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Posts Tagged ‘new birth’

Many followers of Old Covenant Law really love and enjoy their lifestyles.  They don’t see it as drudgery or duty so much as a privilege.  I have heard some claim that to give it up would be equal to losing a family member; or they could possibly question all their other doctrines, but never under any circumstance would they give up the Sabbath. I can readily appreciate their love and enjoyment of obeying what they believe God wants them to do. I did not come to my present position because I got tired of the Sabbath or Festivals. I enjoyed them greatly and saw no reason why I would ever cease walking that path.

Nowhere does the New Testament forbid observing these things (although it strongly warns multiple times from making them obligatory to others, or presenting them as a way of righteousness before God, either as a means of salvation or a required fruit of it.)  In the New Covenant, you are free to love God through the shadow if you wish. It is your liberty.

Often in Law-keeping circles we heard the following emphasis about the Messiah:

Jesus came to (among other things):

  • Demonstrate the Law
  • Make it possible for us to keep the Law
  • Clear up misunderstandings from the Rabbis about the Law
  • Reinforce and glorify the Law

While we acknowledged His role as Redeemer and Savior, this was not our area of focus.  Now I do not see His chief mission as being to point us back to Sinai, but for the sake of this challenge – I will ask… IF THESE PRINCIPLES ARE TRUE.. then should we not look very carefully at all Jesus said and did rather than just simply turn right back around and look to Moses? As a law-keeper, have you ever given equal weight to the words of the Messiah Himself?

Carefully consider the following verses

What the Torah commands:

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. Deuteronomy 18:18 , 19

How Peter used this scripture from Torah on the day of Pentecost:

Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” Acts 3:22-26

Question: If they had the Torah already, and great teachers of the Torah (scribes and Pharisees) who knew it backwards and forwards, in what way did Jesus come to turn them away from their wickedness?

What God the Father says:

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. Matthew 17:5-8

What Jesus says:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. John 15:10

For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  Luke 9:26

Question: Based on the previous verses, when Jesus speaks of His own commandments, does He mean for us to only open the Torah or to pay attention to the words from His own mouth?

What the Apostles say:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Hebrews 1:1,2

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. Galatians 4:4-7

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own. (Paul, speaking of his good standing in Judaism and training in the Torah) Philippians 3:8,9

To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 1 Corinthians 9:21

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly….   Colossians 3:15, 16

The Challenge

I have often heard it said, “The Law is a representation of the character of God” yet Jesus said “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” When was this ever said of the Law? I agree the Law is an expression of the heart of God, but Jesus IS God. The Law is limited, but in Jesus, the fullness of the Godhead was present on Earth!

My challenge to you as Sabbath keeper or Torah Observant believer is not to abandon what you love, but to seek Jesus and HIS WORDS on equal terms with the Law you love already. One way I would suggest is to take a notebook and read through the gospels, writing down all that strikes you as important from the mouth of the Messiah, or record actions that demonstrate a principle or truth you can apply to your life. Tradition says the Torah has 613 commands. Those who enjoy making lists have found over 2000 in the New Testament. My hope is even if you never give up the shadow which points to the Messiah, in this investigation you will see Him as never before.

(My New Covenant readers will not like the part about making lists of New Covenant commandments but trust me on this… :D)

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When giving our own testimony about leaving Torah Observance for Jesus alone and His Covenant,  I have always tried to make a distinction between the Hebrew Roots Movement (comprised almost completely of Gentiles) and Messianic Judaism, which I had no direct experience with.  Watching it from a distance I assumed this was culturally relevant for Jewish people having these customs as their background.

When I came to meet the brother who has shared this booklet I’m passing on to you, my theory was turned on its head.  I am so thankful that God has led him to write and freely share the wisdom he has learned from God’s Word.  He has blessed our lives incredibly with his words and I pray it blesses many others.

Judaism has beautiful elements in its practice and can be extremely alluring to those who mistakenly think they can learn to  “do what Jesus did.”   This is just the beginning of many distractions and deceptions, leading people to flirt with practices and philosophies of Judaism.   To draw from this well, as a believer, whether Jewish or Gentile is to drink from a broken cistern, guaranteed to run dry on you, most certainly NOT the Living Water that leads to everlasting life.

This booklet entitled “What Went Wrnog With the Messianic Movement” is a Jewish believer’s plea to reject the futility of false religion and inherited lies in favor of the One saving truth of Jesus Christ in a powerful, honest, heart-felt manner.  I praise God for the deliverance He has so graciously given so many of us who were once blinded, but now the veil has been taken away as we turned to Christ.  Here is an excerpt and a link to read the PDF copy.

“Judaism appears to be righteous and godly, but anything that turns away from or hates Jesus and His wonderful work also turns away from, i.e. hates, God as well. Therefore, because the spirit of Judaism is so virulently set against Jesus and His work on the Cross, the God of Judaism cannot be the God of Mt. Sinai, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets or any god at all. That Judaism and practitioners of Judaism hate Jesus reveals something much deeper in the character of the religion and the practitioners thereof. He who hates Jesus, hates God and cannot be said to be in any way godly.

But there is a redeeming characteristic to normative Judaism. Zeal. The day will come when “all Israel will be saved”, and when that day comes it will be with great zeal. The knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and the prophets will be added to zeal, to the eagerness to serve God. Lying, legal (and other) fictions and manipulative mental gymnastics of the mind of man will be put aside. The eagerness to seek God — the readiness on the tongue to discuss Godly matters —will be added to the clear vision of the eyes of faith. But it is dishonest to say that that day has come. Normative Judaism is not a beautiful religion for those who mean to seek the very face of God as described in the New Testament.

This booklet is not written for Jews who have never known Jesus. They should enjoy their religion in good health. However, for believers in the shed blood of the Messiah, normative Judaism is nothing short of spiritual adultery. In Romans we are told that we were made to die to the Law in order to be joined to (married to) the Messiah.”  p. 10

“Our heritage is beautifully described in the sixteenth Psalm:

“The LORD is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; Thou dost support my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.” Psalm
16:5, 6 (emphasis supplied)

When David the psalmist says, “my heritage is beautiful to me” we should know that our heritage as believers in Jesus is not our culture; our heritage as believers is God Himself in diametric contradistinction to what has been handed down to us from our fathers. “Thou wilt make known to me the paths of life. In Thy presence is fullness of joy. In Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.” These three amazing things (knowing the paths of life, fullness of joy and pleasures forever) are not obtainable from
our fleshly fathers; not from rabbis and not from books or lectures. Only the inheritance that we have as sons of God through Jesus (John 1) can bring us this inheritance.”  p. 42

Click below for full version

What Went Wrnog with the Messianic Movement

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Finally the long-awaited finish to an explanation I started for a friend months ago.  I put off completing this far too long, being overwhelmed with how much I wanted to say.  I finally accepted that to finish was better than to worry about what I might leave out.    It will be posted as its own page under the first two parts which can be found here:

Part One and Part Two

Note:  The name Yehoshua is used in place of Jesus out of deference to the intended reader.

First to recap the information in the first segments….

1 – Yehoshua is the pivotal, unmovable element in our faith – being fully God and fully human, He is the highest revelation of God to man. (Heb. 1:1,2) All the Law and the Prophets pointed to him, but were mere shadows of His reality. The Law given to Moses cannot be an equal or synonymous expression of God Himself, and is not of equal authority. The Torah clearly commands that all are to listen and obey the Prophet who was to come. In Acts, Stephen and the Apostles make it clear that they believed Yehoshua was the fulfillment of this. By refusing to accept the testimony and resurrection of the Son of God, most of Israel had become lawbreakers in the worst sense, by rejecting God Himself. But as promised repeatedly in the prophets, and as Paul affirms in Romans, God will restore their sight in His time, and seems to be doing so now to some extent.

2 – To obey this command “to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15) requires that we give ample attention and respect to the credibility of the four witnesses of Him in the New Testament, as well as to the teachings of the one He personally called to bring the truth of Him to the Gentiles. If we do not accept this testimony, or doubt its authenticity and reliability, we are left with the problem of an all-powerful God that can incarnate, die, and rise from the dead, but not able to preserve a trustworthy witness to these events. If this witness is not true and valid, then we cannot even firmly establish these events at all, and our faith is a myth and legend.

Listening to Yehoshua also means we are led by Him through the Holy Spirit. The Word of God in written form is the field manual, and the Holy Spirit is the two-way radio. We need them both in order to truly follow and obey Him. (not really a recap, but an introduction on that point).

3 – We believe Torah is better described as God’s unchanging principles based on love for God and man, and not a finite list on tablets of stone. The law as given at Sinai is an expression of His Torah, but we do not believe He intended it for all people for all time in this form. The same principles are included in a better Covenant, founded on better promises.

Nature is an amazing expression of God’s character, wisdom, and power – so much so that man has throughout the ages made it an object of worship. The Hebrew scriptures are also an incredible, complex expression of Him – as beautiful and intricate as any wonder of the natural world. However, they are still a gift of creation, and not God himself. The written scriptures were not given to man in order for us to venerate them or to create a distraction away from God Himself, especially as expressed in the Son. We did not openly state that we placed the Torah at this level, but our actions revealed this was the place it held in our hearts.

To Continue from There…

There are many different camps of theology when it comes to the covenants. I have not studied them all in depth so I will not attempt to compare and contrast them.  There are precise names and definitions and well developed “systems” of theology behind all of them, which for the most part makes my brain hurt. I am not a theologian, but I greatly desire the truth. I have to believe that truth is available to uneducated people like me, or I would lose hope.

That being said, the following discussion would be too oversimplified for most people who prefer complicated explanations. We took great pride in being complicated in the past, thinking it demonstrated how smart we were. Our supposed “wisdom” became a stumbling block to us, so I now value simplicity. The Greek word for simplicity in this following verse also means “singleness” (according to Strongs) I like that too.

But I fear lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, so your thoughts should be corrupted from the simplicity due to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3

What we believed in the past…

Being raised an SDA, we were taught a special brand of replacement theology. Not only had just the Gentile church replaced Israel, but our denomination was now THE remnant of Bible Prophecy. We were the new Israel. I think the Puritans may have had similar ideas when coming to America. Much of our Protestant theology seems to have been inherited from them. The SDA view of the Law is very similar to most Hebrew Roots thinkers. They believe it existed from creation, the eternal Law of God that would never change and the ultimate expression of His character for all people on earth.  One thing they are correct about is the belief that if you are to follow the Ten Commandments as the standard of obedience to God, you cannot replace Sabbath with Sunday. There is no basis for this change whatsoever if you are looking to the Sinai Covenant Law as your guide.

The main difference between the SDA and HRM viewpoint is the SDA side breaks up the law into categories, saying everything commanded outside the 10C were “ceremonial” (or civil) and these were the laws abolished on the cross. This is also the position of most Baptists, and Covenant Theology type churches.  This argument holds no water because the Sabbath is not a moral command.  In addition you will find plentiful commands within the whole body of law which are clearly moral issues.  Even Abraham married his half-sister, something morally forbidden in the Torah.

As we became interested in our Hebrew Roots, we saw it was a completely man-made concoction to say the Law could be split up into pieces, some abolished, some eternal. We saw it stood or fell altogether as one body of legislation. We still believed the Law of God as being the Law from Sinai so we then shifted our belief that the WHOLE thing had to be written on our heart and we should seek to obey every part of it we could. We still had to see some things as fulfilled – or at least – temporarily deferred until a temple was rebuilt and we were all living in Israel again. We became consumed with trying to learn more about doing all we could do at the present time. We took in the teaching that we were also Israel because we believed in Israel’s Messiah. With this, we believed we had a right to the stated material blessings through Torah observance, and the obligation to practice traditions of our elder brother Judah (from modern Judaism). We still believed Yehoshua alone was enough for Christians, and they were saved if they believed on Him, but we considered ourselves more obedient and more blessed.

Some people we knew went so far as to think there was no way to be saved unless you observed the Torah, because if you didn’t, you were worshiping a different God. Now when I say Torah observance, we criticized Christians for their failure to observe rituals and days – not on love or moral purity. Someone could place all their trust in Yehoshua and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (character traits, not works) and still be considered a lost, pagan apostate if they did not keep the Holy Days, and ate pork. I never personally believed this but I was still proud about being superior.

I don’t remember the first time I heard the term “renewed” Covenant – but we didn’t stop to study it out, or test this term when we heard it. This idea fit what we wanted to believe and mirrored the SDA position I had always held which taught Messiah came to re-state the Sinai Law with His life and give us the ability to really keep it. Everyone was referring to the New Covenant as “renewed” or just simply “The Covenant” as if there was only one, and “New Covenant” became one of the many taboo words. To utter the phrase “New Covenant” was seen as anti-Semitic, anti-Law, anti-God Himself. When we looked at the original languages and scriptural context of New Covenant passages, we could not support the teaching of calling it renewed.

Our Present View of Old and New Covenants

We now believe the specific laws as given at Mt. Sinai were the conditions (terms) of the temporary contract between God and His people. Unlike the covenant made with Abraham where all he did was “believe God” the Sinai covenant had a HUGE obedience contingency. The contract was breached simply by their disobedience if nothing else.  As Hebrews says, “He found fault with them.” (The question is, what was instituted in its place?) The contract had physical rewards or consequences – nothing pertaining to eternal life. As with the custom of covenant agreements during that time – the parties were designated, terms agreed upon, and a sign was given.  In both covenants, man was tested to TRUST God.  Abraham passed the test, and Israel failed, repeatedly.

If you simply renew a covenant, it would make sense that the terms would remain the same. Even if this was actually what God did, it’s difficult to maintain that everyone in every country could be obligated to all the terms in this covenant. If simply accepting Israel’s Messiah brings you into this covenant, as we believed it did, this creates numerous problems. A huge percentage of the laws cannot be kept if not in the Land of Israel, without a temple, and without a government that adheres to this law as their civil structure.

However, if you make a new contract entirely, you could change the terms quite drastically – and God did. The Sinai Covenant and Covenant of Christ both have a different purpose, and are contrasted quite clearly in Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. Here is an overview of three pivotal covenants.

Abraham

Contracting Parties: God & Abraham

Terms: Abraham believed – God promised land, many descendants and that through his seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. (through Messiah)

Sign: Circumcision

Israel

Contracting Parties: God & Israel (with the invitation to people of other nations to enter in through circumcision)

Terms: Israel obeys the Law given through Moses, God blesses with the Promised Land and abundance. Israel rebels, curses upon curses, and then… more curses.

Sign: Sabbath days

Sinai was conditional, Abraham’s Covenant is called the covenant of Promise because it was unconditional. This one is the foreshadow of the one we have in Christ. It simulates it and prophesies it.

New Covenant

Parties: God and “whosoever will” – given to Israel first,  who believe on His Son (the “works” of God are to believe on Him who He has sent. John 6:29)

Terms: Belief (not just a mental assent, but TRUST, a heart thing) – God promises eternal life

Sign: Love for one another(John, I John)

Seal: The Holy Spirit (Eph. 2)

Many Sinai Covenant devotees argue there is no evidence this covenant was ever abrogated. This is simply not true. Even a surface reading of the NT will reveal a clear teaching it was at that time (even while the temple was still standing) – “obsolete” and “passing away”. (Hebrews) The Sinai Law has not been given to all men from the dawn of time, but was given at a specific time, after the Promise to Abraham (Galatians). Paul makes it clear that when you are in Christ, you die with him (die to the old contract) and are raised to new life in Him – married to another (Romans 7). Galatians shows by way of analogy you cannot live under both at the same time, comparing Hagar and Sarah. If you want the fullness of the New Covenant – and the freedom of life in the Spirit, you have no choice but to throw out the bond woman and live in the Promise alone. According to Paul, living under both simultaneously is simply not possible. This is why we must twist Paul or reject him as a teacher completely in order to maintain that Torah observance as given to Israel is the only way to please God.

Very simply, as wild branch Gentiles, never at any time were we under this contract with God. Jews and Gentiles are separate in the flesh, and united only in Christ, not in a Law. (Eph. 2) The Gentiles were never commanded or required to come under Israel’s covenant when coming to Christ. Jewish believers were never required to stop observing the way they were accustomed to, however they were forbidden from requiring it of Gentile believers. (Acts 15, Romans 14, Col. 2, Eph. 2)

Even as a Jewish person trusts Yehoshua as their Messiah, realizing they have no righteousness of their own, die the same death the Gentile dies. We die to sin, self, and works. We are relieved of the condemnation of sin because it died on the cross. Just as Paul says in Romans 7 – death releases you of a contract! We are raised to be New Creation (2 Cor. 5:17) in Christ. The very God of the universe comes to live in us through His Spirit – (still can’t fathom the reality of this!) and becomes our Torah. The whole of New Covenant obedience is hinged on the two great commands – (1) Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul. (2) Love one another as God has loved you through His son (John 13:34, 15:12) – a much taller order than loving your neighbor as yourself. He could not even command this until He had come to demonstrate exactly what that meant. This was truly, a “new” commandment.

Yehoshua did not command his disciples to be identified by their outward observances as under the Sinai Covenant. Never in the NT are the Old Covenant observances reiterated to any segment of the Jewish or Gentile believers. Only issues of love, morality, and upright character are reinforced repeatedly, all such commands being connected to fervent love for God and one another. To be obedient under the New Covenant has a much higher degree of accountability than in the Old.  Those who “drew near” to serve God were repeatedly snuffed out of existence when they sinned, God holding them more accountable than the general population.  In Israel only one man could enter the Most Holy place in God’s presence.  Through the mediation of Christ, we are all a “royal priesthood” and have access to God’s throne, an astounding privilege.  We have not begun to understand what we have been granted, or the measure of grace God has given for us to have this privilege.

Far from being “lawlessness” as so many people claim, life in Christ is in fact being obedient moment by moment to a living God that dwells in us. He may command me through His Spirit to stop and help someone with car trouble, or prompt me to say a word of encouragement to someone. The Torah of the Spirit encompasses all of life. A list of rules can never do this. This life is not about external demands of clean/unclean or days and times, but becoming completely transformed. The Law could define our problem, but only life in the Spirit can solve our problem (Romans 8). The Law still stands today for all to see – it remains as a witness, but we are no longer in a relationship with it. We are no longer under it as school children, but have been promoted to sons and daughters. (Galatians)

Sadly I have to admit, many church-going Christians have never seen this either. Even though they are not keeping the Law according to Moses, they are still trying to come to God on external terms, and in their own efforts. They serve God out of sheer duty and striving, or for some hope of recognition and blessing. They do not enter the rest of complete trust and submission to God. Serving God becomes a means to an end when Yehoshua should be the desired end and blessing in Himself. They cannot even see the depravity of their hearts because they are assuring themselves with the multitude of their churchianity. This is not the life Yehoshua called his followers to live. We aren’t to look to a list written by Moses, or a pastor, or a denomination. Yehoshua alone is our Rabbi and our Lord.

Growing up in the SDA denomination, I never learned what it meant to be “born again” as Yehoshua taught, and as Paul explained. We were instructed as children to never say we were “saved”. They would correct other Christians who would claim they had been “saved” at a certain identifiable moment in their lives when they became new. This was something we were told we needed to do every day. We had to make sure everything was confessed at any given moment. If we let any sin remain unconfessed, we could lose our salvation if our number came up. At least Catholics had purgatory where they could work all that out and still get to heaven. We had to strive for perfection in fear of being lost instead of the “full assurance of faith” that Hebrews speaks of.

When we saw the New Covenant, I also for the first time understood being born again. Even though I had experienced this many years before, I had NO idea what had happened to me and had no way to express it, or testify to what God had done in my life. Now I realize that there was one day I was confronted with my sin and a Savior. I became so convicted by my own actions that were sick beyond belief, and so drawn to His gift of love in spite of myself, that I repented and threw myself at His feet.  I realized I had no other hope in this world.  I knew I had sinned against HIM personally and it was painful.  But at the same time, I sensed His deep love for me and He offered peace and not condemnation. This does not always happen in an intense moment that someone can point to. It can happen quietly too – especially in small children. However, the Word teaches that we become a New Creation. Old things are passed away. The Holy Spirit dwells in us and is a seal of our adoption into God’s family. (Eph. 2) Now I know my holiness does not come from the outside, but from within as He works love into my life – more for Him and for others.

I could go on for many more pages, and I’ll leave the technicalities to the theologians. But so much liberating and transformational truth is lost when the New Covenant and Christ are demoted to a subset within the Sinai system. This goes for HRM, SDA’s and many evangelical Christians who have no idea they are coming to God under the terms given to Moses. The foundation to the New Covenant is the unconditional Promise of Christ – and He is the one who is all and in all. So much in His name has been a sham, especially in the United States. I would urge everyone who wants to truly know God, to seek His Son first in the pages of His Word. It’s the most liberating truth there is, but the most demanding at the same time. To live it, we must reconcile that we die with Him, and be raised with Him. Only in that are we truly free.

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

John 8:31-36

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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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I cannot let this Easter slip by without a discussion on what this day means to me now.  The name of my blog comes from this, so of course I have to talk about it!  Every Sunday is a mini Easter, a time to remember the LIFE we have in Christ.  I do prefer to call it Resurrection Sunday (just because it explains the meaning), but I don’t get up tight about names of things anymore!:0)  It’s the reality of a thing or person that matters, not what it’s called.  I want to begin with the truth as the Word of God proclaims it.  Paul testified from one Roman official to another that this was the key point for which he was being hunted down by his Jewish brothers.

1Co 15:14  And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

1Co 15:17  And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

Eph 1:19  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might
Eph 1:20  that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

Rom 6:4  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Col 2:12  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Rom 10:9  because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

I don’t think I ever saw this element until just now.  This last verse says believing in the resurrection is part of saving faith, just as we are instructed to believe that Jesus is the Son of God.  This is not something I often hear, but shows how vital the resurrection is in the gospel message.

To understand where I am now, here is some background.  Growing up as an Adventist, the actual day of Easter was never recognized.  The Sabbath before Easter would sometimes have a sermon with some reference to the resurrection (depending on the church or pastor – some ignored it completely).  Most often the emphasis was on the fact that since Christ rested in the tomb on Sabbath, we were encouraged in our own observance of this day.  We never quite got past the quiet tomb to the empty tomb.

On Easter we went about our business as if nothing significant had ever occurred on this day in the history of the world.  To corporately gather and honor the resurrection of Christ would have been to participate in “Sunday worship” – an evil and pagan practice.

I recently was given a sermon by an SDA pastor entitled “Who is Jesus”.  He began his presentation with a video of people on the street being asked who Jesus is, and getting every answer but the Biblical one.  He went on to explain who Jesus is, (as if he was answering these people with no knowledge of Him.)  I kept waiting for him to cover the resurrection and what that means for all who believe in Him.  He left this part of the gospel out completely, an oversight difficult to understand in light of the above verses.

The entire subject has many problems in Adventist belief.  Here is how Ellen White describes the resurrection of Christ, via an ANGEL!

“…The face they look upon is not the face of mortal warrior; it is the face of the mightiest of the Lord’s host. This messenger is he who fills the position from which Satan fell. It is he who on the hills of Bethlehem proclaimed Christ’s birth. The earth trembles at his approach, the hosts of darkness flee, and as he rolls away the stone, heaven seems to come down to the earth. The soldiers see him removing the stone as he would a pebble, and hear him cry, Son of God, come forth; Thy Father calls Thee. They see Jesus come forth from the grave, and hear Him proclaim over the rent sepulcher, “I am the resurrection, and the life.” As He comes forth in majesty and glory, the angel host bow low in adoration before the Redeemer, and welcome Him with songs of praise. {DA 779, 780}

Jesus proclaimed, “I AM the resurrection and the life.”  If He is the embodiment of these things, why was an angel involved?   In John 2:19 Jesus said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” – speaking there of His own body.  The scripture speaks in many places of God the Father who raised the Son, but in the understanding of the Eternal Godhead, we know Jesus to be in the Father and the Father in Him.  In another verse it speaks of the Spirit – so all three aspects of the Godhead were present and working together as They are in all things.  (Thank you to some of my friends who helped expand my perspective on this recently!)

But there is yet another even more damaging doctrine of the SDA religion in connection with Easter, that of  “soul sleep”.  The death which Christ died, they call the “second death”, is the final annihilation they believe the wicked will experience at the final judgment.  Not believing in hell or any spirit that lives on after the death of the body, this death means a person completely ceases to exist.  They distinguish this from the state of unconscious  “sleep” they see as the current state death of all men until the final resurrection.  While it is not clear what this distinction is, the resulting problem is in the death of Christ,  you are left with only a dead physical body of God in the tomb.  Part of the Trinity ceases to be.  This destroys the Christian understanding of the Triune God and the absolute Deity of Christ.

But in order to maintain an Investigative Judgment, you must have the doctrine of ” soul sleep”.  How can we have our reward in Christ if the judgment of our souls did not begin until 1844?  In having the absence of a “spirit”, we are left with a God that passes in and out of existence.  The dominoes topple a very long way from the original falsehood.  But when you understand the first Adventists believed that Jesus was a created being, just as Satan was, then all of this nonsense becomes easier to fit together.  They have left the initial Arian belief behind, but are laden with many remnants of this horrible heresy, including the teaching that Jesus is represented in scripture also as Michael the Archangel.  (Without believing in a human spirit, it is also impossible to understand what it means to be “born again.” – which is more the essence of what I will cover toward the end.)

As a Hebrew Roots follower, we also dismissed the resurrection, even though it had a place within the Israelite holy days!!  Three days after Passover we had the Feast of Firstfruits, with the obvious symbolism.  But did we acknowledge it?  Not as a group, and not in any of the various groups we attended.  I knew some individuals who had a quiet recognition of it at home (reading some rabbinic blessings) but the huge production of the season centered around Passover.   Not until we were delivered and saw the New Covenant did we realize this Firstfruits nearly always falls on the “Christian” Easter, unless it was a leap year on the Jewish calendar.  We could have honored it all along, but we didn’t.  Just as SDA’s hated Sunday and saw it as a symbol of false worship, likewise the HRM saw every Christian holiday as a thing to be avoided, even if it meant denying an Israelite festival we were claiming to observe!  (Our entire story is here on this blog starting with the page “There and Back Again.”)

Seeing the HUGE significance of the resurrection it becomes obvious why the enemy’s deceptions target this day for the  maximum minimization possible, not just through false beliefs, but more widely through secular, commercial distraction.  All these lessen the Person and work of Jesus Christ,  the aim of nearly every deception.  His resurrection is the proof for everything He claimed and performed in the past, and the hope for everything we have in Him for the future.

Very early in our new perspective of the covenants, I realized the significance of Sunday.  I saw that it was not the 1st day of the week, but the 8th day!  Woven throughout many of the Torah festivals and requirements you can see an 8th day motif.  It symbolized new birth, renewal, new life.  For Christ to rise from the dead on this day was the mark of the new order of things and the guarantee to every promise we have in our relationship to Him.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.  From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The old order proved you cannot change the heart from external mandates.  The old life must die and the new life must be put on, the very Life of Christ.  “Let this mind be IN you, which was in Christ Jesus…  ”  Unless we understand that from the moment of our new birth we are fundamentally different and made alive in Christ, we have no idea who we are or what is available to us.   Many who have experienced this as a spiritual reality are still trying to come to God under the old system of the outward methods to achieve holiness in their present walk.  In Christ, true transformation comes with laying down the dead self and putting on the risen Christ.   It’s a cycle of submission and renewal, not striving and failure.  In the areas where we are compelled to strive, we will be guaranteed to fail.  We all fall into this trap without even realizing it.  It’s our old man thinking it can help and do something in its own strength.  Even if our willpower musters up enough strength in some cases, the victory is still not in Christ, and we will take the credit.

Rom 7:6  But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

So often I hear people quote Paul’s discussion immediately following the above verse.  He goes on to describe the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit; how we don’t do what we want to and do what we don’t want to.  But so many people stop there!  Paul answers his struggle with a solution!  Chapter 8 is a continuation of this thought.  Read this whole discussion together and see the awesome truth we have through our resurrection with Christ.

Romans 7:24-8:11   Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.   If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Not only do we have a future hope, but a present deliverance!  Of course we fall, and of course we will not manifest this perfectly here in this life, but we are no longer slaves!!  We have a path to victory and a way out of addiction, shame, and the injury we often inflict on others through the service of our “self”.  We cannot use the old man as our excuse as so many do.  The flesh is a reason, but not an excuse.

We have our future hope, our present total justification and forgiveness, and thank God we now have the privilege of showing Jesus to others through our own lives, to the extent that we behold Him and become changed.

2 Corinthians 3:18  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.

This Easter let the reality of the resurrection move beyond an apologetic for the Christian faith and sink deep into our hearts and minds as a Living Faith for the here and now, as well as for the glorified life we will have with Him in the future.  Let us remember He is Risen Indeed, and He dwells with us and in us.  We do not have just the truth, we have the Person, and we are all in Him.

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