne over Israel and the nations.  For example, in Isaiah 6-7, we read,

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, ON THE THRONE OF DAVID and over His Kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.  The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this. [Emphasis mine]

Notice where will this future “son of David” rule and reign?  “On the throne of David,” but where is his throne?  It is in the city of Jerusalem in Israel.  Consequently, the throne in heaven belongs to the Father, but the throne in Jerusalem belongs to the Messiah, the son of David: the Messiah Yeshua /Jesus.  This means that Yeshua/ Jesus has not yet ascended His throne.

In Isaiah 16:5, we also read,

A throne will even be established in LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace], and a judge will sit on it in faithfulness in the tent of David; Moreover he will seek justice and be prompt in righteousness.  (Emphasis mine)

MESSIAH SHALL ALWAYS POSSESS GOD’S CHESED [GRACE].

Not only will the Messiah, the son of David, be made king by God’s chesed [grace], but He will always possess it.  In Psalm 89:28, we read,

My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] I will keep for Him forever….But I will not break off My LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] from Him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.

GOD’S CHESED [GRACE] CANNOT BE PROCLAIMED FROM THE GRAVE.

Finally, the Old Testament teaches us that we cannot proclaim God’s grace from the grave:

Will You perform wonders for the dead?  Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?  Selah.  Will Your LOVINGKINDNESS [Heb. chesed; grace] be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon?  Will your wonders be known in the darkness?  And Your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Psalm 88:10-12; Emphasis mine)

And the obvious answer to this rhetorical question of whether God’s grace, His chesed, will be declared in the grave is “No, it will not be,” but Jesus did rise from the dead to continue to proclaim forevermore the grace of God in His reign and rule over our lives within His Kingdom.

When I began this study, I thought I could do it all in two parts; however, after completing part two, I realize that a third and final part is necessary.  I have already started it, and I will have it ready in a couple of days.  I hope you have found this study so far a blessing to you.

 

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Romans 14: “Does It Do Away with the Food Laws & Feasts?” (Part 2/2)

CAN FOOD AND SOCIAL STATUS AND PRESTIGE CAUSE A PROBLEM IN THE CHURCH?  Yes, it can.  As we discovered in part 1 of this series, food in ancient Roman culture was associated with social status and prestige.  The poor could not afford to buy fish and meat usually, and therefore ate fruits, breads, and vegetables; whereas, the rich, wealthy affluent Romans had the means to buy whatever food they wanted to eat.  The rich were looking down upon the poor when they came together for fellowship and meals.  Paul addresses this issue here in Romans 14, as well as in I Corinthians 8.

As we went through and examined Romans 13:14 – 14: 9, it became apparent that the text was dealing with issues surrounding Roman food and festival practices, as well as social status and privilege, and NOT with the biblical food laws nor the biblical feasts, such as the Sabbath.  There have been a number of Christians who have taken verses from Romans 14 out of context, and they have misapplied them to try to prove that God’s food laws and His biblical feasts, including the Sabbath, is no longer relevant to the Christian, nor is it to be observed.  But as we saw, this is a heinous misinterpretation and misapplication of the Scriptures.  So now in this final part of the study, we want to complete the chapter and see how Paul completes his argument regarding this issue.

WHY DO YOU JUDGE YOUR BROTHER?

In Romans 14:3-4, Paul asks the question, “Who are you to judge another man’s servant?” And in these two verses, he says that we should not judge one another when it comes to these two preferences of eating.  Again, as I mentioned last time, Paul is NOT dealing with the biblical food laws in Leviticus 11 or Deuteronomy 14: 3-21; instead, he is dealing with man-made Roman customs and culture concerning food, festivals, and social status and prestige that was associated with these things.

Again, as we saw by comparing Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8 with I Corinthians 5, we are NOT to judge another Christian when it comes to choices of personal opinion about things that the WHOLE BIBLE, i.e., from Genesis to Revelation, does NOT explicitly address, but we are to judge other Christians when it comes to them violating what God has said and made clear in the WHOLE BIBLE.  In other words, the WHOLE BIBLE is the Bible for Christians, NOT just the New Testament.  Christians and ministers who teach that any part of the Bible is not for today is not teaching the truth.

PAUL NOW ADDRESSES THE RICH BELIEVERS

Now beginning in the following passage to the end of the chapter, Paul’s focus is again on the rich, wealthy believers (“who eat all things”) for judging the poor believers (those “who eat only vegetables”).

But you, why do you judge your brother?  Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt?  For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”  So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12)

In this passage, Paul reiterates the questions of why are they judging and showing contempt for the poor on this non-biblical issue about food?  He points out that each of us will one day “stand before the judgment seat of God” to give an account of our lives before Him, and to back this statement up, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45:23.

The very fact that he quotes from the Old Testament (Heb. Tanakh) over and over again in his writings demonstrates that Paul is using the Old Testament to back up and support his teachings, AND that the Old Testament is the context in which he understands what is happening in his life and ministry (i.e., the New Testament).  He then continues by writing,

Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – NOT to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.  (Romans 14:10-13; Emphasis Mine)

It was the rich, wealthy ones who were buying the meat in the “meat markets” that had been offered earlier to idols before it reached the market that was causing “a stumbling block” to the poor believers.  Again, this reaffirms who Paul is addressing.  But we should understand that when it comes to personal opinions about NON-BIBLICAL ISSUES, we should NOT put “an obstacle or a stumbling block” in the way of other believers, who are likewise trying to serve Christ in their life.

COMMON OR UNCLEAN?

This next verse, though, seems to complicate the understanding that we are still dealing with a NON-BIBLICAL ISSUE (i.e., it’s not discussed in any of God’s commandments):

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is UNCLEAN in itself; but to him who THINKS anything to be UNCLEAN, to him it is UNCLEAN.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

First of all, the word “THINKS” is a present participle verb, and therefore refers to “repeated or continuous action.”  This means that the person thought it was “UNCLEAN” before they got saved, and they still think it is “UNCLEAN.”  The idea that the food was “UNCLEAN” did not happen because they got saved, and this only re-affirms that we are NOT dealing with the biblical food laws or the biblical feasts, which most non-Jews at the time would not have known that much about.

The thing that throws most readers off, of course, is the word “UNCLEAN” (Gk. koinos), but what’s interesting is that this Greek word is only translated as “UNCLEAN” here in Romans 14:14According to Strong’s #2389, the Greek word koinos means “common,” or literallysomething that’s shared by all or several.”  In fact, it is translated as “COMMON” nine (9) out of the fifteen (15) times it is used in the New Testament.  For example,

And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in COMMON [Gk. koinos]. (Acts 2:44; Emphasis Mine)

And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own; but all things were COMMON [Gk. koinos] property to them. (Acts 4:32; Emphasis Mine)

To Titus, mine own son after the COMMON [Gk. koinos] faith:… (Titus 1:4; Emphasis Mine)

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the COMMON [Gk. koinos] salvation,… (Jude 3)

As we can see in all four of these verses, the word translated as “COMMON” is the same exact Greek word that’s translated as “UNCLEAN” in Romans 14:14.  Am I trying to suggest a conspiracy here among the translators to hide the truth?  No, I am trying to get us to deepen our understanding of Romans 14 beyond the surface English text.

AKATHARTOS – ANOTHER WORD FOR “UNCLEAN”?

In the majority of passages (28 of them) in the New Testament, the word “UNCLEAN” is NOT the English translation of the Greek word koinos, but the Greek word akathartos, which means “impure (ceremonial, moral [lewd], or special  [daemonic]) :- foul, unclean.”  Koinos is translated three (3) times as “UNCLEAN” but ONLY in Romans 14:14.

What I found interesting about the Greek word akarthartos is that it’s used only in reference to “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” but NOT to food.  For example, in his epistles, Paul states that if two parents are unsaved, then their children are “unclean” (I Corinthians 7:14), and in another epistle, he lists the “unclean person” among others who will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (Ephesians 5:5).  And in 2 Corinthians 6:17, Paul quotes Isaiah 52:11, in saying that we are not to touch “the unclean thing” (i.e., we are not to touch anything unclean).  So if we are not to touch anything that’s “unclean,” according to Isaiah and Paul, then how can the biblical food laws have ended at the cross, as most Christians teach, since there are certain foods which are designated by God as being “unclean”?

KOINOS – A MAN-MADE LAW?

But unfortunately, in our English translations, there’s no way for someone to know which Greek word is being used unless they consult a Concordance.  So even though the Greek word akathartos is only used for “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” the word kainos is dominantly used to refer to something that “commonly shared” or “commonly experienced.”  However, the word does appear once in all of the Gospels, and then it’s used in reference to man-made “ceremonial laws,” as opposed to the biblical food laws given by God:

Then came together unto him [Jesus] the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.  And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled [Gk. kainos], that is to say, with unwashed, hands, they found fault.  (Mark 7:1-2)

Nowhere in the Bible does God ever command people to wash their hands before eating.  This is a MAN-MADE RULE, created by the Pharisees, and they are attempting to use shame and fault-finding as a way of coercing Jesus and His followers to submit to their authority.  And anyone who knows the account knows that Jesus does not submit to them, but rebuffs them for substituting their own MAN-MADE RULES for Scripture.  And again, this account has nothing to do with the food laws that God handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.

KAINOS VS. AKATHARTOS

So although the Greek word akathartos is used to refer to “unclean spirits” and “unclean people,” the Greek word koinos is used to refer to something that’s “COMMON,” “commonly shared” or to a “man-made rule” about something, such as food.  And in Acts 10, we find the Greek word kainos paired up with the word akathartos in Peter’s vision of the unclean animals in the sheet.  In this account, we read,

Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.  And there came a voice to him, “Rise, Peter, kill, and eat.” (Acts 10:9-13)

Many people read this part of the vision and automatically assume because Peter was hungry, and he’s shown all these animals and told to “kill and eat,” that the point of the vision is about food. However, as we will discover later, this is not the case.  When Peter is instructed to do this in his vision, how does Peter respond?

But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is COMMON [Gk. koinos] or unclean [Gk. akathartos]. And the voice spoke unto him again the second time, “What God has cleansed, that call not COMMON [Gk. kainos].” (Acts 10:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

Notice, that there are TWO categories in which something can be described: “COMMON” (Gk. koinos) ORUNCLEAN” (Gk. akatharthos). These are not the same category, but two different categories.  And also notice that God did NOT say, “What God has cleansed, that call not COMMON or UNCLEAN,” but he was only told NOT to call them “COMMON” (Gk. koinos).  For as we’ve seen, Paul continues to use the word “UNCLEAN” (Gk. akathartos) in reference to the children of the unsaved (I Corinthians 7:14) and to the “unclean person” who won’t make it into the kingdom of heaven, and he even quotes Isaiah to remind us that we are not to “touch the unclean thing” (2 Corinthians 6:17).

Consequently, to understand this vision to be about food is to have an extremely superficial view of the vision.  Peter is a Jew having a vision about animals.  This imagery should provoke a memory of another Jew who had a vision about animals, the prophet Daniel.  And in Daniel 7-8, the animals are used in his vision to represent Gentile (non-Jewish) people and kingdoms.  And the same is true here in Peter’s vision, and this is the way Peter, who saw the vision, understood the meaning and point of his own vision:

And he [Peter] said to them, “You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God has showed me that I should not call ANY MAN COMMON [Gk. kainos] or UNCLEAN [Gk. akatharthos].” (Acts 10:28; Emphasis Mine]

Although God didn’t tell Peter NOT to call ANY MAN “UNCLEAN” in Acts 10 :15, I find it interesting that Peter understood the comment to include “UNCLEAN.”  But in either case, the animal imagery was about non-Jewish (i.e., “Gentile) people, NOT about food.  Consequently, I think it is extremely arrogant of mainstream Christianity to give a different meaning to Peter’s vision when it was he who had it, he who interpreted it, and it was he who acted on it, NOT them.

SO WHY DOES PAUL USE KOINOS IN ROMANS 14?

Now getting back to Romans 14, let’s review the verse again,

I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is UNCLEAN in itself; but to him who THINKS anything to be UNCLEAN, to him it is UNCLEAN.  For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.  (Romans 14:14-15; Emphasis Mine)

What does Paul mean that “nothing is UNCLEAN [Gk. koinos] in itself”?  When it comes to MAN-MADE CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS, as we saw the term used in Mark 7:1-2, nothing is UNCLEAN in itself.  It is NOT inherently UNCLEAN by creation, but it is “CLEAN” or “UNCLEAN” because God is the King of His Kingdom and, therefore, He is the ONLY One who has the right to decide what His people should eat or not eat.  NOT People.  And as we’ve seen here in Romans 14, since the food is representative of people and their social prestige and status, we also know from Peter’s vision that no PERSON, once cleansed by God, should be called “UNCLEAN.”

So now that we understand the meaning of the Greek word koinos, why would Paul use this word here in Romans 14?  I believe the reason is two-fold:

  1.  He is addressing these man-made Roman laws and customs – NOT the biblical food laws handed down by God; and
  2.  He’s use of this word alludes to the fact that the food is something they are to hold in “COMMON,” something they “COMMONLY SHARE,” so it should be enjoyed, and NOT used as a weapon to judge the poor among them.

THE FOCUS OF THE KINGDOM

In the next verse, Paul contradicts their behavior with what should be seen as the appropriate focus of “citizens of the Kingdom:”

Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is NOT eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For he who in this way SERVES Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.  (Romans 14:16-18; Emphasis Mine)

What service to Christ “is acceptable to God and approved by men”?  “Righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  So as a result, how are we supposed to act?

So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. 

Should we “tear down the work of God” in a person’s life merely to hold on to our man-made customs and traditions?  No, absolutely not.  Again, Paul is not dealing with the biblical food laws handed down by God, but Roman customs and traditions.

All things indeed are CLEAN, but they are evil for the man who EATS and gives offense.  It is good NOT to EAT MEAT or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.  (Romans 14:19-21; Emphasis Mine)

The word translated as “CLEAN” here is the Greek word katharos, and it is the opposite of both koinos and akathartos.  According to Strong’s #2513, it means “Clean in the sense that something is lawful to be eaten or used.”  It does not, in fact, violate any biblical command.  Remember, we have to keep Paul’s comments in context.  Paul is addressing the rich, wealthy believers who are bringing their meats to the community meals, and then using them as a basis for judging the poor believers, who are only able to bring “vegetables.”   So in what sense are all these meats “CLEAN“?

According to Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke, “all things are CLEAN” when they have been given as alms (Luke 11:41).  What are “alms”?  They are gifts to the poor.  By them bringing their meats to the meal, it is a form of alms, in which case, “all things are indeed clean,” just as Jesus taught.  But again, Jesus nor Paul is dealing with biblically “unclean” food, but “unclean” according to Roman custom and tradition.

However, even if the food brought is given as a gift, it can still be used to cause offense, which Paul describes as “evil.”  Paul then clarifies that it is “NOT good to eat meat, drink wine, or do anything to cause our brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble.”  In all the years I’ve heard this chapter taught, I’ve never heard any minister or Christian teacher even suggest, using this verse, that Christians should NOT eat meat.  The point here is that we should not use our money and personal preferences to cause a Christian brother or sister to stumble, and he is applying this principle to their situation.  Obviously, then, Paul is not teaching us that we can “do our own thing,” and disregard the beliefs, values and feelings of the other believers that are also there within the congregation.

BE CONVINCED ABOUT WHAT YOU BELIEVE

In this final verse, Paul re-affirms that we need to be convinced about what we believe and what we do.  Logically, to be convinced that something is true implies the existence of evidence for that belief.  In fact, the word “faith” (Gk. pistis; Strong’s #4102) is a word rooted in Greco-Roman logic and argument, and it means “to persuade or to be persuaded.”  How do you “persuade” people about something?  Obviously, this requires evidence.  So what evidence do we have?  The teachings of the Whole Bible and our experiences with God in our lives.

For example, in 2 Timothy 3:16 it states,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God [lit. “God-breathed”], and is profitable for doctrine, FOR REPROOF, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. [Emphasis Mine]

The word “reproof” in English literally means “to prove again.” In the Greek, one of the meanings of the word elegchos (Strong’s #1650), translated here as “REPROOF” is “evidence.”  Have you been convinced by the evidence of God’s Word and what He’s done in your life that God is real, that He loves you, and that the same God we read about from Genesis to Revelation is the same God who is at work in your life?  And it’s this same God who says in His Word that He doesn’t change (Malachi 3:6), and because He doesn’t change, His Word and His standards, likewise, do not change.

Are you convinced by the whole Bible that your faith is real?  Are you convinced by the whole Bible that you are still on the right path and have not fallen away from Him?  Are you convinced by the whole Bible that your thoughts, words, and behavior are “pleasing in His eyes”?  Or are there things about your new life in Christ that you’re not convinced of yet from the whole Bible and, therefore, doubt those things?

Are you convinced from the whole Bible that God wants to rule and reign over every aspect of your life, including what you eat? Have you been convinced through the whole Bible of what God says about this?  Apparently, there were those in Rome who were not:

The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.  Happy is he who does not CONDEMN himself in what he approves.  But he who DOUBTS is condemned if he EATS,  because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.  (Romans 14:22-23; Emphasis Mine)

The word “faith” in these verses does not mean “mental assent or agreement,” but it means to be convinced from the evidence of God’s Word.  When we are so convinced about something that we act on it, then our actions are based on our “CONVICTIONS.”  A “CONVICTION” is something you are convinced is true.  And if you are not convinced by the whole Bible that what you are doing is right, then Paul says that “whatever is not from faith” (i.e., being persuaded or conviction) is sin.  Are you convinced, even about your food?  Paul alludes to the fact that we can be convinced, we can act in “faith,” but to get there, we must spend time studying the whole Bible – NOT just certain parts.

CONCLUSION

Can Romans 14 be used to argue that Christians are not required to follow the biblical food laws handed down by God to Moses?  No, as we’ve seen in this two-part study, Romans 14 does NOT, in any way, deal with the biblical food laws, or with the biblical feasts, such as the Sabbath, but it deals with Roman customs, traditions, and feasts.  Consequently, to use Romans 14 in the manner that most Christians do, to disprove the Old Testament Scriptures, only demonstrates their lack of understanding regarding the historical, social-cultural context of the book of Romans, the issues within the Roman congregation, and its actual intended meaning for believers today.

What this chapter should teach us today is that we are not to judge other believers when it comes to our own personal opinions and preferences about things, or NON-BIBLICAL ISSUES.  If a Christian does do something that’s in clear violation of Scripture (Old and New Testament), then we do have the right to address that issue with the person privately first, and then if the person does not repent, we are to try again with two or three witnesses, and then only if they still will not repent, we are to inform the pastor or elders about it, and let the church approach the issue (see Matthew 18:15-17).

What we are NOT to do is tell others about it in your own little clique (gossip), slander the reputation of the person in the church, nor are you to put it on Twitter, FaceBook, or any other social media.  We are to build one another up, encourage one another, and support one another – NOT tear one another apart!  The church is NOT supposed to be a “piranha pool” where we devour one another and then “spit” the person out.  Unfortunately, this is what many churches have become.

And when it comes to social gatherings, do not try and use your food to build yourself up, to impress others, or to make someone else feel bad because they could not bring a meal just as nice.  Be nice to that person, encourage them, and love them, invite them to sit with you and your family.  Can you imagine what the church would be like if people actually followed the Bible, rather than their own personal views and opinions?

 

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Romans 14: “Does It Do Away with the Food Laws & Feasts?” (Part 1/2)

DOES ROMANS 14 DO AWAY WITH THE FOOD LAWS AND FEASTS?  When questions about the food laws or even the biblical feast days, including observing the Sabbath, one of the references that Christians use to try and disprove the need for them to observe God’s law about them is Romans 14.  But is this the appropriate CONTEXT in which we are to understand this passage, or is this another example of Christians removing verses out of CONTEXT?

WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE CONTEXT?

It should be remembered that Paul is writing this letter to a Roman congregation, not to a Jewish one, and that the ancient Romans also had their own customs and traditions, including those that dealt with food and special days.  So just because beliefs about food and special days are mentioned DOES NOT MEAN Paul is talking about the biblical food laws or feasts.

In fact, there’s textual evidence to support the fact that the biblical food laws and feasts were NOT the topic under discussion.  Let’s examine the following passage to get a better idea of the context of this chapter.  It should be remembered that when Paul wrote this letter, there were no chapter or verse breaks.  Those were put in over 1300 years later.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.  Receive him that is weak in the faith, but NOT to doubtful disputations.  (Romans 13:14 – 14:1; Emphasis mine)

As we can see here, Paul is discussing “the flesh,” its “lusts,” and “doubtful disputations,” or as its written in more modern translations, “not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions” (NASB).  Now God’s commandments are not “the flesh,” or its “lusts,” nor is the Word of God a person’s “opinion.”  Clearly, the context here is dealing with human opinions about human (i.e., Roman) beliefs.

WHAT IS THE CONTROVERSY?

In verse 2, Paul lays out the controversy between these two Roman groups in regard to food.

One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables ONLY.  (Romans 14:2; Emphasis Mine)

The word “ONLY” is not in the original Greek text; it was added by the translators.  But today, we would identify these two groups as “meat-eaters” and “vegans” or “vegetarians.”  In God’s food laws, there is no commandment that people are to eat only vegetables, but He does give us many different types of animals that we can eat.  Yes, there are certain ones that He forbids us to eat, but many He permits.  Consequently, this is not an argument regarding the biblical food laws, but Roman practice in regard to food.

In Saugat Adhikan’s online article “Top 10 ancient Roman foods and drink,” published July 21, 2015, on the Ancient History List website, he writes in regard to “vegetables,”

Unlike the rich Romans, the common peasant diets were more dependent on vegetables than any other food items. The staple vegetables were the legumes which consisted of three primary legume items – beans, lentils and peas. They were often mixed into bread and since they were much easily available sources of protein, these legumes became a routine item in Roman meals.

Later on in the article, he discusses “meats and fish”:

Meat used to be an expensive consumption item in ancient Rome (at least for the poor Roman peasants), so the common people preferred buying it in small pieces and used to get a major share during the festivals. Meat used to be more exclusive to the rich since they could afford pretty much anything. So naturally, a variety of meat items used to be served in the grand dinner parties the rich Roman families used to throw on occasions. Primary meat sources were poultry, wild game such as rabbit, hare and boar.

It further extended to a variety of birds like geese, ducks, blackbirds, doves, magpies, quails and woodcocks. The meat of flamingo, peacock and ostrich were considered quite exotic   – THEIR PRESENCE AT THE DINNER WAS TAKEN AS A MATTER OF HONOR FOR THE HOUSE OWNER.  They also had a taste for fish, especially the ones found in the Mediterranean, which they ate fresh, dried, salted, smoked or pickled.  [Emphasis Mine]

Consequently, what we learn from this article is that social status was attached to food.  The poor were those who ate breads and vegetables, and the wealthy were those who could eat “all things.”  So the controversy was not just about food, but about social status and prestige that was reflected with the food.  I can imagine the rich, wealthy Roman believers looking down, or passing “judgment,” on the poor believers for only being able to serve vegetables; whereas, the rich, wealthy ones could provide a luxurious meal at their homes.

PAUL’S ADMONITION

Then beginning in the next verse, Paul begins to address this issue:

Let not him who EATS regard with contempt him who does not EAT, and let not him who does not EAT judge him who EATS, for God has accepted him.  (Romans 14:3; Emphasis Mine)

Now in this verse, the word “EATS” and “EAT” are present participle verbs.  This means it refers to “repeating” or “continuing action.”  This alludes to the fact that the rich, wealthy Roman believers ate whatever they wanted before they got saved, and the poor ate vegetables before they got saved, and each group was continuing to eat the same way AFTER they got saved.  But now that they’re saved and in the SAME CONGREGATION, these attitudes regarding social standing and food was causing problems, and Paul is feeling the need to address this conflict.

Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  (Romans 14:4)

Paul here clearly states that when it comes to HUMAN OPINIONS on things outside of the Bible’s teachings, we are not to judge one another.  But according to Paul, when it comes to clear violations of biblical teaching, then we ARE to judge one another.  And there’s a specific reference to this.

PAUL CONDEMNS THE CHURCH AT CORINTH FOR ALLOWING SEXUAL IMMORALITY.

In I Corinthians 5, Paul condemns the Christians at Corinth for allowing a Christian man to remain a part of their congregation for his blatant sin (or violation of God’s law):

It is actually reported that there is fornication [or sexual immorality] among you, and fornication [or sexual immorality] of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his fathers wife.  And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst.  (I Corinthians 5:1-2)

Now whether this guy was sleeping with his mother or his step-mom is not clear, but this is a clear violation of Leviticus 18:6-8.  I wish I could say this was still a sin so heinous that even Gentiles don’t do it, but that is not true in this day and age.   But does Paul say to just love and forgive him?  No, he says to cast him out of the church:

For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.  (I Corinthians 5:3-5)

For any Christian to boast about God’s grace while allowing sin to thrive within the church, Paul says is wrong.  In fact, Paul went on to say,

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people.  I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolators: for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you NOT TO ASSOCIATE with ANY SO-CALLED BROTHER if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolator, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – NOT EVEN TO EAT WITH SUCH A ONE.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders?  Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside [of the church] God judges.  REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.  (I Corinthians 5:9-13; Emphasis Mine)

Obviously, for any Christian to follow Paul’s teachings here in I Corinthians 5 REQUIRES that we judge other believers, but NOT BASED ON OUR OWN OPINION, but BASED ON WHAT THE WHOLE BIBLE CLEARLY TEACHES.  Therefore, this only reaffirms again that Romans 14 does NOT deal with biblical teaching, but with ROMAN BELIEFS AND PRACTICES.

IN REGARD TO ROMAN FESTIVALS

In Romans 14:5-6, Paul then begins to address the conflict regarding the Roman festivals.

One day regards one day above another, another regards every day ALIKE.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.  He who OBSERVES the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.  (Emphasis Mine)

Again, the word “ALIKE” is not in the original Greek, but it was added by a translator.  Also, the word “OBSERVES” is a present participle verb, which again refers to “repeating” or “continuing action.”  So just like the food, these “days” or “festivals” were celebrated BEFORE one group was saved, and they continued to celebrate them AFTER they were saved.  The same is true with the other group as well.  And Paul here intimately connects the food and festivals together.   They are one in the minds of the Romans, and they are one in Paul’s mind too.

CONNECTING I CORINTHIANS 8 AND ROMANS 14

In I Corinthians 8, Paul deals with the Christians at Corinth in regard to these same Roman festivals,

Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.  For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.  (I Corinthians 8:4-6)

Paul here denies the existence of any God, but the One God of the Bible.  And then he says that even if there were other gods (which he just denied the existence of), he says for us, there’s only one.  He then says,

However, not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience BEING WEAK is defiled.  But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we eat it, nor the better if we do eat.  But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to THE WEAK.  (I Corinthians 8:7-9)

Here seems to be a clear reference to the “weak in faith” that Paul refers to in Romans 14:1-2 when it comes to the food and festivals (or “days”).  Paul then gives this warning:

But take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to THE WEAK.  For if someone sees you, who have knowledge [that these gods are false], dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is WEAK, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?  For through your knowledge, he who is WEAK is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.  And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is WEAK, you sin against Christ.  Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.  (I Corinthians 8:9-13; emphasis Mine)

Consequently, by pairing I Corinthians 8 with Romans 14, we gain a lot more insight into another part of the issue with the Christians who are “weak in faith.”

As Adhikan’s article pointed out, fish and meats were often a part of the Roman festivals, and these meats would be sacrificed to the Roman gods before being served to the congregants in attendance.  So it seems that the ones Paul calls “weak in faith” may have been newborn believers who were very involved in the idol worship and the festivals, and so seeing any Christian partaking of them would be a “great offense” and “a stumbling block” to these believers.  And what was true at Corinth was apparently also true in Rome.

PAUL CONTINUES HIS ARGUMENT

Notice how Paul continues his argument in Romans 14:

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.  (Romans 14:7-9)

When it comes to things NOT clearly taught in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we are NOT to judge one another’s PERSONAL OPINIONS, nor are to cause AN OFFENSE or A STUMBLING BLOCK to others that Jesus died to save.  Instead, we are to lift each other up and to edify (or strengthen) the faith of all believers, regardless of their social status within society.

CONCLUSION

Does Romans 14 invalidate the biblical food laws or the biblical feasts, including the Sabbath?  And the answer is no, it doesn’t.  Romans 14 deals with man-made Roman beliefs and practices, it does not in any way deal with the biblical teachings regarding the food laws or the biblical feasts.  To apply Paul’s comments and teachings on something man-made or Roman to the Word of God is a heinous misinterpretation and misapplication of the Scriptures.

We CANNOT use Scripture to INVALIDATE and ANNUL Scripture, for just as Jesus taught,

And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.  And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.  (Mark 3:24-25)

And if we divide the Bible “against itself,” then the Bible cannot stand.  We do not strengthen the faith of people in the Bible, and the God of the Bible, by dividing the Bible up and using one part to invalidate the other.  We must approach the WHOLE BIBLE as ONE CONTINUOUS REVELATION, and NOT as TWO SEPARATE REVELATIONS.  The Law of God, nor the Old Testament as a whole, ended at the cross.  This is simply not the case, as if I have shown over and over again.

This error that the Old and New Testaments are “TWO SEPARATE REVELATIONS” is error based upon error, and we can already see the damage that this erroneous approach has caused (and is continuing to cause) the Christian faith, and it will only continue to get worse, unless Christians go back to a WHOLE BIBLE APPROACH.  Please pray and seek God about this, because it is vitally important.

Now in Part 2 of this study, I want to continue breaking Romans 14 down and examine how it all weaves together.

 

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GOD LOVES US, BUT DO WE REALLY LOVE GOD?

“HOW MUCH DO I REALLY LOVE GOD?”  This is a question that’s been on my mind over the last two years.  In any relationship, love must be something that is both received and given.  It won’t work if it’s only going one way.  And over and over again growing up, I’ve heard from ministers and have read in the Bible that God loves me, He loves each of us, but the question I found myself repeatedly asking is, “Do I really love God?  And how do I know?”

TAKING A HARD LOOK AT MY LOVE FOR GOD

I grew up going to church, and singing hymns, choruses and songs to God during worship, and I’ve written songs expressing my love for Him.  But during the week, Monday through Saturday, do I love God with the same intensity, the same emotions that I do when I am standing in church?  It’s easy to say I love God when things are going well, or when I get a raise or a bonus, or when everyone in my family is healthy, but what about when things are not going well, when I am sick or someone I love is sick, or when a tragedy happens?  Do I love God still, or do I turn on Him, and begin to blame Him for everything wrong in my life?

FACING THE REALITY

I wish I could say that I’ve always loved God, even in the darkest of moments, but the truth is that there’s been many times when I’ve gotten plenty angry when I’ve prayed for things and they didn’t happen, or when a tragedy happened, I’ve turned around and blamed God for my circumstance.  Over the last few years, I’ve had to really look hard at myself, and I’ve discovered things about myself and my relationship with God that I’m not proud of.  My relationship with God has been more superficial, on the surface, but over the last year-and-a-half, I’ve been really trying to work on putting more real “substance” into my relationship with Him.  Not just love Him in church with words, but with my words and actions all seven days of the week.

I remember many years ago, there was a song written  and performed by Gary S. Paxton called, “I Wonder If God Cries.”  As a teen, it was a song that made me begin to think differently about God.  I had forgotten about the song after I got married and started having a family of my own, but recently, God has brought it back to my remembrance.  The lyrics of the song are the following:

I wonder if God cries / when we do the things we do /
do love drops fill His eyes / cause He loves us, oh, so true? /
Sometimes I feel such hurt / when I try to realize /
that even though He’s God / I wonder if God cries. /

I wonder if God cries / is His heart filled with pain /
Does He bow and weep / when we damn His holy name? /
I wish I could see Him / and for the world apologize /
when we stumble so / I wonder if God cries. /

Maybe time will tell / when we reach that distant shore /
with all His children home / maybe God will cry no more. /
Even though He’s God / I wonder if God cries.

How many times do we stop to consider how what we say or do makes God feel?  I know I don’t stop to think about this nearly enough.

DO WE REALLY “LOVE” GOD?

Do we really “LOVE God,” or do we love what He does for us?  Do we seek His Face, His Presence, or are we after His hand, what He can do for us?  Do we love Him as a person?  Do we love His personality, the way He thinks or feels?  Do we ever stop and wonder what makes Him smile, laugh, or cry?  Do we only want enough of God to keep us out of Hell, or do we want all of God that we can get?

I have wondered, maybe, we like having God around in our lives so that when we are sick or in need, He will heal us and provide for us, but how often after we have received that, do we then go our own way and focus on living our own lives, our own goals, our own wants?  How often do we not give God any other thought until we need Him again?  But I have to ask myself, Is treating someone like this “LOVE”??

When we love someone, aren’t we supposed to care about him as a person?  Care about what he likes or doesn’t like?  Care about what makes him smile or laugh, or even what makes him cry?  And yet, it’s so easy to get so focused on “my wants,” “my needs,” my health,” “my financial breakthroughs,” that we don’t ever stop to actually think about God, His needs or His wants.  And yes, God does have “needs” and “wants.”  Not for Himself, but in wanting to bring more people into His Kingdom, as well as meet the needs of those inside and outside of His Kingdom.

But again, are we only trying to get what we can from God and our relationship with Him, or are we contributing to this relationship as well?  Are we spending time “wooing after God,” in the same way that He “woos after us”?  Are we being faithful to Him, as He is to us?”  Are we giving “grace” to God, as He gives “grace” to us?  Remember, a real relationship is two-sided, not one.  I can’t just receive from God, I must also give to Him, if the relationship is real.  God gave us His all, including the life of His only begotten Son, am I giving Him my all in return?

In looking at this issue further, here are six (6) basic ways we can use to begin to measure our love and passion for God:

DO WE PRAY?

Do we spend time each day in prayer with God?  When we really love or care about someone, we like to spend time with them, speaking with them, sharing our day with them.  But if we don’t have a desire to spend time with someone, or even have a desire to speak with them, then we would have to question our claim that we actually do love or care about them.

Although I do pray, I don’t spend as much time in prayer as I should.  I need to work on developing that part of my relationship with God more.  I admire people, like David and Daniel, who prayed three times a day.  I would like to develop that kind of daily prayer life.  But the fact is, what is really important to us is seen not in what we say is important to us, but in what we do.  And I know that this is an area I need to develop more in my relationship with Him.

DO WE STUDY THE BIBLE?

Do we spend time reading and studying the Bible?  There are many American Christians who say they love God, but they don’t spend any time during the week reading or studying the Bible.  How can we say we love someone, but then not have any curiosity to find out who they are, what they are like, or what they want from us as His partner in the relationship?  This is another place where we fail to live up to our confessions of love.

This is apparent that we are not loving God in this area since several studies and articles have been written about the growing biblical illiteracy in America.   For example, in the online article “The Epidemic of Bible Illiteracy in Our Churches” (July 6, 2015), by Ed Stetzer,

A recent LifeWay Research study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers [almost 20%] say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.

Regularly spending time in the Word is what strengthens us spiritually, so obviously if almost 60% of American Christians do not spend a regular time in the Word, then they would be spiritually weak and open to attacks from the enemy.   In a more recent survey, published on April 25, 2017, called “Americans are Fond of the Bible, Don’t Actually Read It,” the Lifeway Research study discovered that the majority of American Christians have not read through the Bible even once.  Of that 80%, 23% have either not read it or just a few sentences.  Only 20% of people sitting in a church have actually read through the Bible from cover-to-cover at least once.

Obviously, if we’re not reading the Bible, then how can we know who God is, what He is like and what’s He’s not like, or even what He expects of us as His people?  If we are not reading the Bible, then how can we expect God to transform our lives?  How can we “be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2) if we are not reading the Bible?  How is God supposed to believe that we sincerely love Him, if we are not even willing to open the Bible at home to read about Him?  How can we say that we would rather die than give up our faith when we won’t even crack a Bible during the week?

DO WE OBEY GOD?

Obviously, if we are not even reading the Bible, then how can we obey Him?  How can we say that we are obeying Him if we don’t even know what it is that He wants us to do?  Without a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, there’s no way any of us can really be living our lives in obedience to God.  In fact, over and over again, throughout the Scriptures, God repeatedly says, “IF YOU LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.”  But how do we do that if we don’t even know what it is He has commanded?

James says that if our faith does not result in corresponding actions, then our faith is dead (James 2:17, 26).  In fact, he says,

But be ye doers of the word, and NOT HEARERS ONLY, deceiving your own selves.  (James 1:22; Emphasis mine)

If all you do is listen to the words of the Bible, but you don’t make it a part of your life by putting it into action in how you live each day, then you are only “deceiving” yourself into believing you have a relationship with God when you don’t.  Even if you get emotionally moved during the sermon, jumping up and down or running around, but you do not obey God’s word outside of church, in your day-to-day life, then your faith is dead, and you are only deceiving yourself.  The sad reality is that a dead faith will ultimately get you the same eternal destination as no faith at all.  It’s time to wake up and to put life into your faith – BEFORE it’s too late!

DO WE GO TO CHURCH?

Another area where many Christians are failing when it comes to loving God is going to church.  More and more churches in America are being forced to close their doors due to non-attendance.  In fact, among those who are still open, many of them no longer have any services on Sunday nights because there’s not enough people coming to warrant keeping the electricity on during those few hours.

How is God to feel about our alleged love and devotion to Him when we won’t even come to church to worship Him?  Do you really think God believes we love Him when we would rather watch a football game on Sunday night than go to church?  C’mon, really?  We are not fooling God by our claims of love while failing to demonstrate our love for Him in our lives.  The only person we are fooling is ourselves.

DO WE TELL OTHERS ABOUT JESUS?

When we fall in love with someone, we can’t wait to tell all of our family and friends about him or her.  But when it comes to Jesus, do we feel at least the same level of passion towards Him?  Are we sharing Him with our family and friends?  How about our co-workers at our job, or do we keep our relationship with Jesus a secret, hidden away, because we’re afraid that if we tell them about Jesus, then we’ll be mocked, made fun of, or even lose friends?

If you kept your boyfriend or girlfriend a secret from your family and friends, afraid to mention him or her to anyone, don’t you think they would believe that you were ashamed of them, of even being seen with them?  If that’s true of how they would feel, how much more do you think Jesus feels when we are afraid to mention His name, or our relationship with Him, to our family, friends and co-workers?  In fact, Jesus even said,

Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him [or her] also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.  (Mark 8:38; a similar statement is made by Jesus in Luke 9:26)

Are you ashamed of Him?  A great article to read with 13 examples of ways to test whether you are ashamed of Him is an article written by an Australian Christian: Steven Kryger’s “Are You Ashamed of Jesus? Consider These 13 Examples.”

DO WE MINISTER TO THE NEEDS OF OTHERS?

Finally, do we minister to the needs of others?  All that Jesus died to do was not just for you to keep for yourself, but it was so that you could share Him with others, as well as to minister to their needs.   How are people to know that there’s more to the gospel than a bunch of words, if we are not willing to put ourselves out there and demonstrate the power of His name and the gospel message by ministering to others?  When you see someone in need, do you like the priest and levite, just walk or drive past him, or do you follow the example of the “good Samaritan,” and stop and help?  Yes, it can be scary at first to put yourself out there, but our love for Jesus demands that we do so.

A WAKE-UP CALL – NOT A CONDEMNATION!

Please do not take this article as if I am trying to condemn you, I am not.  I am trying to give you the same wake-up call that God gave to me.  The result of His call is that it changed my life, and I am hoping that the effect of this article on others will be the same.

There will be those who will try to argue that I am teaching “works righteousness,” but I am not.  I am teaching that we need to do more than simply say, “I love Jesus,” we need to demonstrate that love by what we say and do not only in the church, but also outside of the church Monday through Saturday.  In fact, I believe that what we say and do outside of the church is, in fact, even more important than what we say or do inside the church, because the true test of our love for Christ will happen when we leave the church doors, not when we enter them.

But yes, we should enter them.  God says in His word that –

Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: NOT FORSAKING THE ASSEMBLING OF OURSELVES TOGETHER, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and SO MUCH THE MORE, AS YOU SEE THE DAY APPROACHING.  (Hebrews 10:23-25; Emphasis mine)

First of all, we are told that we are “NOT” to forsake “the assembling of ourselves together.”  This means that if we regularly stay home and do not go to church, even though we are able to do so, then we are in violation of Scripture.  Also, notice that we are supposed to be meeting MORE OFTEN the closer it gets to the day of the Lord’s return.  But instead of gathering more often, American Christians are gathering less often, in contradiction to the teachings of the Scriptures.

If you have not found one already, please find a church that teaches the whole Word of God, not just the New Testament, but all of it.  You want a minister who believes that it is his or her duty to teach “the whole counsel of God,” from cover to cover.  And you also want a minister who believes in interpreting the Bible literally, unless it’s obvious that what is being said is not to be taken literally.  For example, when the Bible refers to us as “His sheep” or when Jesus says, “He is the door,” these are obviously passages that are not to be taken literally.  But any other references should be taken literally.

We need to love God, and not just with our words, but in our actions as well.  LOVE Him with all that you are, all that you have, and with all the resources you have available to you.  Love Him 24-7, not just for a few hours a week on Sunday mornings.   And when you begin to love Him with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength, beginning with these six (s) simple ways, you will begin to see God transform your life, just as He has transformed mine.

 

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HOLINESS – THE REAL FOCUS OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS (Part 1/2)

JESUS DID NOT COME TO DO AWAY WITH THE LAW (Matthew 5:17), BUT HE CAME TO SHOW US HOW TO LIVE IT OUT IN OUR DAY-TO-DAY LIFE.  By living out the commandments in our life, we are following Christ’s example of how to live; we are, in fact, being “Christ-like.”  Unfortunately, many people do not understand that the purpose of the law is NOT JUSTIFICATION, but DISCIPLESHIP AND SANCTIFICATION.  In fact, did you know that there’s NOT a single verse in all of Paul’s epistles where he argues against using the law for SANCTIFICATION?  Instead, the opposite is true.  There are plenty of examples where Paul alludes to the Law in discussing the SANCTIFICATION and daily lifestyle of the believer.  In fact, the very first mention of the word “disciple” is in connection with the law (see Isaiah 8:16).

SALVATION – NOT A ONE-TIME EVENT?

Most people have been erroneously taught that salvation is a one-time event.  They go forward to the altar, they say the “sinner’s prayer,” they ask God to forgive them and then ask Jesus to be their Lord and Savior, and then from that moment on, they are told that “they are saved.”  The problem, of course, is that people then put all of their trust in a one-time decision, rather than in their continuing relationship with Jesus Christ.

When people ask, “Are you saved?”  They think back to this one-time decision, rather than examining where are they right now in their relationship with Jesus.  Have they continued with Him?  Has their relationship with Him grown?  Has it intensified?  Has it ceased?  Has it grown stale?  Or do they have the fruit of holiness in their life as proof that their continuing experience of salvation was, in fact,  legitimate and real?

WHAT IS “SALVATION”?

SALVATION is NOT a one-time event, but a life-long journey, an exodus where we leave behind our old life of sin and we move forward with Christ to the “promised land” of His Kingdom.  And in this journey, there are three stages that we usually go through and experience: JUSTIFICATION, SANCTIFICATION, and GLORIFICATION.  And at each of these stages, we are “separated” from some aspect of sin:

JUSTIFICATION.  “WE HAVE BEEN SAVED.”  This is when we are “SEPARATED FROM THE PENALTY OF SIN.”  This initial stage is called being “Born Again,” being “Born Anew” or “Born from above.”  And Repentance, Regeneration, and Adoption are all things that happen in this initial stage.

SANCTIFICATION.  “WE ARE BEING SAVED.”  During this stage, we are being “SEPARATED FROM THE POWER OF SIN.”  This stage is the longest one in the life of the believer and involves most of our Christian walk.  (We will discuss this further on in this article.)

GLORIFICATION.  “WE SHALL BE SAVED.”  This stage occurs in the future when we shall be “SEPARATED FROM THE VERY PRESENCE OF SIN.”  This stage will happen very quickly, “in the twinkling of an eye,” at the time of the resurrection from the dead when we receive our immortal bodies (I Corinthians 15:51-55; i Thessalonians 4:15-17).

MOSAIC LAW – NOT ABOUT JUSTIFICATION?

So in arguing that we are not saved (or JUSTIFIED) by the “works of the law,” Paul is saying that the law has no role in this initial stage.  In doing so, Paul is not arguing against Judaism or the Torah (the Hebrew word trans. as “law”), but he is, instead, fully supporting it.

There was an error being perpetuated in the first century that began some time between the Old and New Testaments that one could use the law for one’s JUSTIFICATION, but you will not find this attitude anywhere in the Old Testament Scriptures.  This is the danger I find in learning to read your Bible backwards (New Testament and then the Old Testament): You read about this erroneous view in the writings of Paul, and then you end up falsely imposing it on the Old Testament.  This is wrong, because this view is NOT in the Old Testament at all!

The Law’s purpose is NOT for JUSTIFICATION, but DISCIPLESHIP AND SANCTIFICATION.  In the Old Testament, God is seen as a TEACHER, we are His disciples (or STUDENTS), the TORAH (trans. as “law”) is His “INSTRUCTIONS” or “TEACHINGS” or “TEXTBOOK,” and life is our CLASSROOM.  For example, God gave His TORAH to Moses, and then He instructed Moses,

And the LORD commanded me at that time to TEACH you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it.  (Deuteronomy 4:14)

And then in Isaiah 8:16, God says,

Bind up the testimony, seal the law [Heb. TORAH] among My disciples.

Consequently, we see the same idea that’s expressed in Deuteronomy 4:14 also expressed in Isaiah 8:16.  God desires that His TORAH, His “instructions, teachings, and commandments” are not only taught to His people, but that it be “sealed” “among [His] disciples.”  Isn’t it interesting that Jesus came in the same occupation as His Father, a “TEACHER.”

Obviously, then, the TORAH (lit. “instructions, teachings, guidelines, or directives”) was given in the context of an educational paradigm – not as a method of JUSTIFICATION.  Although the word TORAH is translated in our English Bibles as “law,” this is actually not the meaning of the word in Hebrew.  The problem with the translation as “law,” in English-speaking countries, is that this word has such a negative connotation to it, which the word “instructions” does not have.

JESUS AND THE LAW

But since Jesus was (and continues to be) a Jew, who spoke Hebrew and Greek, He did not view the TORAH as “law,” but as the loving instructions from His Father; consequently, Jesus did not have any of the same hang-ups about the TORAH that many Christians do who view it as “law.”  Instead, what we see in the life of Jesus is that He lived His life in accordance to the TORAH, “God’s Instructions,” not because He had to, but because He loved God and wanted to demonstrate His passion and love for Him.

In fact, in the Psalms, there is a prophecy that the TORAH is not only a written description of the Messiah, but that it is also in His heart:

Then I said, “Behold I come; in the scroll of the book it is written of Me; I delight to do Your will, O My God; Your Law [Heb. TORAH] is within My heart.  (Psalm 40:7-8).

Not only is this prophesied regarding the Messiah, but it is also written in the psalms that the TORAH would be in the heart of the righteous:

The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.  The law [Heb. TORAH] of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip.  (Psalm 37:30-31).

God says when the TORAH is in our hearts, then we will not slip and fall into sin.  But in reading through and studying the Old Testament, I really do not understand how anyone can read through its writings and come up with the idea that God’s TORAH (or “law”) is in any way oppressive at all, particularly reading the Psalms.  That attitude just isn’t there.  If anything, there’s nothing but praise and thankfulness for the TORAH.  Consequently, Jesus during His life and ministry did not support the Christian attitude towards the Law (the law as “bondage” or “legalism”), but opposed all those who saw or treated the Law as if it were oppressive.

PAUL AND THE LAW

Paul also saw that “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12), and even delighted “in the law of God after the inward man” (Romans 7:22), as well as “served the law of God” with his mind (Romans 7:25).  Why would Paul “delight” in the law and “serve the law of God,” if the law allegedly ended at the cross?  The very fact that Paul continued to “delight” in it and to “serve” it only demonstrates that in Paul’s mind, the Law of God did NOT, in fact, end at the cross at all.

Instead, Paul, like Jesus, saw the beauty of the Law, but also understood that there were those who were attempting to use the TORAH (or “law”) for a purpose it was never intended, i.e., as a means of JUSTIFICATION.  So over and over again in his epistles Paul argues against this misuse, but instead, argues that we are JUSTIFIED BY FAITH and NOT by the “works of the law”:

Therefore we conclude that a man is JUSTIFIED BY FAITH without the works of the law.  (Romans 3:38; Emphasis mine; Romans 5:1, 16, 18)

Knowing that a man is not JUSTIFIED by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might JUSTIFIED by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be JUSTIFIED. (Galatians 2:15; Emphasis mine)

But that no man is JUSTIFIED by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The JUST shall live by faith.  (Galatians 3:11, Emphasis mine)

But even the TORAH (“law”) itself does NOT teach that we enter into a covenantal relationship with God (“JUSTIFICATION“) by keeping the commandments.  Why? For the very simple reason that the Mosaic covenant is NOT the relationship covenant of the Old Testament.

The relationship covenant is the Abrahamic Covenant – NOT the Mosaic Covenant.   And even in the life of Abraham, we learn the biblical pattern: God’s calling of repentance (Genesis 12), a time for us to get to know God (Genesis 12:4-15:1), God then enters into covenant with us (Genesis 15) and then God AFTERWARDS requires our obedience (Genesis 17).  Relationship ALWAYS precedes obedience!  Never the other way around.

Consequently, then, Paul’s teaching in his epistles does not in any way contradict the TORAH (“law”) or the Old Testament since the Mosaic covenant came AFTER the Abrahamic covenant; i.e., the relationship covenant.  The Mosaic covenant is NOT about establishing Israel’s relationship with God since God was already in a relationship with them BEFORE the Exodus ever happened.

So what’s the Mosaic covenant for?  It has several purposes, such as discipleship, to teach us about sin and holiness, to be a written description of Jesus Christ (John 5:45-47), and to teach and establish us, as God’s people, whether we are Jews or non-Jews, as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5; I Peter 2:9).  Based on this and many other references, then, the focus of the Mosaic Law (or Covenant) should be seen to be  SANCTIFICATION – that is, on the 2nd stage of our salvation journey –  NOT JUSTIFICATION (the first stage of our salvation journey).

GOD MADE US IN HIS IMAGE AND LIKENESS

You see throughout the Scriptures, we are told that “God is holy” (Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 57:15; I Peter 1:16).  And according to Genesis 1:26-27 and 5:1, God made man [Heb. Adam] in “the image and likeness of God.”  Therefore, if God made us in His image and likeness, and God is holy, then we were designed to also be holy, just like God is holy, but Adam and Eve (Heb. Chavah) sinned, and as a result, that “image and likeness” was distorted, twisted, and changed into something “evil” and “unholy.”  So now, we have a “SIN NATURE” – NOT a “HOLY NATURE.”

JESUS CAME TO RESTORE OUR ORIGINAL DESIGN

God designed us to be “in His image and likeness,” so God sent Jesus to show us what His “image and likeness” looks like (John 14:7, 9-11; Colossians 2:9).  Since Adam and Eve sinned, we no longer have an example to show us what that original “image and likeness” was like.  God gave a written description of it in the form of His commandments, but people were still getting it wrong.  So Jesus came and lived a holy, obedient life to provide us with a living example of how we are to live as “born again believers”; i.e., as sons and daughters of God who have been reborn in His image and likeness.”

According to John 1:14, Jesus is the “WORD MADE FLESH,” and this WORD would include the TORAH, God’s “instructions, teachings, and commandments.”  So Jesus was able to give us a living example of the TORAH, because He is the TORAH MADE FLESH; He is the living embodiment of what is written and taught in the TORAH (John 5:45-47);  They are, in a very real sense, spiritually connected.  It was the same Holy Spirit who engraved the writings of the “10 Commandments” on the tablets of stone and inspired the writing of the five books of the TORAH by Moses, who also came upon Mary, and she then conceived Jesus in her womb.  The same Holy Spirit brought about the WRITTEN TORAH and the LIVING TORAH.

To do away with the TORAH is to do away with Jesus; they are connected.  And likewise, in contrast to the popular erroneous teaching,  Jesus did not live a holy, obedient life so we wouldn’t have to, but instead, He did it to be our example.  You see, the more like Jesus, the LIVING TORAH we become, the more we conform to the WRITTEN TORAH, and the more we conform to the WRITTEN TORAH, the more we conform to the Jesus, the LIVING TORAH.

And since Jesus is the living embodiment of the “image and likeness of God,” then the more like Jesus we become, the more like “the image and likeness of God” we become, and the more like “the image and likeness of God” we become, then the more we conform to God’s original design and intent for our lives, as seen in Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1.

WHAT IS “SANCTIFICATION”?

So SANCTIFICATION is not only the second stage of our salvation journey, when we are “separated from the power of sin in our lives,” but it is also the process that God uses to restore us back to His original design.  The English word SANCTIFICATION comes from the Greek word, hagiasmos, and it refers to “the process of making or becoming holy or set apart.”   To “be holy” does NOT mean “to be morally pure,” as I’ve often heard people define the term, but it means “to be separate, distinct, other than,” so to say that “God is holy” is to say that God is “separate, distinct, and other than” anything that we can experience or imagine.  To speak of His holiness is to speak of His uniqueness, His transcendence, His separateness from this world.  It is to say that there is nothing that we can use or imagine to compare God to in order to understand Him.  He is beyond our comprehension or understanding.

This is what God is getting at in the book of Isaiah when He asks the question or makes the following statements,

To whom then will you liken (or compare to) Me, or shall I be equal?  says the HOLY ONE.  (Isaiah 40:25; Emphasis mine)

For I am the LORD your God, the HOLY ONE of Israel, your Savior… (Isaiah 43:3; Emphasis mine)

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the HOLY ONE of Israel;… (Isaiah 43:14)

I am the LORD, your HOLY ONE, the creator of Israel, your King. (Isaiah 43:15)

The one name that God uses repeatedly for Himself, especially in the Prophets, is “the HOLY ONE.”  Holiness is not just another attribute of God, it is what makes God “God.”  So when someone asks me, “How can a loving God send people to Hell,” it is apparent to me, they don’t understand that love is NOT the central essence or core of who God is, but His central essence is His holiness.  For example,

  • It is because He is holy, that He loves like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He shows mercy like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He forgives like no other;
  • It is because He is holy, that He redeems like no other; and
  • It is because He is holy, that He must judge sin.

All of these traits and qualities all flow out from the holiness of God, so to not understand holiness is to not understand God.

SANCTIFICATION IS A PROCESS – NOT AN EVENT

Since God is holy, then He expects us, as His sons and daughters, to likewise be holy.  In fact, God comes right out and says in Leviticus, the book that comprises the heart of God’s law:

For I am the LORD your God: you shall therefore SANCTIFY yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy:….For I am the LORD that brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.  (Leviticus 11:44-45; Emphasis mine)

Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, You shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.  (Leviticus 19:2)

SANCTIFY yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.  And you shall keep My statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which SANCTIFY you.  (Leviticus 20:7-8; Emphasis mine)

God says in Leviticus 20 that He “SANCTIFIES” us, so in return, we are to work together with God by “SANCTIFYING” ourselves.  It is a process in which we work together with God; it is not a process that we are to do by ourselves.  And this is NOT just something that’s taught in the Old Testament:

As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as He which has called you is HOLY, so be ye HOLY in all manner of conversation [or behavior]. (I Peter 1:14-15; Emphasis mine)

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a HOLY NATION, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into [His] marvelous light. (I Peter 2:9; Emphasis mine)

Whether in the Old Testament or the New Testament, God’s expectations for His people are the same: that we be holy, even as He [God] is holy.  Throughout the Scriptures, God wants us to imitators of Him (Ephesians 5:1).

And in Romans 6:16-23, Paul describes the process of SANCTIFICATION.  He begins by saying that if we obey sin (the violation or transgression of God’s commandments; I John 3:4), it results in death, but OBEDIENCE to God’s Word (the opposite of sin) leads to RIGHTEOUSNESS (Romans 6:16-18).

Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of OBEDIENCE resulting in RIGHTEOUSNESS.  (Romans 6:16; Emphasis mine)

Which one are you obeying?  Sin or Obedience?  And as a result of yielding ourselves to RIGHTEOUSNESS (or obeying God’s commandments according to His standard), then this leads to HOLINESS (Romans 6:19-21).

I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.  For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness [sin], resulting in further lawlessness [sin], so now present your members as slaves to RIGHTEOUSNESS resulting in SANCTIFICATION [or HOLINESS]. (Romans 6:19; Emphasis mine)

And finally, the FRUIT OF HOLINESS, which is ETERNAL LIFE.

But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your FRUIT unto HOLINESS, and the end EVERLASTING LIFE. (Romans 6:22; Emphasis mine)

Obviously, then, if we are not made “free from sin” and “become servants to God,” then we will not have the “fruit unto holiness,” which in the end is “everlasting life.”

FORGIVENESS VS. LIBERATION

There is a difference between “forgiveness” and “liberation.”  A slave can be forgiven and still remain a slave, but if a slave is freed, liberated from his chains, then he is no longer a slave.  There are many Christians who asked Jesus to “forgive” them, and then they keep going back and back to the same sin.  Why?  Because although they were “forgiven,” they were not “liberated” from it.  We need more than forgiveness when it comes to sin, we need to be liberated, and only then, will we truly be “set free,” no longer captive to that sin in our life anymore.  For once we are free, sin is no longer a “have to,” for we are no longer its slave; instead, if we sin, it’s because we chose to sin.  For as free men and women, we are free now to choose to obey God or to disobey God.

BUT DON’T I RECEIVE ETERNAL LIFE WHEN I GET SAVED?

Now, although I discussed this question in much more detail in my article, “Eternal Life: “What is it & When do we receive it?” I’ll briefly say that eternal life is not “a thing” that we can possess, but it is something that we continue to experience as long as we continue our relationship with God and Jesus Christ.  Also, there is a future aspect to eternal life, which we do not receive until the time period of the resurrection from the dead.  So until that time, we do not actually experience eternal life in its fullness.

For example, when Jesus was responding to His disciples about what they would receive for giving everything to follow Him, He said,

And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brothers, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and IN THE WORLD TO COME ETERNAL LIFE.  (Mark 10:29-30)

Notice, He said that they would inherit eternal life “in the world to come.”  There is a portion that we get now when we receive Christ into our life, but there’s also a future aspect of eternal life that we will receive “in the world to come.”  Here’s some other references:

And this is the PROMISE that He has promised us, even ETERNAL LIFE.  (I John 2:25)

In HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE, which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began. (Titus 1:2)

That being justified by His grace, we should be heirs according to the HOPE of ETERNAL LIFE.  (Titus 3:7)

Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against THE TIME TO COME, that they may lay hold on ETERNAL LIFE by Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 5:21)

Notice the language that’s used to describe ETERNAL LIFE:  promise and hope.  If the disciples received it when they accepted Christ, then why is it still a “promise” and a “hope”?   And what is this future aspect of ETERNAL LIFE?  I believe it is, at least in part, our new immortal bodies.  Until we receive them at our GLORIFICATION, the time of the resurrection, we do not have everything that God has planned for us to have as part of our salvation and ETERNAL LIFE.

Consequently, there is a process involved in our SALVATION and our receiving ETERNAL LIFE.  It is sad that churches do not discuss more fully that this is a process, and not just a one-time event.  If they did, there would be a lot less confusion about the matter.  So this process of SALVATION begins with JUSTIFICATION, and then we move through the process of SANCTIFICATION, which culminates then in our GLORIFICATION, the moment when we actually receive our new immortal bodies.

In review then, Paul describes the process of SANCTIFICATION as –

  • Beginning with our OBEDIENCE to God’s written Word and the leading of the holy Spirit;
  • OBEDIENCE leads to RIGHTEOUSNESS;
  • RIGHTEOUSNESS leads to HOLINESS; and
  • The end of the FRUIT OF HOLINESS is ETERNAL LIFE. (Romans 6:16-22)

And all of this process is made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, including the coming of the Holy Spirit, which empowers and guides us through this process.  And is the TORAH, God’s “instructions, teachings, and commandments” an intricate part of this process?  Absolutely.

In the next part of this study, I want to examine the dietary laws, and how God designed them to be part of our SANCTIFICATION process.

 

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A Christian Pastor’s Yom Kippur Plea for Forgiveness from the Jewish People

ON THIS YOM KIPPUR, I AM WRITING TO ASK YOU, THE JEWISH PEOPLE, FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS FOR EVERY ANTISEMITIC THOUGHT, WORD, AND ACTION COMMITTED AGAINST YOU BY CHRISTIANS.  I am writing this, because I am hoping that other Christians will read this and join me in my petition.  I am also writing this because I do not have the means to go to every Jew in the world and to personally make this request.  But I am writing this, not only as a Christian, but also as a pastor who dearly loves HaShem (G-d) and His Torah.  Although my obedience is not where it should be, I am still striving towards the goal of walking in obedience to HaShem (G-d).

Last night, my wife and I began our fast and read the passages in the Torah that dealt with Yom Kippur.  But early this morning, HaShem (G-d) woke me up and moved on me to write this letter to you.  I was not asked to write this by any Christian leader or organization, nor am I doing this for any other reason than to seek your forgiveness.  I am fully aware of the many vile atrocities that has been done to you by Christians, all in the name of Jesus Christ, such as the pograms, the inquisition, and the Holocaust, which was the most vile of all the atrocities.  But I am also aware that these are but the tip of the iceburg of the many sins that Christians have committed against you since the first century, C.E.

By giving your forgiveness, you are not saying what was done to you was okay, nor are you letting people go who should be punished.  Instead, you are setting yourselves free from the chains of bitterness, hate, anger, revenge, depression, sadness, or any other chain that was put upon you as a result of this sins.  I am writing this so that you may e set free.

I am, therefore, publicly acknowledging that we Christians have sinned against you.  Our hands are not just “tainted” with your blood, but our hands, minds, bodies, and our very history are soaked in your blood.  I cannot justify any of it, nor am I going to try to do so.  We have sinned by coveting your role and position with God, we have sinned by bearing false witness against you by calling you “Christ-killers” and by accusing you of “blood-libel,” the false and horrendous accusation that any Jew would kidnap and kill a Christian child in order to make Passover food was, indeed, a horrible and grievous lie.  And we have sinned by not loving our neighbor, and committing murder more times than history has been able to record.

But our greatest sin against the Jewish people is that we have done all these things in the name of Jesus.  For example, when Jewish men, women, and children were rounded up in a town and village, and locked inside the synagogue there, and then Christians would set the building on fire, while standing outside, singing, “Onward Christian Soldiers!”  The horror of our crimes against you is multiplied 100 fold, because in doing these hellish acts in His name, we distorted, twisted, perverted, impugned, and profaned His name among you.  We have so misrepresented Him and His teachings by our many sins against you, that we have caused you to view Him and His name as something vile and evil.  Nor has our actions been representative of the teachings of the B’rit Chadasha (“Renewed Covenant”; popularly called the “New Testament”).  If anything, we have committed vile desecration and violence against it as well.

We did not show you the true Yeshua of the B’rit Chadasha or of history.  The Yeshua who was circumcised on the eighth day, and redeemed as the first born in keeping with the writings of Moses.  The Yeshua who grew up as an Orthodox Jew, by Yosef, a Tzaddik (trans. “just”) in relation to the Torah, and even Ya’acov (“Jacob”; trans. “James”) is described not only as a Tazddik, but also was a Nazarite from birth, much like Samuel and Samson.  Yeshua had 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters.

Not only did he grow up in an Orthodox Jewish family, but he and his family regularly attended Shul (synagogue) where he was a regular reader of the Torah.  He and his family kept the Shabbat, the mo’edim (feasts), kept kosher, etc.  Not only did he keep every yodh and decorative stroke of the Torah, but he dearly loved his people, the Jews, and the land of Israel.  He would go out of his way to embrace and bless the Jewish children who loved being around him, as well as he loved and ministered to any Jew who was sick, diseased, downtrodden, helpless, or was considered a social outcast.

Even his early talmidim (disciples) were Orthodox Jews who dearly loved HaShem (G-d) and were all zealous in their observance of the Torah.  Yeshua did not encourage anyone to dismiss or to abrogate the keeping of the Torah; in fact, his talmidim learned their zeal and passion for the Torah from him.   This is the Yeshua you should have rightly been introduced to, but was not.  I am saddened by people who have lifted things out of context, or were horribly misunderstood, and then presented him as opposing the Torah when he was not.  He, in fact, was dearly loved by the Jewish masses in Israel; however, there were a few influential Jewish leaders who felt threatened by his popularity and opposed him.  But should all Jews be blamed for their sin against him, particularly since 98% of Jews, during the 2nd Temple period of the 1st century, C.E., actually lived outside the land of Israel and had NEVER seen him, heard him teach, or watched him heal or do any other miracles?

No, absolutely not!  In fact, for Christianity to blame all Jews since the 1st century up to the present for what a few corrupt leaders did is heinous and simply abominable.  Yeshua compared Israel to a precious garden, or vineyard, that He taught his talmidim (disciples) that they were to tenderly care for the people and the land.  And although it started that way, it did not stay that way.

At first, when Goyim (Gentiles; non-Jews) were allowed to join the movement, they viewed themselves as being a part of a Jewish movement within Second Temple Judaism, but then other Goyim (Gentiles) entered who sought to take the movement away from Judaism and to form their own religion.  Rav Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) saw this coming, and he warned various congregation about it for three years, he writes, with tears.  It broke his heart, but even he couldn’t do anything to stop it.  And indeed, as he predicted, “the wolves” came in and led to Christians breaking away from the original Jewish movement to form their own religion.  A religion that turned on its mother, Israel, as well as the same movement that originally brought them the “good news” of Mashiach and the Ga’ulah (the redemption).

Do I believe that Yeshua is Moshiakh ben Yosef and Moshiakh ben Aaron?  Yes.  Do I believe that HaShem (G-d) used his horrible death to reverse the damage caused by Adam and Chavah (Eve) in the Garden, as well as fulfilled the promise that HaShem (G-d) made to Avraham Avinu (our father) when He walked between the pieces in Avraham‘s vision?  Yes.  Do I believe that HaShem (G-d) raised him bodily from death, and then sat him on the right hand of Power, and will one day restore him to Jerusalem, when he will fulfill all the prophecies regarding Moshiakh ben David?  Yes.

But do I believe any of these beliefs have given any Christian the right to ill-treat, persecute, or do any violence at all to any Jew?  No, absolutely NOT!  I am gratefully aware that there were some Christians who were “righteous Gentiles” who risked, or sacrificed, their lives in order to save the lives of Jewish men, women, and children.  But the unfortunate truth is that they were few in comparison to those who did not do the same.

I am not writing all this to “stir up trouble” between Christians and Jews, but actually for the opposite reason: there needs to be forgiveness and shalom (peace) between us.  We cannot get to this point if we only suppress or try to hide the evil and pain of the past.  We need to get it out on the table, confess and acknowledge the heinous evils (sins) that were done, and then to ask for forgiveness.

But in addition to asking for your forgiveness for the sins Christians in general have committed against you, I must ask for your forgiveness for my own sins as well.  My wife and I were in Jerusalem two years ago for a period of three months.  It was the first time that I have ever been outside of the United States.  But even though we were treated well by most people there, including making some Jewish friends, there were times when I could’ve reached out in love to a Jewish man, woman, or child, and I did not.  There were times when I could’ve spoken a word of encouragement or told a Jew how much HaShem (G-d) loved them, how He has not changed, nor has He changed any of His Torah, but I did not.  There were also times when I could have reached out a kind hand, or sat down and learned from various Jews, including the Chasidim, but did not take the advantage to do so.  If I had, I would’ve hoped that they would’ve learned of my own love for HaShem, and my love, and sometimes struggle, with the Torah.  But I didn’t do any of these things because I allowed fear and intimidation to capture my mind and my heart.  And as a result, I lost these opportunities.  So today, on Yom Kippur, I pray and ask HaShem (G-d) for His forgiveness for my fear and disobedience, and I ask the forgiveness of you, the Jewish people, as well.

Finally, I am writing this petition and prayer because I sincerely believe it is what HaShem (G-d) wants me to do.  I do not know if any Christian has publicly confessed and asked forgiveness to you, the Jewish people, for the vast sins that Christians have committed against you, but I felt as a Christian and as a pastor, that this was something that He wanted me to do.  If no one has, then this is long past due.  I am aware that there are many Christians since the Holocaust who have sought to bless Israel, the Jewish people, and that there is this growing awareness among many Jews that there are Christians who are not Israel’s enemies, but allies and friends.  And this is awesome, but I also want there to be forgiveness and shalom between us as well.

So with a sincere and contrite heart, I offer you my petition for your forgiveness and shalom.  I wish only HaShem’s best for every one of you.  And perhaps, if there’s finally forgiveness and shalom (peace) between us, Christians and Jews, we will finally fulfill the calling that Hashem (G-d) has for each of us, and He will return the Messiah to the earth again, and we will finally experience the wondrous peace and prosperity of the Messianic era.

Shalom v’chesed,

Chris L Verschage
Pastor
Cocopah Assembly of God
Somerton, AZ., USA

 

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