10. The Promise: Trust and Obey

 

Well, my dear friends, we have finally come full circle.  We began our investigation into Galatians in Section One (B'rit Milah) with the patriarch Avraham and physical circumcision, and we conclude here in Section Ten (The Promise: Trust and Obey) with the patriarch Avraham and circumcision.  A “Christian” attempt at disproving the validity of the important covenantal sign of circumcision has caused much strife and division among the body of believing Jews and Gentiles.  The matter is made clear when we understand that HaShem never meant for this sign to secure the promises for the believer!  This was to be the sign that he was connected via covenant to a larger family.  Is it valid for the Jews today?  Yes!  In this way, we forever identify physically and spiritually with the unending covenant made with our father Avraham.  Is it practical for non-Jewish believers?  Unfortunately at this juncture in history, it is not.  Until the Church gets right its view of the Torah and the trappings of legalism, it is somewhat discouraged by Messianic Jewish rabbis.  I am not saying that Gentiles cannot undergo this ritual.  I am delighted to encounter those few Gentiles who truly understand it’s meaning enough to “go under the knife.”  Is it necessary for the salvation of an individual?  No!  It never was!

 

What makes Avraham such a great role model of faith is that, not only did he trust in the Word of HaShem, but the LORD saw into his future and predicted that his offspring would also be taught how to trust in the Almighty.  Let’s look at Genesis 18:17-19,

 

“ADONAI said, “Should I hide from Avraham what I am about to do, inasmuch as Avraham is sure to become a great and strong nation, and all the nations of the earth will be blessed by him?  For I have made myself known to him, so that he will give orders to his children and to his household after him to keep the way of ADONAI and to do what is right and just, so that ADONAI may bring about for Avraham what he has promised him.” (Emphasis, mine)

 

This is a fantastic statement from the mouth of the One who sees every human possibility!  Would that we might have HaShem pronounce this blessing over our families today!  What must we do?  The divine tandem-like actions spoken of here must not be taken too lightly.  Firstly, God promises to be faithful to make himself known to us.  We like faithful Avraham are then enabled and subsequently covenant-bound to obey the Teachings of our Heavenly Father.  Finally, such Teachings are uniquely designed to bring about a righteous behavior in our lives, aligning our lives to be the object of God’s righteous promises!  To be sure, the syntax of the above p’sukim (verses) is hinting at that very reality (note the running continuity suggested by the connecting phrases “so that” in the quote above)!  Furthermore, we must, like faithful Avraham, trust in the LORD against all unbelievable odds, to perform in our lives, the promise that he has given us through Yeshua our Messiah!  What is that promise?

 

“Furthermore, we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose; because those whom he knew in advance, he also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom he thus determined in advance, he also called; and those whom he called, he also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom he caused to be considered righteous he also glorified!”  (Romans 8:28-30)

 

We usually stop at the first verse, but reading further informs us of our true identity in Messiah: righteous heirs according to trusting faithfulness, causing us to be called, as faithful Avraham was called, “righteous!”

 

Being declared righteous by HaShem is the goal of all men who seek HaShem. Righteousness can be defined in two ways: "behavioral righteousness,” actually doing what is right, and "forensic righteousness,” being regarded as righteous in the sense (a) that HaShem has cleared him of guilt for past sins, and (b) that HaShem has given him a new human nature inclined to obey HaShem rather than rebel against him as before.

 

It all boils down to the evangelical notion of justification and sanctification.  Webster’s defines the word ‘justify’ thusly:

 

1 a : to prove or show to be just, right, or reasonable b (1) : to show to have had a sufficient legal reason (2) : to qualify (oneself) as a surety by taking oath to the ownership of sufficient property.

2 a archaic : to administer justice to b archaic : ABSOLVE c : to judge, regard, or treat as righteous and worthy of salvation.[1]

 

Millard Erickson stated, "Sanctification is a process by which one's moral condition is brought into conformity with one's legal status before God."[2]

 

I want to demonstrate a good biblical view of trust and obedience by examining two of the New Testament’s better known, yet seemingly opposing authors: Sha’ul (Apostle Paul) and Ya’akov haTzaddik (James the Just).  The former wrote some 13 or possibly 14 letters to the believing communities of his day; the latter was the physical brother of our LORD Yeshua himself.

 

Some see a contradiction between Paul and James on the teaching of justification. Paul emphatically taught that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law while James argued that a man is justified by faith and works (James 2:14-26). Luther is such an individual who saw the two prophets' teachings to be in opposition. Insisting that Paul's view was correct, Luther belittled James's epistle, calling it an 'epistle of straw.' Such an approach to the two authors is not necessary. When the literary context of each other is examined it can be demonstrated that there is no contradiction. The key to understanding these two seemingly contradictory authors is to understand how each uses the terms justified, faith, and works. These words must be defined by their respective contexts.  Observe the following table:

 

Paul

James

Faith=genuine faith and reliance upon God for salvation.

Faith=mental assent that could fail to affect one’s actions.

Works=works apart from faith that one believes are able to, or help make him a genuine covenant member.

Works=works that can be done through faith, which attest to genuine faith.

Justified=declared righteous by God because of your trust in his means of salvation.

Justified=show to be righteous as evidenced by your actions.[3]

 

Paul emphasized that we are saved by faith in Yeshua, and not by our natural or achieved ethnic status. James emphasized that the kind of faith that results in salvation will necessarily produce works that show evidence of that faith. Paul was concerned about people adding anything to faith that they believe is meritorious for their salvation. James was concerned about people professing to have faith that is not really faith at all, but rather a lifeless mental-assent to Messiah. It seems that James was attacking the 1st century Jewish distortion of the Torah’s teaching on justification, wherein faith is some dead orthodoxy with no corresponding behavioral changes. Even Paul found it necessary to fight against this distortion of his teaching on justification (Romans 3:8; 6:1, 15). James pointed out that if a person has genuine salvific faith, works will follow after him showing evidence of that faith. Avraham really did believe God, and his works evidenced that fact. If Avraham had refused to offer Yitz’chak upon the altar, it would have demonstrated a lack of faith in God's promises to him (James 2:21-24).

 

In Sha’ul’s letter to Ephesus he also seems to be in opposition to Ya’akov (a position which we will examine shortly).  A cursory reading of Eph 2:8-9, a familiar passage, gives us the impression that only by faith alone are we considered righteous, and that external actions (assumed to be obedience to Law) are of no apparent consequence to HaShem.  The passage needs to be understood in its entirety-to include verse 10!  The entire context affirms the biblical fact that our gracious gift of righteousness was indeed granted unto us so that in union with Messiah Yeshua, we might live the life of good actions already prepared for us to do!

 

Let us examine what Ya’akov has to say about faith and works.

 

Sanctification and holiness are near equivalents theologically. Both words in their various forms are translated from the same Hebrew root meaning to "cut" or "separate," and the Greek word hagiasmos, meaning "consecration." The core concept of holiness, then, is separation and consecration to God (Leviticus 11:44). In our culture sanctification has come to mean the pursuit of moral perfection. Although the latter is included in the Biblical concept of sanctification, it is a corollary to the idea of separation. Sanctification results in morality, but sanctification is not tantamount to morality. God is said to be holy because He is separate from creation and is morally pure in contradistinction to sin.

 

A reading from James chapter 2 verses 14-26 appears as an overemphasis of actions as opposed to faith.  In reality, a common understanding of these verses might give the reader the impression that works are more important than faith itself.  Yet, Ya’akov’s audience, unlike Sha’ul’s, seemingly did not have a problem with an enforced conversion policy.  Instead they had a problem with a dead faith that led them nowhere!  So Ya’akov masterfully constructed a correct biblical theology that showed that genuine biblical trust ALWAYS leads an individual into genuine biblical actions!  This is in complete harmony with what Sha’ul was teaching!  Faith must not be substituted for good works, and good works should not be substituted for faith!  Moreover, good works do not replace faith, nor does faith cancel out the performance of good works.  To be straightforward:

 

“Faith and good works go hand in hand!  One without the other is incomplete and lacking of true biblical righteousness!”

 

We therefore come to understand that for Paul, there was no bifurcation between “faith” and “faithfulness.”  They are two sides of the same coin.  One may therefore speak of either with the full assurance that the other exists.[4]

 

Moshe goes to great lengths to demonstrate that a heart that is devoid of true biblical faith (there really is only ONE kind of biblical faith folks!) is a heart that will lead the individual down a degenerative path straight into the curses pronounced in the Torah!  The heart of doubt is ultimately headed for destruction, as the curses vividly demonstrate!  Moshe’s heart, which is the heart of the Father, is that they would truly circumcise their hearts to follow after HaShem and his ways, and to become the people that God truly desires them to be!

 

Torah is God's teaching to men about righteousness—what it is and how it behaves. The true believer (anyone who is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb) does not do in order to become. He does because he is what God has made him—the righteousness of God in Messiah. Thus Ya'akov writes, "I will show you my faith by my works." (James 2:18) The true Torah is the walk of faith-faith and rest in the finished work of Messiah.[5]

 

Blessings and curses might therefore be “woodenly” labeled “the expected consequences of our heart condition.”  If we follow trust and obedience, blessings will follow us!  But if we harden our hearts and pursue doubt and disobedience, then the Torah instructs us that not only will the blessings be withheld, but that the curses will actually pursue us instead the blessing (see Deuteronomy 28:45).  To be sure, we don’t deserve any blessings at all!  Yet God in his mercy sees fit to grant blessings, provided we continue in his covenant with a heart that is governed by genuine trust!

 

The prophet Yechezk’el (Ezekiel) stated it well:

 

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit inside you; I will take the stony heart out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

 

“I will put my Spirit inside you and cause you to live by my laws, respect my rulings and obey them.

 

“You will live in the land I gave to your ancestors. You will be my people, and I will be your God.

 

“I will save you from all your uncleanliness. I will summon the grain and increase it, and not send famine against you.” (Ezekiel 36:26-29, emphasis, mine)

 

In closing, we affirm with perfect faith that genuine and lasting covenant status is granted to the individual who eventually exercises genuine faith in the Promised Word of HaShem—namely, the Messiah Yeshua.  Such status is offered freely to both Jew and Gentile.  Jewish people with natural lineage tracing back to Ya’akov are in fact born with a “corporate covenant status” given freely by God and based on his promises made to Avraham.  However, this does not automatically grant them the status of right standing in a positional sense.  There is no such thing as “involuntary corporate righteousness” in the Torah of HaShem.  For the native-born Jewish person, the proper sequence for the covenants is demonstrated when such an individual “graduates” from [mere] corporate faith and belonging towards personal faith in God.  To be sure, it is only when God does his monergistic work of opening the eyes of the blind and drawing the individual into his covenant of faith that the person attains genuine and lasting covenant status—the kind of covenant status that is worthy of a place in the ‘Olam Haba (Age to Come).

 

What place hath the Torah in the life of such an individual?  The Torah comes alongside of the Promise (covenant status) and acts as a guarantor that the individual will also achieve behavioral righteousness, thus placing him or her on a direct collision course with the blessings of HaShem!  Far from frustrating the grace of God, Torah compliments the grace of God because faith and faithfulness (obedience) go hand in hand!

 

Within the scope of the blessings and promises of God, I firmly believe that Paul repudiated the offensive notion a segregated perspective of covenant membership where Jews keep one set of laws and Gentiles keep another set (i.e., the Torah was/is for Jews only).  Instead, Paul advocated ‘One Law’ for both Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah.  To be sure, speaking to both Jews and Gentile believers, we know with a firm conviction that he taught on the unity of the Body in this well known passage from the book of Ephesians:

 

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:4, 5, ESV).

 

Within these wonderful foundational truths on biblical unity between Jews and Gentiles in Christ, and before turning to a limited, verse by verse selection of “tough passages” from the book of Galatians, I would like to conclude these ten sectional portions to my Galatians commentary with a word about ‘One Law.’

 

As recently as two years ago, I conducted a short web interview with Caleb Hegg, son of well known Messianic Bible teacher Tim Hegg, on the concept known as ‘One Law’ or ‘One Torah’ as many Messianics choose to call it.  The interview itself can be viewed on Caleb’s One Torah Revolution website at this link: http://onetorahrevolution.com/videos/

 

Here is my own personal transcript of that interview:

 

(Interview with Ariel ben-Lyman HaNaviy, conducted by Caleb Hegg via Skype

Date: 09-19-2014)

 

What is your definition of “One Torah” theology?

 

Exodus 12:49 in Hebrew reads:

~,k.kw{t.B r'G;h reG;l.w x'r.z,a'l h,y.hIy t;x;a h'rw{T

 

“One law shall be to him that is homeborn, and unto the stranger that sojourneth among you.” (KJV)

 

“One Torah” theology likely borrows its name from this or one of the other two passages found in the Torah proper where native-born sons of Ya’akov and sojourners were being addressed together in covenant responsibility (see Ex. 12:49; Num. 15:16; 29).

 

Practically speaking, “One Torah” believes that HaShem historically gave one covenant document to follow as a way of life for anyone wishing to identify as covenant Isra'el.  Naturally, this would also include the faithful remnant of Isra'el, whom we believe to be Jews as well as those from the nations who have been grafted into Remnant Isra'el.  Instead of purporting that the New Testament is for Gentile Christians, and that the Torah was or is for Jews only, One Law commits both Jews and Gentiles in Messiah Yeshua, as children of faithful Avraham, to follow after the Torah of Moshe, while retaining our distinctive ethnicities as Jews and Gentiles together in the Body of Messiah. (More on “commitment” in my answer to the question about Divine Invitation below)

 

Within One Torah theology, is there a distinction between Jew and Gentile in the Body of the Messiah?

 

Yes, we are distinct: Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles.  Using an analogy of a marriage between a man and a woman, Jews and Gentiles in Yeshua are complimentary covenant pairs designed by God to showcase his faithfulness when we walk together in love and unity under the banner of Yeshua.  We know for sure that the Apostle Paul recognized these distinctions because when addressing the Body of Messiah he repeatedly refers to Jews and Greeks or Jews and Gentiles in his letters.  (More on this “identity” issue in my answer to the question about Divine Invitation below)

 

What do you say to people who claim “One Torah” theology is replacement theology?

 

Replacement Theology has its roots in the mistaken notion that, since the coming of Jesus, the Church has replaced Isra'el as the chosen covenant people of God; the Jews are “out” and the Christian Church is “in.”  It sounds pretty cut and dry.  However, this is error.  The Bible teaches no such thing.  Similarly, Two House theology teaches that Christians cease being Gentiles and instead become Israelites, when they come to faith in Yeshua.  This thinking is also wrong-headed.  We One Law proponents advocate that Gentile Christians actually get grafted into and become fellow heirs with the remnant of faithful Isra'el, called the One New Man by Paul in Ephesians.  This is the Church.  This is the “mystery” of the Gospel hidden down through the ages.  And since One Torah now closely associates the Church with Remnant Isra'el in one Body, as opposed to picturing the Church as distinct from Isra'el like historic Christianity has, many Christians accuse One Torah advocates of supporting Replacement Theology.  When our detractors hear us say that the Church is identified as part of Remnant Isra'el, to them, it smacks of “Christians replacing Jews.”  In point of fact, when it comes to Isra'el’s inheritance from HaShem, we Christians are partakers—not overtakers.

 

What is your response to someone who says that the Jews should keep Torah, but the gentiles are only “Divinely Invited” to keep it, but are not required to do so?

 

This answer is going to be a bit longer than the previous ones.  While it is true that the Torah is a unique covenant document intended for God’s intimate covenant Bride Isra'el, as over and against the world in general who is not in covenant with God as his Bride, it behooves the careful Berean student of scriptures to accurately define Isra'el’s identity first before one can accurately apply God’s Torah equally and covenantally to each and every member within.

 

The basis for New Testament Gentile Christians merely being “invited” to follow Torah, contrasted with the Jews ostensibly being “covenant-bound” to follow it, must be based on the foundation of the TaNaKH in order for the logic to be sound.  However, careful exegesis will show that despite how one defines historic Isra'el, in point of fact, she was never “divinely invited” by God to keep His Torah.  The covenant treaty language simply does not read that way.  On the contrary, God and Isra'el entered into a covenant arrangement with each other in which Isra'el for her part stated, “All that you have said we will do.”  The unified language of the agreement between God and Isra'el paints a picture of life-long commitment and promise on Isra'el’s part to keep their side of the contract made between God and themselves, even if we know looking back in hindsight, that they would actually fail to keep their side of the covenant time and time again.  Nevertheless, God NEVER reneged on his part; he was ALWAYS faithful to keep his part.

 

Viewpoints other than our own often start with the premise that Isra'el is a separate entity from the Church, and that the Torah was contractually given to Jewish-only Isra'el.  Or, to put it another way, conventional wisdom states that while the Church may in fact contain ethnic Jews who have come to faith in Jesus, historic Isra'el was and is supposed to be a Jewish-only culture, viz, the Torah is primarily for Jews only.  At the very least, such views certainly purport that specific commandments are contractually for Jews only (i.e., circumcision).  Parts of this thesis seem to be shared by mainstream Rabbinic Judaism as well.

 

Like Divine Invitation advocates however, One Law believes that the Family of Isra'el is a bouquet of Jews plus those from the nations that God has brought into Isra'el through Yeshua.  The challenge comes from the fact that a cursory reading of the TaNaKH does in fact portray Isra'el as primarily composed of “Jews,” and there is nothing wrong with this picture.  However, this only shows that the mystery of Gentile engrafting was hidden down through the ages.  Paul clearly says that Gentile inclusion into Isra'el via Messiah was a mystery; therefore it is not supposed to be clearly seen in the Old Testament.  But that doesn’t mean that Gentiles inclusion in Isra'el was non-existent.  To be sure, if we examine the text using eyes opened by the Ruach HaKodesh, we find that those who joined Isra'el’s God and her covenant were called Ger in the Hebrew script.  Recall my verse from Exodus mentioned earlier.  The ger is enjoined by HaShem to keep the very same Torah that native-born sons of Ya’akov are to keep.  What is more, when we recall that it was not just sons of Ya’akov that participated in Y’tziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt), then we begin to understand that the paradigm for God bringing those from the nations into his covenant people Isra'el began way back at the foot of Sinai rather than in the book of Acts.

 

This brings us full circle.  If One Torah’s thesis is correct that Gentile Christians join Jewish Christians to form the Church, aka, Remnant Isra'el, and Remnant Isra'el exists within the greater Commonwealth of (unbelieving) Isra'el, then greater Isra'el’s obligations to Torah must necessarily extend to Remnant Isra'el as well.  This means both Gentile as well as Jewish Christians are covenant bound to follow Torah as opposed to merely being divinely invited to follow Torah.

 



[1] http://www.webster.com/dictionary/justify

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), 968.

[3] David Bernard, The New Birth (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1984), p. 48-49.

[4] Tim Hegg, A Study of Galatians (torahresource.com, 2002), p. 98.

[5] Ariel and D’vorah Berkowitz, Torah Rediscovered (FFOZ, 1996), p. 139.