Tag Archives: New Covenant

Sanctification Isn’t An Event, It’s A Process (a really, really long process)

intent
Replica of a diagram found in Scott Brown’s “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst” material

As I write this, I can hear the Shabbos tunes my (Jewish) wife is playing on her iPad. Seems appropriate, although quite frankly, neither of us are observing Shabbos in any sense.

Several weeks ago, I attended an all day Saturday workshop at the Lutheran church where I take Mom. It was presented by Scott Brown of Chosen People Ministries. Scott lives in New Zealand and his ministry down there is called Celebrate Messiah. It specializes in evangelizing to the tons and tons of backpackers New Zealand gets every summer (and since it’s south of the equator, it’s actually winter there right now).

Actually, “Celebrate Messiah” specializes in evangelizing Israeli backpackers, of which there seems to be a lot. I told my wife this (and she’s not Christian or Messianic) and she pretty much just sneered. It was the sort of look I’d expect from the Rabbi of our local Chabad or really, a lot of Jewish people, even secular Jews.

But I’m not writing this missive to talk about that.

Notice the drawing above. I did my best to replicate it from the material Scott handed out at the workshop. It was called “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst”. I can’t say I agreed with everything he said, but he made some good points, including the one illustrated in the diagram I’ve posted.

It was the clearest explanation of the “Christianese” terms “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification” I’ve ever heard, making the information very accessible to me, and I’ve been a believer for over 20 years.

It was also a great explanation about why I still screw up.

Really, there have been times I’ve been convinced that the Holy Spirit didn’t take up housekeeping inside of me and that I wasn’t actually a Christian. There were times when I considered that maybe the Calvinists were right (they’re not) and that God simply didn’t “choose” me to be saved. If that were the case, nothing I could say, do, or believe would ever reconcile me to God.

Oh, actually this is also a really good explanation as to why King David could commit adultery with a married women, get her pregnant, murder her husband, and then lie about the whole thing until confronted about it by the Prophet Nathan, yet still be considered a “man after God’s own heart.”

But let’s take a look at Scott’s source material first. All Bible quotes are from the NASB translation unless otherwise specified.

Spirit

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… –Romans 5:1

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:13

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise… –Ephesians 1:13

Soul

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. –Philippians 2:5, 12, 13

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Body

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. –1 Corinthians 15:51-53

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven… –2 Corinthians 5:1-2

I’m not a big fan of citing short passages of scripture to make theological points, but this is what Scott presented with his diagram.

It explains why we can indeed be “saved,” as traditional Christians say, but still keep “backsliding” into sin.

Before coming to faith, traditional Christianity considers people as slaves to sin. We just can’t help ourselves from sinning if, for no other reason, we don’t know the difference between a sin and being able to please God. We may not be in it just for ourselves, and we may give to charity, be good parents, be kind to small animals, and help our neighbor shovel snow off of his driveway in the winter (I live in Idaho, your mileage may vary), but we are still sinners, isolated from God.

Upon becoming believers, devotees and disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), as the diagram and the scriptures say, we are dead to sin and alive for Christ:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. –Romans 6:5-7

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. –Ephesians 4:20-24

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. –Colossians 3:9-11

In other words, the person who was a slave to sin was symbolically buried in the tomb with the dead body of Jesus through baptism, and the person who rose out of the tomb/waters with Rav Yeshua is a completely different individual, one who is a slave to our Master and not sin.

Does that mean we can’t sin? Absolutely not. But then why do we sin if we aren’t a slave? Two reasons. The first is that we still have free will and can choose to sin. But then, you’d think it would be a no brainer to choose not to sin. The second reason is that our neurology, our habits, our behavioral patterns are still locked in our brains. If a guy likes to look at porn before he becomes a believer, even after the conversion, he will still tend to be attracted to porn.

In his presentation on people he has discipled, Scott referenced numerous men who had big, big problems surfing porn. I’m not picking on men. I’m sure that women who become believers still have all of that “fleshy” stuff in their behavior patterns as well.

So what to do?

Scott said it’s not just a matter of behavior modification. After all, a secular person can modify their behavior through various means and they’re still secular and in their sins.

For the believer, it seems like a war between their neurological behavior patterns and having the “mind of Christ.”

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. –1 Corinthians 2:14-16

There was one thing Scott didn’t mention, and perhaps it was because he was talking to a roomful of Christians (though a significant minority seemed to be “Messianic” and a few even sung the beginning of the Shema). In his focus on Christ, he forgot about Rav Yeshua’s source material:

Behold, days are coming – the word of Hashem – when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master – the word of Hashem. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days – the word of Hashem – I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach – each man his fellow, each man his brother – saying, “Know Hashem!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest – the word of Hashem – when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.” –Jeremiah 31:30-33 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I’ve previously written about the New Covenant and the Gentile as well as how Gentiles actually have no formal covenant relationship with God. I know, controversial stuff, right?

The only conclusion I arrived at is that we are adopted in by God, not through any covenant, but by God’s sheer mercy and grace to the human race as a whole, that is, the nations of the world, all who turn to him through our devotion to Rav Yeshua.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:16-20

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. –2 Peter 8-9

Actually, this wasn’t something God invented with Jesus. It was his plan all along:

Also, a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake – for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm – and will come and pray toward this Temple – may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know Your Name, to fear You as [does] Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built –1 Kings 8:41-43 The Stone Edition Tanakh

Hashem has reigned: Let peoples tremble; before Him Who is enthroned on Cherubim, let the earth quake. Before Hashem Who is great in Zion and Who is exalted above all peoples. Let them gratefully praise Your great and awesome Name; it is holy! Mighty is the King, Who loves justice. You founded fairness. The justice and righteousness of Jacob, You have made. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at His footstool; He is holy! Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel among those who invoke His Name; they called upon Hashem and He answered them. In a pillar of cloud He spoke to them; they obeyed his testimonies and whatever decree He gave them. Hashem, our God, You answered them. A forgiving God were You because of them, yet an Avenger for their iniquities. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at his holy mountain; for holy is Hashem, our God. –Psalm 99 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I am Hashem; I have called you with righteousness; I will strengthen your hand; I will protect you; I will set you for a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations; to open blind eyes; to remove the prisoner from confinement, dwellers in darkness from the dungeon. –Isaiah 42:5-7 The Stone Edition Tanakh

In fact, this last passage is very similar to the haftarah Rav Yeshua read in the Nazareth synagogue (Isaiah 61:1,2 [see Septuagint]; Isaiah 58:6):

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. –Luke 4:16-20

But what’s all that have to do with Scott’s diagram?

I believe that the process of us being sanctified is ongoing. Certainly, we haven’t been glorified yet because Rav Yeshua hasn’t returned and we haven’t gotten our glorious, immortal physical forms yet.

New Covenant times have cracked the door of reality but aren’t actually here. Thus having the “Torah written on our hearts” (I’m not sure how that works for a Gentile given our non-covenant status or the fact that we are not obligated to Torah in the manner of the Jewish people or Israel) is in process but not complete. We are in the long-lasting process of sanctification, which only makes the struggle with our “flesh” more difficult.

Scott was clear on the point that the old man is truly, irrevocably dead. Struggles with sin are not a fight between the old man and the new man (or woman). Our old nature is gone forever, according to Scott, but our old patterns and habits (the flesh) are still present. Being sanctified is ongoing and will continue until the prophesy in Jeremiah 31 is realized. No wonder this stuff is hard.

Still, I take comfort in reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I just completed as part of my annual cover-to-cover Bible reading:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Romans 8:1-11

Actually, the entire chapter encapsulates Scott’s remarks and my renewed understanding.

Bottom line. We have something to shoot for. The struggle with being human, the habits of a lifetime, the difficulties that continually assail us as mere mortals is real, but the goal isn’t just to modify our old behaviors, but to live out the fact that we are in the process of becoming new human beings one day at a time.

There’s hope.

Oh, this is all derived from only part of one page in Scott’s material, so I’ve got plenty of data from which to craft additional more blog posts. This is only the beginning.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you are a science fiction fan, I invite you to pop over to my other blog “Powered by Robots”. I was recently interviewed by Will Martinez of Dark Fringe Radio about my SciFi short story “The Recall.” I haven’t had the nerve to actually listen to it yet, but anyone who wants to can go for it. Let me know what you think.

EDIT: My wife was listening to this, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVhE7_AUtNI

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Romans 11:26 And What “All Israel Will Be Saved” Means

For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved…

Romans 11:25-26 (NASB)

I hold a minority opinion in terms of understanding what “all Israel” means in this context. I think that, based on the New Covenant promises (Jer. 31, Ezek. 36) God intends to save all Israel, that is, all of the Jewish people. But if you’re a Christian, this doesn’t seem quite right. Shouldn’t I mean “all of the Jewish people who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior?”

That could be interpreted as meaning “all Israel” is all those Jews who have abandoned their Jewish identity, abandoned their Jewish heritage, abandoned all of the covenants God made with Israel, who have converted to (Gentile) Christianity and live like the goyim.

But that doesn’t seem right either, because this flies in the face of the language in the aforementioned New Covenant, which promises a return of the Temple, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices. If the “law were nailed on the cross with Jesus,” then all of those covenants, including the New Covenant, and the attached promises don’t make sense.

In fact, I could argue that a Jew who converts to Christianity, a Hebrew Christian, might not be considered “Israel” at all if they have been taught (by well-meaning but misguided Gentile Christians) to abandon the very covenants that define the Jewish people and Israel. There’s a lot more to being a covenant people than just your DNA.

Fortunately, I came across a comment made by reader “ProclaimLiberty” (PL) on the Rosh Pina Project blog post Messianic Jews Must be Consistent in Our Reverence of Scripture:

Insofar as I can interpret Rav Shaul’s phrase “all Israel shall be saved” (or, “πᾶς Ἰσραὴλ σωθήσεται”) in Rom 11:26, it includes everyone. The term “πᾶς” may be rendered: “1) individually 1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything 2) collectively”. Hence, “all Israel” seems to refer to each and every individual in the collective of Israel.

And the term “σωθήσεται” may be rendered (from “σῴζω”, verb, {sode’-zo}):
“1) to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
1a) one (from injury or peril)
1a1) to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health 1b1) to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue
1b) to save in the technical biblical sense
1b1) negatively:
1b1a) to deliver from the penalties of the Messianic judgment
1b1b) to save from the evils which obstruct the reception of the Messianic deliverance”.
Jerusalem
It seems to me to be a consequence of HaShem’s unwavering faithfulness to keep His covenanted promises. Certainly the record of the Tenakh shows that it cannot be the result of 100% faithfulness by 100% of Jews throughout our millennia of history as a people. I can only infer that this was Rav Shaul’s intended meaning, based on his understanding of the prophecies cited (viz: Is.59:20-21; Is.27:9; Jer.31:33-34). None of it appears to be conditioned by the individual or collective state of any Jew, thus one must infer that HaShem has some plan by which to accomplish the redemption of the unworthy Jewish souls who will nonetheless benefit, and none will be left out. Personally, I envision a massive crash-course in Jewish messianism for a whole host of Jews swept up together into a special state outside of the time-stream immediately after their deaths; but, hey, it’s not my job to second-guess HaShem.

This is helpful since my knowledge of ancient Greek is non-existent, and it does establish that there is some justification for my beliefs and my hope that indeed, all Israel, every individual Jewish person, will be redeemed by God, just as He promised.

The promises of God are real and wholly reliable. We just need to make sure our theology and doctrine map to this Biblical truth.

The Non-Covenant Relationship with God

One of the difficulties…that Christian theologies have not really grasped, is that Rav Yeshua’s gentile disciples don’t actually participate in any covenant whatsoever. Perhaps that is why they invent fictitious covenants. What they have instead of a covenant is an individually-based responsibility to rely on HaShem’s unchanging character and graciousness. They must trust HaShem Who wishes all humanity to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, as Rav Shaul wrote to Timothy in 1 Tim. 2:3-4. They, and their children, and their children’s children, each must approach HaShem as trusting individuals. They may pass to their children a heritage of knowledge about how to trust HaShem, but each must choose to embrace and employ that knowledge afresh in their own lives. They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

-ProclaimLiberty
from one of his recent comments

I’ve written about the “connection” (or lack thereof) between Gentile believers and the New Covenant many times before, and I agree with ProclaimLiberty (PL) that we non-Jewish disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ) are not named participants in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31, Ezek. 36), and thus we have no stake in those covenant promises.

That might come as a shock to some of you.

MessiahBut through Hashem’s grace and mercy for the human race, He has allowed any of us who attach ourselves to Israel through our Rav to benefit from some of the blessings of that covenant.

We know that Hashem wants all human beings, not just Israel, to come to a knowledge of Him, to become His servants, to worship Him alone as the God of Israel:

That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.

Isaiah 45:23 (NASB)

For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

Romans 14:11

This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

1 Timothy 2:3-4

These are just a few scriptural examples illustrating God’s desire for all people, both Israel and the nations, to be devoted to Him.

But what PL wrote made me think. The Jewish people are collectively Israel, and the covenants apply to all Israel. Yes, each individual Jew has his or her own responsibilities to fulfill under covenant, but ultimately, God doesn’t covenant with each individual Jew, but with all of them, past, present, and future.

A Jew is the only person to be born into a covenant relationship with God whether he or she wants to.

Not so with the rest of us.

NoahExcept for the Noahide covenant, which Hashem made with all living things, we are born into no relationship with God at all. If we want a relationship with Him, we have to choose that for ourselves and then act on it (not that the Spirit of God can’t send us certain “prompts”).

Good thing we have free will to make that choice.

But then I thought about the “Church,” which is something of an artificial construct, so I dug back into the concept of the “ekklesia”.

Nearly two years ago, in a fit of insomnia, I started exploring the meaning of ekklesia:

noun, plural ec·cle·si·ae [ih-klee-zhee-ee, -zee-ee] Show IPA .

1. an assembly, especially the popular assembly of ancient Athens.

2. a congregation; church.

Origin: 1570–80; < Latin < Greek ekklēsía assembly, equivalent to ékklēt ( os ) summoned ( ek- ec- + klē-, variant of kal-, stem of kaleîn to call, + -tos past participle suffix) + -ia -ia

Also:

— n , pl -siae
1. (in formal Church usage) a congregation
2. the assembly of citizens of an ancient Greek state

[C16: from Medieval Latin, from Late Greek ekklēsia assembly, from ekklētos called, from ekkalein to call out, from kalein to call]

the crowdI tend to think of the ekklesia in its broadest sense, as that world-wide body of people, Jews and Gentiles, who have answered the call of Rav Yeshua to follow his teachings and draw nearer to Hashem. For Jews, this is the next “evolutionary” step or the next logical extension of their covenant relationship with Hashem, since Rav Yeshua is the mediator of the New Covenant.

For non-Jews, we are allowed to draw near to Israel and be “grafted in” (and being grafted in to the promises doesn’t make us Israel) to stand alongside Israel within the body of the ekklesia so that we can benefit from many of the blessings of the New Covenant.

Here’s where things get blurry.

PL describes we non-Jews as coming to Hashem through Rav Yeshua individually. It is true that in the Church it’s said that “God doesn’t have grandchildren.” This means that even if you are a Yeshua-disciple, your kids may not be. They don’t inherit a relationship with God  just because you have one.

This is the exact reverse of a Jew’s covenant relationship with Hashem. When Jewish parents have a child, that child does inherit a covenant relationship with Hashem by virtue of the fact that he or she has Jewish parents (or a Jewish mother in the case of my children).

As non-Jews, one-by-one, we come to faith and trust in Rav Yeshua and it is our custom to gather together with other individual non-Jewish believers in a congregation to worship and fellowship. In and of itself, a “church” is an expression of part of the world-wide ekklesia, the larger body of Jewish and Gentile believers.

PL said of we non-Jewish disciples:

They may form collective communities of faith-filled individuals, and they may covenant with each other to serve HaShem, but they do not possess a collective responsibility under a covenant with HaShem in which HaShem has bound Himself by His Oath.

synagogueI believe this is true, but it’s still difficult to reconcile with emotionally. Reading this statement, makes me feel disconnected and unattached.

I know my attachment is symbolic and metaphorical, even though it has real, tangible results, but it draws a sharp distinction of what happens when Jews gather together in a synagogue on Shabbos, and what happens when Christians come together in church on Sunday.

The former are bound not only to each other but to Hashem by covenant, a formal, specified, and direct relationship between Israel and their God. We “Christians” voluntarily covenant with each other and are beneficiaries of the kindness of the God of Israel, though we have no formal relationship with Him.

It made me realize just how fragile that relationship is.

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:22-24

I believe being born into a covenant relationship with Hashem has a cost. If you are Jewish and choose to disregard the covenants and your responsibilities relative to them (Shabbat, kosher, davening, tzedakah, and so on), I believe that at the judgment, there will be consequences. None of my children are even slightly religious and my wife’s observance is “so-so” and I worry about that.

As far as being “natural branches,” I don’t know their state at present. But I do know that even as they are, they are still members of the covenants simply because they’re Jewish.

ShabbatI’ve heard it said that Judaism isn’t an all or nothing religion, so every time my wife does go to shul, davens, lights the Shabbos candles, or observes other mitzvot, I’m pleased. But there’s always more to do.

Even a secular Jew is a Jew, and even being non-observant, has a relationship with Hashem (even if they’re totally unaware of it).

We non-Jews, on the other hand, though we don’t have a formal relationship with Hashem, also don’t have as many rights and responsibilities. We get a lot of the same benefits (the Holy Spirit, the promise of the resurrection in the world to come, the love of Hashem, prayer) without the obligations shouldered by collective Israel (and there’s no other way to think of Israel except “collective”).

But our “attachment” to that metaphorical olive tree isn’t as secure as is Israel’s. The covenants are a lock. They don’t go away just because Israel as a whole or any individual Jew is not observant. The only thing that changes are the consequences, one set for obedience, and another set for disobedience.

For the rest of us, we need to watch our “Ps and Qs” so to speak. As Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) wrote (Romans 11:18), if we are arrogant and put “the Church” ahead of Israel, we can easily be knocked off the root. The root (and I believe one way to look at the root is as Israel’s covenant relationship with God) supports us, not the other way around.

The root belongs to Israel by covenant right, and we Gentiles are merely “resident aliens” among Israel (metaphorically speaking). We have no rights. We are granted guest status just because God’s a “nice guy,” so to speak. Not that God would do it, but if any one of us gets out of line, God could blow us off the root with a (metaphorical) sneeze.

That should make you feel a little insecure. I feel a little insecure.

But that’s not the end of it. PL finished his comment this way:

Curiously enough, because HaShem is faithful to those who place their trust in Him, and because He values the voluntary commitment of people who cling to His precepts without the demands of a covenant (as described of the foreigners in Is. 56), gentile disciples may benefit practically in a manner that is very similar to the benefits promised to Jews under the covenant. The advantages possessed by Jews, which Rav Shaul described to the Romans in the third chapter of his letter, are still very much valid and effective, and “grafted-in” wild gentile olive branches have no reason to boast of their position relative to native acculturated Jewish branches on his metaphorical olive tree of faith, but the wild branches are no longer merely fodder to be fed into a fire. One does not require a covenant to accept HaShem’s benefits, but one should not be jealous merely because someone else (namely the Jewish people) does have one. In fact, one may be grateful that HaShem’s covenantal faithfulness toward Jews demonstrates that He may be trusted even without a covenant. And this enables gentile disciples also to pursue faithfulness in response to HaShem’s gracious provision of all manner of blessings.

interfaith prayerWe non-Jewish disciples are living proof that God can be trusted beyond the covenant promises to Israel. Covenants are highly formal and specific agreements between two parties, but every word the comes from the mouth of the living God is trustworthy, carved in stone, immutable, unchangeable, and utterly reliable.

We may only come to God one-by-one as non-Jews outside of the covenants, but we are more than just individuals. We are part of something greater. We voluntarily come to Hashem, and we may voluntarily covenant with each other when we gather together, but we are more than just a group of individuals. We are members of the ekklesia and we make up a huge portion of the ekklesia alongside of Israel. We are different from the sum of our parts because the grace of God has made us children and family of the Most High.

Exploring Reformed Theology: The Fallacy of Covenant Equality Between the Church and Israel

On Monday, I published an article I wrote called “Exploring Reformed Theology: Why the Church is Not Israel,” which was an extension of my previous blog post R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience.

All this was started because a video snippet of Sproul’s teaching on “active obedience” was posted by someone I know on his Facebook page. He responded to my putting the above-mentioned link to my “Exploring” blog post in the relevant Facebook conversation thread thus:

Doesn’t bother me that you don’t agree entirely with how Reformed theology characterizes Israel… I don’t either. I was simply trying to point out that the objections to Sproul’s position–as expressed in the video snippet, and not expanded beyond it–was based on a misreading. I wish I had time to engage the two things you’ve written recently, as I believe there is much I could point to that would remove the necessity to see yourself as so “other.” B’ezrat HaShem, I may…

Frankly, I wish he would. I’d love to hear how Christianity and Judaism could be reconciled relative to the covenants and understand how he comprehends this process working out. But I just don’t see it in the Bible. I just don’t see how Church= Israel and Israel = Church, particularly without totally devaluing Hashem’s covenant relationship with national Israel and the Jewish people.

Reformed Theologians, as far as my meager understanding of them goes, don’t believe they are involved in Replacement Theology, the idea that the Church replaces Israel in all of God’s covenant promises. They believe, since Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that they simply become participants of those covenants equally with Israel. Israel doesn’t lose its identity as such, but if I comprehend what Sproul was teaching correctly, once Jesus “fulfilled” all of the Torah commandments perfectly, and had the righteousness he gained by doing so transferred to all of his believers, there was no need for Jews (or Gentiles for that matter) to make any further attempts at performing the mitzvot.

In other words, post-crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, the entire Torah goes “poof” and vanishes in puff of metaphoric smoke.

The problem with that is the significance and uniqueness of Israel and the Jewish people goes “poof” as well. They either have to convert to Christianity in order to gain righteous standing before God, or they vainly continue Jewish religious practice after Jesus made it obsolete.

And as my regular readers will attest, I have a real problem with that idea.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a multi-part review of David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations (by the way, it’s a fabulous book offering up a wide variety of perspectives, both Christian and Jewish, on the Messianic Jewish movement, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend that you do).

One of those reviews is called Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Silo Invasion.

trespass
Photo: sialicencehub.co.uk

Basically, it goes like this. Let’s say that I believe I am my next door neighbor and my next door neighbor is me. Keep in mind that my neighbors have different jobs, lead different lives, have a different family constellation, are of a different age, and aren’t a lot like me at all.

But if I believe I am them and they are me, then everything I have belongs to them and everything they have belongs to me.

Except they don’t know this, only I know this.

So one evening after work, instead of going back to my house, I go into their home. Without so much as a by-your-leave, I breeze into their kitchen, make myself a sandwich, grab a beer, plop myself on their sofa, and start channel surfing looking for a show I want to watch (they have Netflix and I don’t, so this should be a move up for me).

I’m barely acquainted with my neighbors in real life, so if I actually did all this, I’m sure they would be astonished and outraged. Imagine how you’d feel and what you’d do if you were on the receiving end of this “visitor” acting like he owned your place and believing that he did.

Remember, I’m not replacing my neighbors. I’m not evicting them from their house. This is still their home. I just believe Jesus also gave me everything he gave them because I and my neighbors are now one in the same. God said so.

But he failed to tell my neighbors that, and they’re probably on the point of physical violence or getting ready to call the police and have me arrested for trespassing.

Now imagine how Jewish people feel when Christian Reformed Theologians say that Jesus fulfilled the Law and made it so that the Church = Israel and Israel = Church, that it has always been that way going all the way back to the beginning of the Bible, and that everything that ever made the Jewish people distinct, unique, and precious to God has been watered down to the point of non-existence by a worldwide population of Christians being thrown into the bucket.

Is it any wonder that Christians make Jews nervous?

I decided to go back to Theopedia.com and look up Covenant Theology, since that seems to be at the core of Reformed Theology’s claim of total equivalency with Israel:

Covenant Theology (or Federal theology) is a prominent feature in Protestant theology, especially in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, and a similar form is found in Methodism and Reformed Baptist churches. This article primarily concerns Covenant Theology as held by the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, which use the covenant concept as an organizing principle for Christian theology and view the history of redemption under the framework of three overarching theological covenants: the Covenant of Redemption, the Covenant of Works, and the Covenant of Grace. These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants, they are, according to covenant theologians, implicit in the Bible.

Mount SinaiLet’s take a look at part of the last sentence of that paragraph:

These three are called “theological covenants” because although not explicitly presented as covenants… (emph mine).

You can click the link I provided above to read the entire content (it’s rather long), but I’m going to cut to the chase:

Criticism of Covenant Theology

Several primary weaknesses that are often attributed to Covenant Theology as a system are that, first, it requires an allegorical interpretation of many Scripture passages, including prophecy that relates to God’s future plans for Israel. Second, critics claim it does not draw a sufficient distinction between the conditional Mosaic covenant of the Law, the other unconditional covenants established by God for Israel, and the “better covenant” established by Jesus (cf. Hebrews 7:22; 8:6-13). Third, it equates the nation of Israel with the New Testament Church. Fourth, the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture as such.

Again, let’s look at part of the last sentence in the above-quoted paragraph:

the two (and possibly three) primary covenants of Covenant Theology are no where named in Scripture… (emph mine).

In order to make this system work, you have to use a lot of imagination, first by applying allegorical interpretations on various portions of scripture, and also substituting your imagination for what’s missing in scripture, since the so-called Covenant of Redemption, Covenant of Works, and Covenant of Grace don’t exist in the Bible at all!

Now I want to take a look on what this theology says about the New Covenant:

The New Covenant, predicted by the prophet Jeremiah in the eponymous book, chapter 31, and connected with Jesus at the Last Supper where he says that the cup is “the New Covenant in [his] blood” and further in the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 8-10). The term “New Testament,” most often used for the collection of books in the Bible, can also refer to the New Covenant as a theological concept.

I went nuts when I realized there was no direct connection between the New Covenant language we find in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 and the “Last Supper” (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39 and Jn. 13:1-17:26). None. I couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.

new heartIt took me months and months of studying and banging my head against a proverbial brick wall, but piece by piece, I finally put the puzzle together. I wrote nearly a dozen separate blog posts chronicling my journey of discovery, and how I finally came to a sort of peace about how non-Jews can at all participate in some of the blessings of the New Covenant.

I’ve summarized that journey in a number of places including in The Jesus Covenant: Building My Model (that’s what I called it, “The Jesus Covenant,” because it’s a covenant that, as much of the Church understands it, doesn’t exist).

Subsequent to all this, I got my hands on a copy of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant on audio CD, which filled the few small gaps in my knowledge base but otherwise mirrored my conclusions pretty closely.

Bottom line is that although Hashem has always intended the non-Jewish people to be part of His Kingdom, to worship Him, to honor Him, and to serve Him, apart from the Noahide Covenant (see Genesis 9), all of the significant covenants He made were with the descendants of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob. Period.

The only connection the rest of us have is because of God’s grace and mercy upon the world. We can attach ourselves to Israel, specifically through Israel’s firstborn son, Rav Yeshua, and through faith, trust, and devotion, God allows us to benefit from some of the blessings of the New Covenant, without us actually being named participants in said-covenant.

That doesn’t make the Church equals with Israel, it makes believing non-Jews beneficiaries of Israel. Put bluntly, we are in the “one-down” position, subservient relative to the covenants, because we have no actual right to them. We benefit from God’s mercy upon us. We should be grateful.

So instead of just waltzing into someone else’s house, eating their food, drinking their beer, and taking over the TV remote, we should be thankful that we have been invited in as humble guests.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

If God wants to exalt us, that’s God’s decision. We don’t get to exalt ourselves by taking a place that doesn’t belong to us.

JourneyI can only imagine that Reformed Theology gives its followers a great deal of emotional and spiritual comfort, but in a way, it also doesn’t take much mental exercise (except exercising your Biblical fantasy life). What do we get from God? Just look at all the covenants He made with Israel. That’s what belongs to the Church, too.

Except when you dig a little deeper, you come up with a tremendous mystery, especially if you don’t let allegory and imagination get in the way of what the Bible actually says.

I know that what I’m writing will make some people unhappy and maybe even angry. I know if you take what I’m writing seriously and you start your own exploration, you will find your faith challenged and your “comfort bubble” popped.

Every spiritual discovery of worth is preceded by a crisis of faith. It’s really uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads to apostasy and walking away from God altogether. Other times, Christians (of one variety or another) decide Judaism is the better option, because we know the Jewish people, all of them, are named participants of the covenants. No mystery there.

But if you just hang in there and keep digging, you’ll find there’s a lot more of value in understanding who we are as “people of the nations called by His Name” than you ever would have imagined.

Does the Pope Know Something The Rest of Us Don’t?

The Vatican says the Catholic Church must not try to convert Jews to Christianity.

Instead, the Catholic Church must work with Jews and Jewish institutions to further dialogue and mutually understand and fight anti-Semitism, according to the Vatican, which pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.”

It [the document “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable”] added, “In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.”

Goals in Jewish-Catholic dialogue, according to the document, include “joint engagement throughout the world for justice, peace, conservation of creation, and reconciliation” in a way that would make the religious contribute toward world peace. “Religious freedom guaranteed by civil authority is the prerequisite for such dialogue and peace,” it said.

“In Jewish-Christian dialogue the situation of Christian communities in the state of Israel is of great relevance, since there — as nowhere else in the world — a Christian minority faces a Jewish majority,” the document said. “Peace in the Holy Land — lacking and constantly prayed for — plays a major role in dialogue between Jews and Christians.”

from the article “Vatican Says Jews Don’t Need Christ to be Saved”
VirtualJerusalem.com

Well, that’s quite the revelation.

I’m sure anti-missionary groups such as Jews for Judaism will be happy to hear they won’t have to worry about Roman Catholics trying to convert Jews anymore.

I do agree that, as much as evangelism is a priority for the Christian Church, most Christians seem to think of converting Jews in a different light than any other people group. Maybe they think they get extra “points” from God when they convert a Jew (not that most Jewish people would feel good about this).

According to an Arutz Sheva story on the same matter, the authors of the aforementioned paper state:

How Jews being saved while not believing in Christ “can be possible remains an unfathomable mystery in the salvific plan of God,” they say.

judeo-christianI tried to find Christian reactions to this situation, but the closest thing I could find was at Rapture Forums (the name already has my spider-sense tingling).

One person wrote:

Clearly, they don’t believe the Bible…Acts 4:12.

The word MUST, must be emphasised.

Another person commented:

So much for John 14:6.
Don’t need that anymore.

Another referenced Matthew 23:37:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

The news is pretty new, so a lot of folks may not have weighed in with their opinions yet.

I turned to Facebook and something called The Truth is Viral displayed the most comments of anyone posting this story, at least as far as my short search could find.

Of 27 comments, the first two that appeared were:

Ronald: The Babylon Whore that rides on the Beast and commits fornication with the kings of the Earth . The Anti-Messiah who is drunk with the blood of the saints.

Matt: There was a Twilight Zone like this, the whole world had to change and we thought it was to get along but the reality was to see who was strongest and we destroyed ourselves.

pope francis
2014 Pastoral Visit of Pope Francis to Korea

Others accused the Pope of worshiping Satan, that Mohammad was a false prophet (though Mohammad and Islam have nothing to do with this as far as I can tell), and other similar statements.

I decided to return to an old source for a more sane perspective:

But the Gospel for Jews works differently. It’s the same Gospel, but because the Jews are already God’s people, the Gospel of Yeshua the Messiah comes in a different way. It is still the case that through the Messiah, and only through Him, individual Jews receive atonement and forgiveness of sin – “For there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by whom we must be saved!” (Acts 4:12). But Jews are not alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, they are the commonwealth of Israel! They already have the covenants and the promises; and therefore in a communal sense they already have hope and “have” God. Before accepting Yeshua, Jews do not “have” God and His hope in the same sense as after accepting Him. After accepting Yeshua they have hope and God in an individual, salvific sense – they have forgiveness of their sins, God sees them as righteous because of Yeshua’s atoning death, and they have the certain hope of eternal life with God. Before accepting Yeshua a Jew does not have the certain hope of eternal life with God, but he does share in the communal promises to the Jewish people as a whole – for example, a share in the Land of Israel. A Jew needs God in both the communal and individual senses because this is how God has ordained that it should be.

The Christian attitude toward the Jewish people should be, “The Jews are my home, my family.” Whether the Jewish people will accept Christians as family will depend on how the Gospel is presented to them, and it is the task of Christians and Messianic Jews to find the right way. But an essential aspect of this presentation will be defining the Gentile Christian in the way I have done – rather than in the way Christians have, by their words and deeds, defined themselves: either as enemies of the Jewish people, alienated from their national life, or as people who have no connection with the Jews and can be oblivious to them, or even as outsiders who respect and love the Jews a lot. These definitions not only contradict texts Christians claim to believe, but often foster behavior toward the Jewish people that is sinful, behavior which distances Jewish people from the Gospel and from the Gentile branch of the People of God.

Christians need to redefine who they are in relation to the Jewish people – and then act on the consequences of that redefinition with a renewed commitment to bringing the gospel to Jews. This is the biggest challenge facing the Church.

-Dr. David H. Stern
taken from his book Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel
as quoted at Tikkun Ministries

I’ve heard it said, according to a source I quoted over eighteen months ago, that one of the primary functions of Yeshua’s first coming was to provide proof that God’s New Covenant promises to the Jewish people were true.

emergeFor instance, the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36) promises a universal resurrection from the dead. Yeshua was the first person resurrected from the dead, also called “the firstborn of the dead” (Colossians 1:18). He’s the first, but certainly not the last. His resurrection establishes proof that God will resurrect all of the dead in time.

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the point where even the least among humanity will have an apprehension of God greater than the prophets of old, was also established, first by Yeshua (Matthew 3:13:17), then by the Jewish apostles (Acts 2:1-4), and finally even coming to the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46).

The New Covenant states that God will forgive the sins of all Israel, which is restated in Romans 11:25-27, and Yeshua forgave the sins of many due to their faith in Hashem and his ability to do so.

Thus Yeshua made a partial delivery on God’s promises and he will complete his mission fulfilling all that Messiah is to do upon his return.

You can click this link to read my thoughts on an insightful comparison between those Jews who have accepted the revelation of Yeshua as Messiah and those who haven’t. In essence, it seems to partly agree with the Pope that the Jewish people are already born into a covenant relationship with Hashem, so that even those who reject Yeshua are not excluded from the Sinai covenant or necessarily from the New Covenant, even though Messiah is the arbiter of that covenant.

I also have to agree somewhat with this latest assessment by the Catholic Church that we do not fully understand the exact mechanism by which Hashem will accomplish all these things. We do know from the New Covenant language that He has promised to do it, and so He will.

MessiahYeshua points Israel back to Hashem and His promises to them. For the rest of us, who were born with no covenant relationship with God whatsoever (unless you accept what is written in Genesis 9 as the Noahide covenant which is binding on us), God, through His mercy and grace, is willing to include us in many of the blessings of the New Covenant, even though we are not named participants, and for the sake of His prophets who declared that every knee will bow (Psalm 72:11; Isaiah 45:22-25; Romans 14:11).

So it’s not like Yeshua is a moot point to the Jewish people or Israel. But Israel’s status in relation to Hashem is somewhat different from that of the Gentile believers because they have a pre-established relationship with God that the rest of the world lacks. Yeshua is the lynchpin, but as Stern pointed out, that works out somewhat differently for the Jewish people than it does for everyone else.

I think I understand, at least a tiny bit, what the Pope is trying to do, relative to establishing better relations between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, but how he delivered his information, or at least how it’s been covered in the media, is probably going to kick up a major dust storm in the Christian world, particularly with conservative Evangelicals and Fundamentalists.

Christians, in general, believe the New Covenant fully replaced all prior covenants God made, and so they believe that God’s relationship with everyone, including Jews, is identical and that the Jews have no special status. Until the Church learns to accept that Israel remains in covenant relationship with God, they will continue to woefully misunderstand the Jewish people and God’s plan of redemption.

I can only imagine that this blog post could be read with considerable “annoyance” by some Jewish people as well as some Christians, and believe me, I did not write this to offend. I did want to explain (and obviously, I’ve written on similar matters previously) that what the Pope’s comments touched upon is a highly complex situation that is poorly understood by the vast majority of believers, including Christian clergy and scholars.

For that matter, the role of Yeshua as the forerunner of the completed New Covenant promises is poorly understood by both Christians and Jews. Again, I say this not to offend, but to illustrate that what we think we know from the Bible is a highly nuanced and subtle set of messages that requires careful unpacking and analysis. This is difficult for most people because long-established traditions on both sides of the aisle have been constructed to obscure this perspective.

JerusalemIf anyone is tempted to complain to me about this, I ask that you first consider these words:

Instead of complaining about someone’s behavior toward you, it is more constructive to work on your own behavior toward him.

Ignore another person’s grouchiness and anger, and speak cheerfully and with compassion. If you find this difficult, pretend that you are an actor on stage. Adopting this attitude can keep people from much needless quarreling and suffering. Do it consistently and you will see major improvements in their behavior toward you.

Be flexible. People differ greatly on what they evaluate as “positive,” and it is necessary to understand the unique needs of each person you’re dealing with. If one approach is unsuccessful, try other approaches. But keep trying.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Put On Your Best Act”
from the Rabbi’s book Gateway to Happiness, p. 137
quoted at Aish.com

As I mentioned a few days ago, in a difficult situation, it is best to seek that small encouraging light in otherwise dark and foreboding surroundings. A fitting sentiment for the current season.

Listening for the Spirit Within Us

Hashem descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was upon him and gave it to the seventy men, the elders; when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but did not do so again.

Two men remained behind in the camp, the name of one was Eldad and the name of the second was Medad, and the spirit rested upon them; they had been among the recorded ones, but they had not gone out to the Tent, and they prophesied in the camp.

Numbers 11:25-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

As at least some of you may know, the first quote is from Torah Portion Beha’alotcha, which was read in synagogues all over the world last Shabbos.

The second quoted scripture is the famous Pentecost event when the Apostles received the Holy Spirit of God and began speaking in many different languages, languages they did not normally know.

As Christians, we are taught that anyone who comes to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) immediately receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and that the Spirit will guide us in all things. Yeshua said something to this effect.

These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

John 14:25-27

However, in each and every scripture I’ve quoted, the objects of receiving the Spirit and the audience of Yeshua’s words are Jews. So far, all we know (if we knew nothing else) is that Jews receive the Holy Spirit under certain circumstances, perhaps like the seventy elders and the Apostles, to prepare a specialized population for a highly specific set of duties.

But then there’s this:

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on for a few days.

Acts 10:44-48

cornelius
Peter and Cornelius

Obviously the Roman (Gentile) Centurion Cornelius and all those other Gentiles in his household received the Holy Spirit. Peter and the Jews who were with him were direct witnesses to the event and it was something that was obviously apparent to them in a physical manifestation.

“These six brethren also went with me and we entered the man’s house. And he reported to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and have Simon, who is also called Peter, brought here; and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

Acts 11:12-18

Peter reported all this to the “apostles and the brethren” in Jerusalem, and after hearing his testimony, they glorified God saying “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.”

This was even confirmed later by Peter at the legal proceeding held by James and the Jerusalem Council for formally establishing the status of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish community:

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.”

Acts 15:7-9

Clearly, God intended for non-Jews to enter into the community of faith and be saved in a manner identical to the Jews, receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the Jewish believers did.

More than that, it was foretold long before these events that many nations would turn to the God of Israel:

Many nations shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you.

Zechariah 2:15 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Every Knee Shall Bow
Photo credit: art.jkirkrichards.com

The Tanakh is replete with prophesies regarding the nations turning to God at the dawning of the Kingdom of Heaven, a Kingdom Yeshua’s advent inaugurated into our world, but I’ll only quote this one as it was part of last week’s Haftarah portion.

It seems my last blog post caused a disturbance among some of my non-Jewish readers relative to the uncertainty of our status in modern Messianic Jewish community. It was never my intension to upset or disturb anyone. Actually, quite the opposite.

I wanted to emphasize that even though, as we saw in the passage I quoted from Zechariah, God will dwell among Israel, even as He rules the entire world, Gentile lives matter, too. We’re not just an afterthought in God’s redemptive plan. We are not just God’s left-handed, red-headed step-children, the ones you hide in the closet when company comes over. We have a very specific purpose in the Kingdom.

But it’s sometimes easy to get the idea that Gentiles are indeed an afterthought given all the emphasis on Jews and Judaism on Messianic Jewish websites and blogs, and in such publications, and sermons.

However, I also brought up some uncomfortable ideas regarding our existence in my previous article: we don’t have a very exact roadmap regarding mitzvot or lifestyle, at least nothing as detailed as do the Jewish people.

I decided to focus on the Holy Spirit in today’s “morning mediation” for a few reasons:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My spirit within you, and I will make it so that you will follow my decrees and guard my ordinances and fulfill them.

Ezekiel 36: 26-27 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

This is part of the New Covenant promises Hashem made to Israel, the giving of the Holy Spirit, which we saw fulfilled in Acts 2 when it was given to the Jewish Apostles, and in Acts 10 when Peter witnessed it being given to the faithful Gentiles in the household of Cornelius.

But it’s interesting that a promise made exclusively to Israel somehow was transmitted to those Gentiles who came to faith in Yeshua as the foretold Messiah.

Actually, we have another giving of the Spirit that needs to be included.

Then Yeshua came from the Galil toward the Yarden to Yochanan, to be immersed by him. But Yochanan tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be immersed by you, and yet you come to me?” Yeshua answered and said to him, “Permit me, for so it is appropriate for both of us to fulfill the entire tzedakah,” so he permitted him. When Yeshua was immersed, he quickly came up out of the water. Heaven was opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending in the likeness of a dove, and it rested upon him.

Matthew 3:13-16 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

hebrews_letterPart of what I learned in listening to D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermons on the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews is that Yeshua, as the arbiter of the New Covenant, came, in part, to deliver “samples” of the New Covenant blessings to Israel, and apparently through them, to the Gentiles. This was to be evidence that God will indeed keep His promises to Israel (and somehow some of those promises also apply to the nations) at the appropriate time.

We see the New Covenant promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit in Ezekiel 36, we see Yeshua receiving the Spirit in Matthew 3, the Apostles receive the Spirit in Acts 2, and some faithful Gentiles receive it in front of Jewish eyewitnesses in Acts 10.

This should be pretty encouraging to some of the people who were dismayed at the content and discussion regarding my chopped liver blog post.

There’s just one problem:

The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” [And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:34-39 (NASB)

The Ethiopian eunuch (a subject worthy of his own study), who was (in my opinion) most likely a Jew, did not receive the Holy Spirit, or at least Luke didn’t record it. But why, if he received the Spirit, would Luke have omitted this important point? If it was just assumed by Luke, then why did he include that the eunuch was baptized, which also could have been assumed?

Furthermore:

It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.

Acts 19:1-6

Apparently it’s possible to come to faith in Yeshua, to receive a water baptism, but not to receive the Holy Spirit.

tongues of fireI’m just shooting in the dark at this point, but as a believer for many years, while I can recall the moment I came to faith, no specific physical event occurred indicating that I had received the Holy Spirit. I was baptized in the Boise River along with my wife and children in August of 1999, but nothing like the Acts 2 or Acts 10 events occurred (although Acts 10 does not describe what Peter witnessed that told him Cornelius and his household had received the Spirit except that they spoke in tongues  and praised God).

Is it possible in the community of faith for some of us to possess the indwelling of the Spirit of God and others to not possess it? Further, with no physical evidence of the Spirit resting upon us as described in the multiple Bible quotes I’ve offered, how can we say the Spirit is on us or in us at all? Did you speak in tongues and utter prophesies? I didn’t.

I know that there’s a general consensus in Evangelical circles that the “age of miracles” ended when Christian Biblical canon was closed, but there are all sorts of anecdotal stories other Christians tell of spiritual manifestations and even miracles that happen all around us (though they seldom if ever make it into mainstream news reports).

I don’t have a definitive answer to all this. Maybe someone out there does. I have to take it on faith that I do possess the Holy Spirit, only because Christian tradition says I must if I’m a believer.

On the other hand:

Not everyone who says to me, “My master! My master!” will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but rather the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. It will be that on that day many will say to me, “My master, My master, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many wonders?” Then I will answer them, saying, “I have never known you. Depart from me workers of evil!”

Matthew 7:21-23 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

That’s rather sobering.

Think about it. There’s a class of believers who are capable of performing actual supernatural acts, apparently in the name of Yeshua, and yet, the Master does not know them and even calls them “workers of evil”.

How about this?

But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”

Acts 19:13-15 (NASB)

I’m not sure this is an example of what Yeshua was talking about, but just paying the Master lip service, so to speak, doesn’t seem to be enough to get you “into the club,” as it were.

So what do we do as faithful Yeshua-followers?

Yeshua said to him, “Love HaShem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and the first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:37-40 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

I know Yeshua was speaking to a Jewish audience, but I think that it is appropriate to consider this a commandment that also applies to us, that is, we non-Jews in Messiah. Why shouldn’t we also love God with all of our resources and love other human beings as we love ourselves? It would seem this “Torah” is one that also forms the core of our existence as disciples of the Master and worshipers of Israel’s God.

I still feel like I’ve opened a can of worms I can’t seem to close again. With all of this, what are we supposed to do next, particularly if we, in some way, exist either directly or tangentially in Jewish community?

That might take a long time to find out. Certainly an inventory of each and every instruction Paul gave in his epistles to the Gentile disciples, as viewed from a Paul Within Judaism perspective, would be in order.

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Messiah Journal 109

Actually, back in February 2012, First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) published an article written by Toby Janicki in Messiah Journal issue 109 called The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses. Unsatisfied with my original review which I wrote at the time, I wrote another one over a year later (which was nearly two years ago now).

It doesn’t answer the conundrum regarding the Holy Spirit or how some people could sincerely believe they were serving Yeshua and yet be so horribly wrong, but as far as getting some sort of handle of who Gentiles are supposed to be in what is essentially, a Jewish religious form, it might be a good place to start, at least for those of you who are experiencing a crisis of community.

The rest will have to come along by the by.