Due to the popularity of the GCA website, I receive a large amount of email. I always enjoy hearing from folk who have been helped or encouraged by our teaching. But, also receive my fair share of criticism; especially when we’re discussing the subject of Law Versus Grace. As much as I enjoy responding to folk who love our teaching and ministry, I feel compelled to respond to the critics who are stuck in their traditions and defending positions that are Biblically erroneous. And that brings us to this current exchange. It began when I received the following note.
Before we get into a discussion concerning your teaching, I want to clarify something before we continue any discussions. I read your teaching on Law Vs Grace as well as listened to the teaching from Aug 12th. I am a Torah Observant Believer. I keep the law because I am saved not to attain Salvation.
Your blanket statements in the written teaching and in the audio state that because I keep Shabbat, or that I am circumcised or that I keep the feasts of G-d instead of those imposed by the Roman Catholics on the church, that I am going to hell. I listened to it several times. But that is what it appears to say from around 52 minutes on. Even your written teaching said the same thing.
I heard you mock the Word of G-d, or what appeared to me to be a mocking tone and attitude. If the Torah is so bad, then why teach from it at all?
I truly would like an answer to this email. And if you feel you must make an example of it so be it. But I must say that I am very discouraged. I heard you teach from Torah and such a beautiful teaching, and then because I was impressed with what I heard I looked at more and was hit between the eyes with these other teachings. It is hard to believe they are by the same person.
Thanks for taking the time to write. In order for me to be able to reply appropriately to your email, would you mind answering one question? Are you Jewish by birth, or are you a Gentile by birth? That single question will largely influence my response.
I look forward to our conversation.
Yours in Him,
Okay, I’ll bite. I do not see the relevance in this question in regards to your answer but ok. Irish Catholic Father, Assimilated Jewish Mother, was unaware of my Jewish background until some years after I had been Torah Obedient.. Circumcised in the hospital by a Dr. as was the law and customs of the day (50’s). So I guess I qualify as a Jew by birth.
There’s nothing to “bite” on. It’s not a trick. It’s simply a place to start the conversation. The apostle Paul is quite emphatic that Gentiles are not only under no obligation to keep the Law of Moses, if they do attempt to justify themselves via that means then they are required to keep the entirety of the Law and risk its attendant curse if they fail in any single element of the entire corpus of the Law. On the other hand, Paul never required that Jewish believers completely abandon Moses. For instance, when Paul desired to take Timothy into the temple he had him circumcised specifically because his mother was a Jewess and therefore it was appropriate (Acts 16:1-3).
When Paul was among those who were under the Law, he became as one under the Law. But, when he was among the Gentiles, he acted as one who was free of all Mosaic prescriptions (1 Cor. 9:20-21).
So, my question was predicated on your description of yourself as a “Torah Observant Believer.” If you are of genuine Jewish descent and are attempting to honor your history and heritage, that’s one thing. If you are a Gentile who is trying to achieve some level of personal sanctification through observing the commands of Moses, that’s another thing. Paul was quite clear in recognizing the distinctive attributes of both groups and he never mixed the two.
But, the most important element to understand at this juncture is that the Law is of no value where sanctification or purification is concerned. It failed to achieve a lasting perfection among Israel and it is therefore (according to easily-understood Pauline theology) never to be placed on the conscience of those who have already been redeemed and perfected by the finished work of Christ. That’s to return to the shadows which prefigured the appearance of Christ, rather than clinging to Christ Himself — who is the substance of those shadows (Col. 2:16-17).
I am therefore quite bold and quite confident in agreeing with Paul and arguing against those who would impose such rules on the Christian conscience. I am actually quite tame in my rhetoric when compared to the force of Paul’s language.
That being said, and given your description of yourself, I would be interested to know how you define the word “Torah.” When you say that you observe Torah, are you claiming to keep every detail of the Levitical Law? Or do you keep only portions of it? For instance, do you refrain from all work on the Sabbath? Or, do you drive a car, work around the house, or pick up sticks? Have you modified the Torah in order to observe under present-day circumstances, or you do you keep every rule and requirement in exacting detail?
I’m not asking to be mocking or sarcastic. My questions are quite sincere. In what way are you genuinely “Torah observant”? I think that’s the next thing we would have to define in order for our conversation to progress.
Yours for His sake,
I answered your question. Now will you please do me the courtesy of answering my initial question? Because until I am answered I do not intend to answer anymore questions. I wrote with a truly sincere question. My being Jewish should have no bearing on the answer; a child of G-d is a child of G-d. I am interested in both since you chose to make the distinction.
I was told you were fair and honest. So please do me the civil courtesy and answer the initial email. Please respond to it. No word games, no questions back. Just simply answer my questions and respond to the observations made.
Fair enough, let’s return to your original email. I will go through your email line-by-line, responding to your comments.
You wrote: Before we get into a discussion concerning your teaching, I want to clarify something before we continue any discussions.
Jim: In order to continue this discussion in an intelligent way, I asked a couple of questions concerning your background and your understanding of what constitutes “Torah.” If you were offended or put-off by my questions, I’m sorry. I was simply attempting to have a civil conversation about important matters.
You wrote: I read your teaching on Law Vs Grace as well as listened to the teaching from Aug 12th.
Jim: Good. I wonder how it is that you stumbled across our teaching, but I’ll refrain from asking such questions for now.
You wrote: I am a Torah Observant Believer.
Jim: That terminology is not strictly Biblical and can therefore be understood or defined a wide variety of ways. That’s why I was curious to know what you meant by using the term. Historically, the word “Torah” means either “the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, which contain the Law of Moses and regulations for the priesthood.” Or, in a wider sense, the definition of Torah is, “The entire body of Jewish religious literature, law and teaching as contained chiefly in the Old Testament and Talmud.”
When I refer to Torah, I am using the term in its strictest sense, meaning the Pentateuch and the Law of Moses specifically. The Law of Moses (or Torah) was the founding document that established the nation of Israel. Only national Israel was ever responsible to perform the requirements found in the Torah. Gentile converts to Judaism were also responsible to keep the Law. But, nowhere in the Bible are Gentile believers in Christ ever adjured to keep the commandments and laws of Torah.
The apostle Paul is clear and emphatic that the purpose of Torah was to prove that all men were sinful.
“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.” (Rom. 7:12-13)
“Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.” (Gal 3:19-20)
“Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (Gal. 3:21-22)
The Law cannot help a fallen sinner. It can only condemn us for our failure. Therefore, the law was nailed to the cross of Christ and taken out of the way in its entirety because it was “against us.” (Col. 2:14)
Ultimately, the purpose of the Law was to drive us to Christ. It served as a “paidagogos,” a schoolmaster or tutor, leading the way to genuine sanctification and redemption in the finished work of the Savior. Faith in the finished work of Christ stands in stark contrast with our fleshly law-keeping efforts, according to Pauline theology.
“But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:23-26)
Now that faith has come the way of salvation has been revealed. It’s by grace through faith in His finished work. Therefore “we are no longer under a tutor.” That tutor is the Law. It’s very plain — those who are trusting in Christ for their salvation at no longer under the Law.
That’s the biblical stance and the position which I hold most confidently.
You: I keep the law because I am saved not to attain Salvation.
Jim: I will only reply with Paul’s own words from Galatians 4:21 to 5:1 –
“Tell me, ye that desire to be under the law, do ye not hear the law? For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise. Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children. But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband. Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”
And again in Galatians 3:1-3 –
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?”
And again in Galatians 3:10-13 –
“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”
There are many similar passages I could quote, but these are sufficient to make the point. There is no necessity, nor expectation, that redeemed, blood-bought, perfected-forever saints will return to the Torah for anything at all. Being “Torah observant” is a dangerous game. As Paul stated precisely, if you are “of the works of the law” then you are equally “under the curse.” Anyone who does not continue to perform every detail and nuance of the Law will fall under its attendant curse.
I cannot say it any more plainly than that. You have declared yourself to have taken up an unbiblical and dangerous position. I doubt that you have observed every rule and detail of Torah perfectly and obediently every day of your life. Therefore, if you are judged by that law, you will fall under its curse.
You will most likely reply, “But, I am not following Torah in order to be saved; I am following it because I am saved. So, I’m not under its curse!”
But, you’re fooling yourself. You cannot mix law and grace. Just as Paul said above, we are “children of the free” and must therefore “cast out the bondwoman and her son.” We are not given the prerogative to keep her around in order to suit our desire to mix flesh and grace. Rather, we are to “stand fast” in the liberty we have in Christ and not be “entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” That’s what Paul called Torah — a yoke of bondage that cannot be placed on the neck of Christ’s free children.
Finally, since you are attempting to say that you are saved by Christ, yet keeping the Torah, I adjure you to read Paul’s word carefully, because you simply cannot have it both ways —
“Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. For we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness by faith.” (Gal. 5:2-5)
Either you are fully resting on the finished work of Christ for your eternal perfection, justification and sanctification, or you are following the mandates of Torah and have thus “fallen from grace” and “Christ shall profit you nothing.” It’s a total-sum enterprise. The position you are espousing is both dangerous and sub-biblical. And it will result in your judgment, not your perfection.
I cannot say it more clearly than that. And I have supplied ample Scripture that says exactly the same thing that I have said. In order for you to persist in your “Torah observant” ways, you must find clear, convincing evidence in Scripture that it is a proper and prescribed approach to the Christian faith.
Now, let me be clear — I am not saying that you must provide evidence to me. I’m nothing. You must provide yourself with that evidence in order to continue pursuing the path you are on. But, you must be equally aware of the many New Testament passages that warn believers NOT to follow the course you are following. This is not merely a matter of dispute between two people. This is a matter of aligning ourselves with what the Word of God actually says.
Your position (that you keep the Law because you are saved) runs utterly contrary to New Testament teaching –
“Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God. For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Rom. 7:4-6)
The language is clear and precise; in Christ we have died to the Law, not embraced it. We are joined to Christ, not to Torah. The Law aroused our sinful passions and it can only “bear fruit for death.” But, in Christ we are “released from the Law.” We have died to the Law which bound us so that we can serve Christ in the newness of the Holy Spirit and not in the “oldness of the letter (of Torah).”
You: Your blanket statements in the written teaching and in the audio state that because I keep Shabbat, or that I am circumcised or that I keep the feasts of G-d instead of those imposed by the Roman Catholics on the church, that I am going to hell.
Jim: I didn’t say it; Paul did. The Bible passages listed above are clear. If you are seeking to justify yourself via the Law of Moses, you will find yourself judged by the Law and you will suffer the curse attached to the failure to keep it fully and completely.
These are not “blanket statements.” They are Biblical precepts that are clearly stated in Colossians 2:16-23 –
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a feast day or a new moon or a sabbath day: which are a shadow of the things to come; but the body is Christ’s. Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of the angels, dwelling in the things which he hath seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast the Head, from whom all the body, being supplied and knit together through the joints and bands, increasing with the increase of God. If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to perish with the using), after the precepts and doctrines of men? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and severity to the body; (but are) not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
Your circumcision may have been a medical procedure that was performed when you were born. That’s of no consequence and I am certainly not saying that there is any judgment attached to those circumstances. The circumcision Paul dealt with was the mandatory circumcision of Gentile believers as an introduction to keeping the Torah. But, let’s look at the contrast. You say that I made “blanket statements” concerning your desire to keep the Sabbath. Yet, Paul writes the Sabbath is merely a shadow of Christ, and not the very substance of the matter. I have written and debated extensively on the question of Sabbath-keeping (and those articles can be found in the Q&A section of our website so I will not repeat that information here). I will simply point out that your position is anti-Pauline. My insistence on agreeing with Paul’s statements is not meant to be a direct offense to you. I’m just being consistently biblical.
You also insist that you keep the feasts of God. I wonder though, are you actually observing them according to the rules contained in Torah? I mean, do you travel to Jerusalem three times a year? Do you slaughter animals? There’s not even a high priest in the temple to perform the necessary requirements of the Day of Atonement at this moment. In what way can you say that you keep such feasts? Remember, it’s not enough to just follow some scaled-down and adjusted-for-contemporary-society version of the feasts. You must keep them in detail or you have failed to keep them at all.
I would also point out that I have never advocated keeping feasts or rules “imposed by Roman Catholics on the church.” I am guessing you are referring to Sunday worship. But, the gathering of the Church on Sunday morning (the day of the resurrection) began long before the Roman Catholic Church ever existed. Please keep your history correct and don’t rely on inaccurate canards. They do nothing to bolster your argument.
You: I listened to it several times.
Jim: Then you should understand my position. I am merely standing toe-to-toe with the Bible and letting it say what it says.
You: But that is what it appears to say from around 52 minutes on.
Jim: I am merely repeating what the Bible says, although I do sometimes use humor to get my point across.
You: Even your written teaching said the same thing.
Jim: Well, I’m nothing if not consistent.
You: I heard you mock the Word of G-d, or what appeared to me to be a mocking tone and attitude.
Jim: Please provide an example of my mocking God’s word. I (along with Paul) will adjure people most strongly to give up every confidence in their flesh and run to Christ, pleading His finished work and full redemption. Just as Paul mocked the Judaizers for binding Gentile converts to the Law and said that he wished they would castrate themselves (Gal. 5:12), I am willing to adjure men everywhere to flee the foolishness of thinking they can perfect themselves or please God by the actions of the Torah.
In other words, it was Paul who did the mocking — I simply agreed.
You: If the Torah is so bad, then why teach from it at all?
Jim: Oh, no … the law is not bad at all. It is completely good, high, and holy. And that’s the problem. We are utterly sinful and are therefore incapable of living up to the demands of the Law. And the Law cannot bend to help you when you fail. It can only serve to judge you for your sinfulness. And that was its purpose — to make sin all the more obvious and send us running to Christ.
Paul was quite clear that the law was good, but we are bad. Therefore, the Law is “against us.” This is the very struggle that Paul wrote about extensively in Romans 7 —
“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes 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.” (Rom. 7:7-25)
Torah is righteous and holy. But, we are sinful and incapable of performing the Law. Therefore, the Law can only condemn us. That is the New Testament view of Torah, and I agree with it wholeheartedly.
You: I truly would like an answer to this email.
Jim: And now you have one.
You: And if you feel you must make an example of it so be it.
Jim: I have no wish to make an example of you personally. But, the ideas you’ve expressed are typical of the legalistic mind-set. We’re talking about ideas here, not particular people. And I may post this discussion on our website (anonymously, of course) at some point in the future in order to demonstrate the different perspectives on this topic.
You: But I must say that I am very discouraged.
Jim: Yes, legalism will do that to ya.
You: I heard you teach from Torah and such a beautiful teaching, and then because I was impressed with what I heard I looked at more and was hit between the eyes with these other teachings.
Jim: This is one of those places where I wonder what you mean by the word “Torah.” I do teach from the Bible. Are you using the two terms synonymously? But, I never adjure people to keep the Law or observe the Torah. That would be to teach in opposition to the New Testament.
I am glad that you were “hit between the eyes” by the teaching of grace. Maybe God’s trying to tell you something.
You: It is hard to believe they are by the same person.
Jim: Well, be that as it may, I can only adjure you to think long and hard about the traditions you have assimilated into your view of Christianity. You are on a dangerous, slippery slope. That’s not my opinion; that’s the clear teaching of the Bible.
I’ve taken the time to respond to you fully because I am hoping to encourage you in your walk with Christ. Look to Him for you complete and utter sanctification, redemption, and perfection. He has qualified His people to gain their eternal inheritance and nothing — NOTHING — is to be added to that work.
I trust my words will be read as charitably as they were written.
Yours for His sake,