A Series of Practical Messianic Living (halakhah)
Yeshua, the Law, and Holiness
(Note: all quotations are taken from the Complete Jewish Bible, translation by David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., unless otherwise noted)
Most believers are absolutely correct in stating that Yeshua fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law on our behalf. The statement is usually set over and against trying to follow the Torah after receiving the gift of salvation. But God never intended for us to keep the Law perfectly. The sacrificial system was put in place to provide atonement for our sins; Yeshua is the final atonement for our sins.
No, the argument is really about defining the word legalism.
Legalism is a misunderstanding of God's holiness and his righteous standards. The Torah (Law) is holy, just and good, as Paul stated in Romans. The problem is not with the Law; the problem is with man's inability to consistently and correctly interpret God's Laws.
The Torah does not teach legalism; religions seem to misinterpret God's perfect laws and turn them into legalism.
So let me talk about holiness and what God expects of us...
It has been stated that holiness is not metaphysical; our concept of holiness does not define what is holy. Only the Holy One himself can fully define–as well as embody holiness. To be sure, the phrase ‘I am ADONAI,’ or its equivalent ‘I am ADONAI your God’ appears sixteen times in Leviticus chapter nineteen alone! Chapter twenty sees another four uses of these phrases. The lesson is obvious:
ADONAI alone defines holiness among men; only he has the power and authority to set the standard of holiness–for he alone is the fullness of holiness–for he alone is ADONAI!
So what happens when humanity meets holiness?
HaShem is intimately interested in our redemption. Likewise, he is our deliverer from the unholy. That is why he masterfully planned for one man to become the perfect embodiment and display of his holiness. Only this man would be able to showcase the fullness of the holiness of God to such a degree that to look at this man was to look at God! Only this man would be able to perfectly imitate God–for only this man was and is perfectly God.
Yeshua is his name!
And he sets the standard!
Because of our new life in Messiah, we have inherited the holiness that HaShem intended for us to posses all along. When we place our trusting faithfulness in the perfect Man of God, our holiness (or lack thereof) becomes the holiness of the Father! Our constitution changes and we are no longer deemed ‘unholy’, for his riches in glory–which includes his holy standard of being–are transferred to our account! We must grasp this central truth and begin to live according to it!
We are holy because Yeshua has made us holy!
Just as unrighteous Avraham became righteous when he placed his complete faith in HaShem, so we too inherit the righteousness and holiness of the Holy One when we place our unreserved trust in his Son. But holiness is also a duty. What do I mean?
Apart from being an attribute of God–one that we inherit intrinsically with our trusting faithfulness in the Messiah, holiness is also meant to be a lifestyle. This is why I keep using the phrase ‘trusting faithfulness’ rather than simple ‘faith’. The latter implies a one-time action on our part, which forever sets into motion a spiritual truth that will be fully actualized at the return of our LORD. Notice the candor of the phrase, "I place my trust in Yeshua". However, the former carries the aspect of a daily motion, which permeates every movement of our new-creation lives! "I place my trusting faithfulness in Yeshua". Do you notice the subtle difference? To live by ‘trusting faithfulness’ rather than just by ‘faith’ alone characterizes our moment-by-moment thought process as well as our actions. The former carries our faith into action! In other words, this new life in Messiah is an ever constant, ever-growing relationship with the Holy One of Isra’el; a demonstration of the miraculous on a level that can and should be measured in even the smallest areas of our lives. Trusting faithfulness is ongoing! It is not some unmoving, monumental event which took place sometime in our lives–it is the ongoing monumental process that overtakes our lives–for the rest of our lives–which was enacted when we first had a genuine encounter with the divine holiness!
"Sh'ma Yisra'el, YHVH Eloheynu, YHVH echad! V'ahavta eht YHVH Eloheycha, b'chol l'vav-cha, u'v-chol naf'sh'cha, u'v-chol m'odecha."[Hear, Yisra'el: ADONAI is our God; ADONAI is one! And you shall love ADONAI your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.] (D'varim 6:4, 5)
There is little or no disagreement over the "concepts" explained by these mitzvot (Love God; love your neighbor) used by Yeshua and (at least the former) known in Jewish circles as the "Sh'ma" ("Hear!"). Every Jews knows that this is not the whole of the Torah, simply the hallmark of the Torah, the "cornerstone" of keeping the mitzvot. This is what Yeshua meant when he said that "all of the Law hangs on these two". Anyone, who correctly understands these two commands, is well on his way to keeping any of the rest that may apply to him (notice the context of the complete dialogue transaction, in the corresponding Scripture of Mark 12:28-34. The teacher of the Law is said to have been "not far from the Kingdom of God [vs.34]).
These two are not the only ones that make a person Torah-observant, yet they genuinely verify his change in status as a true follower of HaShem. How so?
For if one truly loves HaShem, he will have no problem falling in love with Yeshua. Moreover, if he truly loves HaShem and Yeshua, he will have no problem loving his neighbor. The secret is unhindered love for HaShem, and all that he authoritatively represents! Anyone who genuinely loves the Father and the Son will have no problem wanting to keep the mitzvot. There is an unbreakable tie between the Father, the Son, your neighbor, and the mitzvot! Even Yochanan would agree with me (1 Yoch. 2:3-11; 3:1-18). If our theology is weak in any one of these pillars of teaching, we will tend to be in an imbalance. Here are some examples:
(In my small opinion)
*Please note that in every group represented below there are necessarily going to be exceptions to the rules; this representation is not meant to be comprehensive!
-The so-called "Church" tends to be strong in their theology
about Yeshua, but weak in the other three,
Anyone who seriously conducts a study of the dynamics of Torah-observant peoples will come to a similar conclusion as the one purported above. Why? Because the nature of the Torah is designed to be received and practiced by the Jew primarily (Romans 1:16). Yeshua is a Jew, and will always remain a Jew. The Torah is a Jewish document, and will always be one. Our father Avraham is forever the father of those who believe, by faith, in the One true God. Gentiles have been grafted into a Jewish Olive Tree. They, formerly strangers, have joined the commonwealth of Isra'el (Ephesians 2:12-19). There simply is no other way that it has been designed to work. There is no room for pride from either group, for the Torah clearly teaches that this (matrix) came to be by the mercy and grace of an all-loving God!
In my small opinion, if the other three groups would assist the Messianics in supporting the Torah Community (teaching and living the theology of all four areas), we would have a better time "repairing the world (2 Chron. 7:14)" (Tikkun ha-'Olam). Does this mean that I believe that most Gentiles should become Jews? No. But the time is coming (and now is) when the grafted-in branches must recognize their place and duty in this Olive Tree of ours (Romans 11:13-32). Only a unified effort from both types of branches will achieve the purposes that HaShem designed for us. The organized church of the last 2000 years has enjoyed success, at the expense of its first century counterpart. Isn't it time to return to the old ways (Jeremiah 6:1619)? How much of spiritual Babylon will we tolerate, before we heed the call to leave her?
I have been attempting to explain the role that the Torah plays in the life of a believer. For the "short and simple" version, it goes like this: the Torah remains, for a Messianic, the framework of instruction and guidance, by which he is to govern his relationship to his God, his Messiah, his family, his country, and the rest of his fellow community (Jew and Gentile). It is his "mirror of correction" (James 1:22-25). Messiah forever changed the nature of the priestly and sacrificial requirements (read the book of Hebrews); he took on the curse pronounced in the Torah (read Galatians 3:9-14); he changed very little else.
We in the 21st Century have a tendency to reduce the Torah into numbers (i.e., the TEN Commandments), because it conveniently serves our intellect to present something so (seemingly) "monumentally complex" into "bite-sized" chunks that we can handle. This remains one of the primary roots of our problem in our approach to the Torah: it is a complete, functional document; it is designed for us to be received as a whole, or not at all. ("Do we divide the Messiah up this way? Of course not." Then why do it to the "written messiah"?) If we think that only TEN belong to "this group", or that the New Covenant only spells out these TWO to "that group", or even, that we should only focus on these FOUR (hint: Acts 15, 21), then we have missed the point! The Torah is a UNIT document. Only the LIVING Torah, Yeshua, could "improve", that is, modify the original. We have no authority dissecting it.
The whole of the Torah doesn’t apply to every single individual, because (using logic here), everyone isn’t a Jew, Gentile, saved, unsaved, male, female, married, unmarried, priest, layman, slave, or free! We all fit into one (and sometimes a few more) of those categories, but certainly not ALL AT ONCE! Do you begin to get the picture? HaShem makes room for every single person of humanity to find his or her application of his Torah, but not at the expense of the rest of the group. This universal application doesn’t nullify each and every individual application.
We need to stop looking at the trees, and notice the forest instead! The Torah is a wealth of instruction and knowledge, providing wisdom and correction, inspiration and poetry (to name a few). It ultimately finds its greatest application in the focus and aim of "messianic revelation to mankind"! "The goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah!" (Romans 10:4, translating the Greek word "telos" properly as "goal", rather than "end" [KJV]). If I come across a little harsh, forgive me. My intent is to re-educate ignorant believers (i.e. Christians without a formal background in Torah dynamics, and Jews without the same), as to the true intent of the giving of God’s Torah. I do want to see the lost become saved, but it usually doesn’t require the sheer amount of inter-cultural dialogue that we seem to have embarked upon. "Do I have a corner on the market of truth?" "Of course not." "How do I know what the true intent of HaShem’s Torah is?" "Why, the Ruach HaKodesh has revealed it to me–via the pages of the document itself–that is how." "Is this knowledge reserved for the super intellect, the super spiritual, or the super ascetic?" "Absolutely not!! It has been offered freely to anyone who will surrender his own will, to the Will of the Father, accept his Messiah, and embrace the fellowship of his Spirit!" From that moment on, he is a prime candidate to begin studying and living out the Torah-based lifestyle that was originally ordained for him to walk in all along (Ephesians 2:8-10)!
Now you say, where does grace fit in? well, for one thing, grace steps in when we misunderstand the Torah as a document of legalism. We have a human tendency to pervert God's gracious document into something it was not meant to be used for. We read "do this…" and "don’t do that…", and we have a tendency to misunderstand the grace behind the words. Yeshua came to explain the gracious intent of every command, by explaining the primary thrust of the Torah in the first place: leading its reader to a genuine trusting faith in the Messiah–namely himself! But first it may be necessary to explain the difference between legalism and true faith. I will use the book of Galatians.
I want to use, extensively, some material from a Messianic Jewish commentary on the book of Galatians, written by David Stern, translator of the Complete Jewish Bible. I will accent his comments with my own.
Historically, at the time the letter was written, the incident in Acts 15:3-29 had not yet happened. Therefore, its more specific directives concerning how the Good News of Yeshua was to be presented to the Gentiles, were announced to the Galatians by Sha'ul only at a later time (i.e. Acts 15:36, 16:4-6). The development of Sha'ul’s faith would have been a simpler process had the acceptance of Yeshua been for him, as it was for some of his fellow Jews, merely adding to traditional Judaism the belief that Yeshua is indeed the long-expected Messiah. And it would have been simpler if the acceptance of Yeshua had been for him what it doubtless was to many of the Gentiles he led to trust, namely, the acceptance of a new religion that displaced former pagan values and practices. To Sha'ul the revelation of Yeshua as the Son of HaShem meant neither of these, but a radical reexamination of all of his former beliefs, which issued in a conception of religion that differed from the other talmidim’s (students’/disciples’) Messianic Judaism perhaps even more than theirs differed from then-current non-Messianic Judaism.
Thus Sha'ul was the perfect example of what Yeshua was talking about when he said, "Every Torah-teacher who has been made into a talmid (student/disciple) for the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings out of his storage room both new things and old" (Matt. 13:52). From his vast treasure of Jewish knowledge, his many years in the Gentile world, and his personal experience with the Messiah he developed the foundations of the transcultural Judaism which came to be known as Christianity.
A similar challenge awaits today’s Torah-teacher, perhaps the most exciting challenge a Jewishly-educated Jew can take up. It is the challenge to apply what he knows of non-Messianic Judaism to the developing of Messianic Judaism, so that Messianic Judaism can deal more meaningfully with every Jewishly important issue. Modern Messianic Judaism is awaiting its Rabbi Sha'ul.
Back to Galatians. Chapter two, verses 15 and 16 are what has been recognized by Messianic Jewish scholars as the key to show how Sha'ul regarded the Law of Moshe; thus they are the key to the book of Galatians and the book of Romans. He who seizes their true meaning can help repair the grave damage done to the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah by those who have misunderstood Sha'ul’s view of Torah. I want to launch from verse 15 to explain the crucial verse 16.
"We, by nature Jews and not sinners from Gentiles," This is a literal rendering of verse 15 from the Greek. It is simply an identifying opening for what is to follow. Sha'ul is not degrading Gentiles in any way, he is simply using the same language and identifiers that the legalizers/Judaizers (the villains of the book) use in order to speak of them. Also the Torah itself recognized that before the giving of the Messiah and the revelation of the Torah, Gentiles were sinners (Gal. 2:11-12; compare Luke 18:31-33 with Luke 24:7). However, it should be noted that he also went out his way to emphasize the equality of Jews and Gentiles before HaShem.
"But knowing that a person is not justified from works of law, but through trust of Messiah Yeshua, even we unto Messiah Yeshua trusted, in order that we might be justified from trust of Messiah and not from works of law, because from works of law not will be justified all flesh." This is a literal rendering of verse 16 from the Greek. Being declared righteous by HaShem is the goal of all men who seek HaShem. Righteousness can be defined in two ways: "behavioral righteousness", actually doing what is right, and "forensic righteousness", being regarded as righteous in the sense (a) that HaShem has cleared him of guilt for past sins, and (b) that HaShem has given him a new human nature inclined to obey HaShem rather than rebel against him as before.
Yeshua has made forensic righteousness available to everyone by paying on everyone’s behalf the penalty for sins which HaShem’s justice demands, death. Forensic righteousness is appropriated by an individual for himself the moment he unreservedly puts his trust in HaShem, which at this point in history, entails also trusting in Yeshua the Messiah upon learning of him and understanding what he has done. The task of becoming behaviorally righteous begins with appropriating forensic righteousness (through Yeshua); it occupies the rest of a believer’s life, being completed only at the moment of his own death, when he goes to be with Yeshua. What is important to keep in mind here is the difference between these two kinds of righteousness. Each time the Greek word "dikaioo" ("righteousness") or a cognate is encountered, it must be decided which of these two meanings of the word is meant. In the present verse and the next, all four instances of "dikaioo" refer to forensic righteousness. But in verse 21, the related word "dikaiosune" refers to behavioral righteousness.
"Works of law", translates the Greek phrase "erga nomou". Since the word "nomos" means "law", and is usually referring (from the Septuagint) to the Moshaic Law, i.e. Torah, most Christians usually understand "works of law" to mean "actions done in obedience to the Torah". But this is wrong. One of the best-kept secrets about the New Testament is that when Sha'ul writes "nomos" he frequently does not mean "law" but "legalism". This phrase ("erga nomou"), found ONLY in Sha'ul’s writings, occurs eight times, and always in technical discussion of the Torah: Gal. 2:16, 3:2, 5, 10; Rom. 3:20, 28. Two other uses of "erga" ("works") are closely associated with the word "nomos" ("law") in Rom. 3:27; 9:32. Even when he uses "erga" by itself, the implied meaning is frequently "legalistic works", see Gal. 5:19; Rom. 4:2, 6; 9:11; 11:6; Eph. 2:9; 2 Tim. 1:9; Titus 3:5. There are 17 other instances when it is neutral.
I must agree with David Stern that in order to interpret Sha'ul correctly one needs to understand that the phrase "erga nomou" means not deeds done in virtue of following the Torah the way HaShem intended, but deeds done in consequence of perverting the Torah into a set of rules which, it is presumed, can be obeyed mechanically, automatically, legalistically, without having faith, without having trust in HaShem, without having love for HaShem or man, and without being empowered by the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).
Likewise the Greek term "upo nomon" interpreted as "under the law" appears five times in the letter to Galatia. It never means simply "under the Torah", in the sense of "subjection to its provisions," "living within its framework". Rather, with one easily explainable variation, it is Sha'ul’s shorthand for "living under the oppression caused by being enslaved to the social system or the mindset that results when Torah is perverted into legalism".
Christian scholars have discoursed at length about Sha'ul’s supposedly ambivalent view of the Torah. Their burden has been to show that somehow he could abrogate the Torah and still respect it. Non-Messianic Jewish scholars, building on the supposedly reliable conclusion, gratuitously supplied by their Christian colleagues, that Sha'ul did in fact abrogate the Torah, have made it their burden to show that the logical implication of Sha'ul’s abrogating the Torah is that he did not respect it either and thereby removed himself and all future Jewish believers in Yeshua from the camp of Judaism (the so-called "parting of the ways"). In this fashion liberally oriented non-Messianic Jews in the modern era have been able to have their cake and eat it too, to claim Jesus for themselves as a wonderful Jewish teacher while making Paul the villain of the piece.
But Sha'ul had no such ambivalence. For him the Torah of Moshe was unequivocally "holy" and its commands "holy, just and good" (Romans 7:12). And so were works done in true obedience to the Torah. But in order to be regarded by HaShem as good, works done in obedience to the Torah had to be grounded in trust, never legalism (Romans 9:30-10:10). If one keeps in mind that Sha'ul had nothing but bad to say for the sin of perverting the Torah into legalism, and nothing but good to say for the Torah itself, then the supposed contradictions in his view of the Torah vanish. Instead of being the villain who destroyed the backbone of Judaism and led Jews astray, he is the most authentic expositor of the Torah that the Jewish people have ever had, apart from the Messiah Yeshua himself.
Continuing into chapter 2 verse 19:
So then, why the legal part of the Torah? Why was it needed at all, if the promise (verse 18) is independent of it? It was added to the promise–and to the environment of Jewish history in particular and human history in general–in order to create transgressions, literally, "because of transgressions." The latter could mean, "in order to contain and limit transgressions," in order to keep the Jewish people from becoming so intolerably sinful that they would become irredeemable. But instead of this, I think it means, as Sha’ul explains in Romans 7, that a key purpose of the commandments was to make Jewish people ever aware of their sin–not that Jews were more sinful than Gentiles, but that, like Gentiles, Jews too "fall short of earning God’s praise" (Rom. 3:23). The Torah "creates" transgressions by containing commandments which people break (Rom. 7:7-12). But at least in some cases the guilt they feel causes them to despair of ever earning God’s praise by their own works, so they come to God in all humility to repent, seek forgiveness, and trust him (see Rom. 3:19-20, 4:13-15, 5:12-21, and 7:5-25).
Verse 19 continues:
Until the coming of the "seed," Yeshua (verse 16), about whom the promise had been made. From the time of Moshe until the coming of Yeshua, the Torah had this "conscious-raising" role. The Torah still exists, is still in force (see Gal. 6:2), and for those who have not yet come to trust in Yeshua it still has this function. But for those who do trust in Yeshua and are faithful to him, the Torah need no longer serve in this capacity. Sha'ul explains why in verses 21-25.
It, the Torah, was handed down to Moshe on Mount Sinai through angels, a point made three times in the New Testament (see Acts 7:53) and through a human mediator, Moshe. An often-heard Jewish objection to the New Testament’s teaching is that Jews don’t need Yeshua because they don’t need a mediator between themselves and God. This verse refutes the claim with its reminder that Moshe himself served as such a mediator–as, for that matter, did the cohanim and the prophets. See Hebrews 8:6, 10:19-21; 1 Tim. 2:5; Exodus 20:19; Deut. 5:2, 5; and this citation from a Pseudepigraphic work dating from the first or second century B.C.E:
"Draw near to God and to the angel that intercedes for you, for he is a mediator between God and man…" (Testament of Dan 6:2)