Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Law and Grace - Are They Antithetical?

Are Law and grace opposites? Are the Jews saved by obedience to the Law and those under the New Covenant saved by grace? Are there two ways of salvation? Was Torah (law) replaced by the "age of grace"?  If these questions stir in your heart the desire to understand the answers to these questions, like they do mine, then you may want to keep reading.

In the past few years I have felt compelled to understand the relationship between Law and grace.  It seems to me the modern day church has fully embraced a sort of easy believism which is devoid of obedience and offers a false gospel of freedom and assurance of salvation that does not line up with Scripture.  One of my passions over the years has been to counter this with biblical acumen whenever possible. A similar false antithesis seems to exist with works and faith. There seem to be believers who are focused on either one or the other to the extreme and to the neglect of the other. The Word of Elohim is hardly silent on this topic.

The Hebrews were redeemed first out of bondage and slavery BEFORE receiving the Law. Okay, we have a pattern here, woven throughout Scripture! Thank you Father! The pattern is never law first, then grace. Surely the Law's role in our age is to be a measuring stick to show us our need for Yeshua. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of Elohim. There is a missing element in most of today's evangelism that forgets to use the Ten Commandments, the Law to show others what Elohim's standard is so that only then, can they see their need for a Saviour. Most of the people in the world are in a burning building and no one is telling them that it is on fire much less taking the energy needed to rescue them or show them the Way to the Rescuer! But we wouldn't give people the Law or commands of Yahweh and expect them to be able to live them out without FIRST coming to faith in Yeshua and receiving the Ruach haKodesh! To present it that way, surely leads to legalism and a false sense of salvation.  That would be absurd! 

There is no salvation apart from faith demonstrated by our obedience. We are called, chosen, drawn, redeemed, saved and then given our marching orders. Why are we redeemed? So we can continue to be slaves to sin? No! (Does this sound a little Pauline?) So we can be slaves to righteousness! We are free FROM sin and death and now are free TO obey by the Spirit as we have His Word, literally Messiah Himself, living inside us and teaching us daily. There is not a separate plan of salvation for one people (the Jews) and another for the rest. By faith Avraham (Abraham), by faith Noach (Noah), by faith, by faith, by faith! But was this faith just believing some kind of head knowledge that never impacted them to the extent it showed in their actions? No! Faith apart from works is dead. Read the book of James (Ya'akov). It doesn't exist. It isn't real. Even demons "believe" but they will be in torment for eternity! Read the gospels and how many times demons identified Yeshua correctly as the Son of Elohim!

Ya'akov (James) and Yeshua's half-brother, clears the issue up quite well when he sums up chapter 2 of his missive with this declaration, "Indeed, just as the body without a spirit is dead, so too faith without actions is dead." In Hebrews we read of those of great faith. Avraham, Noach, Yitz'chak (Isaac) ....they all demonstrated their faith through their actions and it was credited to them as righteousness. We could talk about love and obedience in similar terms as 1 Yochanan (John) says that we demonstrate our love for Elohim by obedience to His commands. He says something quite radical, "The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands. Anyone who says, 'I know him,' but isn't obeying his commands is a liar - the truth is not in him." Similarly, Yeshua said there would be many declaring they are His followers, but Yeshua will respond, "I never knew you." Yeshua is from the beginning, the Aleph Tav as Revelation says, so it cannot mean knowing in the sense of existing. To "know" means to be a follower of Yeshua and to be under His authority, not your own.

One of my favorite pictures of how law and grace interact can be seen in the ark of the covenant. Inside this wooden box overlaid with gold were the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone, Aaron's rod that blossomed and the jar of manna. Oh, there is so much here! The ark is also a picture of our hearts and the New or Renewed Covenant can be seen as the law written on our hearts just as Jeremiah 31:31 prophesied. But what is covering this box? It is covered inside and outside with pure gold. We are to be pure on the inside as well. On the cover of the ark where the two golden cherubim with wings outstretched toward each other in the center, what is called the "mercy seat". Two in agreement, two is a witness and they are facing each other but looking down, where? Their attention is on the Word/Law.  So we have the law inside, but mercy covering. If you have the Word living in you then you also are a literal walking, talking ark of the covenant! I guess those archaeologists can stop looking for the Ark now, huh?

It's laughable to think or suggest that the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt had earned their salvation by obedience to Yahweh's commands! I mean, if we read the Book, we see the disobedience continually, the punishment and consequences of their disobedience but also the mercy and grace continually as well. There were consequences for disobedience and it was all ROOTED in their LACK OF FAITH! Why didn't they go into the Promised land and had to wander 40 years, dying in the desert? Because their lack of faith was demonstrated by their lack of action in taking the land Elohim said to take! Herein demonstrates the relationship.

The Law is good, perfect, holy. Sha'ul is clear on that in Romans. The problem isn't with the Law, it is with sinful man! Yeshua came to remedy that problem. The blood of lambs sacrificed on altars only covered sin, it didn't get rid of the problem. If we have trusted in Yeshua as Messiah and Lord and are walking (that's an action) in faith in His death as a payment for our sin, we are set free from the law of sin, the sinful nature of the flesh and now can be governed by the law of the Ruach HaKodesh, where the law is written on our hearts increasingly as He teaches us and empowers us to obey. We can as believers in Yeshua quench the Ruach and act according to the sinful nature/flesh as the sanctification process is a working (there's that action word again!) out of our salvation. This is a journey and we have choices to obey and listen to the Ruach or not.  He will NEVER tell us to do anything contrary to His Word. Please notice I didn't say we are saved by our works, we are saved unto (so we can do) the works He has called and ordained us to do! Big difference.

I'm going to say something radical sounding to some. But if we think we believe Him and His Word and our actions show otherwise, we are lying to ourselves. If we think we can fool the Creator by reciting some creed and go on living however we want to live, apart from His teaching and instruction, going our own way, then we most likely do not have the Ruach. One of the tests of knowing who is a true believer is that they have the desire to read and study the Word of Elohim and obey it (that's action oriented). This is clear from Scripture! I'm not talking about perfect obedience, as that was only demonstrated by Yeshua. What I am talking about is a desire to obey, and a life characterised by that which shows outwardly what one believes inwardly. Two is a witness, and your faith and works must agree!

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word "law"? If you are like most, it would have some negative connotation for you. Perhaps in your mind's eye, you see a judge with a gavel or worse yet, you equate law with legalism and not simple obedience. So much of our understanding of the scriptures is how we define the words in them. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word "grace"? Most likely, you have a favorable reaction and feeling about that word. It is important to recognize these things because they DO have a great impact on how we interpret scripture that contains these words. Words also evolve and change over time. What connotation the words had when they were written may be different than what it has today. More important, is the task of making sure we define law and grace as Elohim does in His Word, not as we want to define it in our own minds.

What is also critical, I think, to remember is the Word of Elohim is consistent from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation. The "law of first mention" applies here. What this means is that how a word is initially used and defined in the Bible is critical to understanding it's use in other passages. I always note in my Bible when a word is used the first time and take notes. For example, if the word "law" was defined as evil or bad in the Tanakh, then it would continue to be so in the B'rit Hadashah (New Testament). If Yahweh's laws are seen to be holy, righteous and good in the Tanakh, then it would not be considered the opposite in the B'rit Hadashah. This law of first mention, by the way, makes it absolutely critical to study the Torah (in this case I am referring to the first 5 books of Moses) as so many words are defined in these foundational books.

Brad Scott, in his book, The Tanakh: The Dictionary of the New Testament, expounds further, "The modern church approaches the Scriptures by beginning in the New Testament, forming an understanding of those teachings, and then going back to the Tanakh to understand its meaning. This denies the plain cultural meaning of the text, and conforms the Scriptures to the ever-changing ideology of the church, rather than forming the ideology of the church based on the solid, consistent rock of Scripture. When you read the book of Acts, you see that, historically, the followers of Yeshua did not simply accept whatever new teaching they heard. They could not have tested established revelation (the Tanakh), which they knew to be true, by a new revelation which they did not know to be true."

Most of us have used the titles "Old and New Testament" for the front and back end of our Bibles. But have you ever stopped to consider what connotations the words "old" and "new" have in your mind and how these affect your interpretation of Scripture? When you hear the word "old", what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of outdated things like 8 track tapes or antique cars. Maybe you think of things that are passed, gone and lost forever. Ha, I am starting to think of myself when I hear that word! Oh my. What about the word "new"? Ah, commercials abound with the phrase "new and improved" and pretty much anything new is seen as better. Old is to be discarded in the trash and replaced with the new! Hmmmm. It seems to me that our ideas of what is old and new have impacted the way we view His Word. That is one reason I prefer not to use the titles Old and New Testament, but rather like Tanakh (which stands for Torah, Nevi'im or prophets, and K'tuvim or Writings) and B'rit Hadashah instead.

Psalm 119 is one of my most favorite chapters in the entire Word of Elohim. Why? It is a devotional on the Word using the Hebrew alphabet and over and over it expresses how I feel about His Word to me.  I LOVE the Word of Elohim!!!!! It's my life, my food, contains everything I need to know all in ONE amazing, living and active book. I admit I can't get enough of it/Him! "The sum of your Word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Yahweh's Word is eternal, unchangeable. Yeshua came as the Word or Torah made flesh. He was a walking, talking demonstration the Word of Elohim, because they are one in the same (John 1:1).

There are many misunderstandings among believers in Yeshua when it comes to the Law, what it means to be "under the law" or "under grace".  Sha'ul (Paul) spends a considerable amount of time expounding on this subject in Romans and other passages. The phrase "under the law" is found ten times in the New Testament. But before we even get to understanding that phrase, we have to understand the word "Law" in itself.

The English word law is translated from the Greek word "nomos". Dr. Ron Moseley in his book, Yeshua A Guide to the Real Jesus and the Original Church, explains that the Greeks had only one word for law, nomos, which "tended toward the negative and lacked the ability to convey the depth of the concept of Torah. He also agrees that in the second and third centuries, as the ekklesia (church) began drifting from their Hebrew roots, misconceptions developed concerning aspects of Yahweh's Law, the Torah. Greek philosophy (which if you have ever studied it is in marked contrast to Hebrew philosophy) played a role in this, as well as pagan ideas that infiltrated the church.

What is Torah? Many when hearing this word think of the first 5 books of the Bible and that is one definition or understanding of the word.  But the word "Torah" is much more than that. To the Hebrew mind, "the primary purpose of Torah is to teach humanity how to hit the mark in life, as opposed to committing sin, to miss the mark" (Moseley).  Torah is instruction and teaching, much like what you would think of as a parent instructing a child in the way they should live and behave. The picture here is a bulls eye, a target to aim for. Yahweh's teaching, instructions and commands are for our welfare and good! His ways are always higher (better) than our ways. Obedience brings blessing, long life and the pleasure of knowing we are walking in His ways. These blessings have not ended. Torah is a boundary for His people, all His people, for there is only One Seed from whom all of faith come. Most do not like the word "boundary" as it feels constricting. But it isn't that at all! It is LIFE and life abundantly! Think of it as a fence and you are the sheep and the fence is what keeps you alive and well, dwelling safely in your Abba's pasture.

The concept of law became more and more negative over time in our Western culture. Scott explains,""The scriptural concepts of law and bondage were reversed. Law, rather than sin, was associated with bondage. Certain cliches and phrases were adapted to express this concept of bondage. What began in Yahweh's Word in the Tanakh as light, life, righteousness, the Way, walk, truth, goodness and holiness, soon became something to be disdained, loathed and despised. It's the law!  Law and order! That's against the law! He broke the law! I fought the law and the law won! Law is no longer seen as good and righteous, but rather connotes fear and punishment. This is because the scriptural concept of law has been so twisted and redefined that it is virtually unrecognizable."

What did HaSatan do in the garden? He twisted and redefined Elohim's Word! Tampering with the Word is what destroys us as Hosea declares, "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge". Israel didn't want to hear the Words of Yah, much less obey them. Actually the word "hear" or sh'ma, means to hear and obey. There is another word that has been redefined and diluted, with many consequences.

In the Tanakh, the law was always seen in a very positive and reverent light. Historically, this changed, seemingly around the 3rd century AD, as a heretical teacher, Marcion, taught that the entire Tanakh should be removed as well as other portions of scripture which put either the law or the Jews in a positive light. Marcion was greatly influenced by the Gnostics and taught that the G-d of the Old Testament was cruel and totally different than the one revealed in the New Testament. Moseley explains, " He was so consumed with the belief that Paul's message of G-d's grace opposed G-d's Law that he kept only an edited portion of Paul's writings that agreed with his theology. Marcion's view was so contrary to G-d's Word that Polycarp, who was a student of John, called him "the firstborn of Satan." There is much more to the story, involving Marcion being excommunicated and founding his own church, but much damage was already done to the way the Tanakh and the law was viewed. Similar to what has happened with Darwin in our age.

Obedience to Elohim's Word is not legalism. Legalism is believing you are saved apart from faith/grace and only by your works. The Law was never meant to redeem man but to sustain and prosper man.  In interpreting Sha'ul's writings we have to be careful we understand what he means when he says "law". He contrasts being under the law (of sin) with being under grace. Romans 6:14-16, "For sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under the law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness." Believers in Yeshua are dead to sin and alive to Messiah. The body of sin was crucified, not the Law! If you are not under grace, then all you have is being under the law of sin and death and are not saved and are under its (sin's) dominion. The letter of the law is the Torah without the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:17 Sha'ul concludes by saying that "where the Spirit of Yahweh is, there is liberty". What are we free from? We are not free from obedience, we are free from our bondage and slavery to sin! Yet, how often is this verse quoted out of context as saying the believer is free to do whatever he or she wants? That is not real freedom.

"For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law (the law of SIN and DEATH), but under grace."(Romans 6:16). What is the context here? Sin, not the holy, perfect Law of Elohim! Let's read the Word with discernment, not preconceived ideas of what Shaul is saying based on our ideas that Elohim's Law is bad! Here is another Scripture that is often twisted to mean you don't have to obey His Word/Laws but can now just walk in freedom doing, eating, celebrating whatever and however you want. Is that really what Paul is teaching? NO! Shaul was not anti-Law. He was anti-legalism and against those Jewish believers who taught that Gentiles could not be saved until they FIRST obeyed certain laws. He wanted to correct that. Law doesn't come first, grace by faith and then works. Shaul was a Torah observant Jew until the end.  His ministry to the Gentiles had to address Judaizers who tried to make certain Jewish customs (some man made and not even commands of Elohim) a prerequisite for salvation. He wasn't against anyone keeping the laws of Elohim (not the traditions of men) as long as it didn't distort the gospel of salvation!

Law is not bad and grace good. To believe that is a lie and does not line up with Scripture! Law and grace work together much like faith and works or love and obedience do. So, when I say that law and grace are in fact NOT antithetical, I am saying law (as in obedience to Yahweh's instructions) and grace go hand in hand. Believers need to stop throwing out the baby (Law) with the bathwater (legalism). It's way past time to separate those two out. I praise Adonai for His wonderful Truth, His Law in my heart! I will never obey perfectly, but I enjoy walking in His ways. His grace is sufficient!