December 2011 Yavoh

For by Grace You are Saved Through Faith

Is GRACE a spiritual concept brought to the earth for the first time by the Messiah? Or, did it exist in “Old Testament” times with Noah, Abraham, and Moses? If grace didn’t exist before the Messiah came, then how did the previous saints get saved? I ask these questions because many churchmen have differing answers. They view GRACE and LAW as separate things, almost contradictory. But are they really? 

Before we go any further, let us define a couple of Biblical terms:  grace is “unmerited favor,” mercy is “unmerited favor.” Faith is “believing the promises (the word) of God.” Salvation is receiving “redemption.” Redemption is “being purchased out of slavery.”

What is the difference between grace and mercy since both are “unmerited favor?”  Grace means you received something you did not deserve.  Mercy is not receiving something you did deserve. Grace is God sharing His blessings with us while mercy is God restraining His judgments against us. Most Christians don’t think deeply about how grace works. They treat it lightly and casually as if it is God’s duty to them. They then assume God’s unmerited favor, even though they misbehave. They actually believe that grace cancels God’s laws.

New messianic believers experience a variety of things as they begin to believe in the Messiah and the Torah. Upon keeping Sabbath, eating kosher, and enjoying different holidays they feel “connected” to the God of the Bible and “light bulbs start turning on” in their understanding of Scripture. With them there is no contradiction between God’s grace and His commandments. But they also experience rejection from many Christians, which comes as a surprise to them.

The reason for the rejection goes back to the definition of GRACE and how it relates to the Torah. Many Christians believe that GRACE is something brought by the Messiah and those other saints were saved by animal sacrifices and the Law. For them, Paul’s statement in Ephesians says it all.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. EPH 2:8-9

Many Christians (and I was one of them) are taught that there is a huge difference between what God did with Moses and Israel, and what Jesus is doing with the Church. In their understanding, this verse says that we are saved by the grace of Jesus by believing in Him only and not by doing good works, such as keeping the commandments of the Law of Moses. They have also been taught that if you keep those commandments in the Law and try to believe in Jesus that you will fall from Grace and lose your salvation. Simply said, they believe you cannot believe in Jesus if you are trying to follow Torah the Old Testament. (On a side bar, many Jews don’t believe that you can keep the Torah and believe in Jesus either.)

This thinking is part of replacement theology. For centuries the church has advocated that it has replaced Israel as God’s plan for today and that Jesus has replaced all the patriarchs of the past. This means that according to replacement theology the New Testament and what the Church Fathers say rules the day and that whatever was said in the Bible before is only history and has no binding effect today.

If you are keeping Sabbath, they see you as NOT going to church on Sunday (a decision made by the Church Fathers). Deep down inside, they fear that you are walking away from your salvation in Jesus. If they see you keeping the clean and unclean laws (kosher), they see you setting yourself up above them and guilty of self-righteousness.

 If you start keeping the Biblical holidays, then you are rejecting Christmas and Easter. Not participating in Christmas is the pinnacle of rejecting them and Christianity. They are now personally offended and feel they are the true believers while you are defiant and rejecting them, the family, and the faith. They will tell you, “Remember, we give gifts to one another just like God gave us the gift of Jesus, and Jesus is the reason for the season.”

When you boil down all of the misunderstandings and disappointments it comes back to the words of Paul in Ephesians. For by grace you are saved. . .

Let me come right to the point of this article: the average Christian has been taught incorrectly about what Paul said (just like others things that Paul taught). The fact is that Paul is teaching the gospel which was given to Abraham and taught by Moses!

The words for by grace you are saved through faith is vintage teaching of Torah. Before I explain that, let us review the letter that Paul was writing to the Ephesians and see what he said leading to this key statement about grace, salvation, and faith.

The Apostle Paul was writing to a new group of Gentile believers whom he had only heard about. He had not actually visited them yet, so he wrote this letter to them. His instruction will begin with the person of the Messiah, our Savior, but he uses the Torah and the Scriptures for his basis of instruction.

Once Paul had greeted the Ephesians he explained that God had from long ago planned for them to be part of God’s family.

He predestined us to adoption as sons through Yeshua the Messiah to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. EPH 1:5-6

Paul focused on how the Messiah had provided redemption of our lives, which were lost through sin, by giving His life as an acceptable substitute, resulting in the forgiveness of our sins and the receipt of God’s favor and influence in our lives (grace). He then writes that there is a “mystery” in that process which has been made known to us who believe in the Messiah’s redemption.

He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him EPH 1:9

Any time Paul refers to a “mystery” he is referring to a very deep teaching about the Messiah’s redemption found in the Torah. Let me explain further. The very first verses that define redemption in the Scriptures are found in Genesis 37. It is part of the story of Jacob sending Joseph to see to the welfare of his brethren and flock. The Messiah Himself was sent by His Father to do the same for us. Let’s examine Genesis 37 closer – the story of redemption.

Then his brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shechem. Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” He said to him, “I will go” Then he said to him, “Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. GEN 37:12-14

Joseph was the first member of Jacob’s family to move to Egypt and be enslaved. As a result of Joseph’s life the rest of his brothers joined in him Egypt and four generations later were delivered out of Egypt by Moses and the Passover. Whenever the Passover story is told, it begins with Genesis 37 and story of Joseph being sent by his father Jacob. Paul understood this teaching and referred to it in his letter to the Ephesians. It still amazes me that the average Christian today still does not know what Paul based his letter to the Ephesians on.

But wait, there is still more in Genesis that Paul understood as well. When it says that his brothers went to pasture flock in Shechem, the Hebrew text does not say it was their father's. The text actually says that they went to pasture the Aleph-Tav flock. It is a small Hebrew word pronounced “et.” Even more, the Scribes who write the Torah do something special that only occurs four times in Scripture. They place “dots” above those two letters Aleph-Tav.

In the King James Version of the Bible these are called “jots.” When Yeshua said the words, “Think not that I have come to abolish the Torah. . .”, and then further said, “Not a jot or tittle will pass away until all is accomplished.”

The word “et” with the jots above the letters is profound in Biblical text. The vast majority of Christian scholars and pastors have never heard this nor understood its meaning, but Paul knew about it.

For generations Jewish scholars have asked, “Who or what is the Aleph-Tav?” The Messiah Himself answered them when He said to the Apostle John, “I am the Aleph and the Tav, the first and the last.” Christians referred to their Greek not Hebrew texts ending up with Alpha and Omega. This effectively made the statement to be an exclusive New Testament idea instead of tracing it to the root of the Messiah found in the Torah. But today such tricks don’t work since we can go back to the Hebrew text. This is the same dynamic that has distorted the word grace.

The use of the “jots” by the scribes links this Scripture to others in Torah. Four passages are linked in this way. Those passages tell about the long-term conflict in Jacob’s family. It begins with the conflict between Jacob and his twin brother Esau who wanted the blessing that Jacob received from Isaac. It includes the Messiah’s redemption, the firstborn, and concludes with the final restoration at the end of the ages.

But what about the “mystery” part that Paul was referring directly to? Look again at Genesis 37. The words say Jacob sent him from the valley of Hebron.

TILT!

Hebron is a mountain; there is no “valley” of Hebron! The actual Hebrew word used here is “emek.” Emek has two meanings: mystery and valley. Valley can mean the same thing as mystery if you view it this way. You are looking down from a mountain and the path leads to a dark valley. There is, therefore, a “mystery” as to what lies before you. The valley represents a “mystery.” Moses actually wrote that Jacob was sending Joseph on a “mysterious” journey that would result in redemption, a journey that would result years later in the Passover and the exodus of the children of Israel out of Egypt, just as God had foretold to Abram.

God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions.” GEN 15:13-14

Joseph enabled Jacob and his family to relocate to Egypt and then enslavement followed according to God’s words. Although this took a very long time, God is patient to prepare the circumstances to show His grace to mankind. Should I remind you that Yeshua used the Passover remembrance and the same day to make His sacrifice for us?

So let’s go back to what Paul was saying in Ephesians about this mystery of the Messiah in the work of redemption.
 
. . .also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, EPH 1:11

Again, Paul is saying that the work of the Messiah and our salvation is part of the gospel plan which God designed a long time ago. Inheritance is something passed down by previous generations, and our inheritance of the gospel originates with our father Abraham.

In fact, Paul taught that the gospel was NOT given first in the New Testament, it was first given to Abraham. Here it is in Genesis.

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. GEN 12:3

And here is Paul saying the gospel was preached to Abraham.

The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "All the nations shall be blessed in you." GAL 3:8

What Paul said in Ephesians is what he also taught in Galatians. God’s plan for the ages is laid out in the Torah by the fathers’ example. It is also God’s plan to extend those very blessings given to the fathers and the children of Israel to all peoples, tribes, and tongues. The gospel (the good news of redemption) is for all people who believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yeshua the Messiah IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!

This is what distinguishes messianic believers from both Judaism and Christianity. Judaism believes in the God of Abraham but rejects Messiah Yeshua. Christianity believes in Yeshua and ignores the God of Abraham. Messianics believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They also believe in Messiah Yeshua as the fulfillment of the promises made to the fathers. For them, God does not change. There are no disputes with the testimony nor different dispensations nor Old and New divisions.

Paul continues his letter to the Ephesians by reminding them of their former life before believing in God’s redemption.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with the Messiah (by grace you have been saved), . . .  EPH 2:1-5

But there is great contrast now with the work of the Messiah. Note how Paul is homing in on our key verse. All of his arguments have been building to this point which he states in the following verses.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. EPH 2:8-9

Is the book of Ephesians the only place where Paul teaches this profound conclusion? No. Paul taught much of this discussion in the book of Romans. Let’s examine Paul’s teaching there.

But let’s ask the most basic questions. If grace really is new in the New Testament with the Messiah, then how did Abraham get saved? For that matter, how did Moses get saved or all of the children of Israel including the prophets before the Messiah came?

I have heard some teachers say that they kept the law or did sacrifices. Let me assure you that no one has ever gotten saved by keeping the law or by heaving a bull onto an altar. I can assure you that the Torah does NOT teach that.  Even the writer of Hebrews knows that.

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. HEB 10:4

Paul taught in Romans that salvation by faith originated with Abraham.

Every person who has ever lived or will live in the future is saved by believing what God has promised. Believing in what God says is counted as righteousness and that believer is then led to salvation by the acceptable substitute (sacrifice) and the grace of God. Look at the example of Noah’s salvation from the flood.

Noah followed God’s word (His instructions to build the ark) but it was God’s grace that saved him.

But Noah found favor [grace] in the eyes of the LORD. GEN 6:8

Paul wrote to the Romans emphatically arguing that doing works of the Law as the religious Jews did was insufficient for salvation. The Scribes and the Pharisees taught that salvation was by works of the law. They even modified some of the actual commandments to aggravate the situation more. This is why Yeshua argued with them. Today Judaism still teaches this tenet of salvation: “Prayer, penance, and good deeds avert the severe decree.” Devout Jews pray many times each day according to their prayer books, offer gifts, and do mitzvot (good deeds) believing that God will not judge them but bring them to His future kingdom. It is salvation by works, which the Torah does not teach.

Paul made his case addressing the Pharisaic argument that circumcision (one of the works of the law) was mandatory for salvation.

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account. Is this blessing then upon the circumcised, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” How then was it reckoned? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be reckoned to them, and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. ROM 4:8-13

Simply said it is “For by God’s grace your sins are forgiven and you are saved by the same faith that Abraham had, not by the works of the law, such as the commandment of circumcision.”

The Torah actually teaches the following: God justly demands that payment (reconciliation and restitution) must be made for transgressing His laws. With a host of examples, the Torah also shows how we all have transgressed His laws, beginning with Adam. But according to the promises of the Torah, the Messiah graciously offers Himself to be the acceptable substitute (the Lamb of God) specified by God’s justice. By believing in God’s promises and trusting His grace, we receive the gift of life (forgiveness and the inheritance of His kingdom).

This is what Abraham believed in. This is what Moses believed in. This is what Paul taught. This is what we believe in.

This was the very argument and decision concerning salvation in the first council at Jerusalem (Acts 15). When Paul returned with the testimony of many Gentiles coming to faith in Yeshua, the Pharisaic believers of Yeshua began to teach what they had known earlier that one must be circumcised to be saved and one must do the works of the law. Paul objected greatly and the matter was brought before all the brethren in Jerusalem including Peter and James. Peter stood and testified about how the first Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) had been saved. The law and commandments had nothing to do with it.

. . .and He [God] made no distinction between us [Jews] and them [Gentiles], cleansing their hearts by faith. ACT 15:9

The Pharisaic believers tried to mix the teaching of Judaism with the Messiah when it came to the Gentiles. They first argued that Gentiles must be circumcised to be saved. Then they argued that the Gentiles must keep the Law to be saved. But the judgment of the council was consistent with Paul’s teaching. The works of the Law are not part of salvation; the works of God are salvation. The Torah has always taught that salvation is determined by God’s choice and His deeds, not by our deeds. But then the question arose as to what we are to do with the Law if we are saved by grace through faith.

Christians also have a little bit of a problem understanding how salvation works along with commandments. How many of you have heard Christians say that if you don’t go to church you won’t be saved? This sounds just like the Pharisees, trying to add a commandment or two to justify themselves. Christians claim that they do not follow the kosher laws, but in a sense they do. They just have a different list of clean and unclean items from God’s list. To them, wine is unclean, whereas God says it is clean; and pork is clean, whereas God says it is unclean. Christians says that salvation is by faith but if you sin openly in front of them they are convinced that you are going to hell. They believe that keeping God’s commandments is the same as renouncing faith in God.

Consider the irony for a moment of that last sentence!

This is why new Messianics are scorned by their Christian or Jewish friends and family. They don’t see Messianics confirming their practices. Furthermore, they view keeping commandments as a far more religious (serious) activity than just ignoring the faith all together.

But here is the reality that Messianics experience: God has promised to sanctify any person who obeys His commandments. Sanctify means “to separate.” When new Messianics keep the Sabbath, they don’t understand that God picks up the world and moves it away from them. When they sense the separation, they know it they did not cause it. They see others moving away from them.

Consider the conflict surrounding Christmas. Many messianic brethren learn early on that Scripture says that Asherim (trees of praise) are idols before God. Jeremiah the prophet describes a man cutting down an evergreen tree, attaching boards to the bottom to balance it, then decorating it with gold and silver is committing idolatry (JER 10)! I know many Christians who in their heart genuinely love the Lord and yet have Christmas trees in their homes. When they see a new Messianic abstain from the observance, they argue that they are not considering it an idol in their heart and, therefore, they are exempt because of God’s grace. While I agree that God’s grace and mercy are wonderful; they are not a license to willfully sin. Besides, bowing before a Christmas to get the blessings (gifts) underneath is the act of idol worship. Their deeds betray their heart and words. God is a jealous God and He will not share His glory with any other. He wants us to be different from the world.

If Christians think that they can flaunt God’s grace to follow their own heart, then they have fallen from grace. Self-justification of any kind by a man moves you away from the “unmerited favor” of God.

The New Testament addresses this matter even more powerfully than Jeremiah did. When Peter said that Gentiles are saved by faith just like Jews are, the Apostle James concluded the entire matter of salvation by writing a letter to the Gentiles detailing what is expected of them now that they have come to faith in Messiah Yeshua. Three essentials are specified. The answer to how the Law and salvation by grace through faith are balanced together is clearly answered.

The first item of three essentials is to abstain from all forms of idolatry!

Therefore it is my [Apostle James’] judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. ACT 15:19-20

Here is what is truly ironic. New messianic believers are actually doing what James’ letter to the Gentiles said. This shows you how far from the teaching of the Bible that Christians have drifted when they think that the Messianics are wrong in turning to the commandments.

The judgment expressed by James and carried out by Paul and Peter was not new. It is the fundamental teaching of the Torah. In fact, the commandments referred to by James are the subject of Leviticus 17 and 18 (idolatry, kosher, and sexual immorality) and are referred to as the “heart of the Law.” There is no way for you to be in fellowship with other believers if you are committing these transgressions. James just reviewed the minimums (the essentials) from the Torah for fellowship. There is no question that he was referring to the Law here since he makes the following statement.

For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath. ACT 15:21

Essentially, James said that if you had any questions about idolatry, kosher, or immorality to refer to the weekly teaching of Moses each Sabbath. This does not mean that these three essentials are the only commandments, he is saying that a believer must keep these as a minimum. There are many other instructions in righteousness that follow. Since churches don’t teach Torah on Sabbath it is understandable why many Christian simply do not know about these essentials or the other commandments of God. What little they do know is hearsay at best and outright distortions at worst.

Does the Apostle Paul address keeping God’s commandments after making his profound statement that salvation is by God’s grace through faith? Yes, He does. Look at the verse immediately following.

For we are His workmanship, created in Messiah Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. EPH 2:10

Paul teaches that salvation comes first, then we are to obey the Lord as a result of that salvation.  He does not teach that we do good works to be saved; he teaches that we do good works as a result of our salvation. The Apostle James says the same thing. However, he emphasizes that faith is better seen by those works than by simple confession of your mouth, which is true.

Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” JAM 2:17

Paul goes on to say that the good works of the Messiah are not the keeping of commandments as defined by Judaism (the circumcision).  The good works that we do are the same as that of Abraham and all of Israel defined by Moses.

Therefore remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands – remember that you were at that time separate from the Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. EPH 2:11-16

Any person who is outside of Messiah Yeshua is not part of the commonwealth of Israel (the kingdom of God). They are also outside of the covenants and promises that God made with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. They have no hope in God. But when any person trusts God, beginning with the promises made to our father Abraham, it leads to the Messiah and we receive all that God has promised. God’s salvation for us today is the same salvation for Abraham in the past.

As a Jewish person, I am very sensitive to any Christian suggesting that Jews don’t get saved. I truly believe that salvation is in Messiah Yeshua and that only God can make such a judgment for eternity. But, like Paul, I can repeat what God has said. Our example is Abraham; the goal of the Torah is the Messiah.

In the days of the second temple period, there was another wall, not established by Moses, set up on the temple mount separating Gentiles from the courts of Israel. It was called the “middle of wall of partition.” An inscription on that wall called for the death of any Gentile who went beyond the partition and entered the temple. God never established this, this was the work of Pharisees and Sadducees. Paul wrote that Yeshua’s work of redemption for all has broken down this wall so that all people, even Gentile believers, may come and worship the Lord in His temple. This is not making the temple go away; it is opening it up for more access. This is not replacing the temple service; it is making it more available.

Finally, Paul says that Messiah Yeshua’s substitution has made every believer in Him to be part of the family He started with Abraham.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, EPH 2:19

We all have become the “Chosen People” by God’s gracious choice. We are all part of Abraham’s descendants, the “children of promise.” None of us have any righteousness of our own; we proclaim God’s works, not ours. We simply say, “For by grace you are saved through faith, not of works should any man boast.”

New Messianics need to understand that their family and friends fear that they have left the faith when they proclaim the commandments of God and keep them. You need to assure them you have been saved by God’s grace working through your faith in God’s promises and that the Messiah Himself has compelled you to keep His commandments when He said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” JOHN 14:15

Your friends and family don’t know the commandments or how to keep them. They don’t realize that Yeshua was there at the creation, was there having lunch with Abraham, and was there giving the Law (His commandments) from Mount Sinai. They only know the observance of Christmas and Easter. They have no idea that Christian holidays include the mixture of other gods such as Mithra, Neptune, and Ishtar.

Therefore extend grace to them just as God has done with you. Don’t be discouraged by those who contest your walk. Let your light shine so others may see the way to walk as well.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Messiah, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 1PE 5:10