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Posts Tagged ‘legalism’

My mental backlog of blog posts is starting to get a little overwhelming.   I could go into all the reasons why I have no time to write, but I guess I’ll just let this one fly off the cuff tonight.  It’s been a really strange, but wonderful day.

First I will start with a dream I had this morning, which I don’t fully understand, but feel it’s related in some way.  It was definitely one of “those” dreams – the kind that stands out from the normal kind, whatever normal is.  But some just scream, “Pay attention!’

I was in a small village, out in the main street, and many people were out walking around.  News was spreading that someone important was coming, and everyone seemed excited and started lining up on the sidelines like it was going to be a parade.  But a man began warning to not go and see, not to look.  He said a powerful woman was coming in really fine, splendid clothes, and an entourage, and you will want to look at her, but you must not look.  If you glanced at her in the least, you would be under her dominion in some way.  My excitement turned to fear, and I began looking for a place to hide from this splendid, yet frightfully powerful woman.  I could find nowhere, until I came upon a seating bench that had a lid with storage underneath.  I was trying to get in and place the lid over me, but I realized I was too late, so I sat behind it, facing away from the street, hoping to just not be seen.  I could hear the crowds going wild and felt powerless to stop what was happening.  A woman was standing near me who was not cheering, yet she was not hiding either.  A man from the entourage stopped, and I pretended to be asleep (so I could keep my eyes closed and not see anything.)  I could hear the woman near me talking to him.  She wasn’t afraid, but she was pleading with him.  The man was her brother.  She kept saying how much she loved him and it seemed she was hoping to be the one with the most influence over him instead.   Then I realized that I had based all my fear on the warning of one man, and not even known if he was telling the truth or not.  Then I woke up.

Not long after I awoke, my husband received a phone call from someone we met through this blog who does desire to obey God through Torah observance.  We never knew if we would meet in person or not, but he just happened to be in town today, so we readily agreed to get together, and had him over for dinner.  As I was working in the kitchen preparing the meal, and he and my husband were having a good visit in another room (which I could not hear), I had the strong impression that this dream is about our meeting in some way.  I will let the reader decide in discernment.

I let them know when the meal was ready and we all sat down.  He was very kind to patiently listen to my expounding (I get really passionate about Jesus, Spirit, and the power of Love).   We went around the usual circular discussions that are inevitable whenever the Old and New Covenant ways of thinking collide.  There are so many ideas, so many angles, and ways of seeing things.  I can’t give someone my eyes, or my heart vision.  Nor can I judge their heart.  I sensed in him a deep conviction, and desire that was very familiar.  I have it too.  I used to walk on that path he is on, but found a different way to apply that conviction.  In fact the practical application of my belief system continues to change and grow.  I believe now more than ever that patience and love is the most important element in relationships of any kind where religious differences are present.  Can we make the other party approach the table this way?  No.  Can we choose to?  Yes.  I have seen and sadly been party to some painful divisions since leaving the HRM between people who had much more in common than they disagreed on, yet the mountains of offense continued to build over differences in information and perception.

If someone believes with all their heart, they are doing the right thing, then they are.  Even if their ways seem crazy to us, their hearts are being true to what they believe.  I have a great deal of respect for our new friend who loves God, trusts God, and wants to obey Him.  That is a beautiful thing, even if that looks much differently to him than it does to me now.  Of course I did my best to explain the new and improved version of righteous fruit (it’s not really new, we just have it in HD with Jesus, with the static taken away).  But I can’t force him to see the world my way.  No one could have forced me.

After our friend had gone, I saw a status post on facebook:  “Do the right thing, regardless of whether bad things may come later or what it might lead to. Do the right thing today.”  This friend does not observe Torah as given to Moses, but follows Jesus whole-heartedly.

A short time later I found a similar quote while continuing an internet search I had been on for a few days about my family history.  I ran across an article written in 1961 about my grandfather who gave up his 15 year career as a law enforcement officer because he had just been baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist.  They would not allow for him to have Saturdays off, so he turned in his badge.  Ironically, the article was written by my other grandfather who was the pastor that baptized him.  The editors added a relevant quote from Ellen White that read, “It is the very essence of all right faith to do the right thing at the right time.”

I had seen this piece in a scrap book a long time ago.  Our family had held it up for many years as the picture of integrity.  My husband also for years would not accept a lucrative promotion at work because he refused to work on the Sabbath.  We followed our conscience and I don’t regret that.  However during those years, we have many regrets about failures to love with our whole heart.  Which will hold more weight in the end?   I am thankful for the few instances where we were given a chance to redeem those lost opportunities.

Today I also saw a picture of my grandmother’s headstone, wife of the former police officer.  I did not attend her funeral, and she is buried far from where I live.  It was the first time I’d seen it.  Under her name it reads, “She Loved Country Music.”   She also observed the Sabbath and the feasts, and out of respect for her, I will only say that it makes me sad this was the love she was known for.  I loved her, but she loved very little and it has grieved me to see how the pain of not being loved gets handed down from generation to generation.

So there we have it, a day all about doing the right thing, which is not exactly defined the same way by everyone.  HRM followers disagree about this all the time between themselves, as well as Christians.  We think having a Law would simplify it and preserve it.  It doesn’t.

Often the right thing is determined by fear.  There is something that needs to be avoided, controlled, or protected, or an approval to gain and keep.  These fears used to drive my view of faith, scripture, and my value system about what is right.  I understand this path very well.  I go back there a lot in other areas of my life as it seems to be my default operating system installed since birth.  It takes conscious effort, or realignment I should say, to His heart and mind, to operate from the other center point.

Perfect Love casts out all fear.  I believe this is the example of the fearless woman in my dream.  What if the right thing was determined only by what was Love.  Perfect love loves no matter what.  Even to the death.  What is the right thing?  A legal system can never answer this question because the explanations take volumes of Talmud, endless Supreme Court cases, or other books and tapes and videos without end.  Yet there is always something left unclear and uncovered, or impossible.

Love answers the question with itself and satisfies all.

Romans 13:8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loves another has fulfilled the law.
Romans 13:10 Love works no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Galatians 5:14 For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
James 2:8 If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, you shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well:

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A couple weeks ago I had a great time with a close family member who is still a very loyal member of the Seventh-day Adventist organization.  Some people believe they can pinpoint the errors in beliefs about God that would prevent a person from having what they call “saving faith” in God.  I’ve been one of those people.  When pressed, they (I) would admit we don’t know the person’s heart, but we DO absolutely know they are wrong.  It was evident to me this family member of mine (after many heart to heart talks) has the same heart I do – one that resonates of the same Holy Spirit and the Love He pours out, in spite of some really huge differences of opinion on doctrines.  If we were forced to talk about the fine print, we would still strongly disagree and say the other is wrong.  But how much does that matter to God?  How much does that matter to each other?  Maybe this person still believes I’m wrong enough to go to hell in the end, but she is kind enough to not let on.  I don’t believe that about her (and actually never have.)

God has been widening my horizons at a painfully quick pace the last year or so, and He showed me much during this visit as well.  I realize that if I went back a few years on this blog, there are posts I probably wouldn’t write now.  While I still passionately believe the core issues that delivered us from legalism, that same legalism has taken a long long time to work its way out of my thought processes.  It is so easy to replace one form of legalism with another.

When we leave a system of belief that touts itself as the elite truth above all others, we immediately sense battle lines will be drawn.  We need a way to reassure ourselves that we truly are right.  Often doubt and fear can creep in so we fortify our defenses, and as happens in all wars, the”enemy” becomes much worse in our eyes.  I believe most fractures over religion – in families, churches, etc.,  come not so much from the differences in the beliefs we hold, but the attitudes of the heart that lead us to feel we are superior, and the desire to exert control of our position over others.

I had already begun to write this post when someone on our forum for HRM friends and family asked a question about spiritual fruit.  The individual wanted to know what the connection was between this movement and the fruit of love in its followers.  Are there any loving Torah Observant people?  Are they all cold and judgmental?  (Don’t look at their comments here, but no – they are not).  Does it matter what theology they have if they are kind?  And does their theology interfere with that?

Lots of loaded, complex questions here.  Jesus said to identify false teachers by their fruit (love rather than Pharisaical righteousness or knowledge), so these are really important questions.  And is there a difference between a false teacher and the followers?  Is it more difficult for a teacher to be blindly sincere than the follower?  I just like to ask questions I don’t have answers for.

As my very long story posted on this blog tells, my eyes were initially opened to the error of our law-centric theology by the overall lack of good fruit (as defined by Jesus) in the Hebrew Roots Movement.  Yes, there were exceptions to this generalization, but the overall atmosphere and focus did not naturally generate a loving, compassionate, sacrificial attitude toward anyone who was not aligned with our way of thinking.  And Jesus did say there wasn’t any glory in loving those who love you back, because well… anyone can do that.  When you love the unloveable, then you are on your way to being perfect, “as My Father is perfect”.

So, we moved on to enthusiastically embrace mainstream Christianity, where we knew things would be so much better.  That idealism eventually died as well.  I am starting to see a more level playing field between those who claim truth and those accused of error.

Jesus remains my Truth and the most beautiful love ever demonstrated to humanity.  But  I see that we who call ourselves by His name, in general, don’t know Him, and His verdict on false religion is that HE never knew us.  The heresy hunter’s favorite accusation is that cults invent their own Jesus.  And they often do.  But I’ve seen some strange versions of Him in the evangelical world too.  If it’s true what they say, that a false Jesus can’t save you, then maybe we should start getting to really know Him.  Really.  Know His heart before we seek to know soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology.  What does He love?  What does He hate?  When you fall in love, you crave to know everything you can about the object of your desire, but you would not cut them open to study their organ tissue.  You would LISTEN to them and enjoy their company.  Scientists study cadavers and cells under microscopes.  They have great knowledge but take no thought of the life it used to be, before it came under their knife.  It is no longer a being but a source of information.  Do we benefit from what they learn?  Yes.  But oh the grief of what we may lose if we insist on living in the knowledge of God without really knowing Him.  We may look at a tissue sample and come to very wrong conclusions, because we see such a small part of the picture.  

So what do we do with this fruit problem?  I rejected a movement on a premise that indicts most of Western Civilization and its institutions, in orthodoxy or heresy either one.  The world is an unloving place but the light and fire of Christ still burns, sometimes in the most unexpected places.  I don’t have an answer for the question about theology and fruit.  Maybe there is a flaw in the knowledge base somewhere, but I have come to believe that the problem is not a lack of knowledge, but a failure to integrate Truth (Jesus) into the fabric of our whole being.  We have selfistic (my word) desires, half-truths from the world systems, a million other “isms” competing to be our paradigm for life.  This isn’t just an American problem, it’s an ancient one.

When Yahweh delivered the Hebrew nation from their slavery, they did not have a knowledge of Him in the way He was planning to reveal Himself.  They could comprehend very little of their Father and Creator, and even with amazing displays of power, didn’t believe He loved them enough to sustain them.  They didn’t resemble a priesthood, or a bride.  Yet these are the symbols He used to refer to them and describe His desires for them.  Even in their state of helplessness and ignorance he demanded Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  They were HIS people, based on His covenant with their fathers, not on their own merit or worthiness.

Today there are many many children of God held captive by dogmas and falsehoods of countless kinds.  Can any of us say we really have everything right about God?  I don’t find my security in that pursuit.  And I don’t see other people’s spiritual worth from that vantage point either, anymore.     I can see where a certain untruth can hurt them, or others – like the whips of the slave owner.  But maybe someone is saying, “Let my daughter go.  Let my son be free to serve me in joy.”  Maybe they belong to Him right where they are, right now.

“Love the Lord you God with all your heart, mind and soul.  Love one another as I have loved you.”  These simple words will shatter slave-holding dogmas, if taken to heart.

God didn’t call me to be right.  He called me to be love.  It has taken a lot of humbling for me to give up that desire and pursuit.  I love to be right more than just about anyone. (Ask my husband!)  What good will it do to uphold the foundations of doctrinal purity while we let our love and compassion wither on the vine?

I am not negating the whole purpose of this blog.  I believe cults and heresies rob people because they cloud the Son.  But my reason for speaking isn’t to prove someone wrong.  It’s to point to the Son, so we may all be healed.  Because we all need that, no matter how right .. we think we are.

Only a small part of truth can be understood. The rest must be caught as an intense longing for a beautiful, loving, harmonious world. Truth is something much better than a set of ideas.

-Richard Wurmbrand

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…is why Jesus came.  He turned Mission Impossible into Mission Accomplished.  We were in chains we could not break, both of our own making, and to men’s idea of who God is, and what He wants.

So why don’t we want freedom?  Why do we find endless ways to move back under the hard service of bondage to ideas, people, and systems?  Anything which implies we have to work hard for God’s blessing has us running to buy the book, video, and see the live performance to learn more.   The cults have these principles down to a science.  But mainstream, every-day Christians deceive themselves so often into the same mindsets.  When they do, they lose the one precious truth that makes Jesus different among all other gods.  Unconditional Love based on His Grace alone.  We say we believe in Grace, then proceed to focus on what we believe WE have to do… not for our salvation of course.  No, that would be legalistic.  But obviously we can’t just rest.  We have to work.  We must keep telling ourselves and others what we need to be doing.  We have to hold up our end of the stick or there is shame, defeat, humiliation, falling out of favor with Dad and losing His approval and blessing.  We must work hard not to fail.  At what?

You name it!

….marriage, health, finances, reading the Bible every day, praying our prayer list every day, inviting five friends to church each month, making sure the stranger on the street knows he is a sinner, giving our exact tithe to the church, attending church every week, keeping a high Christian standard of appearances, charity, staying positive no matter how much grief you experience….. I’m sure you could finish out this list for me if you’ve spent any amount of time in Christian circles.  I have held high expectations of myself and others often.

One week I walked into the church we attended and received a bulletin with the morning’s message boldly printed on the front, with great graphic illustrations:  “Never Stop Working!”   My heart sank instantly.  The message  played out as I feared,  “We must strive hard to maintain this Christian life or we will surely fail. We can’t get lazy!”  I still have the church bulletin as a souvenir.  The pastor, who had asked the man to speak, shouted loud “Amens” from the back of the room.  A few months later, the speaker of this great sermon fell into extreme disgrace by his own actions.  Maybe now he knows the joy of following Jesus (as opposed to the duty), His real grace, and the power of it.  I do pray so.  But the sermon left me in shock.  Like Bono asks in a song, “How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?”  I know we all have.

My personal unfavorite is the strange idea (with its origin in mystical, metaphysical practices – future post content), that Jesus wants you to say the right faith words and think the right faith thoughts so He can bless you. Or even further, that your own words are so powerful, that you are a co-creator with God and faith is the substance that will give you sorcery-level control over your own physical realm.    This is  a hugely popular form of legalism in the church.  The formula is “right words” + “enough faith” = healing, wealth, peace and love.   This religion needs its own name.  Jesus didn’t come to be our Santa Claus, or teach us how to be our own genie in a bottle.  He asked us to follow Him, yet he said HIS burden is light.  Everything I have described above, is not a light burden at all and reveals the truth about our greatest desires.

The churches who pride themselves in rejecting false teaching such as this prosperity gospel, often require church members to enter into a covenant in order to join!  One I visited even had the members stand and read it out loud together every week.  I was so thankful to just be visiting.  I couldn’t imagine the pressure to live up to what they were speaking every week.  I speculate it leads to a great deal of striving for appearances, because no one can live up to these covenants.  Doesn’t Mt. Sinai teach us anything?  Why do we want so badly to be in bondage?  Why can’t we realize our promises always fail?  Don’t we see in the beautiful Good News of Jesus that only HE keeps a Covenant?  He is the author, and the finisher… the only real Promise.  He needs to go on TV and say, “I’m the Promiser around here!”  🙂    Then maybe we would get it.

I have a friend who was held in the bonds of an abusive marriage for many years, partly because of the belief that it was her responsibility to uphold a sacred covenant.  When she finally broke free, she was riddled with fear and guilt that God, her loving Father, would disprove and be unpleased with her escape.  Her husband and church both impressed on her the importance of the marriage covenant, even though he had tried to kill her.  She started a blog called A Covenant Broken about her healing journey, which I find incredibly enlightening.  Her experience with man-made, covenant-based thinking, reminded me so much of our journey too, and different types of abuse that take place because of it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I HATE divorce.  Broken marriages, (the love is broken or the covenant would not be) caused so much pain for me and now for my oldest daughter too.  But you can’t uphold that which is already broken.

Any spiritual teaching or practice that puts the responsibility on the human to perform, sustain, uphold, or create that which is good, is distinctly not from Christ, no matter how Christian people want to make it sound, or how much Scripture they want to pull out of context.  There are as many forms of legalism as there are churches.  I beg you, turn off the TV preacher, put down the best-selling fad book, and just read Jesus for awhile.

Jesus did not come to bind us into performance-based covenants with him or anyone else.  I can’t begin to fathom the damage done to so many people by continuing to hold on to these misconceptions.  And they sound so logical to us, especially as self-sufficient Americans who are taught we are not supposed to need any help.  Our pride depends on being able to WORK at something.  We also feel obliged to make sure everyone else knows what they should be doing also. I can gripe, because I’ve done it, and am still repenting of it!

Below is an excerpt from a book I read recently on healing from sexual abuse.  I was jumping for joy to see a Christian author speaking of real grace, because it’s when we are in the hardest valleys of our lives, that fellow Christians sometimes put the heaviest burdens on us.  We must obviously have the formula wrong, or we wouldn’t be having such a hard time right? More faith, more obedience, more prayer, more whatever..

I leave you here with her words and rejoice that Jesus keeps teaching me, there is nothing I can do.  I can only be a branch and let Him make fruit.  Jesus + nothing = everything!

Q:  Since I began working on my abuse issues I’ve had trouble in my relationship with God.  It is difficult for me to pray, read my Bible, and attend church.  I really love the Lord, but find such an emptiness in pursuing anything spiritual.  Am I doing something wrong?

A:  My heart goes out to you as I remember so well those times in my own healing journey. It often seemed that God was no where to be found and that the Word of God no longer nourished me as it once had.  Do not despair.  This too shall pass!

I have discovered in my own walks with God that there are times we go through our own wilderness experience even as many of God’s choicest vessels in Scripture did.  I am convinced that it is during these times our hearts are opened up and we are faced with ourselves.  It has been through these dark times that many of the distortions and faulty beliefs I have unknowingly held about God and myself have been exposed to the light of His truth.  I am not sure exactly why or how this happens, but I see it throughout the Scripture – in Job’s life, in David’s psalms, and in the life of King Hezekiah:  “God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know what was in his heart” (2 Chron. 32:31).  I really believe that God already knows what is in our hearts, even when we do not.  He allows these barren times to help us grapple with our motives and our deepest desries and to examine where our treasures really lie.

Many victims of abuse who go through this lack of zeal feel extremely guilty and fear impending punishment from God.  I believe God actually ordains many of these times in our lives to help us gain perspective and realize there is NOTHING we can do to gain more of God’s favor or love than what Christ already did on the cross.  He wants to free us from the performance mentality and the legalism that has ensnared so many of His children.”  (emphasis mine)
From “Door of Hope – Recognizing and Resolving the Pains of Your Past” by Jan Frank

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Not long ago I stopped at a church yard sale and found a little treasure, “Abide in Christ” by Andrew Murray.  It’s an old copy without a publication date, but my guess it was printed in the early 1900s.  I have to confess that although I’m familiar with this author’s name and some of his titles, I hadn’t known anything about him.  When I decided to share some of what I read today, I thought it might be a good idea to find out who he was exactly.  When I did, it made sense why his words impact me so deeply.

He lived longer ago than I had realized (1828-1917), and he and his brother joined a revival movement while studying theology in the Netherlands.  He was a Revivalist in his ministry as a pastor in South Africa, the country of his birth.  The biography sketch states his written works greatly influenced Watchman Nee, which would explain why I said this morning, “Wow! This sounds so much like Watchman Nee!”  🙂

When it comes to great Christian writers, I am consistently drawn to the same genre of literature.  Revival is the continuing desire of my heart and for my heart.  I am so moved by those believers whose words were generated by this fire.  They inspire and challenge me.

But enough about what I think… here is what excited me this morning, an excerpt from Day Three of a 31 days of meditations on Abiding in Christ.  These words have direct implications for the subject matter of this blog as well.  (added emphases below are mine)

Chapter 3–TRUSTING HIM TO KEEP YOU

“I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which I also am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”–PHIL.3:12

MORE than one admits that it is a sacred duty and a blessed privilege to abide in Christ, but shrinks back continually before the question: Is it possible, a life of unbroken fellowship with the Saviour? Eminent Christians, to whom special opportunities of cultivating this grace have been granted, may attain to it; for the large majority of disciples, whose life, by a divine appointment, is so fully occupied with the affairs of this life, it can scarce be expected. The more they hear of this life, the deeper their sense of its glory and blessedness, and there is nothing they would not sacrifice to be made partakers of it. But they are too weak, too unfaithful–they never can attain to it.

Dear souls! how little they know that the abiding in Christ is just meant for the weak, and so beautifully suited to their feebleness. It is not the doing of some great thing, and does not demand that we first lead a very holy and devoted life. No, it is simply weakness entrusting itself to a Mighty One to be kept–the unfaithful one casting self on One who is altogether trustworthy and true. Abiding in Him is not a work that we have to do as the condition for enjoying His salvation, but a consenting to let Him do all for us, and in us, and through us. It is a work He does for us–the fruit and the power of His redeeming love. Our part is simply to yield, to trust, and to wait for what He has engaged to perform.

It is this quiet expectation and confidence, resting on the word of Christ that in Him there is an abiding place prepared, which is so sadly wanting among Christians. They scarce take the time or the trouble to realize that when He says “Abide IN ME,” He offers Himself, the Keeper of Israel that slumbers not nor sleeps, with all His power and love, as the living home of the soul, where the mighty influences of His grace will be stronger to keep than all their feebleness to lead astray. The idea they have of grace is this–that their conversion and pardon are God’s work, but that now, in gratitude to God, it is their work to live as Christians, and follow Jesus. There is always the thought of a work that has to be done, and even though they pray for help, still the work is theirs. They fail continually, and become hopeless; and the despondency only increases the helplessness. No, wandering one; as it was Jesus who drew you when He spake “Come,” so it is Jesus who keeps you when He says “Abide.” The grace to come and the grace to abide are alike from Him alone. That word Come, heard, meditated on, accepted, was the cord of love that drew you nigh; that word Abide is even so the band with which He holds you fast and binds you to Himself. Let the soul but take time to listen to the voice of Jesus. “In me,” He says, “is thy place–in my almighty arms. It is I who love thee so, who speak Abide in me; surely thou canst trust me.” The voice of Jesus entering and dwelling in the soul cannot but call for the response: “Yes, Saviour, in Thee I can, I will abide.”

Abide in me: These words are no law of Moses, demanding from the sinful what they cannot perform. They are the command of love, which is ever only a promise in a different shape. Think of this until all feeling of burden and fear and despair pass away, and the first thought that comes as you hear of abiding in Jesus be one of bright and joyous hope: it is for me, I know I shall enjoy it. You are not under the law, with its inexorable Do, but under grace, with its blessed Believe what Christ will do for you. And if the question be asked, “But surely there is something for us to do?” the answer is, “Our doing and working are but the fruit of Christ’s work in us.” It is when the soul becomes utterly passive, looking and resting on what Christ is to do, that its energies are stirred to their highest activity, and that we work most effectually because we know that He works in us. It is as we see in that word IN ME the mighty energies of love reaching out after us to have us and to hold us, that all the strength of our will is roused to abide in Him.”

The entire book is available to read online: Abide in Christ

There is such a subtle but life-altering difference between the approach that we must strive to be a good Christian, and the reality that we must simply let Jesus live it out in us.  Those who live in the former state, often have no realization there is another way.  That they are mixing their own efforts with the sufficiency of God’s grace.  They push others to strive as they themselves feel obliged to do.  It’s the logical thing to do.  Be a good Christian soldier.

Lately as my own personal battles have raged at new levels, I have seen the stakes differently.  Success and failure in the living of our Christian life revolve around how we love.  We may fail in many ways, but to fail to love is the only true failure.  Love in the fiercest of spiritual battles cannot be manufactured in our dead human hearts.  Love indicates where my life abides.  In Christ?  Or in my own desires and disappointments.

People are never what we want them to be, or we can blame God for the storms we expected Him to steer us away from.  But people we must love, and our Father we must trust.  And here my language goes back to knee-jerk human compulsion to “work”.  We must, but we can’t.  He does.

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Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving!   I have so many things to be thankful for this year, more than ever.  And no material blessing can come close to watching my children learn to know and trust God, to see His Spirit working in them.

Below my 18 year old son graciously agreed to share his perspective of what the HRM environment was like for a young heart and mind.  He saw this world through a completely different lens, one without the filters of denial that protected us as adults.

As a parent, I was heartbroken to learn this is what I put my older children through, and that I could not see I was continuing the cycle of how I was raised in  a legalistic environment.  Only recently have they both begun to share with me the effect the atmosphere and teaching had on them.   This post is the fruit of a heart-to-heart talk my son and I had that went till 2:00 a.m.  The Law did its job.. exactly as it was intended to do.  But the Remedy was seldom mentioned, and if it ever was, heavily qualified with conditions, both in words and our attitudes we projected.  I grieve not only for my own kids, but the several others that we had direct influence on.  I pray God can also bring good out of this in their lives, as He has for Jesse.

I saw a marked change in Jesse when God brought him to Grace.  He was already an amazing son, with a naturally compliant, loving temperament, but he went from “good” to ALIVE.. and that was visibly evident.

Jesse’s Story

Christians today are taught to be more tolerant of different beliefs, sometimes they don’t see the harm in what appears to be a slight doctrinal difference. Yet people are living in bondage not only to sin, but to their own beliefs as well. Another thing that is often overlooked is how alternate beliefs or perspectives can affect children; how they view God, themselves, and the rest of the world. I’m sharing my testimony in hopes that someone will see the danger of the Hebrew Roots Movement.

It started when I was about nine years old. My parents were under the impression that if they did more to please God, that God would bless the family more. The basic idea was that if we kept the law of Moses, and observed all the feasts (old covenant holidays), God would be pleased with us. When we made this change, my mother told me it was just an observation, more like adopting a new culture. We were gaining a new insight into what life and religion was like back in Bible times.

Soon after, we started attending a study group (or as they say in the Hebrew Roots, ‘Congregation’) based at a facility where children with disabilities could ride horses. My friends and I would play out there for hours while our parents would sit together and study the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).

A few years went by, we had been to a few different groups by that time, and eventually had started our own with friends we had made the whole time. I was a little older by this time, and I was listening to what the adults were saying. My mother still believed in Jesus, and the sacrifice he had made for our sins, and she thought I believed the same way, but it wasn’t exactly the case.

I believed Jesus died and rose again for my sins, but the obsession with the Law that everyone had gave me the impression I had to keep all 613 commandments to be saved. None of it made sense to me. How could Jesus die for me and still expect me to live a perfect life? I knew I wasn’t able to do it, and as hard as I tried to be perfect, I believed I was headed straight for Hell. I remember crying out to God on several occasions, pleading for mercy, and thinking to myself , “You don’t deserve it, He won’t listen to you”.

Not long after I turned 14, God led my parents out of the Hebrew Roots Movement, and we started going to a Baptist church. I was relieved to know at this point that I didn’t have to follow the Law of Moses to be saved, and that I just had to let Christ into my heart. But it wasn’t until I went with that Baptist church on a week long mission trip to Kansas that I actually got saved. The mission trip I went on to reach others, was really meant for me, so I could be saved. I remember sitting in the church building, my pastor giving us a sermon after dinner, and seeing the pulpit had a cross on the front. While I was listening, I started focusing on the cross. Being the 14 year old boy that I was, I started to think about how the cross looked like a sword, and how Jesus defeated sin on the cross. The image was simple, but it was powerful to me, and God changed my heart right there. I was free!

I know people go through much worse than I have, in a sense, I’m very blessed to have suffered very little, though when I look back now, I don’t so much see myself as I do another 10 year old boy, in torment, feeling unworthy of God’s presence, of His mercy. I hope that in writing this, someone will spare themselves, and their children of the bondage that is in the Hebrew Roots movement.

But until today, when Moses is being read, a veil lies on their heart. But whenever it turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. And the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But we all with our face having been unveiled, having beheld the glory of the Lord in a mirror, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:15-18

(Jesse said when he wrote this out, he opened his Bible for a reference, and his bookmark was on this Scripture!  God’s exclamation point! 🙂 )

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Another moving testimony of deliverance from deception to the simplicity of Jesus!

It is with a grateful heart that I've received the following testimony.    From talking to those who have come out of Law-keeping sects, I understand that it can be a difficult thing to write about the experience.  Many thanks to "GirlLuvs2Read" for the following. This testimony will also appear on the Testimonies Page here at JGIG. If you have a testimony you’d like to share about coming out of the Hebrew Roots Movement (or a variation of the HR … Read More

via Joyfully Growing in Grace

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When Christianity misses the New Covenant GOOD NEWS by teaching moralism and methods, it also fails to see repentance in the light of relationship instead of behavior.   Actually, it fails to teach repentance at all because in this paradigm you only need to change your thoughts and actions, rather than die and be birthed by God.

Too often people are told to “trust Jesus” to save them from hell, but you have to work out the rest of this life on your own.  To them “repent” means, “I’m sorry I was bad.  Jesus forgive me.  Now I will try my hardest to be good and keep my Christian “to do list” checked off daily.”

In the story of the prodigal son, the picture does not focus on the debauchery of the son, but shows how his path led to his brokenness and desire to RETURN to his father, a father he knew had no obligation to even accept him as a son any longer. The scene of the return demonstrates the love of a Father who rejoices over his son who was lost, and “dead” but is now alive.  Repentance is to return to our Father from our own pathetic devices and desires.  Do we come home and party like we did when we were out in the world?  Does our Father have to demand that we don’t or do we stand amazed in his mercy as he takes away our shame?  Is this not the most transformational relationship you can imagine?

I want to share a statement from a friend of mine whose journey has led her to a similar conclusion.  I am always overjoyed to find fellow travelers who have seen the inner core of LIFE.

The cry of my heart is to try to focus on Jesus … because for me I came from a watered-down nothing church, to a good, Bible-centered church that had somehow or other, in spite of all the wonderful Biblical correctness, missed the New Covenant completely.  When a person is truly introduced to Jesus, he will never stand for a counterfeit, and cannot stand to be without Him.  Although that person becomes Christ-centered, rather than behavior-centered, he is more sensitive to sin or the slightest unkind thought or action than he could have ever been while concentrating on behavior.”

This echos the statement of Paul here in 2 Corinthians:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

And what John proclaimed in his gospel.

And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

I have probably said this before… but we don’t need a balance of Law and Grace as so many teach.  I know these teachers mean well, but are motivated by fear that if you let go of the law, all hell (literally) will break loose.  Ironically, when you focus on the law, you will find something similar to that result.  If you observe most of the children raised in this environment, you will see the fruit of rebellion and disillusionment.

Grace has a law built in, (Romans 8:2) one that renews and gives life and REAL change, not condemnation.  Paul tells Timothy that the Law (previously given) is for the unbeliever, the wicked man.  When we are born into Christ, we are no longer under that law.  The New Covenant never gives us a list like the Old Covenant had.  We find two defining principles which encompass all of life; our First Love – God alone, Who then passes His love through us to each other.

As I wrote in “Our First Love”..

If we loved Him more, we would believe Him more fully in everything He promised.  If we believed Him, we would trust Him in all our ways.  If we trusted Him, we would follow and obey Him.  If we obeyed Him, the world would see Him through us.

This journey begins only when we come to the end of ourselves.  I would now add… if we loved Him, we would seek Him.  As we seek Him, we know, love and trust Him more.  Trust, faith, belief, whatever you name it, produces fruit as surely as a rose bush will bloom a flower given the right soil and fertilization.  This is why James says, “Show me your faith”.    But we can’t get the fruit by using the fruit as the root… which is what we do when we focus on ourselves and our own performance.

Was I sorry for my sin when God drew me to return to Him?  You’d better believe I was sorry… grieved to the core.  In the moment I saw Him, I became aware of so many ways I had betrayed His love to me and given Him my rebellion in return.  I became keenly aware of my sin as the rejection of His love and sacrifice for me, not that I had broken a list of rules.  While the new birth is a one-time event, repentance may be necessary often in the sense of retracing our steps when we lose sight of Him and go our own way.  I have grieved deeply for this as well, not just when I was first saved.  While He is faithful to show me the truth about myself (which is often painful), He is also faithful to give me hope and to take my hand and move forward.  In Him, there is no condemnation.

Let us return to God our Father, look to Jesus without the veil, and be continually changed into His likeness though the Spirit.

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I recently entered a discussion with someone who expressed concern that I might be a little too heavy on grace and feel-good verses in the Bible and not heavy enough on the requirements of God. He is not SDA or Hebrew Roots, but an evangelical Christian who is zealously living out his faith in a way that puts 99% of us to shame. I have a great deal of respect for him and I understand his genuine concern for Christians to walk worthy of the Name they carry. I am very disgusted to see and hear believers justify their sin on the basis of grace.  None of us are perfect, but a believer should never justify himself in his sin. If he is not grieved, I also have to wonder if his faith is real. Our discussion moved into what defines legalism.  I am not in a position to discern if he is a legalist or not, but am responding here to some explanations he gave me.  I found it interesting to be having this discussion with someone in the evangelical world rather than with members of the various law-centered groups I have belonged to in the past.   I decided to post this so I can refer people here instead of repeatedly explaining my position over and over.

The interesting thing about legalism is everyone thinks they know what it is, but you can’t find anyone who will admit to being one. The very nature of the problem prevents people from seeing they have it. Only by looking to Jesus is this veil removed.

Your assertion that legalism is not defined in the Bible, as well as your own definition of it (that it is simply requiring more than God does) are both the hallmarks of how legalists often defend their positions. Using the phrases “what God requires” and “in order to be accepted by God” also are red flags to me that someone is confusing their legal standing with God, based on Christ’s all-sufficient work alone, and their own success in living up to the righteousness of God they see in Scripture. Even in your explanation that “what God requires is constant repentance for sin” in order to maintain His approval, you are creating an impossible standard that cannot be quantified. I can never know if I am even aware of every sin in motive, action, or omission. The fact that it may be hidden from me makes it no less a sin and no less in need of cleansing from my life. Our justification and approval before God however can be measured at 100% immediately in the moment of our salvation. It does not diminish to 80% or 25% on any given day based on our ability to keep our repentance up to date. If it is possible to fall back into unbelief (big if) then it would go from 100% to 0%. There are no in between states of being. You are in Christ, or you are not.

Legalism – which is coming to God through any other means than through faith (believing ALL He has promised) – is rebuked in its many forms all through the Bible in the Old and New Testaments. People do this in various ways, and for a wide array of reasons.  We often live by the natural reflex of our fallen nature.  We tend to think something has to depend on us, try to do God’s work in our own way, or accomplish what only God alone can do. We try to get around really submitting to God by looking like we love him on the outside, while still following our own agenda and keeping our secret sins. While it often does manifest as a focus on man-made traditions or standards, it’s definitely not limited to that. We most certainly can be a legalist attempting to obey only God’s commands alone. It can also come in an over-emphasis on God’s laws instead of the Lawgiver (a form of idolatry) and man’s efforts instead of God’s work.

The worst forms of legalism in my opinion are those that teach you cannot be saved (and/or stay saved) unless you successfully meet God’s requirements in your Christian walk. They say, “Yes Jesus died for your past sins, but you better toe the line from now on or He may throw you back out.” There is an element of uncertainty here that can never be overcome and does not bring the “full assurance of faith” described in Hebrews. First of all we can’t find a clear picture of how high the bar is because people come away from Scripture with so many different conclusions about what our obligations are; and secondly, we can never truly know if we have “arrived” or if we have fallen. Even if you do not believe “once saved always saved” there is still much more assurance available in our relationship with Christ than this form of legalism allows. The opposite danger is for the legalist who has not received Christ to take comfort in his obedience as his assurance, filled with pride at his own performance. He is the Pharisee who prays, “Thank you Lord that you have not made me like this pitiful sinner I see over there.”

The New Covenant is conditional only in the sense that God’s covenant with Abraham was. Belief. Read what happened when God made the covenant with Abraham. God did it all, promised it all, and performed it all. He made the oath with Himself. Abraham was involved only to the point that as a bystander, he believed what God had promised. God called it righteousness. He wasn’t perfect either in living out his belief. He fell into doubt and works and tried to make the Promise come about how he thought it should happen.  Galatians equates this action of Abraham with the Sinai Covenant.  Both of these examples are demonstrations of the failure of works.  Works can’t bring about the Promise of God, and works don’t ever hold up our own promises to God.   In Christ, we are of the faith of Abraham. We believe the promise of God, but neither are we always perfect in walking in the Spirit when we find opportunities to do it our way.

Sinai was a temporary covenant intended to show man he can’t fix himself, and to foreshadow the perfect finished work in Christ.  He made this covenant with Israelites and all those who would agree to be circumcised and join them. (God’s principles are not temporary, but this contract and many details within it were.) It contained conditional blessings and curses depending on their obedience – having to do with the temporary physical realm. Salvation was never promised through this covenant, only earthly blessings and the status of being God’s Chosen People.  (Even though Israel broke the covenant, God promised them they would never cease to be a nation before Him.  He has kept that promise.  He has also promised to completely restore them.  God never breaks a promise.) The conditional nature of this covenant based on performance is never implied in the New Covenant. Obedience in the New Covenant comes as a RESULT of an unconditional promise, not a prerequisite.  Some legalists see the New Covenant as nothing more than the very same terms and laws as the Old Covenant – except Jesus gave you the power to keep up your end of the bargain now so you have no excuse for failure.  This is completely out of line with Hebrews, Romans, Galatians.. Acts..    Short of quoting the entire New Testament, this is trying to live for Jesus under Mt. Sinai, still making promises we can’t keep because like it or not, we are still living in fallen human flesh.

What God requires is absolute and complete perfection. No less. To say He demands less is to find a loophole somewhere (maybe another form of legalism?) I fully admit I can never meet God’s requirements. Only in Christ are they met. In Christ I stand fully and completely forgiven, past, present and future. If this is a dangerous truth – it would be only to those who have not truly known Christ. No one who knows Him can take Him for granted and respond to this flippantly. Result, not Requirement. It’s what God deserves from us, and develops in us – our reasonable service – a living sacrifice. There is no fear of condemnation in failure, but hope and victory when we give it to Him. If we are stubborn, He is faithful to discipline, not reject. (speaking as one who has been more stubborn than submissive). Can I fall into unbelief and throw His gift back into His face? Theoretically I guess it would be possible, but I can’t imagine it. Paul says the “The Love of Christ controls us.” That’s a pretty strong power. It flows from Him to Him and through us to others.

Jesus commanded us to obey Him and He said if we abide (not strive) we will have fruit. I have heard sermons detailing the “to do” list of how to abide in Christ. But Jesus gave a very simple explanation of His own command. “And this is my command, that you love one another as I have loved you.” To have the love of Christ – that is our command. “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” But we don’t trust love. We run back to the many details of the letter of the Law, not realizing that Love IS the highest law. It covers morality, justice, compassion. It speaks to every situation. It raises the definition of sin considerably higher as well. I Corinthians 13 shows love is a more excellent way in every way. Self cannot exist on the throne in its presence.  It is the very essence of God Himself.  But this is not a reason to reject the Word of God which reveals He is also a God of wrath against wickedness and sin.  God is full of paradoxes we struggle to balance out. But children do not fear his wrath. We may need to stand in fear of his rod, but not his wrath.

We cannot be transformed to resemble the life of Christ by gazing at the ministry of death (the Law engraved on stones). It serves to show us our depravity, but does not offer any help or hope. (hence the name Paul gives it)

2Corinthians 3:17, 18: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

You cannot behold the Glory of the Lord and not be changed. Isaiah’s instant response was, “I am a man of unclean lips…” We realize our need AND we get the coals from the fire under the throne of God – to cleanse us – the power of our death to sin and a resurrected life!(Romans 7 & 8 )

The legalists in Judaism asked Jesus,

John 6:28, 29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The very next word a legalist says is “But…” There is no but. As with Abraham, so with us.

Everything else grows out from there, and the Promise of God does not depend on the level of maturity we achieve from this point onward. Our rewards in the Kingdom are, but not our destiny of eternal fellowship with God.

If we belong to God I believe we will love Him and bear fruit, but I also think we need to be careful in judging the fruits of others. Not only can we be fooled by fake fruit that looks real, but we can also sometimes miss genuine fruit and pass judgment when we have no right to do so. I do believe we need to be accountable to one another in humility, with a great deal of discernment and love, not being puffed up – remembering what we are without Christ. Very few people can hold others accountable in love and humility. Paul said he wrote to the Corinthians, those hard sounding letters, in tears. I don’t see that too often in those who wish to expunge sin from our midst.

I am deeply grieved as you are by “believers” who live as if they have been set free to sin. I don’t know how anyone who has truly seen Jesus and realized the gift of God could not care if they spit on Him an bring shame to His name by calling themselves a Christian. But as I’ve already stated and continue to be redundant, this horrible situation is not cured by placing external demands on people. They must see Jesus as He is and fall on Him in brokenness, either as a lost person, or an immature believer either one. The solution is the same. It is the only way the heart is changed.

Where the Spirit has fruit (Gal. 5:22) legalism also has fruit which is cold, hard, unmerciful, and demanding. It is also often arbitrary because when rules are the focus it becomes impossible to be consistent. It doesn’t understand “exceptions” as Jesus tried to explain to the Pharisees, reminding them of how David ate the bread that was only for the priesthood. It can’t bend for mercy. Judaism has written volumes of Talmud trying to clarify and protect the Law. Legalism of any form always has to do this. People react to the the FRUIT of legalism without realizing the root problem. That’s why they can’t put their finger on what it is.. they sense something amiss, but the root is hidden deep. Often people who are the most disturbed by it have the same problem and they don’t even realize it. There are few things more fierce than legalists battling each other! 😀

After I had lived as a believer for several years, I came to a place that felt like spiritual death, in spite of all my fervent religious activity. I was in misery and thought I must need to try harder. I lost all desire to worship, to reach out, and wanted so badly to just give up because I saw no transformation taking place in myself or anyone else around me in the group we were in. We were very proud of some aspects of our “obedience” but it had not done anything at all to change the things that mattered the most. Finally through reading the gospels and hearing the words of Jesus I was terrified to realize the fruit I valued and was striving to produce had nothing to do with the kind of fruit Jesus said His followers would have. Mine was based on performance, His were centered in having my heart motivated by love – no fake imitations. I was so far from what I saw there that I knew I couldn’t even claim to be His follower at all, even though I appeared very religious, and led a very upright, moral life. It was a time of intense grief and repentance, but I am so thankful God revealed this sin to both me and my husband independently and nearly simultaneously. My deepest sorrow was that I had put Jesus in the backseat and had my “obedience” riding up front with me for all to see, and I was driving!! Now I endeavor to let Him drive, and I try not to be a backseat driver.  (He is now my chauffeur.)

Since then I pray for real fruit and God is continuing to answer. He is changing my heart and attitudes. I love people I couldn’t love. I am becoming less cold, hard, and judgmental. Instead I say, “But for the grace of God, there I am. Father help them!” It’s not the old me.  Because of the love He is pouring into me and through me, I read I John’s words where he says, “I write these things to you so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” and agree – not because of what I do, but precisely because I know I didn’t do it, and none of it has come from me. All of God, none of me. The litmus test in I John, in context, is love – over and over he says this. But for some reason, people see the word “commandments” and run back to a list of rules on stone tablets. Those rules fall so short of what God wants to create in us. We are not without law. We have a higher law and a better promise.

Some legalists are not saved because they have never trusted the work of Christ, but believe they earn their way to heaven. But I know some have received the gift, but are not aware of what they possess. Both the legalist and the freedom-loving antinomian spend most of their time pointing out each other’s faults, but both need to see Jesus and the fullness of the Promise and the Sacrifice.

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