Month 9:15, Week 2:7 (Shibi'i/Sukkot), Year:Day 5936:251 AM|
Gregorian Calendar: Wednesday 28 November 2012
1. Piecing Together Grace and Works
Shabbat shalom kol beit Yisra'el in the grace of Yah'shua (Jesus) our Messiah! Welcome to this sabbath gathering in which we shall be discussing an important issue in Christianity, the question of what is, or isn't, a 'salvation issue'.
A Question About Christmas
A discussion with a friend of mine, who is not messianic and believes the Torah has been done away with, lead to an interesting exchange yesterday. I had brought up the question of Christmas by posting a cartoon on my Facebook group. In it there is a woman holding up a placard which reads, "Put Christ back into Christmas" and just in front of her was a man holding up another placard which read: "But He was never in it in the first place!"
A Salvational Issue?
This prompted my evangelical friend to ask whether this was a salvational issue and, by implication, was it necessary for us to be divided over it? I believe he wanted to take a 'live and let-live attitude' which shows an uncommon level of maturity that I am both drawn to and I respect when it comes to those who have a different belief system to my own. Certainly we can, and ought, to get along as fellow believers while we disagree on various doctrinal issues. A discussion ensued in which the position of Torah was explained, to which he replied:
A Mature Response
"Yes and in [the] sermon on the mount Christ told us he came to fulfill the law. So I would argue (in the classic and dignified definition) that it's not a salvation issue, since celebrating the birth of the Savior is certainly not worshiping other Gods. It's just that, celebrating Emanuel."
Had he said that in any number of online forums, I can picture how some zealous and immature messianics would have pounced on him and accused him of being 'pagan', with some zealous and immature evangelicals pouncing back and accusing the messianics of being 'legalists'. I am sure you know exactly what I mean and understand why I steer well clear of such graceless, destructive, immature and therefore pointless discussions. My friend was being honest and graceful and deserves respect for that honesty and grace. I wasn't upset by his answer and I don't think he was by mine.
Gospel Fundamentals & the Apostles' Creed
We are, I am quite sure, agreed on what some would term the 'fundamentals' of the Besorah (Gospel) which were usefully summarised a very long time ago in what has come to be called 'The Apostles' Creed' even though it is unlikely that the apostles themselves actually wrote it. Since it's always important to build fraternal relationships on common ground, I am going to restate this Creed so that everyone knows my starting point:
I realise not every 'messianic' believes in all of these so this discussion may not be for them. But for the rest - and that basically includes the whole of orthodox Christendom - I believe we can have a useful dialogue today and next week. My purpose is to build upon that common ground in our quest for all emet (truth).
- 1. We believe in Yahweh-God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
- 2. We believe in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), His Only Begotten Son, our Master.
- 3. He was conceived by the power of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and born of the Virgin Mary.
- 4. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
- 5. He descended to the dead.
- 6. On the third day He rose again.
- 7. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of Elohim (God) the Father Almighty.
- 8. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
- 9. We believe in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit),
- 10. the universal Body of Messiah (Christ),
- 11. the communion of the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones),
- 12. the forgiveness of sins,
- 13. the resurrection of the [physical] body,
- 14. and the life everlasting. Amen.
What Must I Do to Be Saved?
Today I am asking a very big and very important question: What is a salvation issue? Ask an average fundamentalist Christian and they will probably cite the sixteenth chapter of Acts where the Phillipian jailor asks of Paul and Silas:
I am sure you will recall their reply:
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" (Ac.16:30, KJV)
"Believe on the Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Lord Jesus Christ), and thou shalt be saved, and thy house" (v.31).
Passive vs. Active Faith
For millions of believers, that's all, they say, is needed for salvation - believe on Yah'shua (Jesus). Others will also require you to be baptised to be saved and some of the older denominations, like the Lutherans, say that those believers who 'baptise' their infants by sprinkling them will ensure their salvation too. If you're Eastern Orthodox they will tell you that you must accept the Five Sacraments which they alone have authority to administer. Then, for many of these Protestant 'believers', it is perfectly alright to get on with your life as as before...as though nothing had happened, only now you 'believe' in Yah'shua (Jesus). Theirs is a passive faith, one that doesn't lead to anything concrete. It's a short mental process that ends with a some neurones ceasing to fire and then going silent. How different that is from active faith - the faith that leads to something else...something more.
The Devils Also Have Faith in Messiah
Unfortunately passive faith is not at all what 'salvation' is about in the Bible. James reminds us:
Characteristics of the Two Kinds of Faith
"You believe that there is one Elohim (God). Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder" (James 2:19, NIV).
So since the demons believe, does that mean they are saved too? Obviously not. Clearly, there are two different kinds of 'belief' involved - the belief of demons and the belief of the saved in Messiah. How then can we distinguish the two? By two things:
Salvation, Faith and Works: the Connection
- 1. True belief, or emunah (faith) leads to a change in lev (heart) that makes you more loving, which
- 2. Leads to a change in lifestyle, behaviour and works.
The big issue, then, is un understanding what lifestyle, what behaviour and what works constitute evidence of an authentic and full salvation. Potentially we are dealing with a spectrum of "works" or actions. The comment made by the apostle James who pointed out that the demons "believe" and that therefore that believing is itself not enough for salvation, is within the context of a larger discussion:
Paul and James Understood Together
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has emunah (faith) but does not have works (deeds)? Can emunah (faith) save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also emunah (faith) by itself, if it does not have works (deeds), is dead. But someone will say, 'You have emunah (faith), and I have works (deeds).' Show me your emunah (faith) without your works (deeds), and I will show you my emunah (faith) by my works (deeds). You believe that there is one Elohim (God). You do well. Even the demons believe -- and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that emunah (faith) without works (deeds) is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works (deeds) when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that emunah (faith) was working together with his works (deeds), and by works (deeds) emunah (faith) was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed Elohim (God), and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of Elohim (God). You see then that a man is justified (declared righteous) by works (deeds), and not by emunah (faith) only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works (deeds) when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so emunah (faith) without works (deeds) is dead also" (James 2:14-26, NKJV).
Martin Luther so hated this passage that he wanted this epistle removed from the Bible altogether, insultingly demeaning it as the 'straw gospel'! And yet is it critical to our understanding of what salvation consists of so long as we accept it at face value and acknowledge its p'shat or plain sense. If you read it without a preconceived doctrine in mind, and let it speak for itself, you can only arrive at one conclusion...and it does not contradict what Paul says elsewhere either.
Salvation by Grace Alone
What did Paul teach? That we are saved by emunah (faith) alone - faith in the atoning work of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). Perfectly true. I am a Paulist through-and-through - a Torah-obedient Paulist! We cannot earn our salvation by doing righteous things. This is an essential evangelical emet (truth) and to compromise it leads to dangerous heresy. BUT, as James reminds us, unwrapping this emet (truth) further, emunah (faith) without a response is dead - it is ultimately meaningless...and he cites some historical examples in Abraham and Rahab.
Examples of Salvation Linked to Works
Salvation in Messiah always begins with emunah (faith) - which is what delivers you from sin (upon repentance) and death, but it cannot end there unless you are physically prevented from doing the next thing, as the repentant thief on the cross was. (Please see my sermon, The Thief Who Was Saved: The Truth of Salvation by Grace Revealed). But had that thief not been on the cross and had he had the freedom to demonstrate his emunah (faith) by righteous deeds, then he would have been expected to change his entire lifestyle in a way pleasing to Elohim (God). He would still have been saved by grace - Yahweh's unmerited favour or undeserved loving kindness (since he could never have atoned for his own sins or obtained forgiveness for them any other way) - but a response involving works still would have been required of him had he not been impailed and dying.
Two vs. Three Dimensional Salvation
We must face these words for what they actually mean by moving out of a narrow and false two dimensional view of salvation and into a three dimensional one. We are saved by grace and not by works BUT to remain in that salvation we have to respond, in ahavah (love) leading to good works, so that that salvation does not die. This is what James meant when he said that "the belem (body) without the ruach (spirit) is dead" - without the proper life-long responses to Yah'shua's (Jesus) saving act of grace by obedience to Scripture and the personal instructions of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), that salvation dies. That is the complete picture of salvation spoken of by James whose Besorah (Gospel) was not made of 'straw' as Martin Luther derided. Luther's vision of salvation was two-dimensional because of his fear of the legalistic, works-based doctrine of the Catholic Church he broke away from.
"For as the body without the spirit is dead, so emunah (faith) without works (deeds) is dead also" (Jas.2:26, NKJV).
The Nature of the Works That Maintain Salvation: Three Examples
What exactly do these deeds consist of? What is it that maintains this salvation-by-faith alone in ahavah (love)? James cites three examples involving obedience by Abraham to a command to do something tough (offer his son) and an action by Rahab to physically help the spies and so demonstrate her integrity. He also gives us another example of works that justify a saved soul: feeding and clothing those unable to help themselves. However, these are but two examples. The "works" that maintain our salvation by - the works that keep it 'online' and 'active', as it were, as the action of that ahavah (love) given by grace - are of many different kinds.
The Full Scope of Salvation-Maintaining Works
To better understand the height, breadth and depth of biblical salvation is, we need to go to Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself who adds another dimension to salvation by linking it to the Torah or Law and specifically to the Ten Commandments:
Eternal Life Denied to an Idolater Who Believed in Yahweh
"Now a man came up to Yah'shua (Jesus) and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?' 'Why do you ask Me about what is good?' Yah'shua (Jesus) replied. 'There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life (be saved), obey the mitzvot (commandments)'. 'Which ones?' the man inquired. Yah'shua (Jesus) replied, ''Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbour as yourself.'' 'All these I have kept,' the young man said. 'What do I still lack?' Yah'shua (Jesus) answered, 'If you want to be perfect (complete, whole), go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me'" (Matt.19:16-21, NIV).
You will notice, very clearly, that Yah'shua (Jesus) did not lessen, minimise or abrogate the claims of His Father's Torah (Law), and in particular the Ten Commandments. Rather, He endorsed this man's obedience to them wholeheartedly but moved on to an area in this life that was fundamentally lacking - his attachment to worldly things that were getting in the way of his relationship with Yahweh, things which would disqualify - and had already, in fact, had disqualified - him from eternal life unless he was willing to repent.
The God of Money Can Lose You Your Salvation
Notice that what was lacking was essentially the first commandment in his life - he had a 'god' in addition to Yahweh, and it was his money - his wealth. So idolatrous was this attachment that he was not willing to allow Yahweh that exclusive place of worship, adoration and attachment, but rather chose his money. It was enough to prevent him from entering the Kingdom of Heaven, from perfection, from eternal chayim (life), from salvation...from being delivered from one of the most insidious sins of all - money:
All the Ten Commandments are Essential
"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both Elohim (God) and Money" (Matt.6:24, NIV).
Here you will see that each and every one of the Ten Commandments is vital, and especially the first one which reveals to what or whom our allegiance is given and whether or not we are actually saved in the first place. When that man walked away from Yah'shua (Jesus) with a heavy lev (heart), he was walking away from his salvation...assuming he had actually ever had it, for here the Son was representing the Father as Elohim (God)-in-the-flesh.
Conditions for Entrance to Heaven
In unmistakable language Yah'shua (Jesus) presents obedience to the mitzvot (commandments) of His Heavenly Father as a condition for eternal life. Do you see this? Where is the place where eternal life is the default or natural condition? Heaven. Who goes to heaven? The saved, and specifically, as Messiah pointed out, those who love their Heavenly Father above all else, who trust in His Son.
Obedience in Love is the Passion of the Saved
How, then, can a man or woman profess to be saved, profess to be a 'saint', 'holy one' or 'set-apart' one, who refuses to render obedience to the mitzvot (commandments) of the Almighty? These transgressors claim the promises made to the authentic children of Elohim (God) while refusing to abide the Almighty's conditions. Did not the apostle John reveal that true ahavah (love) for Yahweh is the consummate desire on the part of the believer to be obedient to all the mitzvot (commandments)?
Obedience In Salvation
I am not, of course, here saying that man can obey the mitzvot (commandments) in his own strength for to do so is without any question totally impossible. Therefore no man need falsely accuse me of this to justify his continuing lawlessness and hope to remain in grace. No man can do such a thing in his own flesh. That is to say, no man unendowed with eternal chayim (life) can possibly be equipped to live this perfect and flawless life. It is only by his emunah (faith) in the Son of Elohim (God) that he is enabled to actually demonstrate that he is saved, for the unsaved soul can neither accomplish it nor has he any desire to do it. The lack of motivation plus the failure to be obedient are two of the main signs of the unsaved, remembering that perfection is not attained in a day but is a lifelong process, for you will remember that salvation (as properly understood from the New Testament) is past, present and future - past (when the Saviour was first trusted), present (as the Saviour remains trusted in) and future (at the end of life if the believer has continued trusting in obedience).
Once Saved, Always Saved?
Thus, as you will see, there are no grounds whatsoever - taking both these and other Scriptures on the subject - for embracing the heresy promulgated by lazy, disobedient evangelicals that maintains, 'once saved, always saved' (OSAS).
Works Build Character
It is only through doing that character is built, and it is the spiritual nature, quality or status of our character at the final day that will determine whether or not we have remained in the salvation we initially professed and claimed. Of course, I am not saying that any man can earn salvation (as I have already stated), for this is impossible, an accusation frequently leveled by those professing OSAS. The work of the cross is, by definition, unearnable, and is only appropriated by emunah - but faith or trusting in the One who made that final sacrifice for sin. However, it is a pernicious error to assume, as so many do, that that is all we must do.
No Maturation or Perfection Without Obedience
There is no maturing of the soul without obedience - no perfecting, no completing of man's humanity in the perfect image the he was originally made in but which was lost on account of the Fall of Adam and Eve. To stubbornly remain in a state of disobedience is to eventually - after grace has been exhausted - abort one's initial salvation, causing the soul to rapidly revert to its original state in sin, assuming that there was ever a spiritual regeneration in the first place. The mere ejaculation of words from the mouth is without spiritual effect - there has to be real intent of the lev (heart) that, if regenerated, will kindle a passion for the mitzvot (commandments) and lead the soul into the good works that please our Heavenly Father once we have acquired a taste for them. Indeed, so overpowering is this salvation once we have genuinely received it, we will automatically acquire the desire to abandon the world and everything in it to possess that salvation today, tomorrow and in eternity.
Little vs. Big Sins
You will discover, upon a careful inspection of the words of the Master, that there is not even place for 'little sins' in the true believer's life. That is to say, the one born again and living in a condition of eternal chayim (life) will abhor the little sins as much as the great ones, because they will be vile to his spirit. When the Master said:'
He was not giving anyone the option to excludeg any one of them, great or small. The clear directive is to keep them all in the enabling power that comes from trusting in, and remaining close to, the Son of Elohim (God).
"If you love Me, keep My mitzvot (commandments)" (John 14:15, NKJV)
Yah'shua's Private Packet of Commandments?
This mitzvah (commandment) is both broad and far reaching and we need not suppose, moreover, that Yah'shua (Jesus) only has a small packet of mitzvot (commandments) in mind. Many will attempt to mislead you into believing that the only mitzvot (commandments) binding on believers are the ones that Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself iterated with His mouth that are recorded in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), and that any and all others issued prior to Him may be safely ignored, unless He specifically repeated them.
The Sabbath as an Illustration
The fallacy of this will become immediately obvious when you consider, for example, the fact that not everything Yah'shua (Jesus) said is recorded in the Scriptures (Jn.21:25), and that Yah'shua (Jesus) was obedient to the mitzvah (commandment) to obey the Father's Sabbath law. Yah'shua (Jesus) nowhere repeats in words that are recorded in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament) that we should obey the Sabbath. Why should He when it is plain He observed it and commanded His talmidim (disciples) to imitate all that He did? Imitating works is a lot more powerful than words, don't you think?
The Commandments Abolished at Calvary
Now, of course, it is true that some of the things that Yah'shua (Jesus) did or participated in were no longer required after Calvary. Animal sacrifices and the Levitical Priesthood that administered them became redundant once He, as the eternal Cohen Gadol (High Priest), offered Himself up as a ransom for sin. So how do we know that the Sabbath remained in force after Calvary? Because the apostles continued in its observance. They did not change it from the seventh day to the first, nor did they switch calendar systems away from the biblical Creation Calendar or the contemporary Roman Julian Calendar which has since been replaced by the Gregorian one in use by the world today...or any other calendar system, for that matter.
Little Can Soon Become Big
No, Yah'shua (Jesus) endorsed the 'little' mitzvot (commandments) as much as He did the 'big' ones, enfolding all in His mandate in John 14.15. These are the 'jots' and tittles' of the Torah (Mt.5:18), the "least" of the mitzvot (commandments) (Mt.5:19). The 'little' sins, in any case, as must be obvious to anyone with common sense, progressively eat away at godliness like a cancer. They may appear benign at first but at length become voracious and wholely destructive. It does not take little sins long to grow into bigger ones, so they definitely matter. And that is why every mitzvah (commandment) is of importance, which is why Yahweh caused them all to be written down in the first place. He has left nothing to chance, and has ensured that if we follow His instructions carefully that we will be well taken care of and need never fear for our salvation.
Who are We to Disagree with Yahweh?
When we disagree with any part of Yahweh's will expressed in the mitzvot (commandments), or seek avenues to circumvent them because we either disapprove them or are too lazy to bother ourselves with them (by often using the excuse that 'simplicity' is always best), we are in fact causing division in our own levim (hearts) and are still in communion with that sin resident in the fleshy nature. In short, we have not yet crucified the flesh with all its ungodly passions (Gal.2:20; 5:24) no matter how vehemently we insist with our lips that we have. Small sins are not of trifling consequence nor is there any legitimate cause to pridefully look down upon them. It is shere arrogance and self-deception to dismiss any of the mitzvot (commandments) as no longer being relevent to our day and age.
The Folly of a Divided Heart
A divided lev (heart) is no service to Yahweh or to man because it is continually tripping over itself. The visage it presents to the world, moreover, can hardly convince unbelievers that salvation looks any different to the world's own ways. So why should someone in the world possibly wish to pursue an interest in the Besorah (Gospel) when what he sees offers little comfort for a better way of life? Any one formerly with an addiction problem who is now saved and delivered will testify that this is so.
What You are When You Die Will Remain on the Other Side
It must be remembered that the character you take with you to the grave is the one that will attend you in all eternity and it will make not the slightest bit of difference if, at the Great Judgment, you fall back on the excuse and claim a better one based on the 'Once Saved, Always Saved' myth. Life, with all its myriad challenges, is the crucible ordained by Heaven for character development that may be had nowhere else. You don't get a second go at it in the next life. Yes, you will have the dross burned out of you in the fire (1 Cor.3:12-15) before you are allowed to move on but if all that is left is a thimble of righteousness then that is all you may expect to take with you into the eternities. And you will be assigned a glory - a place in which to live - that matches that residue of righteousness you brought with you along once all the dross has been burned out.
Next week I will draw everything together into one Grand Picture so that you can clearly see the relationship between salvation and all the works required by Yahweh - a picture that eludes so many Christians and Messianics because they have been taught a two-dimensional view of salvation that not only creates a false dichotomy between grace and works but which also leads to unnecessary strife in the Body. We must stand above this false dichotomy by occupying higher ground to see Yahweh's perspective and not that of tradition.
Continued in Part 2