In Himself Alone

Terminal cancer is no joke. When we hear we have so little time left, what do we do? Re-calibrate? Re-orient? Get out our bucket list and try to live it up? It’s perfectly understandable, whatever we do when we face our fragile little selves for what we really are (Ga 6:3), feeling alone, afraid, uncertain. (He 10:31)

Truly, we’re all dying of a terminal condition: Life itself. But as long as death seems far away, not imminently close, we comfort ourselves however we can, asleep at the wheel.

Facing our mortality wakes us up, helping us realize what and who we are (Ja 4:14), what and who we have, or don’t have. (Ga 6:4-5) It’s clear we don’t take our stuff, our friends or family (1Co 6:29-31), or even our man-made religion (Mk 7:7); we leave it all behind. (1Ti 6:7) We will face God alone, and deal with Him one on one, for eternity. (Ro 14:11-12)

It isn’t so much a choice between Heaven and Hell, though that’s implied; it’s more about being a devoted lover of God, or His enemy: there’s no middle ground with Him. (Mt 12:33)

Think of it this way: no matter where we end up, it’s just going to be each one of us as an individual alone with God (2Co 5:8), as if no one else will be on our radar, part of our routine, conscious focus, except Him. (Ps 73:25)

What will that be like … if we love God? (1Co 8:3) or if we don’t? (16:22)

For sure, those in Heaven will be in community together, in a sense (He 12:22-23), as well as those in Hell, but as God unveils us into His immediate omnipresence (Jn 17:24), His infinitude will completely consume, occupy and overwhelm all our senses. (Re 20:11) From that moment on, out into eternity, we will see and experience God as All in All (1Co 15:58), drinking in the infinite majesty of Jehovah God. (Re 22:3-5)

If we love God, in that eternal moment, we’ll have all there is to have (Ro 8:17); and if we don’t love God, we’ll be forever face-to-face with the indignant fury of the Almighty (Re 6:16), Who repays all who hate Him to their face. (De 7:9-10)

We may think we don’t actually hate God, perhaps we’re just indifferent or lukewarm, but that’s all the same to Him; He might even detest indifference more intensely. (Re 3:15-16) God cannot be trifled with (Ga 6:7); He commands us to love Him with all our being; mind, heart, soul and strength. (Mk 12:30) Nothing less is acceptable.

False religion is how we deceive ourselves into thinking God will accept us on our merits, because we belong to a special club and follow certain rituals, and the more truth our religion contains the more deceptive it can be. (2Co 11:13-15) Any religion offering us hope by adhering to it is a counterfeit; religion can’t bring us to God. Shedding all formal religion, leaving only the divine relationship, may help us see whether we’re relying on emptiness here.

If we’re honest with ourselves (1Co 3:18), we can tell what and who we truly love. Is it truth? (2Th 2:10) Is it God? Above everything and everyone else? (Jn 12:25) Is this reflected in our lives, day to day? (Pr 20:11) Are we obeying Him the best we know how, submitting our entire lives to Him? (Jn 14:23)

There’s only one Way to God: the Person of Jesus Christ. (Jn 14:6) He is all we need, but to have Him we must give up everything else (Mt 13:44-46); He tolerates no rivals in our affections or loyalties. (Lk 14:26)

If me and Christ forever sounds like Heaven, we’re likely one of the chosen few to find the narrow gate and we’re well on our way (Mt 7:14); otherwise, we’re likely still on the broad road with the mass of Mankind, the walking dead (Ep 2:1), headed to eternal death and destruction. (Mt 7:13) Look for that tiny little gate, find it and strive to enter (Lk 13:24); it’s only One Person wide, and His name is Yeshua: Jesus.

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By the Scriptures

The thought that Christ came to start a new religion, which we now call Christianity, evidently lies at the heart of Christianity itself as a distinct religion. Christians claim to follow Christ, to believe in Him and worship Him, find their salvation in Him, and believe their unique practices and beliefs are what Christ Himself has commanded of them. For these divine instructions they rely exclusively upon the New Testament.

There is, however, a very basic problem with this understanding: Christ Himself never taught this, that He came to start a new religion, neither did any of His apostles. Both Christ and all of His apostles, including the Apostle Paul, believed the one true faith (Ep 4:4) was an old one, largely lost in Judaism yet embodied within the Tanakh, what we now call the Old Testament, which they referred to as the scriptures. (Jn 5:29) There was no concept of a New Testament (NT) scripture during the lifetime of Paul or the Twelve Apostles; they never based any of their teachings on anything but the Tanakh. They had no other scriptural authority, and scriptural authority was all they truly had. (Ac 17:11)

Both Christ (Jn 3:10) and the Apostles taught that the true and correct religion (Ju 3), the way to be in right relationship with God, was the historic faith embodied in the Tanakh. (Ro 16:25-26) Christ’s work and message didn’t alter this in any way, shape or form. (Ps 19:7-9) This is, in fact, how Christ Himself frames His entire ministry: He affirms that His message and redemptive work are grounded in, explained by and perfectly consistent with the Tanakh. (Mt 5:17-19)

While it is evident (at least to me) that the NT writings are just as inspired as the Tanakh, it is also evident that if we’re not properly grounded in the Tanakh we can easily misread, misinterpret, and misapply the NT, particularly the writings of Paul. This is, I believe, the fundamental problem with Christianity as a whole, and it is not a recent problem; it traces as far back as the early second century CE and includes nearly everything which makes Christianity a distinct religion, such as Sunday worship, the Eucharist (the Lord’s Supper), a belief that Christ has abolished or annulled Torah, and a variety of corruptions of the gospel which are deeply inconsistent with the Tanakh. Though considered fundamentals of Christian faith today, such beliefs were foreign to the early Church.

In the earliest days of the Faith, during the Apostolic Age, the disciples of Christ were considered a Jewish sect, The Way (Ac 9:2), a subset of Judaism; gentile believers were largely indistinguishable from their Jewish brothers and sisters in their worship and practice. (Ga 2:14) This sect was distinct from traditional Judaism in two fundamental ways: [1] a return to justification by faith (rejecting Judaism’s legalism) and [2] recognizing salvation was available to gentiles even if they didn’t become Jewish proselytes and observe Jewish customs and man-made traditions (as required in Judaism). Apart from these two key differences, the early Church was essentially identical to Judaism; the Church simply corrected the errors of Judaism in these two key areas where she had departed from the way of truth defined in the Tanakh.

It wasn’t until after the death of the apostles, as persecution of the Jewish people become more intense, that a move began to distance the churches from Judaism and from the Tanakh, to redefine the Faith as distinctly non-Jewish. Deceitful workers found plenty of fuel in the Pauline epistles (2Co 11:13), inventing another Jesus, another gospel, and fabricating an entirely new religion. (1Co 11:4)

Peter himself warns us about this, that some of what Paul writes is hard to understand and easy to misinterpret, such that those who are unlearned and unstable typically wrest Pauline statements, as they do also the Tanakh, unto their own destruction. (2Pe 3:16) And Paul himself warned that soon after his departing grievous wolves would enter into the Church, not sparing the flock. (Ac 20:29)

To the degree any Christian sect strays from the Tanakh it will be in error, and when the lies are couched in the very language of scripture, those who are deceived in them are exceptionally difficult to reach, since the words and many of the key concepts are already accepted and believed, but incorrectly, out of context.

This is particularly true of the gospel itself; very few (if any) Christian presentations of the gospel are based on the Tanakh, and what most Christians actually believe about salvation cannot be found within it. In fact, most Christians believe Christ actually came to change the way we’re saved, such that we’re now saved in a different way than those in the old dispensation. Nothing could be farther from the truth, or more eternally dangerous.

As it was for me personally, Christians may indeed find themselves inoculated against the true faith of God, thinking they’re eternally safe when they aren’t, hoping they have spiritual life when they’re still dead in sin. (Re 3:1) It is sobering to realize that many, perhaps most of those complacent in their Christianity will fail to make their calling and election sure (2Pe 1:10), and will be lost in the end, as Christ Himself predicts. (Mt 7:21-23)

Given this tendency to misinterpret and misapply the NT, and the eternal danger this poses, a good litmus test for any Christian teaching about the nature of God or Man (Ro 3:10), or about our duty to God or Man, or about how to be rightly aligned with God and in fellowship with Him (Ro 4:3), is that it must be grounded solidly in the Tanakh. (2Ti 3:16-17) This is following the example of Christ and His apostles; it is exactly what they did. (14-15)

So, if our understanding of the gospel, the ground of our salvation, is not firmly established within the Tanakh (Ro 4:16), and perfectly consistent with it (Ps 119:115), we need to keep seeking and praying until we find God in truth. (Lk 16:27-31) Inundated by counterfeit gospels, the Tanakh makes us wise unto salvation, teaching us what faith in Christ looks like and how to obtain it (1Ti 3:14-15); we cannot afford to be amiss here. (Mt 26:16)

And if any other teaching or doctrine cannot be derived primarily from the Tanakh (Ro 15:4), being only reinforced and supported in the NT, we should hold it loosely, with a bit of suspicion and caution, at arm’s length as it were, and not close to the heart. And, certainly, if any doctrine contradicts or dismisses any part of Torah in any way, we may safely discard it as darkness. (Is 8:20)

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Evening and Morning

When we’re keeping the biblical feasts it’s helpful to understand God’s definition of a Day: when we move from one day to the next. As we get this right, we’re getting a little closer to aligning with God’s rhythm and calendar.

We experience days in a repeating 24-hour cycle of light and dark, so defining a day is deciding when one day ends and the next one begins within this recurring cycle.

There are a few obvious choices: midnight, as observed in the West; sunset or evening, as observed in Judaism; and sunrise or morning, as in some agricultural societies.

The traditions of Judaism are grounded in a biblical precedent for starting the day in the evening: God consistently identifies a day as the evening and the morning (Ge 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), suggesting evening is followed by morning within this daily cycle.

And since the very first day began in with darkness first, God creating the heaven (space), Earth and water before creating light (Ge 1:1-2), which all occurred all on the first day (Ex 20:11), Day 1 must have ended with a cycle of light to transition into Day 2, which must also have begun with a dark period, followed by a period of light. This pattern of starting a day in darkness would then necessarily have continued every day since: starting each day in the evening around sunset, as light fades into darkness.

And thousands of years later, as Moses taught Israel to keep sabbath, even enforcing the death penalty upon those who willfully violated it (Nu 15:32, 35), and since God tells us to work the remaining six days (Ex 20:9), He certainly instructed His people as to when the sabbath day begins and ends, if there was ever any question about it, so they would all be sure to cease from work for the entire sabbath day and not put the nation in danger by breaking their covenant with God.

And still thousands of years later, as God walked the earth in the Person of His beloved Son, though He violated much Jewish tradition, man-made laws wrongly imposed on His people, He never did violate His own Sabbath command (1Pe 2:22), nor did He challenge their understanding of a Day, when it started or ended, which they had evidently been practicing ever since Torah was given them at Sinai.

Challenging the Jewish understanding of a Day is essentially claiming it has been incorrect during the entire history of Israel as a nation, from the time of Moses right down through the lives of Christ and the apostles, and that no prophet of God ever called them out on this or corrected it. It implies they were all constantly violating sabbath, ignorantly breaking God’s law by working on sabbath, violating their covenant relationship with God every single week. It’s inconceivable, as careful as God encourages us to be in observing His laws (Ps 119:4), that Christ Himself would have made this basic kind of error Himself, not pointing it out and neglecting to instruct His people in how to observe sabbath correctly.

We may be certain that Jesus Christ, as well as all of His apostles, approved of and lived by the Jewish definition of a Day, and so should we.

This is why we begin to honor Sabbath at sunset, and why we start celebrating biblical feasts with an evening meal.

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Every Day Alike

The Sabbath Day is central to our understanding of time; it’s where we get the concept of a 7-day week. The very first thing God tells us He did as He ceased creating is bless the seventh day (Ge 2:2-3), and we’ve been keeping time by it ever since. He didn’t do this just for Jews, but as a blessing for us all. (Mk 2:27)

It’s a blessing to rest from our work every Sabbath, to slow down, take time to notice, to be still. It’s a time to commune with others, to focus, re-calibrate and rejuvenate. It’s a rhythm God has given us, and it’s good for us to get into it.

Yet it isn’t only about rest; the essence of the sabbath command is to remember it (Ex 20:7): to not forget God rested from His creative work on a Saturday, and to keep each weekly anniversary of Creation in mind as part of the fabric of our existence. It’s a way to stay in sync with God, to glorify Him as God (Ro 1:21), to abide in Him, to constantly remember our Almighty Creator: He has made each of us individually with His hands (Ps 119:73), and every single day uniquely since (Ps 118:24); this is all the work of His hands. (Ps 95:5, Ps 102:25)

However, God doesn’t say the Sabbath is more important or more valuable than workdays, just that we’re to set it aside, to purpose to live differently within it. It isn’t necessarily wrong for us to esteem Sabbath above workdays; it’s natural to focus more on God when we aren’t distracted as much by worldly cares, and enjoying such times is incredibly important. But it’s also reasonable to esteem workdays to be of equal importance, or even more important than Sabbath, if we worship God every day and value work more than rest.

We may all have an opinion, even a strong one (Ro 14:5), yet this is between us and God. (6a) Since God is silent on the matter, and hasn’t made Saturdays noticeably different than other days, we shouldn’t be dogmatic or concerned for those who hold a different view.

There are those who leverage this concept, as Paul expresses it in Romans 14, to dismiss Sabbath altogether, claiming we can now pick any day we like for sabbath, or treat every day alike and ignore sabbath. These folk generally also claim we can now dismiss God’s dietary laws and eat anything we like (Ro 14:2), not making any distinction in our diet. (14)

Yet those who teach this way are missing the whole point of the context: which is receiving those who are weak in the faith. (Ro 14:1) Paul isn’t dismissing any part of the divine standard and encouraging us all to wing it, he’s teaching us to be accommodating with those who are of differing opinions on matters where God is silent, especially those who are intimidated by culture, tradition and superficial appearances, who aren’t fully grounded in the precepts of God. (13)

And this is the general pattern of love; where God has spoken clearly we’re to be committed to persuading others as well as we can (Ti 1:9), earnestly defending the faith (Ju 3), compassionate and concerned (2Ti 2:24-26), seeking to restore those who have fallen (Ga 6:1), and in matters of preference we’re to be gracious, peaceful and tolerant. (Ro 14:19)

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Founded Upon a Rock

The ending of the Sermon on the Mount is majestic, imposing, ominously authoritative and frighteningly demanding. After laying out what looks like an impossible standard of conduct, Christ says all who don’t obey Him and do what He says will be eternally destroyed (Mt 7:26-27), including many who call Him Lord. (22) If the Gospel is simply a free gift of salvation to all who are willing to receive it, how do we square this up?

One way is to ignore the warning and hope for the best, that God’s love and grace will cover our sin and we’ll be fine in the end even if we don’t obey Him. This isn’t wisdom, to say the least; it’s building on the sand: equivalent to rejecting Christ Himself. (Jn 12:48) We can say we’re receiving Christ while we’re ignoring what He says, but it’s pointless doubletalk. (Ja 2:20) Christ is saying something exceedingly profound, and He means exactly what He says; we ignore Him at our eternal peril. (De 18:19)

Another way to deal with this is to claim we’re saved by obeying Christ, reject the idea of salvation is a free gift and try to earn it. Another dead end, hopeless approach. (Ga 3:10)

The correct way to resolve this must be that those who are justified freely by His grace also obey Him (1Pe 1:2), not to earn salvation but as a necessary consequence of believing in Christ. Though works aren’t the cause of salvation, they must be the evidence that salvation has taken place. In other words, faith alone is a myth (Ja 2:17); faith and works always go together, we can’t separate them.

This implies those who are saved cannot live in willful disobedience as a manner of life. If our lives don’t reflect faith in the Son of God, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves; we should seek God until we find Him, until He reveals Christ in us and begins to sanctify and transform us. (Ep 2:10)

It also implies that Christ is not demanding absolute, sinless perfection from the start of our spiritual journey; there’s a sanctification process where we grow in faith and love over time. (Php 1:9) While we’re growing, we find within the longing to be more holy and obedient (He 12:14); continuous, stubborn defiance does not characterize the child of God. (15)

If we’re justified in Christ, we’ll be able to see how Christ is working within us obedience to all of His words, ensuring our lives are bearing out the fruit He says will come. Where we aren’t obeying too well yet in a particular area, we ask Him to show us why and heal us so we become more like Him. (Ja 5:16)

This is how we dig deep, laying up for ourselves a good foundation against the time to come, and lay hold on eternal life (1Ti 6:18-20), grounding our eternal home in the Rock Himself: Christ Jesus.

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He Doth Not Resist You

It’s tempting to conclude from Christ’s teaching that we ought not resist evil or defend ourselves (Mt 5:38-39), but there are clear indications otherwise: He encourages us to arm ourselves (Lk 22:36) and He Himself resisted injustice and malice (Jn 18:23), as did the Apostle Paul. (Ac 23:3) However, James characterizes the just as those who don’t resist when they’re wronged. (Ja 5:6) How do we reconcile this with the rest of Christ’s message?

If we look carefully, the context is describing those who are brought to civil court by the wealthy and tried for wrongdoings (Ja 2:6b); the rich can be oppressive, powerfully abusing legal systems to achieve their own destructive ends. (Ac 16:21-21) They often succeed in imposing severe punishment on the innocent (22-24), perhaps to acquire their wealth, eliminate them as obstacles or otherwise control them.

One clear boundary which is applicable here is we’re not to resist government by fighting against civil authority (Ro 13:1-2), so even if we’re being persecuted unjustly (1Pe 3:14-16), as is evidently the case in James’ example, we ought not to forcefully resist. (17-18)

There are certainly exceptions when we should suffer patiently when wronged, especially when defending ourselves or seeking justice would harm the cause of Christ. (1Co 6:7) However, generally, defending ourselves and loved ones with minimal necessary force is appropriate when we have the means, when it would not be offensive to the world and it’s supported by civil authority. (Es 9:216) Further, once we have been wronged, seeking justice for ourselves and others through due process (Ac 16:37-39) is also appropriate and good (De 19:16), especially within spiritual community. (Mt 18:15-17)

As further guidance, we’re forbidden to pursue vengeance, to seek to enforce justice by taking matters into our own hands, or to be malicious toward others in any way, unmercifully seeking their harm in hatred (Ep 4:31-32), or to be proud, thinking of ourselves better than others. (Php 2:3)

It is unloving to promote injustice, or to fail to appropriately resist if we have the means to do so within the above guidelines. While it is not our primary purpose in life to be justice warriors, looking to right every wrong, since Christ Himself did not do this, it is certainly consistent with loving our neighbor as ourselves to do what we can within reason.

If someone were taking advantage of us and we were powerless to help ourselves, if we would want someone else to stand up in our own defense, even so we should seek to minimize harm towards ourselves and others in a spirit of humility and meekness. Doing justly while loving mercy (Mi 6:8) is within the law of Love. (Ro 13:10)

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Circumcision is Nothing

The Apostle Paul faced a severe dilemma in the early days of the Church; circumcision, commanded by God (Ge 17:10) as an expression of saving faith (Ro 4:11), and obediently observed by Abraham and the patriarchs, had also come to represent ritual conversion to Judaism (Ac 15:1), a religion teaching legalism: salvation by works (Ga 5:4), entirely contrary to justification by faith. (2-3)

Should Paul discourage obedience to one of God’s core commands (Mt 5:19), now that it’s been twisted into the foremost expression of rejecting God’s salvation? symbolic of earning salvation by works? (Ro 10:3) How could he neglect a plain command of God in good conscience, knowing saving faith establishes the law? (Ro 3:31) Yet how could he encourage obedience here without compromising the gospel? (1Co 9:22-23)

Paul circumcised Timothy (Ac 16:3), evidently not as a convert to Judaism, but to fulfill Torah as a good testimony to the Jews in his community, since Timothy would be a constant, faithful fellow worker with Paul throughout his ministry. (1Co 4:17)

However, when Titus was being pressured into ritual conversion to Judaism Paul objected fiercely, understanding this as a direct denial and corruption of the gospel. (Ga 2:3-5) Making a severe and costly break with the legalistic traditions of his people (5:11), Paul concluded those pushing Judaism on the Gentile saints as a condition of salvation were unsaved and cursed (1:10); he even wanted God to kill them. (5:12)

Paul clearly taught that those who converted to and depended on Judaism for salvation were not trusting Christ and were unsaved. (Ga 5:2-3) However, though he was accused of teaching the Jews to forsake circumcision (Ac 21:21), both by his public example (24) and testimony (25:8) it is clear Paul never did teach it was appropriate to neglect physical circumcision as an act of obedience to God.

If Paul didn’t discourage Jewish believers from circumcising their children, he wouldn’t have discouraged Gentiles from doing so either; circumcision was not a particularly Jewish thing (Jn 7:22); it existed in Abraham, the father of us all (Ro 4:16), long before the Jewish people.

Paul taught it was unnecessary for Jews to renounce their Jewishness by undergoing a formal act of becoming uncircumcised (1Co 8:18a); similarly, he did not encourage Gentiles to renounce their national identity and become Jewish. (18b) Effectively, he saw national identity as irrelevant in the context of defining right relationship with God (19a); what’s important is faithfully keeping God’s commands. (19b)

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The Lord’s Day

When the Apostle John received the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Re 1:1), he tells us he was, “in the spirit on the Lord’s Day.” (10) This term, “the Lord’s day”, occurs only here in scripture, and it’s nearly universally understood by Christians to be a reference to Sunday, the first day of the week, though there’s no indication of this in the immediate context.

Why would Christians insist John is referring to Sunday? Typical reasoning is since the saints in Troas assembled for a meal and teaching on a Sunday (Ac 20:7), the early Christians must already have been observing Sunday as their day of rest and worship since Christ rose from the dead on Sunday. (Mk 16:9)

However, it is reasonable to think this particular meeting in Troas occurred in the evening, just after sunset on Sabbath, since Paul’s speech continued until midnight (speaking 5-6 hours straight is much more likely than 12-15 hours). The evening is when the new day begins, and it would be convenient for believers to meet just after sabbath on the first day of the week at or near a synagogue where both Jews and believing Gentiles would already be gathering to hear scripture read and expounded. (Ac 15:30)

Early believers only had the Tanach (Old Testament, there was no formal New Testament yet), and copies were very expensive; the synagogue likely had the only scripture in any given city. If one wanted regular access to the Word of God, synagogue was it. This is a very reasonable motivation for meeting on Sunday evening; we need not assume early Gentile believers were arbitrarily fabricating a new holy day to supplant the sabbath, breaking with their Jewish brothers and sisters to despise a basic command of God observed by saints for millennia.

Sunday was a workday for Jews, so it would have been problematic for any congregation with a sizeable Jewish element to assemble during the day on Sunday. There is no indication in scripture God told them to do so, there is no historical record of this practice during the apostolic era, and there is no clear motivation from their circumstances until quite late in the first century, so we may be confident they didn’t do this at first. The early disciples met daily, randomly, to eat and fellowship as much as they could, not just on Sundays (Ac 2:46), likely mostly informally in the evenings after work.

Paul’s instruction to Macedonian believers to allocate their alms for poor Jewish saints (Ro 15:26) on the first day of the week (1Co 16:2) is also offered as evidence that early believers were meeting on Sunday and setting it apart as holy. However, the text does not indicate this was a collection taken up in the assembly but dedicated privately at home.  So, this text also does not indicate believers were setting aside Sunday as holy.

The above comprises the sum total of evidence from scripture suggesting Sunday is the Lord’s Day, and it’s inconclusive at best. Christianity’s insistence on Sunday must be driven by something other than scripture, by tradition starting well after the apostolic period as believers were desperately trying to distance themselves from Judaism and the burdensome Jewish Tax imposed by Rome. The eventual result was a new religion which was foreign to the apostles, corrupted from the true (Is 8:20), an imitation and counterfeit using all the same words and phrases, but fundamentally different, with new traditions and practices, often deeply antisemitic.

There’s only one reasonable choice for the Lord’s Day, it’s the day God Himself blessed and sanctified, the day He rested from His creative work: the seventh day. (Ge 2:4) This is the sabbath of the Lord thy God (Ex 20:10), that is … the Lord’s day.

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If We Sin Willfully

God warns the saints to not sin willfully: He threatens severe chastening if we do. (He 10:26-27) What types of sins does this include? How do we avoid committing them?

The Greek is Ἑκουσίως (Hekousiōs), appearing only here and (1 Peter 5:2); it means deliberately, willingly, as opposed to thoughtlessly, instinctively, or from ignorance, weakness or under duress. It modifies the Greek ἁμαρτανόντων (hamartanontōn), to go on sinning. The thought is that the sinful action is habitual, premeditated, intentional, brazen, defiant … knowing the law of God and despising it. (Ro 1:32)

Biblical examples would include the sanctimonious lying of Ananias and Saphira, claiming to donate all the proceeds from the sale of their land while they were keeping back some for themselves (Ac 5:1-2), who were immediately and supernaturally slain. (Ac 5:5,10) The Corinthian who took his father’s wife (1Co 5:1) was delivered over to Satan by the church for the destruction of his earthly body so his spirit would be saved (1Co 5:5), and a man gathering sticks on sabbath (Nu 15:32) was promptly stoned to death. (Nu 15:35-36)

The context of God’s warning refers back to the precedent He sets in Torah: anyone in Israel caught despising Torah would be executed without mercy. (He 10:28) Mercy was available for those who sinned ignorantly (Nu 15:27-29), but there was no pity for those despised Torah and sinned presumptuously. (30-31)

If we find this harsh, inconsistent with the New Testament god of love and mercy, we’re trusting in another Jesus, one not found in scripture: the punishment for believers who sin willfully is not less severe but more. (He 10:29) Torah’s punishment was carried out by civil authority, but the punishment of believers is designed and carried out by God Himself and may very well be much worse than death. (30) Don’t go there; it won’t be worth it, not even close. (31)

David’s adultery with Bathsheba would certainly also fall into this willful category (2Sa 12:9); he didn’t die for it, but he may often have wished he had, for all the suffering and tragedy which followed because of it. (10-12)

It isn’t cruelty that drives God’s severity; God is good; there’s no malice in Him. God’s love moves Him to severity as appropriate. (Ro 11:22) The consequences of sin are simply too devastating to be left unchecked (Mt 5:29-30); God loves the saints way too much to let us go off and destroy ourselves and others. He will do whatever is needful to bring us back and keep us close because He loves us. (He 12:5-6)

When we’re tempted to sin presumptuously, we can ask God to keep us back from it and restrain us. (Ps 19:13) We can also assure ourselves that whatever it is that’s telling us it’s a good idea to sin willfully is lying; we can ask God to give us repentance to acknowledge the truth (2Ti 2:25-26), choose the fear of God and depart from evil. (Pr 3:7)

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