By Grace

I believe we’re prone to fall into one of two basic soteriological errors: [1] “It doesn’t matter how I live since I’m forgiven.” [2] “If I don’t behave then I won’t be saved.” Those who’ve grasped God’s eternal salvation don’t think either way.

The key is in what God means when He says, “By grace you are saved.” (Ep 2:8) If we’re confusing grace with mercy, leniency, getting off easy, we miss His intent. Grace and mercy aren’t the same; they’re quite different.

We start out presuming salvation’s up to us, not God, and that’s where we go wrong. From that wrong place someone lies to us about what we need to do to finally end up in Heaven. Maybe some ritual called “accepting Christ,” and/or a certain behavior pattern that’ll be good enough for God. But it’s all wrong, because we’re starting at the wrong place.

Salvation isn’t up to us, it’s entirely in God’s hands. We’re born dead in sin (Col 2:13), enemies of God (Col 1:21), alienated from His life. (Ep 4:18) A dead man can’t do anything to raise himself; he can’t even want it. We need supernatural power; a miracle.

That’s where grace comes in: grace is “divine influence upon the heart and its manifestation in the life.” (Strong) It’s God’s power intervening in our deadness (Ep 2:5), divine life energizing human life (1Co 15:10)conforming us to the image of Christ. (Ro 8:29)

The very desire to seek after God actually comes from God (Php 2:13); finding this within should encourage us to pursue Him until we find Him (He 11:6), relentlessly asking Him to quicken us … until He actually does. We can’t afford to settle for anything less. (Mk_8:36)

Grace is God choosing us (Ep 1:4), enabling us to seek Him and find Him (1Co 1:30), to obey Him, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to have faith (Ep  2:8), to know that His promises are true, that He’s faithful.

We can have a relationship with God where: [1] He’ll never impute sin to us, crediting us with a perfect righteousness for Christ’s sake that’s independent of how we live (Ro 4:6-8), and [2] where He’s conforming us into His image (2Co 3:18), to live according to His way. How we live is evidence of His sanctifying work (Php 1:6), so it does matter; yet the saved don’t worry about losing salvation because it’s His work, not ours. (Ep 2:10)

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Heavy Burdens

Strategic attacks on our faith aim at its foundation: the nature of God and Man, the definition of sin, how to be in right relationship with God. As the enemy lies, changes definitions, wrests scripture, reasons falsely … he tries to destroy our foundation, making it hard to find the truth, or to help others find it. (Ps 11:3)

God defines sin as violating His Law: Torah. (1Jn 3:4) He has one law for us all, one standard, and it’s perfect. (Ps 19:7) He’s told us not to take away from it or add to it. (De 4:2) Doing so corrupts the definition of sin, creating heavy burdens which God didn’t intend. (Mt 23:4)

Just last week, a well-respected spiritual leader in my community insisted that if I drive a car or turn on a stove on Saturday, that I’m disobeying Torah. He says I can only make love with my wife one week out of the month, that I can’t wear a cotton-polyester t-shirt, that I can’t eat a cheeseburger (dairy or meat, never both in a meal), and that I must stone my kids to death when they disobey me … or I’m violating Torah. He was, in effect, trying to discourage me from even thinking about really trying to obey God’s laws, and he was evidently serious. Just one problem: none of this is actually in Torah.

When we don’t read God’s Word for ourselves, thinking carefully about what He says, we become vulnerable to these kinds of absurdities and encourage the lost to blaspheme God’s ways. It’s the enemy’s way of attacking our foundation, making God seem arbitrary, petty, capricious and malicious. I wonder what God thinks about it all; He can’t be pleased.

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One Law

In ancient Israel, when those from other nations dwelt among God’s people, they all had the same moral obligations; there was one law for everyone. We call it Torah, God’s instructions; it includes the Mosaic laws in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. No difference was made between Jew and Gentile. (Nu 15:15-16)

Comet C/2013 R1

I believe Torah, this same set of ancient laws, is timeless, defining holiness and sin for us today (1Jn 3:4); each one is rooted in the eternal nature and character of God. (1Pe 1:16) So I believe Torah is generally applicable for every people group and culture for all time (Mt 5:19), for Jew and Gentile alike. (Mi 4:2)

When we willfully break any of these laws we are guilty of breaking the Law as a whole, in its entirety (Ja 2:10-11), and we grieve and anger God. (He 10:26) God commands us to hide the words of His Law in our heart (De 6:6), and exhorts us to love His law and to meditate on it all the time. (Ps 119:97)

A general proof of this One Law concept is relatively straightforward: [1] Christ teaches that Torah will endure as long as Heaven and Earth remain. (Mt 5:17-18) [2] He also affirms that every single command in Torah has intrinsic moral significance as an expression and reflection of the one supreme moral standard: loving God with our whole heart, soul and mind, and our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt 22:36-40) [3] And finally, Christ commands His Jewish disciples to teach all nations to observe and obey all things whatsoever He has commanded them (Mt 28:19-20); God makes no Jew-Gentile distinctions in His commands.

Objection to One Law is nearly universal in Christianity, and generally passionate, opposing these three basic principles by [1] presuming that certain Torah commands have no timeless, intrinsic moral value, and then either [2] claiming Christ has abolished Torah altogether, or [3] arbitrarily classifying God’s laws into types (e.g. moral, ceremonial, civil, etc.), and presuming that certain kinds of laws (e.g. ceremonial and civil) don’t apply to Gentiles.

The motivation for opposing One Law is simple: the carnal mind is enmity against God and cannot be subject to Torah (Ro 8:7); our unregenerate nature cannot perceive Torah’s intrinsic moral value. But as we partake in the New Covenant, God gives us new hearts (Eze 36:26) and begins to write Torah into our minds and hearts (He 8:10), putting His spirit within us and causing us to walk in His ways (Eze 36:27), moving in our inward man to delight in Torah. (Ro 7:22) As we grasp its immeasurable value (Ps 119:72), how it reveals the nature of God and Man (Ps 119:130), how all who delight in it are blessed (Ps 1:2-3), we’ll never strategize to limit its applicability or scope.

Many different scriptures are used to refute One Law, but I see that each one must be wrested from context to do so. (2Pe 3:16) I have written extensively defending this concept, capturing the debate and answering all objections I encounter as well as I can, and remain open to honestly considering the strongest arguments opposing it. Only when we’re comfortable fully answering all of the strongest objections to a point of view can we be reasonably sure that we fully understand it and have found the truth as we ought.

I think the definition of sin and holiness is one of the most important topics we can discuss; without holiness no one will see God. (He 12:14) Since my position here appears to be so unique, and that variations of the opposing viewpoint are so widely and passionately held, I invite and encourage any one to challenge me, and to engage in respectful, constructive dialogue for our mutual edification.

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Every False Way

The Psalmist prays, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way.” (Ps 119:104) As we seek understanding through God’s precepts, we’re encouraged to learn to identify false ways of thinking and to reject them.

A false way is an irrational thought pattern, an invalid type of reasoning that’s only convincing when we want it to be; it’s biased, intellectually dishonest; it’s faulty logic, logical fallacy.

For example, last week, a well-meaning friend sent me an email outlining nine distinct points opposing a position I hold called One Law: We’re all responsible to obey all of God’s Law, the Law of Moses, or Torah, that we’re able to obey. I believe God has only one set of laws defining holiness and sin (1Jn 3:4); I think it’s generally applicable for every people group and culture for all time. I’ve written many articles supporting this viewpoint, and I continually invite anyone to challenge me on it, which is what my friend was doing.

As I considered each of the nine points, it was not difficult for me to see that each was invalid, based on false reasoning. The first, “[1] (One Law) is anti-Jewish because it opposes any continuing distinction between Jews and Gentiles,” is false by counter-example; Jews observe many traditions which distinguish them as a people which are not required in order to obey Torah (Mk 7:3-4), and Torah-obedient Gentiles are not required to become Jewish, but are encouraged to maintain their ethnic identity. (1Co 7:18)

The second was similarly false: “[2] (One Law) is supersessionist because it considers Israel as redefined and now composed of one law believers rather than the Jewish people.” Gentiles starting to try to obey Torah cannot redefine Israel since Israel has never been defined as “the people group that obeys Torah.” Israel has, for the most part and just like all other people groups, always been ungodly (Ro 11:26); they don’t obey Torah today, and they never have consistently obeyed it. (Ac 7:51)

The third point, “(One Law) is anti-Christian because it claims that the Church is pagan, apostate and sinning by not keeping distinctively Jewish commandments,” was a case of circular reasoning, assuming what we’re trying to prove, that most of God’s commandments in Torah are only for Jews.

The rest of the points were either redundant with the first error above, or ad hominem arguments: claims that One Law is invalid because some people who hold it are bad. For example: “(One Law) promotes arrogance and a critical spirit towards Synagogue and Church authority and tradition.” This is an attempt to discredit One Law through personal attack. Though many proponents of One Law may be arrogant or have a critical spirit, there’s nothing inherent in the position that actually requires or implies such a disposition.

Ad Hominem is a particularly common type of logical error because it’s emotionally charged, so it’s generally quite effective in convincing careless, biased people; yet it’s easily exposed as illogical since it’s context specific: we’d never apply this type of reasoning to dismiss something we want to believe, like the fact that Earth is spherical. Many wicked people believe the earth is round, but this is irrelevant; it doesn’t prove the earth is flat … because it has nothing to do with the claim.

It’s very easy to to commit logical fallacy and to be deceived by invalid reasoning; if we’re not carefully pursuing truth, hating vain thoughts, we’ll be blinded by our bias, unable to detect false ways of thinking. The wicked lay them out for us like snares (Ps 119:110); we must remain humble and vigilant. (1Pe 5:8) Whenever Christians commit logical fallacies, the world goes out of its way to notice and bring dishonor to the name of Christ.

The safest way I’ve found to avoid the false way is to ask others to challenge me with their strongest arguments. Humbly and carefully considering opposing view points in their strongest possible form, and prayerfully comparing these with God’s Word, is the only way I know. (Ps 119:59)

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Vain Thoughts

The Psalmist hates vain thoughts, but loves God’s Law. (Ps 119:113) To hate vain thoughts, we must equip ourselves to detect invalid thought patterns, especially within, and train ourselves to think the way God’s designed us to, asking Him to help us. (Ps 19:14)

From the contrast the Psalmist presents, vain thoughts seem to be any and all mental or emotional activity that’s inconsistent with God’s Law, or with truth. (Ps 119:142) Vain, empty, foolish thoughts would then include any notion or sentiment not springing from delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22), or that’s inconsistent with Torah (Is 8:20), or trains of thought that are illogical (1Co 14:20) or irrational. (1Pe 1:13) This includes pride and presumption, all deception and all forms of faulty reasoning.

For example, my high school honors biology teacher dismissed Creation Science on the first day of class by asking all us young men to check if we were missing a rib. We all, myself included, laughed religious superstition to scorn: of course, if God took a rib from Adam to make Eve, then all men should be missing a rib. Case closed.

He then proceeded to teach us that biological traits are inherited through DNA, contradicting the very reasoning he had just used to dismiss Creation Science: if I lose a finger and then have kids, my kids will still have all their fingers. But we never noticed his error, because we wanted to believe in evolution.

It’s raw presumption to believe something simply because we want it to be true, and we’re all guilty of this at times. Whenever we’re biased, emotionally predisposed to accept or reject an idea, then we’re ripe for deception, and any pretense of evidence to support the lie will comfort and strengthen us in believing it. (2Ti 4:3) This is exactly how the enemy wars against us, taking us captive through deception. (2Ti 2:25)

To find the truth we have to want it, search for it, value it above all else: buy truth and sell it not. (Pr 23:23)[/simple_tooltip]

Logic is reasoning that enables us to discover truth, to learn new truths based on what we already know to be true. Like mathematics, it always works because it’s blind to our desires. God has given it to us to help us pursue Him and His calling in us to subdue the earth. We can tell logic is of God because He never violates it, and because we don’t either when we’re unbiased; we’re easily able to identify false reasoning when someone tries to use it to discredit something we want to believe or already know to be true.

There’s a moral integrity and wisdom here that very few seem to find. Because we’re all born broken, dishonest and selfish, dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1), we all have difficulty discerning truth in spiritual things because we are emotionally biased against them, and the enemy is constantly trying to deceive us, throw us off balance, and take us down. Even when we’re well-trained and being as careful as we can be, we can still get proud, and make careless mistakes in our reasoning. These errors can be very hard for us to see on our own (Ps 19:12), so we need others to help us in our journey, to wake us up, and encourage us to shake off the stupor and walk in the light. (Ep 5:15)

If we’re to love God and His ways, we ought to hate every false way (Ps 119:104), and not be counted among the proud, foolish and thoughtless. (Ep 5:15) Humility is open to criticism, to being challenged on every belief and why it’s being held. Sometimes, it’s those who disagree with us who can help us the most. Don’t fear being wrong, only staying that way.

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Order My Steps

I’m encouraged by the absolute sovereignty of God: He invites me to command Him to make me understand His way (Ps 119:27), to make me to go in the path of His commandments (Ps 119:35), to order my steps in His Word, and to not let any iniquity have dominion over me! (Ps 119:133) He’s inviting me to acknowledge His absolute control over me and everything in my life, and to fully engage with Him as He causes goodness in me. (Ps 23:3)

If He commands me to pray like this, He’s evidently able to answer me … and intends to do so. The implication is that my will is not free to choose good all on its own (Ro 3:10); I need Him (Jn 15:5), and He’s making it happen. (1Th 3:12)

He invites me to command Him to give me understanding (Ps 119:34), to incline my heart unto His testimonies and not to covetousness (Ps 119:36), to keep me back from presumptuous sins (Ps 19:13), to remove from me the way of lying and grant me His law graciously (Ps 119:29), to let my heart be sound in His statutes so that I won’t be ashamed (Ps 119:80), to turn away my eyes from beholding vanity, and to quicken me in His way(Ps 119:37)

He also invites me to command Him to cause others who are likeminded to seek me out as companions (Ps 119:79), and to deliver me from oppression (Ps 119:134), especially from the proud. (Ps 119:122)

He can answer all these prayers because He works in me both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Php 2:13), and because He’s in absolute control of everything all the time. (Eph 1:11) All my steps are ordered by Him (Ps 37:23); it’s true for everyone. (Pr 16:9)

These prayers are all then, in themselves, precious promises that give me hope, and enable me to partake of the divine nature. (2Pe 1:4) His sovereignty isn’t an excuse for passivity, but a promise that my choices are grounded in His working in me, and an encouragement to pursue Him with an expectation that I will find yet more and more of Him (Mt 7:7-8), that He will reveal Himself to me (Php 3:10) and conform me to the image of His Son. (Ro 8:29)

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Even Weeping

My wife says I cry easy; my kids see it too. But most of the time my eyes are dry when they shouldn’t be. There’s plenty to weep about, yet I don’t.

I should be weeping over sin, over my own sin (Ja 4:8), and over the sins of others. (Ps 119:136)

It’s so easy for me to compromise and accept sin; it’s also easy to look down my nose at sinners, despising and condemning them. But to grieve (Ps 119:158) … well, that’s real, genuine, connected … that’s love.

Paul wept over worldliness in the churches (Php 3:18) and was continually mourning over his lost countrymen (Ro 9:2-3); Samuel wept for a rebellious friend (1Sa 15:11); David wept over a traitorous child (2Sa 18:33); Jeremiah wept over Israel’s pride (Je 13:17); and Yeshua wept for Jerusalem. (Lk 19:41-42)

I think dry eyes reveal a small, hard heart.

I need prayer to care more, to increase and abound in love yet more and more, in knowledge and in all judgment (Php 1:9); please lift me up, if you will.

YHWH, please enlarge my heart (Ps 119:32)quicken me according to Your Word. (Ps 119:154)

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At Thy Word

Simon Peter has fished all night and come up empty; not a single fish. As he washes the crud out of his nets on the beach, Yeshua climbs up into his boat and asks him to launch it so He can preach from the water. Peter obliges, and afterwards Yeshua tells him to go fishing one more time. Peter has no interest or hope, but obeys for only one reason: Yeshua tells him to. (Lk 5:5) Peter has a submitted, obedient heart, and it turns out quite well.

What am I doing in my life for this sole reason? God says so. Not because of religious tradition, or because my culture, friends or family expect it, not because it’s convenient or makes me feel better … but just because God says so.

I wear tzit tzit only because He says to (De 22:12); I wouldn’t otherwise.

I treat Saturday special only because He says to (Ex 20:8); my culture sets Sunday apart; resting when others do is more convenient.

I don’t eat ham, catfish or shrimp only because He forbids it (Le 11:7); I like the taste (or used to) and don’t think it’s necessarily bad for me, if it’s prepared correctly.

But most of what I do, I think I’d do anyway, whether He said to or not; I can see that most of His commands are good for me, even if they weren’t commanded, so it’s hard to see my motive much of the time.

Perhaps it’s when I’m tempted to disobey Him that I see my heart more clearly. What am I valuing? Is it the pleasure of Man, myself or others, or am I seeking the pleasure of God?

I think the mark of God’s children is that they do what He says … because He says so. (1Jn 3:10)

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Aleph Beth Gimel

Psalm 119 is unique among the chapters of the Bible: it’s a song, with a stanza for every letter of the Hebrew alphabet, 22 in all, 8 verses per stanza. That’s 176 verses … the longest chapter in the Bible … it’s like the ABC’s of faith.

The stanzas are each titled with a unique Hebrew letter, arranged in alphabetical order, and each verse in each stanza begins with the Hebrew letter in its title: this psalm is a large acrostic poem.

Many stanzas appear to have a theme, captured in the first and fifth verses, followed by related expressions of opposition, affliction or conflict, and the last verse of many stanzas appears to introduce the next one.

Each verse forms a complete, self-contained thought; in English each one is a complete sentence. Except for the first 3 introductory verses, most of the remaining 173 verses are simple prayers: addressing God, talking with Him and engaging Him. There are pleas for help and encouragement, protection and quickening, appeals for justice and mercy, many declarations of God’s nature and character, proofs of His absolute sovereignty, and passionate, personal expressions of what the author is thinking, feeling, valuing and doing as a manner of life as he walks with God.

All of these unique properties suggest that the content of Psalm 119 is extremely significant and valuable, and that God explicitly designed it the way He did to encourage and help us in memorizing it and meditating on it. We can think of Psalm 119 as the ABC’s of spiritual life, God’s primer for knowing and walking with Him, containing the substance and foundation of our faith.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that all but 5 of these 176 verses (84, 90, 121, 122, 132) refer directly to God’s Word: His Law, precepts, commandments, judgments, testimonies, statutes … His Way. From a variety of angles and perspectives, this Psalm expresses a right relationship with God in the context of His laws, how our hearts are to be inclined in various circumstances; it evidently contains the definition of a godly disposition, how we should be feeling and responding to God and His Word, and in particular to Torah. It actually appears to define our spiritual life in these terms: the way we treat Torah defines how we feel about God.

As God tells us all to sing Psalms (Ja 5:13), reciting them to ourselves (Ep 5:19), hiding them in our heart, meditating on them and reminding each other of them (Col 3:16), evidently He’d like for us to be meditating on this one in particular; it appears to be at or near the top of His chart.

We can be reasonably sure that Jesus Christ memorized this particular Psalm and meditated on it regularly, praying it continually throughout His life. And we can be sure that He did so perfectly, applying it consistently, feeling and thinking what it expresses as if He wrote it Himself. We’re to follow His steps (1Pe 2:21), beholding Him here as He is, and being transformed into His likeness. (2Co 3:18)

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Holy and Unholy

I travel a lot for work: Poland, Mexico, China, South Africa, Germany, Singapore, India … all over the world. Everywhere I go I’m careful what I eat; pork and shellfish are standard fare most places, and often comprise the bulk of the menu. I seldom order salad without specifying “no bacon,” and when language is an issue it’s extra challenging. There’s a constant striving, an alertness required to eat according to God’s pattern, but as I delight in God’s Law (Ro 7:22) I see an important spiritual lesson in it.

Trevor Rees: Long clawed squat lobster

In calling us to put away all uncleanness, God gave us laws describing unclean animals to train us in the habit of discerning what we take in, both physically and spiritually. (Lev 20:25) He is concerned about our health and knows that we live in a polluted, broken world. He wants us to test everything that is presented to us as food, for both body and soul, and ensure that it passes the litmus test of His Word. (Is 8:20)

What this seems to mean is that we are to be constantly evaluating any and all spiritual teaching that is offered to us, checking the Scripture to see if it is so. (Ac 17:11) When verses are taken out of context or faulty reasoning is applied, we’re to recognize it, call it out and reject it. (Ps 119:104) Failing to do so permits lies into our lives which defile and weaken our souls and spirits, giving the enemy access (2Ti 2:25-26) to steal, kill and destroy. (Jn 10:10)

Additionally, we should be comparing all of our own thoughts and motives with God’s Word (Ps 119:113), identifying as unclean anything with in us that’s contrary to His Way. (Ps 19:14) This seems consistent with God’s call to gird up the loins of our mind (1Pe 1:13), to be circumspect, sober and vigilant (1Pe 5:8) in following after holiness(He 12:14)

We’re each accountable to God for what we believe and do (Ro 14:11-12), for every idle word we speak (Mt 12:36); we each bear our own burden before Him. (Ga 6:4) No one else can watch our spiritual diet for us; let’s enjoy and leverage God’s training plan so that we can differentiate between holy and unholy, and between unclean clean. (Le 10:10)

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