Tag Archives: salvation

Reflections on Romans 5

Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.

Romans 4:19-5:2 (NASB)

Remember, Paul wrote this letter without chapters and verses in mind. He was trying to express a unified set of thoughts to his audience who were, most likely, the believing Gentiles associating with believing and unbelieving Jews in the Roman synagogues.

In my previous reflection, I focused a great deal on how, for a Jewish Jesus-believer, there was/is no inconsistency between Torah and faith. For that matter, there’s no inconsistency for a non-Jewish Jesus-believer between faith and obedience, either.

But there was a lot of misunderstanding going on (apparently) in the Roman Jesus-believing community on both sides of the aisle. The Gentiles somehow felt they were superior to the non-believing Jews in that they were granted access to Jewish worship and social space as equal co-participants without having to undergo the proselyte rite and take up the full yoke of Torah in the manner of the Jews. The non-believing Jews pushed back by declaring themselves superior as possessors of the “oracles of God” and how by just being ethnic Jews they were justified before God.

There is also some indication that at least some Jews may have mistakenly thought that because their faith in Yeshua (Jesus) justified them, they were more like the Gentiles and did not have to follow a strict observance of the mitzvot.

Paul was trying to straighten out his audience orient them to the importance of both obedience due to covenant obligation and being justified only by faith.

Now we see Paul continuing to make this point, emphasizing how Gentiles could also be included in the covenant blessings by faith but not have to take up all of the Jewish covenant obligations. The one commonality between the Jewish and Gentile believers was/is that they were/are all justified by faith and granted “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Justification by faith is what made Gentile participation in the covenant blessings possible without conversion to Judaism and remember, they were justified by faith alone, so even if they voluntarily chose to take on additional mitzvot in the manner of the Jews, it would not increase their justification or otherwise grant them greater merit before God.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritNotice that justification by faith includes the hope we have in the New Covenant as evidenced by one of the “down payments” of the New Covenant promises, the Holy Spirit “who was given to us.” That takes us back to Acts 2 when the Jewish Apostles received the Spirit in the upper room (in an act reminiscent of the giving of Torah at Sinai), and Acts 10 with the occasion of the Spirit being given to faithful Gentiles, the Roman Centurion Cornelius and his entire household.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

Romans 5:6-9 (NASB)

But we are justified by faith, not just in God, but in who Jesus is and what he represented as the final sacrifice we’d ever need for the forgiveness of our sins. God loves us all even in our sins, and desires that we repent, take up our faith and cross, and follow our King.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:13 (NASB)

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 to point out that sacrifice (observance) alone does not justify, and also that he came for the sinners, the disobedient and faithless of Israel, to bring them back to God, to redeem Israel. It is believed, contrary to Christian thought, that the general Jewish population in Israel during the late second Temple period maintained a high level of Torah study and observance, higher than previous points in the nation’s history, but it was the sin of baseless hatred that resulted in the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. It was this hatred among the Jews the Messiah was addressing (Remember what I’ve said in the past…these are just my “reflections” as I’ve read through Romans as associated with previously acquired information…it’s not a researched and annotated doctoral dissertation).

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah; and he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.

Luke 1:5-6 (NASB)

As you can see, there were likely many righteous people in Israel, including Zacharias the Priest and his wife Elisheva (Elizabeth). We may never know how many among Israel were at their level of spiritual enlightenment since as the Master said, he came for the “lost sheep of Israel,” and not for the righteous who did not need to repent of baseless hatred.

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Romans 5:10-11 (NASB)

The Death of the MasterOur hope isn’t just in the atonement provided for mankind by the death of the tzaddik, but in the resurrection and the life, for even as we die with him, we rise with him from the tomb as new creations and have the hope of life eternal in the Kingdom of Messiah, a Kingdom of utter peace and tranquility. We are no longer enemies of God but sons and daughters by adoption, Gentiles who are now included in the blessings alongside God’s people Israel.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:12-14 (NASB)

This admittedly is difficult for me to grasp. Paul is introducing something new which seems to be the origin of sin. It came into the world because of the disobedience of Adam, the willful disregard to the one and only negative commandment that existed in the world at that time.

It wasn’t just disobedience that was the sin but the lack of faith that rested behind it. Although the commandment to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was not directly imparted to Havah (Eve), Adam allowed her to consume the fruit and then willfully ate it as well.

But then Paul says that there is no sin “when there is no law,” which I assume is Torah and it defines obedience and disobedience, and yet between Adam and Moses there was still sin and death.

Different translations of Romans 5:13 state “but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law” (NIV), “but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV), and “but no record of sin is kept when there is no Law” (ISV), basically saying the same thing.

I have a hard time depending on Christian commentary to guide me here since most or all of them draw a hard line between Torah and grace, believing the latter has replaced the former for Jewish believers (and everyone else). However the commentary from Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible on this verse states in part:

…but sin is not imputed when there is no law. This looks like an objection, that if there was no law before Moses’s time, then there was no sin, nor could any action of man be known or accounted by them as sinful, or be imputed to them to condemnation; or rather it is a concession, allowing that where there is no law, sin is not imputed; but there was a law before that law of Moses, which law was transgressed, and the sin or transgression of it was imputed to men to condemnation and death, as appears from what follows.

NoahFrom this I gather that there were actually standards for sin and righteous for mankind prior to the giving of the Torah at Sinai but that the Torah defined heightened responsibilities specifically for the Children of Israel. This suggests that the rest of humanity still operated under the older standards and, given a more Jewish perspective, that said-standards for the nations were the Noahide Laws we see God issuing in Genesis 9.

Of course there were no Noahide Laws prior to Genesis 9, so there must have been some sort of standards in place between Adam and Noah. These standards are hinted at (how did Abel know about animal sacrifice and how did Noah know what a clean animal was?) but never listed in the Bible.

But what about the next verse?

Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.

Romans 5:14 (NASB)

Death continued between Adam and the time of the giving of Torah at Sinai because of the continuation of sin, and presumably it continued after that and continues to this day, if we’re talking about bodily death (and since Paul has been talking about the bodily resurrection up to this point, I think it likely). Mankind would have remained accountable to God under Genesis 9 covenant and its conditions, then with Moses and the Torah, Israel was elevated to a much higher place in terms of blessings, responsibilities, and curses.

In a way, this put the Israelites in a rather unenviable position, because the conditions of obeying God, the Torah mitzvot, were so many, so complicated, and so much more involved than the Noahide commandments, that they had to do a lot more work to maintain their covenant relationship with God.

Of course, there are also terrific blessings attached to Israel’s covenant with God including having God dwell among His people in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple. But the Temple and the sacrificial system was never designed to permanently remove sin from the Israelites, or for that matter, the rest of humanity (even though the prayers and sacrifices of Gentiles were acceptable in the Temple).

And who is this “who is a type of Him who was to come?” Apparently, according to various translations and commentaries, it’s Messiah. Adam was the first man and the first to sin, the prototype of sinful mankind, but also the prototype human being as the first created man. Yeshua, as Messiah, sent to be the hope of humanity, is sort of an “anti-Adam,” one who entered the world perfect, just like Adam, but unlike Adam, one who never sinned even though sorely tempted.

But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:15-17 (NASB)

Paul continues his theme of the duality of Adam and Jesus, the transgression of Adam and the free gift of grace through Christ. Adam’s faithlessness and disobedience condemned humanity to sin and death and Messiah’s faithfulness and obedience, even to the point of death, reverses that curse…or rather, it will.

exileLet me explain.

Sin and death are still in the world, even for Christians. Believers still sin. We’re not perfect (or perfected). And believers still die. But if we are faithful and obedient, we will not be dead forever, and when we are resurrected, we will be resurrected as perfected people. God will heal our physical imperfections but more importantly, He will heal our hearts and write His Word upon them, so it will be natural for us to obey and not sin, even as it is now human nature to disobey.

That is why Jesus is our hope because he is the hope of our future perfection and the redemption of the world, all through God’s covenant with Abraham, then with Isaac, then with Jacob, and then the Sinai covenant with the tribes that issued from Jacob, the Israelites, and with their descendants, the Jewish people. Salvation for the rest of the world comes from the Jews (John 4:22) and from their King Messiah.

Jesus reverses the curse that Adam initiated.

Paul calls all this a “free gift,” and I admit to having a bit of a problem with the wording.

It’s true that we don’t have to do anything to produce this solution to the problem Adam introduced into the world, and it’s true that we didn’t even ask for it, and it’s true that we don’t and in fact we can’t pay a price to purchase this gift. On the other hand, we still have to do something. We have to choose. We have to hear the “good news,” and we have to listen, and we have to allow the Holy Spirit to influence us, and then we have to repent and accept the Lordship and rule of Messiah over our lives.

And then we enter into discipleship, start studying, and finally realize what all that actually means. Then we realize what it is to accept Jesus as Lord and oh boy, it’s not as easy as we were led to believe by whoever evangelized us.

Then and only then comes the hard part. Living the life of a disciple and a slave with Jesus as Lord and Master…yeah, Master like Master over a slave. Living the life of a slave with Jesus as our Master, surrendering any priority over our life to him and making all of his priorities our priorities.

Do you do that all the time, 24/7/365? Really? Are you sure?

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:18-21 (NASB)

It sounds like Paul is getting a little repetitive, but then he says the “Law came in so that the transgression would increase.” God introduced the Torah to Israel to increase their sin? That seems odd. The Torah lists the conditions of the Sinai covenant between Israel and God, a covenant which says God will be Israel’s God and they will be His people and that they agree to obey a certain set of conditions listed in the Torah. If they don’t, and disobedience (sin) is also defined in Torah, then the curses laid out in the Torah will be applied to Israel. If they continue to obey, the blessings, which are also spelled out in the Torah, will be applied.

So how does all that “increase sin” and especially for the whole world since the Sinai covenant and its conditions (Torah) only apply to Israel?

Is there some other “Law” that Paul could be talking about in this context?

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 (NASB)

There is what’s called “the Law of Sin” which the above-quoted verse defines, but that doesn’t seem to fit the context. However, it also makes no sense at all for God to give the Torah to Jews at Sinai just to increase their culpability for sin so that in their sins, God could demonstrate how much they needed His grace, send Jesus to die for their sins, and replace the Law with grace.

sefer torahThe only way I can see how the Torah could “increase sin” is that it raised the bar quite a bit for the Children of Israel relative to the rest of mankind. It certainly increased the chances of any given Jewish person to come into transgression. After all, it’s no sin for me to not wear tzitzit but it is for a Jewish person (man). It’s no sin for me to eat a pork chop (although I don’t) but it is for a Jewish person. Even as a Christian and the receiver of many blessings through Israel’s covenants with God, I’m still not held accountable to as high a standard of behavior as my wife (who is Jewish), at least not this side of the Messianic Kingdom.

But if Gentile believers are the primary audience of this letter, what does Paul mean? I suspect the answers may be yielded in the next chapter and in next week’s edition of my “reflections.”

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The Cost of Serving the King: Lessons in Discipleship

For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions.

Luke 14:28-33 (NASB)

The twin parables of the Tower Builder and the King Going to War (Luke 14:28-33) focus on the self-examination necessary to make a decision for surrendering to the call of Jesus. The ultimate commitment is demanded of every disciple. No one should make such a decision rashly. Just as cost estimation is needed to build a tower in a field and intense strategic planning is required to wage war, the one considering discipleship must weigh the cost. To complete the task successfully, one must consider each demand in Jesus’ teachings concerning the kingdom of heaven. Only after intensive self-testing should the decision be made to follow Jesus in his call to radical discipleship.

-Brad H. Young
“Chapter 12: The Decision: The Tower Builder and the King Going to War,” pg 222
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I can’t believe the day after I published this blog post discussing, in part, what it is to truly surrender our lives to Messiah and acknowledge him as Lord, that I should read the opening words of this chapter which address the same thing.

Many Evangelicals consider their work done when they inspire a person to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord by making some sort of initial statement. That person is “saved.” Move on to the next poor, lost soul.

Except I think the process of “salvation” may be more than a point event. I think it’s a process, sometimes a long process, before anyone actually arrives at the place where they recognize the very real cost of becoming a disciple of the Master and what it will really take to “surrender all” and to follow him. We are told to count the cost of becoming a disciple, making what, for all intents and purposes, is an irrevocable vow, and then binding ourselves in servitude to him, following our Master in all he desires from us.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series, addressed the ancient practice of teaching initiates into Messianic discipleship in two messages: Instructions About Washings and The Initiation. By comparison, what do we do today in the Christian Church to prepare those we have brought to the beginning knowledge of Christ to count the cost, leave their former lives behind them, pick up their cross and to follow him?

Not darn much, for the most part.

No disciple should begin training in the kingdom of God unless he or she has recognized fully the insistent demands of total commitment and has determined to shoulder the responsibilities with unrelenting resolve.

-ibid

How many of us, as believers, possess “unrelenting resolve,” especially in America where we are pretty much fat and happy? And if we are not prepared for the challenges of being a disciple, will be face the same consequences as one who starts building a tower and cannot finish or a King who goes into war and has his army smashed?

An ignominious defeat will ruin a king, destroy his kingdom, and cost him everything. The disciple’s defeat can be just as devastating.

-ibid, pg 223

FallingIn response to a “leap-before-you-look” kind of religious zeal that leads many people to “accept Christ” before knowing anything about him and what he requires, Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, in his book Growth Through Torah (pg 358) responds with this advice:

“A Torah scholar should be consulted whenever questions arise.”

In the case of Christianity, the very people who are out evangelizing should be the ones urging each potential initiate to be cautious. Do not be premature. Learn. Study. Discover who this Jesus Christ is and what you must truly pay in order to follow him on his path.

For Luke these parables form a complex of teachings focusing on radical discipleship. Hating one’s parents or dying for one’s beliefs are concepts that perplex and challenge.

-Young, pg 223

Unfortunately, potential disciples are not told the truth of Messiah upfront. Often they (we) take months, years, or even decades to discover (if we are fortunate ever to do so) the cost of following the King of the Jews.

For Christianity, the cross has become more a symbol of salvation than a call to radical discipleship.

-ibid, pg 224

We tell people about salvation, forgiveness of sins as a free gift of Christ, an eternal life of bliss up in Heaven with Jesus, and all the really attractive stuff. We never tell them what they have to do once they “sign on the dotted line.”

But the danger of diluting Jesus’ radical call to action by spiritualizing his practical teachings is never very far removed from the preaching of salvation through the cross. In the teachings of Jesus, in contrast, the image of the cross was a call to radical discipleship. One must hear and obey. The stress was not on salvation but on obedience. The fear of God is rooted in the wisdom obtained through Torah learning and active involvement in fulfilling wisdom’s teaching.

-ibid

By wisdom a house is built,
And by understanding it is established;
And by knowledge the rooms are filled
With all precious and pleasant riches.
A wise man is strong,
And a man of knowledge increases power.
For by wise guidance you will wage war,
And in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:3-6 (NASB)

Knowledge and wisdom are absolute requirements before beginning to design and build a structure, whether it be a tower or a house. If you go in blind, depending on taking someone else’s word that everything will work out fine if you just “accept Jesus into your heart,” the walls could end up falling down around your ears.

Young ponders whether or not Jesus had Proverbs 24 in mind as he crafted his parables and believes it is likely. I suppose it’s possible Paul also was thinking in that direction:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.

Romans 10:1-2 (NASB)

In my previous commentary on these verses, I mentioned that information was not lacking among the Jewish devout, but specific knowledge about how Jesus was and is the goal, the aim, the focusing crystal and makes the meaning of the Torah so much more clear was lacking in some, just as the basic, elemental principles of Christian faith are often lacking, not just in new converts to the faith today, but people who have been in the Church for years.

It is true that works without faith is dead, but what about an uninformed faith? Can you consent to give your life to something you don’t understand? Are you held accountable to words you cannot fathom? Actually, I believe you can.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

awareness-of-godJesus connects lawlessness with those who bear no fruit, that is, they do not lead lives transformed by their faith, and there is no evidence of the Spirit in their daily lives and no obedience to God. How can this be unless they have not actually, truly surrendered all of who they are (we are) to the demands of a very demanding King and Master. If Jesus is the Lord of our lives, then he may command anything and we must obey.

For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:8 (NASB)

The Roman Centurion “got it,” but that’s what we can expect of a man who served in a brutal military hierarchy under the reign of an unrelenting Emperor.

Like I said, in America, in the church as well as anywhere else, we’re too “fat and happy”. We think discipline is going to the gym three or four days a week.

R. Samuel bar Nahman said in the name of R. Jonathan: By what parable may the verse just above be explained? By that of a king who lived in a certain principality. When the people of the principality provoked him, the king was angered [and would not abide in their midst]. He removed himself some ten miles from the city before he stopped. A man who saw him went to the people in the city and said: Know that the king is angry at you and may well send legions against the city to destroy it. Go out and appease him before he removes himself still further away from you. Thereupon a wise man who was standing by said to the people: Fools, while he was in your midst, you did not seek him. Now, before he moves further away, seek him out. He may receive you. Hence it is said “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found” (Isa. 55:6)…

See Pesik. Rab Kab., suppl. 7:3 (Pesikta Derav Kahana, ed. Mandelbaum, 2:472; English trans., Braude and Kapstein, Kahana, 491). Cf. the discussion of McArthur and Johnson, Parables, 194, as quoted by Young pg 227

But it is also said:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?

Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

And yet in verse 13, Paul states, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But you can’t call on someone you do not know. And you cannot know someone unless you learn of them, spend time with them, discover the desire of their heart. You cannot commit unless you are willing. You cannot commit unless you understand and agree to the price of commitment. We’re all taught about the “free gift of salvation” but never about the “real cost of discipleship.”

Joshua the son of Perachia and Nitai the Arbelite received from them. Joshua the son of Perachia would say: Assume for yourself a teacher…

-Pirkei Avot 1:6

It’s ironic that in considering the cost, some might believe it is too high and then choose not to follow. However in the end, the cost of refusing to become indentured servants of the great King is higher still.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Evangelical Gospel

Introduction to the Six Elementary Teachings of Messiah with a look at Evangelicalism and the Evangelical Gospel, citing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Seventeen: The Evangelical Gospel
Originally presented on May 25, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3

As Lancaster began talking about Shavuot, about Pentecost, about what the Evangelical Church calls “the birthday of the Church,” I wondered where his lectures on the Book of Hebrews went. I knew that he was going to spend some time on the six basic foundations of the faith, but I didn’t know this would entail exiting the Epistle to the Hebrews altogether.

He did quote the following Psalm, which is a Psalm about Shavuot, however:

The Lord announces the word, and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng…

Psalm 68:11 (NIV)

No, that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Hebrews either, but we’ll get to that.

Lancaster spent a lot of time talking about, really reviewing Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. This sermon was given right after First Fruits of Zion’s 2013 Shavuot conference (although that link takes you to info about this year’s conference). It’s always held at Lancaster’s home congregation, Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship.

I attended the conference in 2013 and also went the previous year. I didn’t spend a lot of “face time” with Lancaster, usually because he’s pretty busy and in demand, but last year we talked for a bit and he recommended McKnight’s book. I formally reviewed the book as well as mentioned it elsewhere, and found it reassuring if not illuminating.

Like Lancaster, I didn’t agree with everything McKnight said, but it was refreshing to read an Evangelical teacher and author saying that Evangelical Christianity is serving up a hopelessly truncated gospel message.

I’ll skip over Lancaster’s history of the Evangelical Church but I will mention that Lancaster started out his ministry as an Evangelical Pastor and he’s the son of an Evangelical Pastor.

But as a teenager, Lancaster said he got so frustrated with trying to find the Evangelical Gospel message spoken by Jesus in the scriptures, that he threw his Bible across the room.

Here’s a summary of the Gospel message according to, not Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John, but according to Evangelicalism.

Imagine Jesus saying this:

Believe in me for the forgiveness of your sins so you can go to Heaven when you die.

Jesus never saidThat’s the Evangelical message of the Gospel in a nutshell but Jesus never said it…ever. For that matter, neither did Paul, Peter, James, or any of the other apostles.

In fact, Jesus rarely spoke of personal salvation and when he did, the teenage Lancaster thought it sounded…legalistic:

And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.

Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)

The traditional Evangelical interpretation is that Jesus was playing a little game with this fellow to help him realize that he needed to leave his wealth behind and learn to trust Jesus, but I don’t see how the fellow in question could come to that conclusion when Jesus was speaking of the commandments and merit, a very Jewish message.

But the Evangelical message of the plan of salvation, although it’s some part of the Gospel message, is not only a small part of that overall good news, it’s terrifically misleading. It only teaches that you have to confess Jesus as Savior and believe in him. That’s it. In fact, Lancaster says Evangelicals shouldn’t really be called Evangelicals but rather “Salvationists” because of the narrow focus of their message.

They’re not even replacement theologists but rather displacement theologists, because the plan of personal salvation, as the length, breadth, and depth of their doctrine, displaces all of the Old Testament, the resurrection, a literal Israel, and the establishment of the Kingdom of Messiah on Earth. Why would you need an Earthly Kingdom if you go to Heaven when you die to be with Jesus?

What was the central message of the Messiah?

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17 (NASB)

Gates of HeavenThe NIV and other translations use the word “near” rather than “at hand.” The Kingdom of God is near. How near is it? Lancaster says it’s so near that the Messiah has even been named. He’s Jesus of Nazareth. He’s teaching repent of your sins, return to God, be immersed in the name of Messiah for the forgiveness of sins (after you fully repent), then you will participate in the building of the Kingdom, the restoration of national Israel, the return of the Jewish exiles to their Land, the raising of Israel as the head of all the nations.

Lancaster spoke too quickly for me to capture all of his points, but at the end, he said Peter’s message in Acts 2:37-42 is a much better representation of the actual Biblical Gospel message than what Evangelicals preach.

And at the culmination of the Kingdom, all of humanity, each and every individual, will stand before the throne of judgment. The Evangelical message of salvation is only included in bits and pieces of the total Gospel, and it’s still an anti-Jewish people and anti-Judaism message if only because it wholly denies the centrality of Israel and the Jewish people in its own salvational plan.

It gets worse. Jesus preached:

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.

Luke 13:23-24 (NASB)

This is not what Evangelicals preach about salvation. For example, how can you “strive to enter the narrow door,” when there’s nothing you can do to merit salvation? Evangelicals say to “accept” and “make a decision for Christ” which are quite passive. Striving is active and implies you must do something to enter the narrow gate. Also, how can the gate be so narrow if whole stadiums and auditoriums of people are “getting saved” by some big name evangelist preacher at a huge revival?

milkThat last part is a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get the idea. Jesus didn’t teach that the Gospel message or even the salvational part of it was “believe in me and be saved.” He taught, “repent, have faith, become a disciple, for there will be a resurrection of the dead, and the living and the resurrected will participate in final redemption.” Lancaster says the actual Gospel message isn’t news to Messianic Judaism but it must be quite a shock to most of the world’s 100 million Evangelical believers. Most Evangelicals don’t even know about the “milk” being taught in the Bible, let alone the “meat,” and this is where we re-engage the Book of Hebrews.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…

Hebrews 6:1 (NASB)

Lancaster ended here a few weeks ago and this is the place where we have come to again. This is also the heart of Lancaster’s new book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Early Jewish Christianity, which is available as a special promotion (sorry to sound like a commercial, but it’s a pretty good deal) until June 3rd.

Lancaster wound down his sermon with another summary of the six foundations of the faith and said starting next week, he’s going into each of them in detail, with repentance being the very first step.

What Did I Learn?

As I mentioned, I’ve read and reviewed McKnight’s book last year, so this was more like a review than a revelation. I’ve also been going through my own study of repentance or teshuvah, so his comments on repentance operated in parallel to my own thoughts.

I don’t think that all Evangelicals have quite such a narrow view of the message of the Gospel, but I agree that even the most enlightened Evangelical is missing at least part of the picture. I know Evangelical Christians who strongly preach repentance of sins and who even lament there are many people in the pews on Sunday, who in all probability, are not saved because all they know is to passively believe.

I don’t doubt that some and hopefully many Evangelicals are indeed saved and are faithfully serving God, but it’s not my place to say who is and who isn’t. It’s my place first and foremost to care for my own relationship with God, for without love of God how can I love my fellow human being in the manner my Master commands?

Elementary PrinciplesLancaster doesn’t recommend McKnight’s book to his congregation, probably because he believes they are more tuned in to the actual message of the Gospel because of their involvement in Messianic Judaism (and being consumers of Lancaster’s prolific teachings and writings). I do recommend McKnight’s book to Evangelical Christians as a means of understanding that what Lancaster is teaching isn’t “Evangelical bashing,” but rather a startling wake up call.

Do you really want to know what Jesus taught as the good news of Christ? You may not get the full message from your Pastor’s sermons or from popular books by Christian authors. You probably won’t even get it in Sunday school or at a Wednesday night Bible study. If you read McKnight’s book, please open your mind and heart and be prepared for a shock. If you survive the book intact and want to learn more, continue with Lancaster’s book and see where that takes you.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Things that Belong to Salvation

Eternal Security or Eternal Insecurity?

The “things that belong to salvation” include the gift of the Spirit, the goodness of the word of God, and the power of the age to come. This sermon deals with the difficult and controversial material in Hebrews 6:4-12.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Sixteen: Things that Belong to Salvation
Originally presented on May 4, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:4-12 (NASB)

The Unplanned Detour

Lancaster went through a brief review of last week’s lesson and then, like the writer of Hebrews, intended not to cover any more material based on the six foundations since the Hebrews writer categorized those foundations as “milk” and not “solid food.”

But during the week, Lancaster received many requests from people, both face-to-face and by email to go into more details on the “milk”. It seems as if what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews considered the ground floor basics of the faith are very difficult for modern Christians to grasp.

Lancaster wanted to make this detour back into the basics, but his lesson plan wasn’t written around it and a week wasn’t enough time to prepare. He wanted to get into chapters 7, 8, and 9 of Hebrews, but today, he’ll stay in chapter 6 and tell his audience what I consider something important (but I haven’t really found anything unimportant in what Lancaster has presented as yet). We’ll be back to learning how to drink milk by the by.

The Point of No Return

…and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Hebrews 6:7 (NASB)

This is actually terrifying on a personal level. I have family members who once came to faith in Yeshua who have since fallen away from him. I have friends in the same condition. This sounds like once you apostasize from faith in Jesus you will never, ever be able to come back, no matter what. That’s what a Bible literalist would conclude.

Does that means the people I love who have fallen away are doomed to burn forever? Is their no way to reach out to them and save them?

Lancaster’s opinion is not that of a Bible literalist. He does say that questions like these almost resulted in the Book of Hebrews not being canonized.

Think of it as the difference between the Western Church and the Eastern Church. For nearly a century (2nd to 3rd centuries CE) the Western Church thought that your sins were only forgiven up to your baptism. After that, if you sinned as a believer, you were condemned to hell. The Eastern Church wasn’t even concerned with the issue. It’s the difference between linear Greek thought (Western Church) and global Hebraic thought (Eastern Church).

For a Greek thinking Church, everything is on or off, black or white, left of right, there are no ambiguities in the text. Hebraic thinking, global as opposed to linear thinking can contain a lot more dynamic tension and even apparent contradictions in the Word. It’s the difference between believing one has to be either a Calvinist or an Arminianist, vs. believing that God is completely, perfectly, absolutely sovereign and man can also have free will to choose or reject God.

Eternal Security of Insecurity

But make no mistake, Lancaster does believe the writer to the Hebrews is delivering a dire and potentially fatal warning about the dangers of falling away from faith in Messiah. After falling away, it will be extremely difficult, and may be impossible to return to faith.

The focus of the letter so far has generally been one of warning and support of a population of Hellenized Jews in the area of Jerusalem who were in danger of or who had already lost access to the Temple. They were heartbroken and desperate to obey the commandments of the sacrifices. Who would be their priest? They were in grave danger of falling away from the Master in order to return to the Temple.

the letterSo yes, this is a letter of warning. But it isn’t a sudden detour into the theology of soteriology, the theology about how salvation works. That’s how most Christians read it, badly parsing the text into bite-sized but otherwise unrelated chunks. When you write a letter, unless you are a bad writer, you write with an overall theme in mind, not by tossing in an unassociated theological smorgasbord of ideas and concepts.

Lancaster says he tends to be more of a Hebraic thinker. He doesn’t believe salvation can be reduced to a series of talking points or some sort of bulleted list. He does believe it’s possible to lose one’s salvation, but he also believes that God’s grace covers a multitude of sins. Without grace, we would never survive, even as believers.

What You Have to Lose

What distinguishes a Messianic believer?

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come…

Hebrews 6:4-5 (NASB)

Lancaster breaks this down into a list (I just got done saying salvation can’t be reduced into a list, but this isn’t a recipe to the plan of salvation):

  1. Enlightened
  2. Tasted the Heavenly gift of the Holy Spirit
  3. Tasted the Good Word of God
  4. Tasted the power of the Age to Come

This is what you have to lose and, as a believer, what you possess right now.

We are enlightened, that is, we have received the revelation of God, the awareness of the spiritual world, and the knowledge of salvation through faith in Messiah by grace.

We have received the Holy Spirit, God’s gift of a foretaste of the Heavenly Kingdom.

We have tasted the beautiful flavor of the Word of God, the Bible.

We have tasted the power of the age to come.

I think enlightenment, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible are all more or less understood, but what is the power of the age to come? Resurrection. We know Christ was resurrected from the dead and in that promise, so will we upon his return. The dead will be raised in him.

Lancaster drew a parallel between the approach of the weekly Shabbat and the Messianic Age. In Orthodox practice, all meals must be cooked before the arrival of Shabbat at sundown on Friday. Anyone who’s done any cooking knows you sometimes taste the dish before it’s finished to see how it’s coming along. Lancaster says that tasting the soup, so to speak, before the arrival of Shabbat is like tasting a preview of the Shabbat.

Bubbe's soupTasting the revelation of God, receiving the Holy Spirit, apprehending the Word of God, and the knowledge of the resurrection are all the foretaste, the preview of the future Messianic Age, the Kingdom of God on Earth.

That’s what we have to lose.

Lancaster tells us a midrash which I’ve heard before and one that I’ll repeat here because I think it’s important.

It is said that when humanity is resurrected, everyone will still have the physical defects they possessed when they died. If a man died without a left arm, he will be resurrected without a left arm.

Only after the resurrection will he be healed.

Why?

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

John 20-24-29 (NASB)

The midrash states that if a person were resurrected in a totally healed state, he would be unrecognizable and many might doubt that the same man who died was the one resurrected. The example of Jesus and Thomas gives much credence to the midrash. Certainly Jesus appeared very, very different to John in Revelation 1:12-16 than he did, even within the first few weeks after the resurrection.

This is the power of the promise of the resurrection. And this is what we risk losing if we deny Yeshua.

Crucifying Jesus All Over Again

…and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Hebrews 6:6 (NASB)

Lancaster interprets this rather troublesome verse thus:

One who walks away from his faith in the Master can be compared to one who would crucify the Messiah again, bringing him to shame. May God have mercy on that person.

The Death of the MasterIt isn’t some mystical or literal re-crucifixion, but a metaphorical comparison. Apostasy is a dreadful, disgraceful act, according to Lancaster, and the path back from falling away, should that person repent, is as if the Master needs to be crucified again. But by God’s grace and mercy it is still possible to return!

Apostasy is a very, very hard place to come back from, but it’s not an absolute hopeless place of no return.

Thanks be to God.

For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.

Hebrews 6:7-8 (NASB)

Let’s first cover one part of verse 8 before moving on:

it is worthless and close to being cursed (emph. mine)

It is in grave danger of being burned and destroyed, it is very close to that end, but that final destruction, while imminent, is not absolutely a foregone conclusion.

In other words, if you let this happen you to, you are on the brink of falling into an endless pit of fire and darkness but it is still (marginally) possible for you to come back.

Lancaster spent some time comparing the Hebrews writer’s audience to the Master’s parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:3-23) as well as the parable of the Tares (weeds) among the Wheat (Matthew 13:24-30). These are all warnings of the level of our faith and whether we are even aware of the level (deep or shallow) of our faith (He says a lot more than what I’m including in this review, so you’ll want to listen to the entire recording for the details).

In a field of wheat and tares, it is impossible at first to tell the difference. When you go to church on Sunday or synagogue on Saturday, looking around the sanctuary, can you visually tell the difference between believers and false converts? Are people who raised their hand at a revival meeting or who once answered an altar call automatically saved and their “fire insurance” fully and permanently paid?

wheat and taresMany “weeds” are absolutely sure they are “wheat” even though they live like weeds. Lancaster told a story about a church youth group where almost all of the teens were sexually active and yet, they all (or most) believed they were saved and living Christian lives.

Then Lancaster made a confession. He said he was a weed and shallow dirt. But the difference is that he is deeply concerned about his being a weed. Even Paul admitted he was a weed:

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Romans 7:21-25 (NASB)

Even the best among us (and that certainly isn’t me) struggles between our two natures. Paul called himself a “wretched man” and so are we all wretched people in this struggle, desiring to obey the Master and continually failing. My review of the four steps in making teshuvah speaks a great deal about the continual struggle we have in repentance.

Saving Grace

The danger of falling away is great and the consequences are (potentially) terrible, but there is a “saving grace.”

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hebrews 6:9-12 (NASB)

Amid the cries of warning there’s also hope and encouragement. We haven’t fallen over the edge of the cliff yet, though we (or rather, the Hebrews reading the letter) are (were) still dangerously close. If you’re worried about whether or not you’re a weed, even if you’re a weed, you can still come back and be wheat. Be honest about the state of your heart and your need for a Savior and you can still repent and be saved.

What Did I Learn?

If you’ve been reading my Teshuvah series, you should realize that this exploration isn’t just for the sake of teaching but also for the sake of learning. Seeking God’s grace and repenting of sins isn’t the simple little task many of us were taught to rely upon. Since sin still lives in our hearts, our repentance should be active and continual. It’s still possible to fall off the wagon and while climbing back on isn’t impossible, it isn’t easy, either. In fact, once fallen, it may seem impossible to return, and so most people usually either give up or tell themselves a story that falling off was the right thing to do.

More’s the pity.

FallingThis isn’t just about me. It’s about people I love. It’s about people who have fallen and fallen hard, and yet they don’t see the problem. In fact, they think that apostasy from faith in the Master was the best thing that could ever have happened to them. Some still follow a religious tradition and while their faith is important and contains many good things, by definition (seemingly), it requires denying Yeshua.

Most Christians, including Hebrew Roots people, have long since written off my loved ones as already, permanently, irredeemably condemned to be thrown into the fire and perpetually burned.

May it never be!

I was scared to death when I read Hebrews 6:6. I was immeasurably grateful when Lancaster didn’t insert a “hard stop” at the end of that verse and also write off my loved ones.

If you’re an Evangelical and/or a Bible literalist, I believe I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m choosing to believe Lancaster and that I’ve chosen a Messianic Jewish perspective for self-serving reasons. You believe that I want there to be hope for my fallen loved ones and my chosen belief allows me to still continuously pray for their salvation and restoration.

Yes, of course I still hope and pray. Wouldn’t you?

But that’s not the only reason I believe what I believe. Something inside of me keeps telling me this is the right way to view things and the right way to go. I believe one of the “crimes” of the Church, at least historically, is that they (we) have been too literal in all the wrong places, and we’ve chosen a hard-line instead of God’s selection, grace and mercy.

Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Exodus 34:6-9 (NASB)

It’s ironic in a sense, that I turn to the Torah, the Law, which Christianity disdains, in order to illustrate God’s grace and mercy in which we Christians have always depended upon so greatly. Most of us still believe grace and mercy only came to Earth with the birth of Jesus Christ. And yet the Jewish people have relied upon God’s thirteen attributes of mercy for must longer than two-thousand years.

I depend on God’s mercy. I depend on God’s mercy and grace not only for my flawed and damaged self but for everyone I love, who are also flawed and damaged. As I once heard said, if faith is a crutch, who isn’t limping? I’ve got a terrible limp. So does everyone I’ve ever met.

Man alone in a caveWe are all at risk of falling. We are all in danger of going “ker-splat” on the hard, cold ground. Once down there, getting back up isn’t easy, and for some, it seems impossible.

And for some, it seems like falling down put them in a better place, the better place. If not for God’s mercy, not only would it be impossible for them to get up, but God would just let them lie there.

If you ever find yourself at the bottom of a pit or deep in some dark, damp cave, look up. If there isn’t enough light for that, feel around. God provides a rope or a ladder, even for the apostate. All you have to do is find it and then to start climbing.

The Challies Chronicles: R.C. Sproul and Pentecost

rc_sproulFor the third session at Strange Fire, John MacArthur introduced his good friend R.C. Sproul. Because of issues with his health, Sproul was unable to travel to California, so instead he sent along a video message. And his task was to speak about Pentecost.

He began by saying, “I want to look specifically today at the redemptive-historical significance of Pentecost.” We’re aware that the modern Pentecostal movement began at Azusa Street and that it occurred outside of the mainline denotations until the middle of the 20th Century. Then it moved into Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican, etc. circles. Initially when it came into these various denominations there were several attempts to assimilate the theology into their creedal foundations. At the same time, Pentecostals were gathering their beliefs into a creed, which became Neo-Pentecostal theology.

-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: R.C. Sproul”
Challies.com

I’m not familiar with R.C. Sproul so I looked him up on Wikipedia. That didn’t help much, so I looked Dr. Sproul up at Ligonier.org. That was only slightly more enlightening. Oh well, I guess I just don’t know the population of presenters John MacArthur chose for his Strange Fire conference. But then, I’m an unusual Christian because I don’t know a lot of “famous names” in the Christian publication world.

I have to admit to being confused for the first part of Pastor Challies’s “live blogged” rendition of Sproul’s presentation. Dr. Sproul was supposed to be speaking about the Pentecost, the original event we see depicted in Acts 2, but then he launched into a brief history of the Pentecostal movement. Where’s the relationship?

Then Sproul said a few things that got me thinking.

The fundamental weakness of Neo-Pentecostal theology is that it understands the original Pentecost differently than the apostles, and that it considers this Pentecost too lowly.

I’m not sure most Fundamentalist Christians understand the original, Jewish context of Pentecost the way the apostles did either, but that’s not what got my attention. It was this.

The significance of the baptism of the Holy Spirit has to do principally with the Holy Spirit empowering Christians for ministry. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit he was promising power and strength.

OK, I can buy that as far as it goes. Relative to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles in preparation for their mission to spread the Gospel message to Israel, Samaria, and to the rest of the world. But that would mean only believers who have a specific mission would ever receive the Holy Spirit. Sort of like these guys.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Sproul actually mentioned this event in his presentation, and we see the Spirit God gave to Moses being “sub-divided” among the seventy elders who were to form the first Sanhedrin. The Spirit was preparing them for their mission and, like the later apostles of Acts 2, they prophesied once and then never again.

But what about 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?”

Acts 10:44-47 (NASB)

Receiving the SpiritIf, as in our previous examples, the Holy Spirit is only given to people who have a special mission or job to do for God as a method of empowerment, why was it also given to the Roman Cornelius and his non-Jewish household? The Bible records no subsequent information about them, so either they didn’t have a mission for God, or they did and Luke simply thought it not worthy of recording (or he was unaware of what happened next for Cornelius, his family, his servants, and so on).

Or there’s another reason we just haven’t gotten to yet.

As far as I can tell, universally in all Christian denominations, it is believed that everyone who comes to faith in Jesus Christ receives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit…except that we don’t see this event happening to the Ethiopian who receives Messiah in Acts 8:25-40, only that he is baptized by water. For that matter, we don’t see Spirit baptism happening today, at least not as it’s described in Acts 2 and 10. Christians I know today don’t say they prophesied or spoke in tongues when they came to faith. But then we also know (Acts 19:1-6) that historically, some believers weren’t even aware of the Holy Spirit, at least initially, only John’s baptism of water and repentance.

Sproul said:

It is admitted that some people can have conversion or regeneration simultaneously with their baptism by the Holy Spirit, but in the main there is a time difference between original conversion and the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

I can only assume this means Sproul too believes all people who come to faith in Christ receive the Spirit, although he seems to indicate that there’s some sort of difference between “original conversion” and “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” We see some indications of this in scripture, as I noted above, but I’m still not sure if Sproul is referring to these scriptures or something else.

In the Old Testament a person could only be a believer by being born again of the Holy Spirit. But the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament with respect to Pentecost is that in the Old Testament the Spirit was only given by God selectively to isolated individuals, such as the prophets or the judges when they needed strength for the particular task.

OK, here’s the really interesting part. Sproul says that an Israelite could only become a “believer” (I find the term somewhat anachronistic, since being a “believer” isn’t mentioned let alone emphasized in the Tanakh or “Old Testament” as it is in modern Christianity) by receiving the Holy Spirit. I agree that the Biblical record only shows certain individuals receiving the Spirit (such as Prophets), so does that mean Sproul is saying only Old Testament Prophets were saved? Does that mean the vast, vast, majority of ancient Israelites who were born, lived, and died in a covenant relationship with God worshiped the Creator in vain and have no place in the World to Come?

I’m not sure Sproul meant to say it that way and even if he did, it’s not in line with scripture. If the faith of Abraham was counted to him as righteousness, and the Abrahamic covenant carried down to Isaac, and then Jacob, and then the twelve tribes, and then all of Israel, it would be difficult to believe that covenant faith being counted as righteousness somehow didn’t translate into salvation. After all, the Tanakh has tons and tons to say about Jewish faith in God.

It would make more sense to believe that the faith of the Israelites was counted as saving righteousness by God’s grace, and that only those individuals who required special empowerment to carry out the acts of God, such as the Judges and Prophets, would require the Holy Spirit.

ShavuotOf course, this brings up the question of why everyone who comes to faith post-Acts 2 receives the Holy Spirit, especially since the Strange Fire conference attempts to convince us all that no one has the gifts of the Holy Spirit, prophesy or anything else.

I certainly am not going to throw the ancient Israelites in the Torah and the Prophets under the bus because one presenter may have inadvertently suggested that the Holy Spirit has suffered a change in job description between the Old Testament and New Testament records, and that the “old” God only saved those Jews who were possessed of the Spirit of prophesy.

Here’s another interesting detail.

In Acts 8:14-17 we have the record of what happened among the Samaritans. There is a second Pentecost among the Samaritan believers when Peter and John lay hands on them. In Acts 10:44-48 the Spirit falls on the God-fearers, which Peter recounts in 11:13-18. This is Pentecost number three. Just as in the case of the first and second Pentecosts, all of those present received the Holy Spirit. In Acts 19:1-7 the Gentiles in Ephesus receive the Holy Spirit and are empowered for ministry.

So you have four separate Pentecosts, one for each people group in Acts. When Paul was dealing with the Corinthian church, he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 that by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Here he speaks of the universality of the Sprit’s [sic] empowering of every believer. That’s the significance of Pentecost.

If I didn’t know what little I know about Sproul, I wouldn’t be so surprised by such statements. “Pentecost” just means “the fiftieth day” and is the Greek name for Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. Shavuot or Pentecost only comes once a year on the Jewish (and Christian) religious calendar, so it’s a little odd (for someone who should know better) to say there were “four separate Pentecosts.” It’s also strange to believe in four separate events of the giving of the Holy Spirit to specific populations (however, he may have been waxing poetic).

If God was doing something new in the giving of the Spirit (but not entirely new it seems) to those requiring power to perform a ministry, I would interpret Acts 2 as the beginning of a continual process rather than the start of four separate and distinct “waves” of “Pentecost events” based on differences between people groups.

Maybe I’m “majoring in the minors” here, but it seems like Sproul’s presentation didn’t really amount to much, at least for me.

No, I don’t want to give up on Sproul’s presentation yet. Here’s how Challies ended it on his blog post:

In Ephesians 2:11-19 Paul again addresses this issues [sic] that threatened to divide the 1st century church, the issue of what role the Gentiles have in the body of Christ. Paul’s “mystery” in Ephesians and Colossians is that Christ has folded Gentiles into his body and indwells them. “Through Christ we both have access through one Spirit to the Father.” This is a Trinitarian work.

My concern with Charismatic friends is that they have a low view of Pentecost. They don’t see it as a signal of the outpouring of God on all Christians. They believe all Christians can have it and should have it, but they miss the point that the pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost means that all Christians already have the Spirit and have been empowered by him, and that they don’t need to be baptized by the Spirit again.

Pouring waterI think Sproul is saying that the giving of the Spirit to Christians is a one time event, like water baptism, and that Pentecostals have repeated events of accepting the Spirit, thus “cheapening” the gift of the Spirit. Also, it is the giving of the Spirit Acts 10 to Gentiles that indicates that we are also accepted into the redeemed body of Christ, and it is faith in Messiah that allows us to receive the Spirit and be saved in the same way as believing Jews.

That helps, but it doesn’t close the can of worms I think Sproul opened up in terms of Old Testament Jewish salvation. We seem to see though, that Sproul is saying the Spirit was only given for empowerment of prophets in the Old Testament, but that in the New Testament, the Spirit was given, not only to empower, but as a sign of induction into the body of Messiah. I’m still not willing to accept that only the Spirit-filled Prophets and Judges of ancient Israel were “saved.”

According to MacArthur’s viewpoint though, even if all believers after the Acts 2 event received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, post-closure of Biblical canon, whatever gifts a person once received from the indwelling of the Spirit simply ceased to exist. But we don’t know why.

Hoping for Salvation

white-pigeon-kotelEach day we hope for Your salvation.

-Shemoneh Esrei

The Talmud states that one of the questions that will be posed to each person on his or her day of judgment is, “Did you look forward to salvation?” While the question refers to anticipating the ultimate Redemption, it can also refer to the salvation of the individual.

Positive attitudes beget positive results, and negative attitudes beget negative results. Books have been written about people who have recovered from hopeless illnesses because, contrary to medical opinion, they did not give up hope. On the contrary, they maintained a positive attitude. While this phenomenon may be controversial (for many people are skeptical that cheerful outlooks can cure), people certainly can and have killed themselves by depression. With a negative attitude, a person suffering from an illness may even abandon those practices that can give strength and prolong life, such as the treatment itself.

I have seen a poster that displays birds in flight. Its caption comments, “They fly because they think they can.” We could do much if we did not despair of our capacity to do it.

Looking forward to Divine salvation is one such positive attitude. The Talmud states that even when the blade of an enemy’s sword is at our throat, we have no right to abandon hope of help.

No one can ever take hope from us, but we can surrender it voluntarily. How foolish to do so.

Today I shall…

…try to always maintain a positive attitude and to hope for Divine salvation.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Elul 11”
Aish.com

Recently, I’ve written a number of reviews on portions of Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law. If you’ve read them, you know my feelings about Schreiner’s point of view on the Torah of Moses and how (or if) the Torah carries forward for the Jewish people into Apostolic times and beyond.

I want to take a step backward from that perspective this morning (but not too big a step). I’ve commented previously on the commonalities between Hebrew Roots, Messianic Judaism, and Christianity, as well as the fundamental platform upon which all who have faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah (the Christ) stand. While ultimately there is a dividing line between people who have faith in God through Jesus and those who do not, we can’t afford to dispense with authentic people of God who differ from us based on our opinions on “the Law” or how we understand God’s Word.

All people of faith face the same struggles. We are opposed by people who deny the existence of God, who deny that there is a core morality that is never-changing, who believe that human beings are the ultimate moral and intellectual force in the universe.

How can one be certain of the authority of the T’nach in all its particulars? The answer to this is based on common sense, and if one approaches the question open-mindedly and without prejudice, one must come to this conclusion. To put it very briefly, and going back from our present generation to preceding generations, we have before us the text of the T’nach as it was transmitted from one generation to the other by hundreds and thousands of parents of different backgrounds to their children. Even during the times of the greatest persecutions, and even after the destruction of the Beth Hamikdash, there always survived hundreds and thousands of Jews who preserved the text of the T’nach and the traditions, so that the chain has never been broken.

-from correspondence by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
27th of Shevat, 5723 [February 21, 1963]
posted at Chabad.org

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has critics not only in Christianity but in different branches of Judaism, but the struggles he describes are the same as ours. Although I wouldn’t make a good Chabadnik for a number of reasons (not the least of which is the fact that I’m not Jewish), I often find their published writings and philosophies to be beautiful and reflective of God, especially when contrasted against criticisms against Torah and Judaism. No, it’s not that Judaism isn’t also critical of Christianity.

Furthermore, there is a basic difference between our Jewish tradition and those of other faiths, such as Christianity or Islam. For, whereas in the latter cases the traditions go back to one individual or a limited number of individuals, our traditions go back to a revelation which was experienced by a whole people at once, so that at no time did we have to place our trust in the veracity of one, or a few, individuals.

tallit-prayerThe Rebbe is being very “even-handed” in his response to Christianity in this letter. Some Jewish criticisms are far more biting.

I’m not saying we should compel religious Jews to abandon the practices of their faith or attempt to drive Christians from their (our) views on Jesus, but I am saying that we should stop trying so hard to jockey for position in order to establish our “lead” in the “race” by forcing the “defeat” of others.

Similarly in regard to the Torah. For the Torah, too, already contains the methods and principles whereby it is to be interpreted. Therefore, the traditional interpretation of the Torah is already contained in the Torah itself, and it is nothing but a continuation of the written Torah itself, so that only both together constitute one living organism.

I know one of the criticisms Christianity levels against religious Judaism is that Judaism interprets scripture according to a set of prescribed traditions. The assumption is that, by comparison, Christianity (in all its flavors and forms including Hebrew Roots) uses a Biblical hermeneutic that objectively examines the text and arrives at conclusions based only on what the words are saying in their various original languages.

But if anything convinces me that Protestant Christianity is also plumb full of traditions, it is theological texts such as Thomas Schreiner’s book. Only the fact that Schreiner must speak to a specific tradition of Christian Biblical interpretation can explain why he must base his theories on certain portions of the Bible, while ignoring other scriptures that directly refute his conclusions on the Torah’s purpose in ancient and modern Judaism (including Messianic Judaism). Also, the widely varying denominations that span the realm of Christianity are no different than the multiple streams of Jewish transitions and communities. How can one tradition criticize another when we all employ the same dynamics?

When Jews read in the Shemoneh Esrei, “Each day we hope for Your salvation,” it summons visions of the Moshiach coming to redeem and restore the Jewish people and Israel. And yet, those words should also bring to mind the second coming of Christ for anyone in the church. We may not agree as to the identity of Messiah, but the fact remains that we are all awaiting his ascent to the Throne of the King in Jerusalem, and his reign of peace throughout the Earth.

Right now, we all exist like a handful of sand slipping out from between clenched fingers, or millions of tiny shards of shattered glass strewn across a cold, dark ground. We’re broken apart. We’re disconnected. We’re separated and isolated. Each tiny shard cries out into an infinite universe, “I am the only one who truly knows God!” For the atheists, the “god” is themselves, the human being as final authority. For each religious person, it is the claim that we each “own” God. We claim Him exclusively as our private possession and denigrate all the other people in all the other faiths as mistaken, wrong, bad, evil.

From God’s point of view, what must we look like except a crowd of kindergarteners on a playground, each one of us chasing after the ball and screaming, “Mine! Mine!” I’m embarrassed to be reminded of the cartoon seagulls in the film Finding Nemo (2003).

And that is the much vaunted human race, religious and otherwise. No wonder in the Bible, we people are often compared to sheep.

And yet, every once in a while, someone among the “seagulls” and “sheep” rises higher and climbs above.

At the final ascent,
he clings to any crack or crevice
to pull higher.

That is where we are now:
Any spark of light that comes your way,
squeeze all you can from it.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Mountain Climbing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

free-birdIt is easy in the study of the Bible to get caught up in the mechanics and lose our connection to the spirituality. When we “know” God, is that knowledge supposed to be exclusively intellectual, or is knowing God a transcendent experience…or both? Either extreme has its pitfalls and, as I’ve been trying to communicate, can lead us to believe that our little group, church, congregation, denomination, whatever, is the one, the only one that has the corner market on God.

We must become more than the sum of our doctrines. We must become the people God made us to be. We must seek Him with unbridled desire and not be tempted to control His image and put it into our box. In longing to fly, we must be willing to fall.

“One who romanticizes over Judaism and loses focus of the kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a carpenter who is infatuated with the hammer, rather than the house it was meant to build.”

-Troy Mitchell

“Our work involves trying to dance when others only know how to wrestle.”

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar

“Do not seek Christianity and do not seek Judaism. Seek an encounter with God.”

-Tom

Each day, I hope for your salvation, God. How long, O’ Lord, how long?