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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