Christ Our Life

Losing a loved one, a friend, a job, or our health can be destabilizing, even a slight change in our routine can be challenging. What does it take to disorient us and send us into a tailspin? When our world begins to collapse do we become fearful, lost? Do we lose our faith in God? in Life itself?

To the degree we draw our sense of well-being from this world, the more losing it will cripple us. Trying to draw life from non-life-giving sources is a dead end.

The truth is, even now we don’t have any of these temporal things we think we have; our possessions, relationships, health, occupation, our whole world is passing away. (1Jn 2:17) We came into this world with nothing, and we won’t take any of it with us when we leave. (1Ti 6:7) What we have the moment after we die is all we really have now.

This is troubling if we’re looking for life and love like most everyone else, minding earthly things (Php 3:18-19), defining life in the context of earthly experience … building houses on the sand. (Mt 7:26-27)

When Christ becomes our Life (Co 3:4) our sense of well-being is grounded in Him; our foundation doesn’t collapse when our temporal world falls apart because we’ve built our house on the Rock. (Mt 7:24-25) Our life down here is a vapor (Ja 4:14); our treasure isn’t here, it’s in Him. (Mt 6:19-21)

In this world we will have tribulation, and that’s OK. (Jn 16:33) We who are already dead in Christ, our life is hid with Him in God (Co 3:1), and we will live with Him. (2Ti 2:11) Our lives are living sacrifices for Him to do with as He pleases. (Ro 12:1) To live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Php 1:21)

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One of These Least

Theologians claim to be able to divide Torah into parts which apply differently to different groups of people: [1] Moral laws for all Mankind (e.g. Le 19:18), [2] Civil laws only for Jews (e.g. De 20:1-4), and [3] Ceremonial laws for priests. (e.g. De 18:6-8) This is commonly used to teach that only Moral laws are relevant today.

The problem is this hermeneutic is not found in Scripture; while certain laws are explicitly directed toward specific groups, Scripture never limits the relevance of Torah on any other grounds.

Clearly, if a command is directed toward a group to which we don’t belong, we cannot break it because the command is not to us. However, if we disregard a command which we’re able to obey then we’re actually breaking it, unless we can show from Scripture we’re exempt.

Though Torah was given to Israelites on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago, Christ Himself says whosoever (Jew or Gentile, man or woman, adult or child) disregards one of these least commands will be counted least in His kingdom. (Mt 5:19a) Kingdom greatness is reflected by respecting even the most insignificant laws of Torah. (19b) This aligns with Torah itself. (Ps 119:4-6)

So, Christ is effectively teaching us we should all be keeping every law in Torah which we’re able to keep: any law not specifically addressed to someone else.

And since Christ’s nature within us delights in Torah (Ro 7:22) as a reflection of Jehovah’s majesty, holiness and character, one of the primary ways He’s revealed Himself, the godly aren’t looking for loopholes; we’re looking for every opportunity to honor God’s Way as well as we can.

So, as we’re working through passages which appear to teach otherwise (and there are a few) think of Torah wholistically (Ja 2:10-11), don’t pick out one of these least commandments; consider whether Paul could be saying we don’t need to love God with all our heart (De 6:4-5) or our neighbors as ourselves. (Le 19:18) On these two hang all the rest (Mt 22:40): we can’t separate them.

As we expose our cognitive bias to the light of Torah and square ourselves with the fact that every single one of God’s Laws is precious and good (Ro 7:12), we invariably find better ways to understand each text and reconcile it will all of Scripture.

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Make a Battlement

When we build a new house, God says to make a battlement for the roof so we’ll not be guilty of manslaughter if someone falls from the rooftop and dies. (De 22:8) This certainly makes sense in the context in which it was first given, where houses were generally constructed with a flat roof which was used as a living space; in such cases providing a barrier around the edge to keep people from harm is consistent with charity.

Yet how do we respond to such a law for steep rooftops, upon which only trained professionals are ever allowed? Do we violate this law because we think we understand its context and spirit, presuming it’s not applicable or obsolete in our case? or do we build completely useless barriers around rooftops which serve to protect no one?

If sin is the transgression or violation of the law (1Jn 3:4), in either the letter or the spirit, it seems we should not ignore the law, or violate it at any level for any reason. Yet it also seems inappropriate to build useless fences around our rooftops – making us appear foolish to the world and positioning Torah itself as ridiculous and burdensome. Neither approach seems reasonable.

If we look at the text carefully, it says to build a parapet, or a barrier or wall for our roof; the barrier need not be above or even upon the roof, just for the roof. To serve the intended function this battlement must be between the edge of the rooftop and those occupying our residence to prevent anyone from ever accidentally falling off.

For houses with steeply pitched roofs the exterior wall of the home itself serves as this battlement or barrier: when there is no rooftop access from within the home, if one must go to considerable trouble to climb up and over the exterior wall to access the roof, it seems this law in Torah is being respected both in spirit and in letter, in truth at every level.

However, for any home which provides convenient access to the rooftop, surrounding the accessible portion of the roof with a sturdy, waist-high fence to prevent anyone from accidental injury is clearly the Law of Love. (Ro 13:10)

This principle shows us we should make reasonable efforts to promote the safety and well-being of others at all times, taking steps to prevent accidental injury of any kind.

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They Are Remitted

As Jesus equips His disciples for ministry, He gives them authority to both remit and retain sins, implying God Himself will align with their choices. (Jn 20:23)

Some take this to mean the Twelve Apostles could decide whom God would forgive and whom He wouldn’t, effectively determining who would enter Heaven and who would go to Hell. Some evidently leverage this to teach the Roman Catholic Church controls our eternal destiny, contradicting what God Himself says about salvation: we’re saved by believing on Christ. (Jn 3:16) This relationship is between each individual person and God (18); Church leaders have nothing to do with it.

Others take it to mean the Twelve Apostles were simply messengers of the Gospel, showing people how to be forgiven, declaring forgiveness when people believed on Christ. (1Th 1:4-5) Yet the wording doesn’t permit this: it says the Apostles themselves could either remit or retain the sins of individuals as they saw fit. It’s not the same thing at all.

Neither of the above interpretations does full justice to the context, and it isn’t easy to find any other intelligible take on it. Even so, there must be a better way. (Mt 7:7)

Note carefully that this authority to remit and retain sins is the very first working principle Christ teaches the Twelve after giving them the Holy Spirit. (Jn 20:22) In filling them with the Spirit, Christ is forming them into an assembly of born again, spirit-filled brothers in what we might consider to be the first local church. This authority is evidently central to their ministry in this context, not necessarily given to each of the apostles as individuals, or even merely because they are His apostles. This authority to remit or retain sins may be vested in them simply because they are now spiritual brothers within the same local body of believers.

In such a context, they are in fact now responsible to discern what kinds and levels of sins to patiently bear with (remit, or let go of) (Ga 6:1-3) within the local assembly, and what degrees of sin to call out, judge and discipline (retain, or hold on to). (1Co 5:11-13)

Paul, an Apostle himself, reinforces this concept of brotherly authority in the context of church discipline (Ro 16:17); the brothers are to decide when someone is committed to sin and exclude them from fellowship (1Co 5:6-7), treating them as though they are unbelievers. (Mt 18:17)

Further, those whom the brothers forgive and receive back into fellowship after having disciplined them, Paul also forgives, indicating God’s alignment with them. (2Co 2:10-11)

The brothers have this spiritual authority to facilitate unity and purity within the local body; they’re responsible to manage this in all of the complexities and challenges they face together. They are effectively vested with the keys of God’s kingdom (Mt 16:19), manifested in the local church, deciding who is welcome and who isn’t. And as they seek the truth and align in the Spirit, God Himself works in and through them to glorify Himself (1Co 5:4-5), backing them up as needed. (Mt 18:18)

This kind of spiritual authority is, as we have noted, evidently not such that any sinful mortal may decide whether another soul is ultimately eternally forgiven before God, but God’s way of managing corporate purity and health within a local body of believers. (Ro 15:14)

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Whom Have I In Heaven?

How important would going to Heaven be if there were no Hell?

Suppose God were to offer us all our own version of Paradise, whatever we wanted, where we may do as we please any time we wish, enjoying lovers, friends and family at will, living in eternal happiness and pleasure away from God.

And suppose Heaven is only God, just each of us alone with Jehovah God forever, beholding and worshipping and serving Him. Nothing and no one else even on the radar.

If it were indeed so, who then would strive to enter God’s kingdom? (Lk 13:24) Would it be more evident who’s seeking God Himself, to know Him and walk with Him? (Jn 17:3)

When we think of Heaven, is God distant and far off, the way we perceive Him now? Are we OK with that? primarily interested in being reunited with loved ones? (Mt 10:37) Or in freedom from pain and suffering? (38)

Meanwhile, are we consumed with earthly cares? (Mk 4:18-19) Only turning to God when we’re in need? (Jn 6:26)

Many of us, by the way we’re living, appear to be like Adam and Eve after the Fall: seeking Paradise without God. (Ge 3:8)

If the earthly-minded are bound for eternal destruction (Php 3:18-19), how much more those who would focus Heaven itself on themselves?

Those pursuing their own benefit will forfeit it (Jn 12:25) and miss the ultimate Treasure. (Mt 13:44)

Can a soul who isn’t longing for God Himself be fit for the kingdom? (He 12:14) Can one who doesn’t value God above all rightly claim to know Him? (Mt 13:45-46)

Is God Himself enough for us? (Ps 72:26) Is Jehovah God our eternal portion? (Ps 119:57) If not, we don’t yet know Him as we should. (Php 3:8)

Asking God to search our hearts (Ps 139:23-24) helps us understand ourselves, to know who we are and where we are with God. (2Co 13:5) We can lie to ourselves about our love for God all day long, but He won’t fall for it. (1Co 16:22)

If we love God supremely, with a new heart created by Him and for Him (2Co 5:17), being with Him eternally is the Paradise we long for (Ps 27:4), and nothing less is acceptable. (Ps 73:25)

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All Such Rejoicing

James, the Lord’s brother (Ga 1:19), identifies a certain kind of rejoicing as evil (Ja 1:16): boasting in our own plans as though they’re God’s is missing the mark. Yet God isn’t making up a new standard here: He’s not embellishing or extending His moral Law; it’s always been this way.

Since all sin is a violation of Torah, and any violation of Torah is sin (1Jn 3:4), this evil rejoicing must be rooted in some deviation from Torah. What law of Torah is violated by evil rejoicing?

Such rejoicing might be rooted in pride, in thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought (Ro 12:3), but then we must find some law forbidding pride, which is yet another challenge.

Perhaps loving our neighbors as ourselves (Le 19:18b) precludes pride, but even if we’re able to do so, could we not still rejoice in our boastings?

The evil in this boasting noted by James isn’t necessarily related to confidence in one’s abilities (1Co 7:7), but in failing to acknowledge our ultimate dependence on God. (Ja 4:15) How can we presume the power to succeed in our schemes if we can’t even keep our hearts beating or our brains from shutting down? (Lk 12:16-20) It’s like making a promise or a vow we can’t necessarily keep; there are limits to our personal capability and power, and we should always make promises with these limitations in mind.

It is a violation of Torah to make a vow to Jehovah and then not keep it. (De 23:21-23). When making promises or vows to God (or others) we should conform our speech to reality, acknowledging both our internal inclinations, weaknesses and disposition as well as our external limitations and dependencies.

This being true, it naturally follows we ought to employ the same humility and caution both in the context of planning and also in evaluating the likelihood of our success. (Pr 27:1)

Further, this implies God will not generally reveal how our plans are going to turn out (1Ti 3:14-15); He does do this at times (1Sa 30:8), but it is the exception rather than the rule. (Pr 16:9)

Torah doesn’t forbid appropriate confidence in our abilities, given us by God (2Co 11:6); it does encourage us to glory only in Him (Ps 62:7) and what He’s done for us. (Ga 6:14)

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Even As He Is Pure

There’s an instinct within believers to purify ourselves, even as Christ Himself is pure (1Jn 3:3), to rid ourselves of all lies and misconceptions (Ps 119:29), to heal our wounds and insecurities, to root out all our evil tendencies (Ps 139:23-24), and live worthy of our calling and salvation. (Ep 4:1) This is our sanctification, and though we have the instinct to pursue it, we may not understand the process, how God sanctifies us; this can delay our progress and frustrate us.

The key principle at work in our sanctification is this: all sin springs from believing a lie, and we’re set free (sanctified) by knowing the truth. (Jn 8:32)

It sounds simple enough, but our lies are generally interconnected, layered into us over many years and strategically woven together within our souls through wounds and a myriad of social modeling, training and coercion. These lies build upon and reinforce one another, blinding us to the truth we so desperately need. It is so complex and multi-faceted that getting free really does take an act of God. (2Ti 2:24-26)

Thankfully, God is indeed in the business of sanctifying us (Jn 17:17); He doesn’t leave us alone in this process, yet He doesn’t do it all by Himself either – He expects us to understand how He sanctifies us, submit ourselves to His process and cooperate with Him in working out our own salvation/sanctification. (Php 2:12)

Since we get free by believing the truth (2Th 2:13), the next step in any sanctification journey is always to uncover another lie and renew our minds to believe the truth in the context of that lie. But how do we most efficiently go about this?

We must first find the next lie, identify and isolate it. This isn’t as easy as it might seem. Like diagnosing any ailment or disease, the process can be highly individual and nuanced: many similar symptoms have very different root causes and cures, and every individual is unique.

Further, like solving a Rubik’s Cube, there is often a required sequence in which we must approach a wholistic cure; when certain basic things aren’t working properly it doesn’t help to merely address the symptoms: when we do we just go round in circles, ending up back where we started. We must find the correct root causes, those within in our vast web and network of lies which are relatively unprotected and exposed, less grounded in the underlying substructure of our minds, and address them in a viable sequence. This takes the leading of the Spirit (Ps 23:3), searching all our inward parts (Pr 20:27), knowing how to set us free. (1Co 1:30)

To do this efficiently, in constant communion with the Spirit, we prayerfully take heed (or pay attention) to what’s going on inside of us in light of God’s perfect standard of holiness. (Ps 119:9) We’re to be constantly aware of how our thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions are aligned with God’s Law: Torah, His definition of righteousness. (72)

In parallel, we’re also to be constantly thinking about and meditating on God’s Law (97), so we’re continually exposing ourselves to and contemplating His righteousness in all its glory and wonder (18), constantly evaluating how we ourselves align with it. (59)

Whenever we sense a recurring disconnect between our behavior and God’s Way, we ask God to expose the underlying root-cause lie (105), help us understand and believe the truth (27), and then enable us to walk in it. (35)

To overcome, we should meditate upon and pray through scriptures which specifically address this lie (2Ti 3:16-17), asking God for grace to help us believe the truth with our whole heart, way down in our subconscious mind. We may need to enlist the prayers of spiritual community (Ja 5:16), and invite them to point out more relevant Scripture to cut to the chase and expose our issues. (He 4:12)

We know we are free when our behavior changes and stabilizes in holiness, as we consistently follow the way of truth in this particular area under a variety of trials and circumstances.

Our sanctification is a never-ending journey (Php 3:13-14) guided and attended by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13) in the context of spiritual community. We cannot do this all on our own, and we are not alone. (He 13:5)

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Let the Dead

One of the more surprising, and perhaps more easily misunderstood sayings of Jesus comes as He calls one to follow Him, who then asks for permission to first go and bury his father. Yeshua responds, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:59-60) Unlike other encounters in the immediate context, this does at first appear to be a direct command to abandon what is generally considered a legitimate family duty.

The command presumes of some capable members of the man’s family a spiritual deadness: they are unregenerate, dead to spiritual things, the way we all start out. (Ep 2:1) Yeshua is evidently saying worldly concerns are best relegated to the worldlings who care about them.

The key word is evidently Let, from the Greek Ἄφες (Aphes), to allow, permit, leave alone or forgive. The idea isn’t that we’re neglecting personal responsibility, such as a true parental obligation (De 27:16), but rather that we prefer to defer temporal affairs into the care of those who are capable and have a vested interest when this is appropriate. In worldly matters, we manage our affairs so as to let others spend their time and energy managing the detail as they like, giving ourselves more resources to focus on heavenly things.

It seems very likely, in the case of this particular disciple, that he wants to manage the arrangements of his father’s funeral because he cares too much about them; his priorities are misaligned so he is unwilling to defer to others. He has a calling on his life that is suffering because of this inordinate concern, and Christ is evidently telling him to let go; all his fussing isn’t actually going to benefit his father, his family prefers to handle it themselves and can do so adequately enough.

Another key to this context is the idea of first: setting proper priorities and boundaries in our lives. This gifted disciple wants to temporarily delay a kingdom duty to manage a temporal concern. (Lk 9:59) Yet how easy it is for days to turn into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. It ought not to be so in kingdom matters.

It is a mistake to suppose a delay is necessary, and therefore excusable, when it is a true duty. This is often simply an excuse to neglect our spiritual responsibility because we aren’t fully committed to it, and in that case one delay invariably leads to another. If we know we ought to be doing something and we have a kingdom-first mindset (Mt 6:33), there’s a way to get it done, if we’re simply willing to do it. If there isn’t, we ought not be doing it.

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Fit for the Kingdom

Yeshua says many things which may seem harsh, often in an arbitrary way. It’s difficult to understand Him in these contexts, so He is often misunderstood.

For example, when an enthusiastic young man decides to follow Christ, yet first wants to go home and say goodbye to his family (Lk 9:61), Christ replies, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.(62) Is Jesus telling him he can’t even tell his family about his life-changing decision, and bid them farewell as he starts off on his journey?

Looking carefully at His reply, Yeshua isn’t actually forbidding the disciple this last kindness to his family: He’s warning him about indecisiveness; his relatives will likely protest and discourage him, challenging the conventional wisdom of his decision and reminding him of his responsibilities to themselves and the larger community. “What?!! You’re going to abandon your family, leaving your little brother to handle everything all by himself? to follow who? Some rogue preacher you just met? And to do what? Where? You’re being impulsive, romanticizing about a revolution, but you’re going to get yourself killed! And maybe the rest of us too!” Family doesn’t generally take kindly to these sorts of decisions. (Mt 10:35-37)

Yeshua is indirectly prompting this dear man to look carefully into his own heart and count the cost; is this really what he wants? Is he willing to pay the price? to do what it takes to follow Messiah? Has he committed and focused his own spirit to take on the rigors demanded of the spiritual life? This isn’t a cake-walk; we’re called to take up our execution stake every single day. (Lk 9:23) Second-guessing will defeat us.

Those who start off in shallow passion and excitement after Messiah without doing this honest self-examination, this sobering kind of soul-searching evaluation, reflection and preparation (Lk 14:28), who have some ulterior motive, looking to advantage themselves — when the going gets tough, like the seed sprouting on stony ground, they’ll cool off, wither and fall away. (Mk 4:16-17) These are not fit for the kingdom of God.

This seems consistent with the rest of the immediate context; Christ responds to another enthusiast, willing to follow Him to the ends of the earth, that He Himself is homeless, having no place of His own to lie down at night. (Lk 9:57-58) Following Him means sleeping outside on the ground at times, in the rain and cold, going without food for days. (Mk 8:2-3) He’s suffering and calls us to endure hardness with Him (2Ti 2:3); are we in for that? (1Pe 4:1-2)

Those who aren’t willing to give up all to follow Christ (Lk 5:27-28), to forsake themselves for Him (Lk 14:25), to put Him first in every area of their lives, aren’t yet believing on Him, don’t yet know Him, and aren’t yet suited for the kingdom of God. (Lk 14:33)

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My Father’s Business

When Yeshua is 12 years old, He leaves home to begin His life’s work. (Lk 12:42-43) He doesn’t feel the need to even notify Joseph and His mother, having no sense He needs their blessing or that they should be looking after Him any longer. He even challenges their concern and admonishes them: they should know better. (49)

This raises some intriguing questions. Is Yeshua amiss in departing His childhood home so early? Is this premature and unwise? (52) Is He acting impulsively without proper counsel and preparation? (Pr 12:15) If so, is it foolish? even sin? If not, and if this is God’s will, then why does He so willingly return and submit Himself to His earthly parents (51), and forfeit 18 years of ministry? (Lk 3:23a)

We may infer from Yeshua’s life pattern that He’s obeying His Father; it’s what He sees His Father doing (Jn 5:19): starting His earthly ministry at age 12 pleases His Father. (Jn 8:29)

The key is evidently Joseph and His mother; if they’re OK with Yeshua leaving His childhood home and being about His Father’s business, which they should be, this is evidently the ideal path — and it’s anyone’s guess what this looks like.

However, if they aren’t on board and their parental instincts take over, then there are insurmountable difficulties in the ideal path: technically, per cultural norms of His day, Yeshua’s still a minor, not yet considered an adult (Nu  32:11), so persisting in His ministry against His parents’ wishes appears to violate Torah. (De 21:18-21) So, this incredible potential must be scrapped altogether.

Even so, in the context of this fallen world, God’s foreordained perfect plan for Yeshua is still alive and well (Ep 2:10), and this is what plays out over time. (Ro 8:28) He remains subject to His mother, patiently waiting to begin His ministry until, after nearly two long decades, desperate to save a friend in need, she lets go. (Jn 2:3-5) God’s perfect will is still accomplished perfectly, but in the context of human brokenness the ideal isn’t always God’s actual plan, and that’s a beautiful mystery for the ages.

What do we learn from this? Perhaps we may grasp a little bit more the nuance between God working everything according to His own will (Ep 1:11) and the way Free Will shapes the narrative as He does. God could easily have restrained His parents’ carnal mind, working His will in them (Php 2:13) so they rejoiced in Yeshua’s independence. (Pr 16:1) But God lets them make their choice and they blow it; His mother evidently stubbornly resists Yeshua in this for quite a long while. (Mt 12:47-50) Yet God isn’t frustrated when we choose a sub-optimal path; God’s glory is never tarnished by the failures of Man; it cannot be. But we certainly miss out. Should it be otherwise? Could it be?

Perhaps there’s a sense in which Yeshua’s mother, as a pivotal figure in the vast human organism (Mk 3:21), is a type for us all here; we have all tried to control God and have things our own way. (Is 53:1) Consequently, perhaps we’ve all missed out on amazing revelations of God’s glory that were very real possibilities, eliminated by our own and/or others’ poor choices; perhaps every sin impacts everyone negatively in some irrecoverable way. (1Cor 5:6) Evidently, God’s OK with allowing this, so we should be as well, not finding an excuse to sin (Ja 4:17) but recognizing God’s will is still in play and He’ll richly reward our dedication to Him. (Ro 2:6-7)

Known unto God are all His works from the foundation of the world (Ac 15:18), so His will is never threatened (Da 4:35); He knows everything that’s going to happen and how He’s going to manage it all. (He 4:3) Yet our choices still matter; they have very real consequences (Ga 6:7-9), and God knows the potential, what would happen if we made better choices. (Mt 11:23) He’s constantly inviting us to follow Him into the ideal, and we should be right on His heels. (1Pe 2:21)

As it all plays out, God is supremely glorified in everything He allows (Ro 3:5-7), reconciling everything unto Himself (Co 1:20), and working out everything for the good of those who love Him. (Ro 8:28)

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