Bruce R. Booker
When most Christians think of Torah, they associate it with "legalism," that, somehow, when a believer has a heart-felt desire to obey God's Torah ("Torah Submissive") they put themselves "under the Law" and are "legalistic."
If that were true, then the most perfect Torah-keeper of all, Yeshua (Jesus), must logically be the most-perfect "legalist". NOT! Yeshua, in order to be the propitiation ("kapparah"/"covering") for our sins (1 John 2:1-2) had to keep the Torah perfectly so that He could be the perfect offering for our sins (Hebrews 4:12-16; 7:26-27; 9:11-12; 10:1-14). If He did not keep the Torah, as pertaining to an Israelite perfectly, He could not be our atonement and we are still lost in our sins!
Thank God, Yeshua kept the Torah perfectly and is our "once-for-all" atonement!
So, what's the problem, then?
The problem is that Christian teaching pertaining to the Torah has changed from the first century, mostly based upon Rabbi Shaul's (the Apostle Paul's) writings. It has been wrongly interpreted by the early non-Jewish "Church Fathers" (who took over when the original Apostles and Jewish leaders died off) that what Shaul was writing against in many of his epistles when he says, "under the Law" was the Torah.
What is not realized by most Christians today is that in the First Century (Koine) Greek (or for that matter, First Century Hebrew), there is NO word group corresponding to "legalist", "legalism", or "legalistic". The only word that could be used was "nomos", meaning "law". This means that there was no simple way for Shaul to convey those concepts to his readers, except by "coining" a phrase in his writings that, by the way, are not extent in other First Century Greek writings. That phrase "hupo nomos" - "under the Law" - conveys a negative connotation to the reader, which, if a distinctive is not made, lends itself to the interpretation that keeping the Law (Torah) of God is a negative thing to do. In reality, keeping the Law to obtain one's salvation or justification IS the negative thing that Shaul wanted his readers to understand by the phrase. This is what "legalism" is all about!
Keeping the Law is NOT "legalism," for when Shaul was asked by the other Apostles in Jerusalem to put himself under the Nazirite vow - a Torah act found in the Mosaic Law (Acts 21:17-26; cf. Numbers 6), he did so without objection to show that he, himself, "kept the Torah" (Acts 21:24).
So what gives? Is Shaul being a hypocrite here: Saying one thing and doing another? Or, is what he was saying in his epistles a lie? Or, was he truly showing his obedience to the Torah - affirming that there are those who were, as Peter observed, "distorting" his writings (2 Peter 3:15-16) as they do the rest of Scripture?
I believe the latter: that when the First-Century Jewish leadership of what is now called the "Church" died out, the early non-Jewish leadership, being anti-Law, misinterpreted (to be kind to them) or re-interpreted (to their own destruction) Shaul's writings to fit their own "anti-Law bias. We, unfortunately, are recipients of that distorted anti-nomian (anti-Law) theology which stands contrary to the words of our Lord Yeshua and the rest of Scripture.
Yeshua and the Torah
When speaking about the Torah and Prophets in "His Sermon on the Mount", Yeshua said, Don't think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete. Yes indeed! I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away, not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah - not until everything that must happen has happened. So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commandments) and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. - Matthew 5:17-19 - Complete Jewish Bible, translated by David Stern, copyright 1998, Jewish New Testament Publications.
This means that there is an apparent conflict between Yeshua and Shaul - if we are to accept the early non-Jewish Church "father's" interpretation. If Shaul is indeed saying what the early non-Jewish Church leaders say he is saying, then he is in direct conflict with Yeshua: Shaul saying a believer is no longer to live according to the Torah and Yeshua saying he or she is! Shaul saying that the law is ended and Yeshua saying it won't end until heaven and earth are done away with!
Fellow believer, remember this: No matter what Shaul says in any of his epistles - if indeed he is saying these things - Yeshua's word in Matthew 5 takes precedence! (OR, Shaul is the least in the Kingdom of Heaven! Take your pick.) Pitting Yeshua against Shaul (no matter what Shaul said), Yeshua, God Incarnate, wins and you'd better be listening to Him!
Fortunately, if we look to Shaul's ACTS in the Book of Acts, we see a Torah-observant Apostle, as exemplified in Acts 21. The reason for His Torah observance is that Yeshua was Torah observant!
Walk like Yeshua walked
1 John 2:3-6 tells us that we know Yeshua by walking as He walked:
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. But if someone keeps doing what he says, then truly love for God has been brought to its goal in him. This is how we are sure that we are united with him. A person who claims to be continuing in union with him ought to conduct his life the way he did.-Complete Jewish Bible
When Yochanan (John) writes in his first epistle, chapter 2, verse 1, he writes these things "so that you won't sin." God does not want us to sin. "Sin" is the transgression of the Torah (1 John 3:3-6). He wants us to walk like Yeshua, our example, who did not transgress the Torah, but lived a totally Torah-obedient, sinless life!
BUT, we cannot do this in our own power! We can only walk this way, following Yeshua, when we "walk" in the power of the Ruach (Spirit) of God (Galatians 5:16-25) as Yeshua did (Luke 4:1).
However, since the Torah is of the Spirit (Romans 7:14) and is "holy, just and good" (Romans 7:12)(characteristics of God), the ONLY way it can be walked out by man is by the power of the Spirit!
"But what about Grace? Aren't we under grace and not under Law?"
Grace does not give us license to sin (transgress the Law). Shaul in Romans 6:1 asks, So then, are we to say, "Let's keep sinning, so that there can be more grace?" Heaven forbid! How can we, who have died to sin, still live in it?
-Complete Jewish Bible
We must not continue to use grace as a license to sin - which is what we're doing if we continue to disobey God's Torah! We must learn not to avoid keeping Torah, but to keep Torah in the power of the Spirit like Yeshua did!
What love is all about
Yeshua, God Incarnate, showed us how to walk Torah perfectly. Since God is love (1 John 4:8) and one of the fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22), Yeshua walked in perfect love.
When asked what the greatest commandment of the Law was, Yeshua responded, You are to love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the greatest and most important mitzvah. And a second is similar to it, "You are to love your neighbor as yourself." All the Torah and the Prophets are dependant upon these two mitzvot. (Matthew 22:37-40).
-Complete Jewish Bible
Shaul reduces this down to one: Don't owe anyone anything - except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled Torah. For the commandments, "Don't commit adultery,""Don't murder," "Don't steal," "Don't covet," and any others are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does not do harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fullness of Torah. (Romans 13:8-10)
-Complete Jewish Bible
If we are to keep God's commandments, we are to keep them in the spirit with which they were given: love. If kept for ANY other reason, one moves into "legalism."
A beliver in Yeshua should want to walk in the Spirit of Yeshua and should want to walk as He walked: in perfect love. A believer in Yeshua better question his or her own faith in Him if they don't want to walk like He did. Just how much faith is a person exhibiting in the Lord if there is no change in that person's walk before coming to faith and after coming to faith?
We expect a life-change in a person who has a true, saving faith. Can a gangster before coming to faith in Him remain a gangster after accepting Him? Can a murderer, or an adulterer, or a homosexual, or any other sinner remain in the lifestyle they were in before salvation? Obviously not! So, when we talk about a person becoming a believer, we talk about them giving up their old life-style and accepting a new one in Messiah. We don't talk about them remaining in the sinful life they experienced before they accepted Him. That is part and parcel of the idea of salvation and sanctification through Yeshua. We are saved by Him and are being made sanctified by Him!
Sanctification - Walking as He walked ("WWJD"?)
Many believers wear a "WWJD" wrist band (I do) or shirt. If we were to ask the question, "WWJD" in a certain situation, we must answer that question in the light of Torah - since that is how He walked. We cannot answer the question from our own subjective interpretation since He walked perfectly according to the objective standard of Torah. Therefore, if we were to ask what Yeshua would eat ("WWJD?"), or conversely - wouldn't eat - when sitting at the table of our favorite restaurant, we can only answer from the Torah that: He would not eat that which was forbidden in Leviticus 11. He could eat anything else.
If we ask the question: "What day of the week would Yeshua ("WWJD?") rest (have His Sabbath)?" we would have to answer that "He would rest on the "Seventh Day"" (Exodus 20:8-11; Leviticus 23:3), because that is the day the Torah said to rest. [By the way, it is also that day, as per His custom, that He was in the synagogue - (Luke 4:16). Now, the issue here is not which day you worship. Worship every day of the week if you can afford to do so! In the Temple days, the priests led worship every day of the week! However, in the agricultural society of ancient Israel, most of the common people (am ha Eretz) could only afford to take one day off to worship (that's how worship came to be associated with the day of rest) - the "Shabbat" or sabbath.] This is why we rest (and worship) on the 7th day of the week.
Now, how does that apply to me, as a believer in Him, who should be "walking as He walked"?
We ALL need to answer that question for ourselves in the light of Scripture, for we will ALL give an account for what we say and do in this life. The answer we need to come to is: we need to follow Him (Yeshua). Regardless of what our tradition and doctrine has taught us, we need to follow Him. It is He who we will have to answer to one day, not our pastor, or Bible college professor, or our Christian brothers and sisters. We have to study His Word for ourselves and where others have said otherwise, we need to follow what He says and ignore the others, if necessary.
Let me ask this question to you: "in the light of Yeshua's statement in Matthew 5:18-19, what position are you going to be in when you enter the Kingdom of Heaven?"
So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot (commandments) and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.
-Complete Jewish Bible
The question is not are you going to be saved (in the Kingdom of Heaven)? The person who truly believes in Yeshua as their Lord and Savior already knows the answer to that question - they'll be in the Kingdom of Heaven. However, by Yeshua's statement here, there are obviously different levels (rewards) that people will be at (receive) in the Kingdom of Heaven. Evidently, some people are going to hold a great position and some a lesser position. That position is going to be determined (by this passage) upon Torah observance. By their lack of Torah observance, some believers are going to be saved, but are going to enter Heaven very poor in rewards and stature. Others, by their Torah observance (including ALL the Apostles) are going to enter Heaven very wealthy in rewards and stature.
A Torah-Observant Fellowship
Therefore, when we say we are a "Torah-Pursuant" fellowship, we say that we want to walk as Yeshua walked and do what He did in the power and love that He walked out as He walked on this earth in human flesh. We can also honestly say, we're not there yet. We are all growing in Him and learning what true Torah-Observance means in the light of His Word. This is what walking out our faith implies.
We encourage all our brothers and sisters in the Lord Yeshua to walk similarly.