by Paul Benson
Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. -Paul an apostle of Christ
In seeking a deeper understanding of the Hebrew roots of our Christian faith I have been bombarded with suggestions, and even demands, that I become what is termed ‘Torah Observant’. But is this truly a concept God wants us to embrace, or is it a subtle entrapment of the enemy; a snare to deceive us, and lure us away from New Covenant Christianity? Or, on the other hand, will totally rejecting this notion hinder our walk, and possibly rob us of the grace of God? In seeking the LORD over this issue I believe I have come to an understanding that presents a proper balance of truth.
The truth of God’s will for Gentile Christians concerning being either Torah observant or completely rejecting it is found in walking a path between the two extremes. If I were to place a label upon that truth I would call it ‘Torah Instructed’ versus either ‘Torah Observant’ or ‘Torah Rejecting’. I see ‘Torah Instructed’ as the real ‘highway of truth’, and either of the other extremes as opposing ditches; each presenting a danger of sorts to the follower of Christ. Let’s take a good look at both of those ditches, in light of God’s Word, and see if we can maintain our course along that highway of truth.
If ye love me, keep my commandments. -Jesus Christ
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the New Testament writings would agree that the Christian believer is called to obey the commandments of God. It would be foolish to dispute that. The question is: just what ARE those commands we are to obey? Are they the 613(?) laws of the Torah? Or are God’s standards of righteous behavior expressed to the believer in another fashion? Or is it possibly both?
One of the main arguments used to prove that Christians should become Torah Obedient is that Jesus was; as were his disciples. But of course they were; they were living under the Old Covenant, and it would have been disobedience for them not to be in observance of it. But that is no indication we, as New Covenant believers, should follow suit. But is there other Scriptural evidence that we should observe the Mosaic Law as a means of walking in a righteous manner in God’s sight? Here is a passage that sounds pretty convincing:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-19
And when you couple that passage with other ones that deal with keeping God’s commandments like:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. Matthew 2:2-3
And also this one for good measure:
And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 1John 2:3
It almost seems like an airtight case that all believers ought to be learning and following the commandments of God as listed in the Mosaic Law; that we should ALL be Torah Observant!
But what saith the opposing faction?
The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Luke 16:16
I could do a lengthy build up here to bring us to a point of understanding (and sometimes that does help solidify a point), but I am the kind of guy who likes to cut to the chase. The Law had a purpose, and there came a time when that purpose was fulfilled: and the Covenant instituted at Sinai gave place to a New Covenant. This was NOT (as those insisting upon Torah Observance would suggest) a renewing of the Old Covenant but a replacing of it.
For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: Romans 8:3
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20
The Law had a purpose and that purpose was to bring to us an understanding of our need for a redeemer. That we are without hope of a salvation from sin apart from divine intervention.
For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. Hebrews 7:18-19
The law was dis-annulled (done away with) by the work of the Cross of Christ (Eph. 2:15-16, Col. 2:13-14, Heb. 8 :13, 2Cor. 3:7, 11, 13, 14). It was not up-graded or renewed; it was set-aside by the bringing in of a better way.
About this time some would say, “Brother Paul, you don’t understand; the ordinances Moses gave and the Ten Commandments are not the same. The Ten Commandments were not done away with!” First off, the Law of Moses came from the mouth of God, it did not originate with Moses. God gave it just as assuredly as he gave the laws he wrote in stone. The Mosaic Law IS the Law of God, not ordinances come up with by Moses! Secondly, if you think the Ten Commandments were not a part of what was set aside you need to brush up on your studies. Seriously!
…our sufficiency is of God; 6 Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. 7 But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away. 8 How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? 9 For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. 10 For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. 11 For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious. 2Corinthians 3:5-11
The letter of the law brings death! In bringing out this truth Paul refers to the Laws God wrote in stone as the ministration of death! Glorious yes; but destined to be done away with in Christ. He contrasts this ministration of condemnation against the ministration of righteousness (the New Covenant), and then once again states it was done away with! All of the O.T. Law of God (including the Ten Commandments) was set aside to make way for the New. Many refuse to accept this; and it causes them to be hindered in understanding what has been done for us in Christ.
FOOD 4 THOUGHT: The day (the first Pentecost) the Law of God written in stone (the ministration of death) came down the mountain 3,000 souls died. The day (first Pentecost of the N.T.) the Law of God written upon fleshly tablets of the heart (the ministration of righteousness) came down 3,000 souls found life! Which do you want ministered to you; DEATH OR RIGHTEOUSNESS?
Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. Romans 7:4-4
For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. Galatians 3:10-11
Contrary to those who teach we need to adjoin ourselves to the requirements of the Law and fulfill them, the Scriptures portray the Law as a captivity we are freed from in Christ. The Law carried a curse upon those who broke it; and demanded a very fastidious standard of observance!
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. James 2:10
Who would want to place themselves up against a standard no one could possibly keep? No wonder there was a need for a better way!
Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. 5 For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. Galatians 5:4
The danger of setting aside the gift of Christ’s Righteousness and returning to dead works can not be overstated. It can damn a soul! The book of Galatians was written to steer those, who had been seduced into returning to a self-righteous observance of the Mosaic Law, back into a state of salvation by grace through faith. They had fallen away from Christ, and were once again in need of the new birth! My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you (Gal. 4:19).
The salvation which the Law could never produce (and never promised to) can only be acquired through the gift of righteousness which comes upon a person through faith in what Jesus accomplished by his work on the Cross. Only the Blood of the Everlasting Sacrifice can truly atone for our sins.
Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. Romans 3:28
But having said that let’s make a very vital point.
Judging Torah Observant Believers Is Not Permitted!
One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. 6 He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it. He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks. Romans 14:5-6
As Gentile believers we need to realize not everyone who keeps Sabbath, or seeks to conform to the teachings of the Torah, does so in an effort to receive salvation through self-righteous works of religious duty.
Many who are Torah observant do so as an expression of devotion and worship; a sign of submission to the will of God. We need to respect that!
They are believing God will see these actions as a fruit of faith, and that it will please him; while at the same time realizing a distinction is necessary as to which portions of the Torah are to be disregarded as not applicable to New Covenant Jews (animal sacrifice, slavery, Temple duties, corporal punishments, etc.). And if approached in that light I believe Torah observance of those Jewish believers who have found faith in Christ is acceptable, as well as very pleasing, to God.
A Jewish believer views the Torah as God-given instruction in how to walk through life in a good and proper manner. A guideline of morality, so to speak. In the Torah are found the principles of right and wrong as expressed by God himself. That is not to be taken lightly. Nor should these actions of observance be condemned by Gentile believers. The entire chapter of Romans 14 was written to deal with this matter. Every believer, Gentile as well as Jewish, needs to understand the firm warning against a judgmental spirit of these things.
Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him. 4 Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand. Romans 14:3-4
There are a great many who hurl unwarranted accusations and insults against Torah observant believers; and it is not only uncomely, but sinful, to do so. But there are also many Torah observant folk who have strayed into a harsh legalistic spirit; and would judge a Gentile believer such as me as an apostate for not following Torah and Jewish tradition. Many go so far as to treat the word ‘Christian’ as if it were a four-letter word!
I have found precious fellowship among many messianic believers, but also a frequent icy shoulder and some very oppressive teachings. Fair warning here. Seeking fellowship among the messianic community can be like hunting treasure in a minefield; wonderful when you find treasure, but watch out for those mines! A good measure of caution would be well advised.
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. 1Corinthians 10:11
We have a very clear statement here from Paul that the writings of the Old Testament are to be viewed by us as instructive. We are to LEARN from them. Every N.T. teaching is but a confirmation of the truths of God’s Kingdom presented in the O. T.. These truths might be veiled in the types /shadows of those Scriptures, or tucked away in the prophetic imagery presented in the writings of the Prophets. But they are all there; with many of them plainly stated, and not veiled in any fashion at all.
(SIDE NOTE: All of the moral guidelines of the Law of Moses are restated in the New Covenant teachings, and MORE! In fact the New Testament presents more than twice as many ‘commandments’ as the Law itself does. Whether it is through being ‘Torah Observant’, or through an acceptance of, and submission to, the teachings of Christ and his Apostles; we ALL have a responsibility to obey the commandments of God!)
Strangely, I have met many Christians who actually act offended upon hearing O.T. Scriptures quoted as evidence of the character and nature of God. Like the Cross had somehow changed who God is, and how he views the actions of humanity. (Like the Children’s Story about the lion with a thorn in his paw, that becomes a pussy-cat after it has been removed.) But God does not change! Age to age he remains the same.
I myself have received great edification and instruction, not from just the O.T. in general, but from the books of the Law in particular. One of the greatest treasures I have ever discovered in the Word of God is the prophetic nature of the Old Testament feasts of the Lord. That they present a prophetic image of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and soon return of Jesus Christ. I write of that enlightening experience in this article. This, and many other vital ‘revelations’ about Jesus, are found in the same Torah so many are insistent on disregarding. Sadly I was never taught this in Church as most American churches rarely touch upon it (or anything else they believe was just for the Jews).
FOOD 4 THOUGHT: Those who cast aside the Torah, and give little regard to the remainder of the Old Testament, severely diminish their understanding of who God is, and what his will is for mankind. They rob themselves of a wealth of edification; and also a vital faith-building ‘second witness’ to the Gospel of Christ.
Even many fundamental believers who embrace the O.T., and preach and teach from it, overlook many aspects of it because they must be understood from a Jewish viewpoint. So they refuse to, or see no need to, explore those truths. It’s a shame, because they rob not only themselves, but also those who are depending upon them to bring forth the truths of God’s Word. Let’s be like the wise and instructed scribe who brings forth out of his treasure things new AND old (Matt. 13:52).
My Perspective On All This?
I do not keep Sabbath on Saturday (or observe Sunday as the N.T. Sabbath either). Whereas some esteem certain days above others, I am a man who esteems every day alike. I see entering in to rest in Christ, and ceasing from my own works, as a fulfillment of the types and shadows presented by the Sabbath. I am applying myself to ‘keep Sabbath’ 24/7, because that is what I personally feel called to do. But I do find great edification in recognizing the Feast Days and other elements of the Torah as instructive to me. I am constantly amazed at the glimpses of truth they speak to me. And I have come to expect it!
I am more than happy to fellowship with, and labor beside, those who express their devotion to God by observing Torah, the Saturday Sabbath, and the Feasts of the LORD. And I greatly respect their observances, as well as their devotion. All I ask in return is they respect my beliefs that those things they so lovingly observe are (to me) shadow figures of N.T. realities which I see as fulfilled in my relationship with Jesus, and my anticipation of his Return. To understand that I have heard a call to embrace the newness of the Spirit, and not the oldness of the Letter. I believe I have a proper and biblical (Gentile) perspective in play here, and it is working well for me.
I hope you have also become ‘fully persuaded in your own mind’, and are walking in a liberty that allows others to enjoy their own (biblical based) liberty in Christ, however they might be choosing to express it.
Let’s all walk together in love and mutual respect; and thereby glorify the one who gave his life to bring us all into the family of God: Jesus Christ our LORD and Savior, the one who fulfilled the requirements of the Law on our behalf,
and redeemed us from its curse!
Let his wonderful name be praised; both now and forevermore!
image credit: Paul Benson – Let’s Get It Right!
Here is a link to an excellent article which highlights many of the pitfalls we can encounter seeking connection with our ‘Hebrew Roots’. A bit long but very thorough.
I found the site Hebrew4Christians to have some very good and balanced teaching on the issues I discussed in this article. If you have further questions they will most likely be addressed in one of the many resources on that site. Here are a few of those pertinent articles.
Should Christians be Torah Observant?
Why Christians should study Torah
Israel and the Church (a proper view of Election)
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