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The following is a compilation of thoughts and ideas that I wrestled with early in my walk of faith and especially in my Messianic journey. I have used the New American Standard Version for Scripture quotations. My questions are in blue. All bold, bracketed, or italic emphasis in Scriptural references is my own.

 

Starting with faith in Jesus

In August 1996, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior for the first time in my life. That day I began a journey and a relationship that will continue until and (I pray) after my death. Initially I did not ask many questions about my Savior, my faith, or my life with Him. I just showed up with joy regarding my salvation and served the congregation where I attended however I was able to do so.

Here is where I started out:

John 3:16

For G-d so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-9

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of G-d- not by works, so that no one can boast.

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Praise the Lord! By the grace of G-d and the work of Jesus as the Lamb of G-d offered up for my sins I have been saved from the consequence of the sins that I have committed and will ever commit. I have no question or challenge as to the validity of that grace or the salvation provided there-in. I just accept it for the free gift that it is. I have confessed my sins and been forgiven.

After accepting the Lord, however, there were several questions kept coming to mind:

OK. I'm saved. Now what?

  • How should I live my life?
  • How should my life change as a result of being saved?
  • Should my life change as a result of being saved?
  • Can I just do whatever I want?
  • Can I go on swearing like a sailor, going out and getting drunk on the weekends, making lascivious comments to female coworkers, and living the same life of sin that I lived before I was saved?

 

Scripture says no:

Romans 6:1-2

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

 

I know that I am a sinner saved by grace and that will stand before G-d one day and I want to stop sinning.

When sinners were brought before Jesus what did He tell them?

To the woman caught in adultery: stop sinning (John 8:11)
To the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years: stop sinning (John 5:14)

So I'm supposed to stop sinning. OK, I get that.

But if I am supposed to stop sinning shouldn't I find out what sin is so I can avoid it?

 

What is sin?

1 John 3:4

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.

 

The original Greek word in Scripture that is translated as "lawlessness" is anomia which means "without the law".

  • So what does Scripture mean by "lawlessness"?
  • Are they talking about driving too fast and breaking the speed limit law?
  • What about changing lanes without signaling?
  • How about embezzlement or murder?
  • US law, Canadian law, Swedish law?
  • Without what law?

 

What does that MEAN?

Well...who wrote the book of 1 John?

Jesus' disciple John did.

John was a Jewish man (as were Jesus and all His disciples). When John wrote "law" what did he mean? There was only one thing that meant "law" (in a generic sense) in the lives of the twelves Jewish men who were Jesus' disciples: G-d's Law as given to Moses (the Law is known in Hebrew as the Torah). It is, in fact, the only law given to us in Scripture. There is no other law given to us in regards to G-d and godliness, holiness, and righteousness.

G-d gives each of us unique and specific instructions (for example: Moses, Jonah, etc) that we should obey. "The Law" (Torah) is G-d's  foundational set of instructions for all mankind.  Disobeying G-d's specific instructions to each of us is just as much as sin as disobeying any of G-d's general commandments or instructions.

Sin (in regards to the "Law") is violating the commandments G-d gave to the world through Moses. The Hebrew word translated as "law" in our English Bibles is the Hebrew word torah. It is more accurately translated as "instruction" or "teaching" with the legal weight of the English word "law" (i.e. do this or there will be consequences). The Torah is G-d's revelation of His will and wisdom... His teaching about who He is and who we are created to be as reflections of him.

What does Scripture say about the Torah?

Psalm 19:7

The Law [Hebrew: Torah] of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

 

Let us assume for the sake of discussion that the Torah is the law G-d desires for us to obey in order not to sin.

What does G-d want me to do?

Follow some rules that He gave to nomadic sheep herders living in tents 3500 years ago?

 

How can I really know what G-d wants?

Scripture tells us:

Romans 12:2

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what G-d's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

OK...so...

How is my mind renewed?

Colossians 3:9-11

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

So our "old self" is our sinful nature (the body of sin) which was crucified with Christ? Got it! Our "new self" is our new life after being saved.

What about the "renewed in knowledge" part?

What does that "renewed in knowledge" part mean?

Well... what is the only source of knowledge we have of G-d? Scripture is the only source of that knowledge...G-d's Word as revealed by His Holy Spirit!

Romans 10:14-15

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

 

What was it that they needed to "hear"?
What was it that was being "preached"?

SCRIPTURE! The promise of Messiah is found in Scripture. I guess that means Scripture has a purpose. Part of the purpose is to renew me with the knowledge of Who He is and who I am created to be in Him in order to bring unbelievers to faith in Him.

 

What about knowledge of G-d through the Holy Spirit?

I have yet to find any passage of Scripture that indicates unbelievers can have knowledge of G-d through the Spirit. It is only after a person comes to faith in Messiah that he is given the Spirit. There are some verses, however, that refer to knowledge given to the believer through the Spirit:

1 Corinthians 12:8

For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit...

 

However, we must test every spirit to determine if it is The Spirit or not:

1 John 4:1

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from G-d, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 


 

How do we "test the spirits"?

 

Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1). Surely He must have tested the spirits to see if they were of G-d or not.

When Jesus was tempted by a spirit to do something how did He determine what was right?

Rather than following the direction of the evil spirit (Satan) Jesus held to and responded with G-d's Torah commandments! (see Matthew 4:1-10).

What else is Scripture for?

Scripture outlines many purposes for itself, however, none seems to be as inclusive as a quote from Paul's second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is G-d-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of G-d may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

 

Training in righteousness?

What is righteousness and why do I need to train in it?

Genesis 15:6

Then he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and He [G-d] reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Genesis 18:19

"For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him."

 

Righteousness appears to be not only what we believe (verse 15:6) but something we do (verse 18:19). That is definitely not the idea I used to have of righteousness.

Righteousness is something different than salvation. A Christian can be saved (which is a "true or false" condition) and not be living in a righteous manner.

Marriage is a good analogy for this. A person can be married (also a "true or false" condition... either you are married or you aren't) and not be acting in a manner consistent with their marital status. In order to be righteous in their marriage a person must behave in a manner that is consistent with the fact that they are married. In order to have a good marriage man and woman in the marriage must train themselves to have a good marriage: they must practice! In a similar way we must "train in righteousness" and practice having a proper (righteous) relationship with G-d.

What about that "every good work" part of 2 Tim 3:16?

Works?

Christians aren't supposed to have anything to do with good works... are we?

James 2:14-19

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that G-d is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

 

Interesting...

Scripture says that faith without works is dead. It doesn't say that it isn't faith or that it isn't true faith. It says it is dead faith.  Just like a dead tree is still a tree... just one that does not bear any fruit.

Ephesians 2:10

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

 

Scripture tells us that we were created in Messiah for good works!  Yes, it sounds like Christians are supposed to have something to do with good works.

 

If we dig further into Scripture and read about the the disciples, we discover that they were all Jewish men. For Jews in the 1st century (as well as now in the 21st century) the concept of "a good work" is encapsulated in the Hebrew word mitzvah. A mitzvah is the act of performing the commandments of G-d as defined in the Torah (Law of Moses). Each commandment is a mitzvah ... a good work or "good deed" that is to be done.

A mitzvah is also any good deed that we do for others. A boy scout helping an older lady across the street is going a "good deed"... a mitzvah. Doing what your father or mother asks you to do is a mitzvah. Performing the commands of our Heavenly Father is also a mitzvah.

Summary thus far:

  • I am saved by grace through faith. (Eph 2:8-9)
  • As a consequence of that salvation my "old self" is crucified with Christ so I am no longer a slave to sin. (Rom 6:6)
  • The "new self" shares in the resurrection of Christ and is being renewed in the knowledge of the image of its Creator. (Col 3:9-11)
  • In this renewing process I am able to test what G-d's will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2)
  • Scripture is the source of the knowledge of my Creator. (Rom 10:14)
  • Scripture is useful for equipping believers for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
  • "Good works" = mitzvot = obeying G-d's commandments.

 


What is the point of obeying G-d's commandments? I'm already saved!

Peter gives some instructions to believers that apply after they are saved:

1 Peter 1:15-17

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

 

Here Peter is quoting either Leviticus 11:44, Leviticus 19:2, or Leviticus 20:7 (or possibly all three of them) where "it is written" for us to "be holy because [G-d is] holy". These are passages of Scripture where G-d exhorts His people to obey His commandments. We are called to be a reflection of our G-d.  In the beginning man was created "in the image" of his Creator (Genesis 1:26).  I am created to be holy since He is Holy.

  • Leviticus 11 teaches us about being holy in what we eat.
  • Leviticus 19 teaches us about being holy in how we behave (towards G-d and towards others).
  • Leviticus 20 teaches us about being holy in sexual purity. It also teaches us to be holy by not conforming to the standards of the places in which we live.

 

At this point I started thinking "this sounds a lot like 'Old Testament' kinds of things that don't apply to us anymore." So I had to ask...

What did Jesus say we are supposed to do once we are saved?

Didn't he say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light? Following the Law of Moses doesn't sound easy and light to me!

Matthew 11:29-30

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

 

Notice the NASB capitalizes an entire section of verse 29 (and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS). Why is that? Any time the NASB capitalizes a phrase in the New Testament it is pointing out a quotation of something from the Old Testament. So what was Jesus quoting? He was quoting Jeremiah 6:16.

So... let's examine Jeremiah 6:16-19.

Jeremiah 6:16-19

Thus says the LORD, "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' And I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, O nations, And know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I am bringing disaster on this people, The fruit of their plans, Because they have not listened to My words, And as for My law [Hebrew: Torah], they have rejected it also.

 

Jeremiah was calling Israel to repent and return to "the ways [of Moses] and see and ask for the ancient paths" so that they will "find rest for [their] souls". By quoting this verse Jesus equates finding "rest for the soul" with following the ancient paths of Torah. The remainder of the passage shows G-d's displeasure with Israel's disobedience and His revelation to the nations that He is bringing disaster upon Israel because they have rejected His words and His Law [Hebrew: Torah].

Wait, wait, wait!

I thought Jesus was supposed to fulfill the Law and the prophecies so we don't have to?

Here is one of the prophecies Scripture says He fulfilled (note the "all caps" sections in the NASB are quotations):

Matthew 12:17-21

This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, MY SERVANT WHOM I HAVE CHOSEN; MY BELOVED IN WHOM MY SOUL is WELL-PLEASED; I WILL PUT MY SPIRIT UPON HIM, AND HE SHALL PROCLAIM JUSTICE TO THE GENTILES. HE WILL NOT QUARREL, NOR CRY OUT; NOR WILL ANYONE HEAR HIS VOICE IN THE STREETS. A BATTERED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK OFF, AND A SMOLDERING WICK HE WILL NOT PUT OUT, UNTIL HE LEADS JUSTICE TO VICTORY. AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE."

 

In His Name the gentiles will hope for what?

The quote is from Isaiah 42:1-4... let's see what it says:

Isaiah 42:1-4

"Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the countries will wait expectantly [hope] for His law [Hebrew: Torah]."

 

We're supposed to be expectantly waiting for His Torah?!?

What else did Jesus say we are supposed to do?

He said we are to love him and that, if we love him, we are to obey his commands (John 14:15).

OK... so I figured if I want to know what commands to obey I should look up all the things Jesus explicitly told us to do. So I started looking them up and came across this:

Matthew 19:17

And He said to him, "Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments."

 

"Keep the commandments"? Whoa... there is only one set of "the commandments", right?

Are the commands Jesus gave to his disciples different than the commands the Father gave to Moses?

John 14:21, 23-24

"Whoever has my commands and keeps them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." 
 
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me.

 

Wow! John 14:24 quotes Jesus as saying that His words and commands are from the Father.

Would G-d contradict himself by establishing two standards of holiness or two standards of righteousness?

G-d doesn't change (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17)!

Hmmm... But I thought we were not saved through our works!?

Why does this sound like I have to do good works in order to be saved?

I am only able to love G-d after I accept Him as my Lord and Savior (1 John 4:19 We love because He first loved us).

Obedience is not a matter of GAINING salvation...it is the RESULT of the salvation we have been given.

Paul's letter to the Galatians was a condemnation of trying to gain salvation by following the Law.

Galatians 5:4

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

 

Galatians 5:4 is the summary of Paul's letter to the Galatians. If we seek to be judged as righteous by following the Law then we are no longer depending upon G-d's grace for our salvation and we have severed ourselves from Christ.

Our entrance into the kingdom of G-d (by G-d's grace) is like a child who is born in China but moves to the kingdom of England at a very early age. That child will learn a British accent and British customs. So we, too, should be conformed to the ways of G-d's kingdom in our speech and our deeds once we have been brought into it.

Jesus said regarding "deeds":

Mat 16:26-27

"For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.

 

The quotation in CAPS above is possibly to Psalm 62:12 or Proverbs 24:12.

Quotes from Paul regarding "works" or "deeds":

Romans 2:5-6

But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of G-d, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:

Romans 14:12

So then each one of us will give an account of himself to G-d.

1 Corinthians 3:13

...each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work.

2 Corinthians 5:10

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

Ephesians 6:8

...knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

Colossians 3:25

For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.

 

Other notes on "deeds" from Revelation:

Revelation 2:23

'And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.

Revelation 20:12

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

Revelation 20:12

And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds.

Revelation 22:12

"Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.

 

Yikes! Sounds like our deeds will be pretty important come Judgment Day.

Summary thus far:

Just like our parents, spouses, siblings, or children have ways in which they desire for us to express our love to them so, too, does Jesus. A platinum-coated, laser-etched Craftsman socket and ratchet set clearly communicates to my dad that I love him. If I gave the same set to my wife she will definitely not get the same message of love. The way Jesus has said we should express our love for him is to obey his commands. His commands are not different from the Father's because the commands Jesus spoke are not his "but the Father's who sent" Him.

That actually makes sense. Since Jesus is the Word made flesh, He would only give us the commandments G-d put in "the Word."

I struggled with this, however. This didn't fit with my understanding of how things were.

I thought Jesus came and changed everything so that we no longer have to follow the Law?

If we follow that line of thinking essentially what we are saying is that G-d changed. He first gave the Law and then saw that it wasn't working out so well with the Jews so He gave everyone an easier path to follow. Note that I am not saying G-d cannot change his mind. I am saying that G-d, Himself, does not change.

Remember that Scripture is G-d's revelation of Himself to the world. If G-d changed or annulled a part of Scripture (for example the Law) then that is saying that G-d changed or annulled a part of Himself. I cannot believe this to be so because it requires that G-d changed and Scripture tells us that G-d never changes:

James 1:17

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

 

So let's briefly examine salvation a bit closer.

Hebrews 10:4

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

John tells those of us who have faith in Jesus that:

1 John 1:9

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And yet we also see King David, who lived prior to the time of Jesus, express that same idea:

Psalm 32:5

I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD"; And You forgave the guilt of my sin.

 

G-d's forgiveness appears to be consistent throughout all time and is predicated upon His election and our confession. It is not dependent upon the sacrifice of bulls and goats. If the "old way" of salvation was not through the animal sacrifices then it would not have needed to be "done away with".

Still in progress... G-d's not finished with me yet. :)

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Today is

Yom Chamishi, 18 Shevat, 5783

Thursday, February 09, 2023

 

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