The Fight Against Lawlessness Must Begin in the Church

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Romans 8:7

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

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Paul’s words are both clear and direct. The carnal, fleshly mind is enmity against God. In other words, the mind that is set on its own way and is controlled by the passion of selfish desire is opposed to God and hostile toward His law. Those of this mind have set themselves up as His enemies. This is why Paul says that individuals in this state cannot and will not subject themselves to the law of God, because they will not obey, submit, or willingly yield to the instructions of God. Consequently, it is impossible for individuals in this state of mind to please God. We have all been in this state of mind, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that these tendencies are still in us. Even Paul, himself, who served the law of God in his mind and inward man, confessed, saying, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is my members” (Romans 7:23). Those who delight in the law of God and, like Paul, seek to serve the law in their minds understand this battle. They are fully aware that the desire of the flesh, the natural man, does not yield so willingly. Every command God plants in our minds, the flesh rails against. Thus, everyday we must seek the strength of the Spirit in order to subject our minds to His law, just as Paul did, as David did, and as Christ did.

When Paul speaks of the carnal mind, it’s necessary to remind ourselves that he is not only referring to unbelievers. Those who profess the faith are also included. Paul wasn’t alone on this. Reading through the prophets, one will find that it was often God’s people who set their minds against God (Jeremiah 6:19; 4:14; Isaiah 65:2). Just as many of the devout Jewish leaders were Jesus’ most vehement opposers, so those who bear His name can be as well. How does this happen? When we reject the mind of Christ and exalt our own doctrines and traditions above God’s. Many of those who opposed Christ thought they were defending God’s word when they were, in fact, defending their own doctrines and traditions. In Mark 8, Jesus addresses this issue with the so-called religious leaders of His time. After these leaders questioned His disciples about not properly washing their hands, Jesus responds with this indictment:

Mark 7:8-9

“For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men–the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do… All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.”

Jesus was not the first to call out this pattern; there were others before him, including the prophet Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7; Isaiah 29:13). Both Isaiah and Jesus were speaking directly to the people of God. Let us heed their words and not become ignorant. If we possess the mind of Christ, then we will do the works of Christ, and these works are the commandments of God, not the commandments and traditions of men. Even the most devout fail to distinguish between the two. There are many who will stand before Him on the last day and say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in your name?” And what will His response be? “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). These are tough sayings, but true nonetheless. Attaching Jesus’ name to manmade works, doctrines, traditions, creeds, ministries, and so forth is of no significance if these do not align with the commandments and will of the Father. Jesus did not come to start His own religion, nor did He come to be the poster child for man’s ideals and personal agendas, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned they may be. He came to teach and do the will of the Father, and so must those who profess Him as Lord (Matthew 7:21). This only happens when we listen to His word and let it soak into our minds and hearts. Then, we begin to see and understand His will. Paul teaches this when he instructs the church to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2).

Today, there is a battle for our minds and hearts, and not just ours, but the minds, hearts and attention of our succeeding generations. Through social media, Hollywood, the music industry, and even through academia there is siege happening to keep our minds in captivity. The enemy–both physical and spiritual–knows that if our minds can be subdued and entranced, then so can our wills. Thus, the enemy continues to do what he has been doing since the beginning: turning people–God’s people–away from and against the word of God. Why? Because God’s word is the only antidote to deception and lawlessness. Everyday and in every hour, the enemy whispers the same words as he did in the garden: “Did God really say?” These words continue to effectively poison the minds of the vulnerable, the unstable, and the untrained. Yes, his ability to twist and annul the teachings of God is the reason why we are not only seeing our world rapidly decay, but it is also why multitudes continue to walk away from the faith. Even worse, it is why we are even witnessing the moral foundation of so many churches and church goers dissolve into conformity.

All of this will continue to happen unless we learn from the pattern of history. What is this pattern? The further God’s people distance themselves from His law, the more corrupt and degenerate we become. There is, perhaps, not a more pronounced pattern throughout the entirety of the scriptures, and we are now witnessing this pattern in our own times. Jesus warns that it will get worse: “And because lawlessness will abound the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12). Paul, too, tells us that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, and those people will be deceived who do not receive the love of the truth, who do not believe the truth, but instead have pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).  Jesus and Paul speak what has always been true, that the dissolution of love, truth, and righteousness is directly correlated to the increase of lawlessness. This is certainly true of the unbeliever, but it is also true of those who believe. This is why Jesus and His disciples continuously warn the church. We, too, wander because we forget the source of these things (love, truth, and righteousness):

What is the truth?

His Torah (John 17:17).

What is righteousness?

His Torah (Hebrews 5:14).

What is love?

His Torah (Romans 13:10).

The proliferation of lawlessness will continue the more the Torah is extracted from our personal lives, from our families, from our communities, from the public square, and more so from the pulpit. The church will not and cannot be a beacon of love, righteousness, and truth if it continues to erase, annul, modify, and teach against the very source of these things. If the people of God are to fulfill their calling (1 Peter 2:9), if we are to stem the tide of lawlessness, we must first recognize our own wandering from the Torah. We must collectively pray for God to turn our hearts and minds back toward His word–the source of truth, love, and righteousness. Then, and only then, will we be able to effectively carry out our role as His royal priesthood (Malachi 2:7). Throughout the scriptures, when the people of God experienced this type of revival, they not only experienced God’s rest and healing, they also became a force to be reckoned with.

“The Lord is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. For a long time Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law; but when in their trouble they turned to the Lord God of Israel, and sought Him, He was found by them… and Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart and sought Him with all their soul; and He was found by them, and the Lord gave them rest all around” (2 Chronicles 15:2-4, 15).

Let This Mind Be In You

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“Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” -Philippians 2:1-2

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Isaiah 41:21

     “The LORD was pleased for His righteousness’ sake to make the law great and glorious.”

Through Isaiah, God told us long in advance, before He came in the flesh, that He would magnify the law and not do away with it. He was going to make it honorable and not contemptible, as some have made it to be. The law is not solely physical, it’s not legalistic, it’s not contemptible, it’s not for the old people of the past; it is an honorable magnification of the mind and the nature of God. This is the mind of God, and this is His character. This is why God purposed to make it great and glorious, because He wants to share His mind with us, and He will, one day, share His mind with all people (Isaiah 2:3; 54:13). This is the mind of Christ, the mind that God intends for us to have. It is for this reason that He says through the apostle Paul,

Philippians 2:5

     “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”     

What kind of mind is God referring to? A lawless or rebellious mind? Obviously not. Christ had a very abiding mind, a disciplined mind, a righteous mind, a holy mind. How do we know? First and foremost, Jesus claimed to be one with the Father, and this is a claim He wouldn’t make unless He was of the same mind, the same heart, and the same understanding as the Father. Jesus indicated this when He said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” (John 7:16). Elsewhere, He tells his listeners that He speaks those things which he hears from the Father, does only those things that have been taught to Him by the Father, and He always does what pleases the Father (John 8:26-29). All of these indicate that His mind and His will were in lockstep with the Father. This is the mind that Paul commands us to have in ourselves, a mind that is set on the things above (Colossians 3:1-2). Psalm 1 is a perfect description of this mind: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law He meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This is what it means to love the Lord with all of our minds–to think continually upon His word, and to ask God in the words of David to “open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from your law… Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Psalm 119:18, 34). This was not only David’s prayer, but it was Paul’s prayer for the church. In like manner, he prays that,

“You (we) may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…” (Colossians 1:9-10).

Sadly, many of the apostle Paul’s own brethren accused him of not worshipping according to the law and steering others away as well (Acts 18:13). Was this truly the case? Would a teacher of the Torah instruct us to have the same mind as Christ and not aim to have this mind in himself? What was Paul’s response to all of this? In Romans 7, Paul gladly proclaims, “I delight in the law according to the inward man,” and “with the mind I myself serve the law of God…” (7:22, 25). Paul, like David, proclaimed his delight in the law of God and even professes to serve the law of God in His mind. Elsewhere, Paul confirms this saying, “according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). Paul’s aim, like that of our Master, was to please the Father. This begins with knowing His mind, His heart, His will, and then striving to have this mind in ourselves. This is what pleases the Father–when we think His thoughts and grow in His understanding. On the other hand, it is difficult to please the Father when we are not filled with these things. Therefore, as His servants we must offer up our minds that they may undergo the transformation process, the process of allowing His Spirit–through reading, through study, through prayer, through meditation, and through obedience–to engrave His word in our minds. This has been the process since the beginning. In the Shema, for example, God’s people are instructed to take God’s word and,

“…teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7-8).

The Shema is the instruction, the prayer, that teaches our children, that teaches us, what it means to pursue the mind of Christ–how to nurture it, to grow it, and to make it our nature. It is not just reading and meditating, but the Shema reminds us that God’s word must become the substance of our conversations and our relationships. In binding His instructions to our hands and upon our foreheads, the word becomes the motivation for our work and the lens through which we see the world, see others, and see God. This is the process by which God is writing His word upon us and in us. The more it is inscribed on our minds and hearts, the more it becomes the lens through which we interact with creation and the standard by which we govern every facet of our lives–our households, our communities, and our cities, our nation. The Shema is a powerful reminder that God’s intention, from the beginning, was for His instructions to be written in our hearts and minds. Yes, His will has always been to write the mind of Christ in us, but human history has proven the apostle Paul right when he says that “the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be…” (Romans 8:7). The issue has never been the words that God intends to inscribe in our hearts and minds; the issue has always been the carnal state of the human heart and mind. Paul confirms this when says, “the law is holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good,” and that “the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:12, 14).

When we read the apostles words, we must understand, then, that Jesus came, not to abolish or destroy the law, nor did He come to rescue us from the law itself, but He came to release us from this bondage that came by transgressing His law. This is just the beginning. He also initiated the process of removing the heart of stone and renewing the carnal mind in order to make them fully receptive to His law. The giving of God’s Spirit is the continuation of this process until Christ returns to see it through to completion. All of this has been given to us and is being done in us by God for this very purpose: “I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts,” and “to cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments” (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:27). In the end, when the process is completed, God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah that “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” (31:34). Until then, we diligently continue–guided by His Spirit and His word–to encourage and teach one another toward this end:

Philippians 2:5

     “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

Christ: The End of the Law

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Romans 10:4-6 

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”

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Prior to entering the Promised Land, Moses reminds the people that it is not on account of their own righteousness or their accomplishments that they are entering the land. In fact, it was just the opposite. They were an obstinate people who continuously refused to obey; thus, Moses made it clear that it was solely God’s goodness, His grace, and His promise to their fathers that He was bringing them into the land: “understand that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9:6). Similarly, God has delivered us and has granted us passage through the narrow gate and along the narrow path, not by our own merit or righteousness, but by the mercy and grace bestowed upon us through Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we are deemed righteous (right before God) or justified before Him in order to travel the narrow path, the path of life. When we stand at the trailhead of life, we understand that there is no other way to begin the journey but through Christ. How does one arrive at this realization? He looks intently into the royal law and realizes that because of his transgression against the law, there is no righteousness in him to appeal to, only sin and condemnation. In this sense, the law leads us to Christ, for His sacrifice is the only means of finding forgiveness and reconciliation. Once we have been granted these through faith, then our journey down the narrow path begins.

Many have fallen into error believing that once we begin this journey, that the law is no longer of use. In fact, many take Paul’s words in Romans 10 (and elsewhere) to mean that the law is not only obsolete but is now a curse to anyone who attempts to live by it. Is this what Paul meant when he said that Christ is the end of the law? Is this what Moses, the prophets, or even Christ taught us? Moses tells Israel that “the Lord commanded us to observe all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day. Then it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to observe these commandments before the Lord our God, as He commanded us” (Deuteronomy 6:24-25). Though Israel possessed no righteousness in and of themselves when God brought them out of Egypt and into the promised land, God brought them out of Egypt and into the wilderness for this reason–to train them up in righteousness. The same holds true today. God delivers us by His mercy, then leads us into the training grounds of the wilderness for this purpose: “And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2). Even Jesus, who was righteous, had to undergo this process–being baptized and tested in the wilderness– in order to fulfill all manner of righteousness (Matthew 3:15). God wants to know what is in our hearts, to know if our resolve is to live righteously and be holy as He is holy. This is all part of our journey down the narrow path; this is what it means to be born into and grow up in the family of God.

1 John 2:29

“If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.”

Romans 6:19

“For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for holiness.”

Our acceptance into life begins with Christ, and our journey down the narrow path ends with Christ. In other words, the purpose of our journey is to look and be like Christ. This has always been the end or the goal, and it is for this reason that Christ even traveled among Israel in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:3). This is what is meant by “Christ is the end of the Law.” Now the “end” itself has a sense of termination like, “we have reached the end of the road.” Or, when we speak of the end, we take it it to mean that something has ceased to exist. But is this what this means? Let us also consider that the Greek word also means the end in terms of a goal. In that sense, Christ is our goal, and He is the goal to which the Torah–and all instruction–leads. He is what God will produce in us through each and every one of His words and commands. This is why Christ said in both Deuteronomy and Matthew that man should live by EVERY word that comes from the mouth of God. It is for this purpose that, on path of life, God feeds us His Torah, so we become like Christ. Likewise, when we gaze into the mirror, or the “perfect law of liberty” as James calls it, the reflection we see is Christ. He is the image of righteousness that the Torah leads to and ought to produce. Why? Because He lived it perfectly, and now through God’s word and Spirit, He trains us up to do and be the same:

2 Timothy 3:16-17

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Torah of God is not done away with, rather, it is fulfilling that for which it was designed: instruction in righteousness. Paul says that this instruction will make us complete, and what does complete look like? Like Christ. So, not only does the the law lead us to repentance in Christ and the outset of our journey, but it is further used by God to help us reach our goal which, according to Paul, is for us to “attain the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). The end of the law is when we reach the mature man and, and through His guidance, obtain the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. Finally, it is for this reason that Jesus said that the law and the prophets are not destroyed or annulled, but have been fulfilled. Jesus came to fulfill the aspects of the law that have led to our redemption and reconciliation, but He has also come to model for us what a Torah-centered life looks like so it, through His grace and help, can be fulfilled in us–both physically and spiritually. The life of Jesus demonstrates how to go about completing the righteous training God requires, and that is to live by every word. It was Jesus who said, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Why every commandment, even the least of them? Because every jot and tittle was given to us to fulfill God’s end in us: to be exactly like Christ.

1 John 2:6

“He who says He abides in Him ought also Himself to walk as He walked.”

Torah: The Path to Life

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Life is filled with choices, and we know that many of these choices determine who we become and what becomes of us. Many of the fundamental decisions we make are difficult ones and are often depicted in story and art by travelers standing before diverging paths, faced with the task of choosing just one to travel. In his famous poem, The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost penned the famous words, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference1.”  Among other things, Frost highlights what seems to be a universal truth or experience, namely that the difficult choices, the ones that are filled with challenge and uncertainty, are often the ones that, in the end, lead to self-actualization and fulfillment. This is a truth that also rings true in the scriptures. Throughout the narrative of the scriptures, God’s people–and all of humanity for that matter– are confronted by two diverging roads, roads that were first described by Moses in Deuteronomy:

Deuteronomy 30:19-20:

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…by loving the LORD your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

In the New Testament, Jesus presents the same two roads in His Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 7:13

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

From the beginning of our days, humanity has been traveling these paths. Sadly, as Jesus Christ points out, most of humanity has been traveling the broad way, the way of destruction, the one that leads to death and not to life. Even we ourselves have traveled this road from time to time and have had our share in the way of destruction. It should give us pause when we consider that the broad way, the way of destruction is the one that is favored and most traveled. What is this path and why would any individual choose to walk it if its end is destruction? This is the path that takes us into the depths of the mind of Satan; it is the path of chaos, disorder, and destruction, but it is cloaked in convenience, pleasure, and expediency. This is why it is so enticing. This is the path that Jesus calls us to avoid, the path Moses calls the way of death, and what Paul later describes as the law or way of the flesh.

The other journey takes us, so to speak, through the highways, the mountains, the valleys of the mind of God. This journey takes us through the law of God, or as it is called in Hebrew, the Torah. This way takes us along the path of life and this is the narrow road, and according to Jesus, only a few find it. Why only a few? Because the way is difficult. To travel this path, we must, first and foremost, surrender our lives to Christ, put to death the deeds of the flesh–which are contrary to the law–and allow Christ to rebuild our nature through His Torah (truth) and through the Spirit of Truth. In fact, when Jesus prayed for His followers He asked the Father to “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth(John 17:17), and of the Spirit, Jesus promised: “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come He will guide you into all truth…” (John 16:13). This is the path of life… the path of truth, and the two sources from which we receive truth are God’s Torah and His Spirit. It is not enough to read and know the truth, but we must be immersed in and sanctified by the truth in order to travel the path of life. This sanctification process is carried out by the Spirit, who brings to life the words and spiritual meanings within the Torah, using these to lead us through the depths of God’s mind, His nature, and His character. Through this process we are transformed more and more into the image of God and likeness of Jesus Christ, who is the pure embodiment of Spirit and Truth. 

Thus, the Torah of God is far more than what people think of when they talk about the law of God. Most of our understanding of the law has been formed from what we have today. The normal laws that we are used to living by are filled with a bunch of do’s and don’ts—red light means stop and green light means go. There is nothing spiritual about it. They are meant to keep harmony, but if we do not have them there will be chaos and disorder. God’s law is also designed to establish order, but it is also so much more than that; when we talk about the law of God, again, we are talking about experiencing the mind of God, the nature of God, the personality of God, the character of God. His law, because it is spiritual, reveals the essence of who He is. This is the primary reason why we seek to understand the law from His perspective, because it not only communicates what He expects from us, but how He feels about us, what He thinks about us, and His intentions for all creation. It is one of the primary ways He communicates Himself with us.

Another reason our understanding of the law is necessary is because God is creating man in His own likeness and in His own image. He is duplicating himself, duplicating His nature and character in us, and He has chosen to do it through His law. His law is spiritual; His law is a living thing. He delivers this law through the one who would later be called the Logos–Jesus Christ. He not only had the Truth, but He is the Truth, He is the Way, He is the Path to eternity, and He is the Destination toward which we travel. It is through the Logos, that we see and understand what the duplicating process consists of and the end to which it leads. We must go through Him, and through Him means to absorb His mind and His nature and His character. He said you must eat my flesh and drink my blood or you will never have life in you (John 6:53). This was a difficult saying for many, but Jesus wanted us to know that He is the full embodiment of Truth given to us. Whose Truth? The Father’s. In Jesus, every jot and tittle of the law was and is made manifest and available to us. He lived the Torah perfectly without spot or blemish. This is why He called Himself the TRUTH (John 14:6), because He is the living Torah, free of spot and blemish. Because He is the Torah in its fullness, He also calls Himself the WAY, not just because He traveled the way on our behalf, but because He shows us the WAY we, ourselves, ought to walk, which is by emulating His obedience. It follows, then, that if He is the TRUTH and His example the WAY, then He is also LIFE. For God’s Torah is life. For Moses told us that the WAY to LIFE is to obey God’s TRUTH. This has been the message from the beginning, that God’s word, His Torah is THE TRUTH, and because it is so, He commanded Israel to walk according to this WAY, so that they would experience LIFE. Jesus is the personification of all of these concepts.

As we embark on our journey through the scriptures, let us remember that they are more than just stories and recorded history. They are, in fact, the path to life. This is why Jesus instructed us to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, because His words are life. So then, let us choose life. Let us walk the narrow road and seek to enter through the narrow gate. It is this road–traveled through the mind, the nature, and character of God, communicated through His Torah–that not only leads us to the Kingdom of God, but is fulfilling His divine purpose: “Let us make man in our image and in our likeness.”

1 Frost, R., 1916. The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. [online] Poetry Foundation. Available at: <> [Accessed 16 April 2023].

God’s Enduring Word pt. 1

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For many people, the centrality of the good tidings or “gospel” is the life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God.

There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God. 

When one zooms out and views the word and plan of God in its entirety—from Genesis to Revelation—there seems to be a deeper, more intricate myriad of themes within which the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus play a central role. Obviously, we know that Jesus came for the redemption of all humanity and creation. Yet, a subtler, yet centralized, theme is the rise, fall, and restoration of Israel and their role in this redemptive process. In fact, this theme takes up a prominent part of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. All Israel hold a special place in God’s heart. Though many might agree with this statement, they may not readily admit that Israel still has a central role to play in the redemption of humanity and the restoration of all things. Israel are still God’s chosen people, and this is difficult for many to not only grasp but accept. In fact, this claim is often met with strong resistance, even among those who profess an unadulterated belief in God’s word. Despite what we may or may not feel about Israel, the important question is this: what does God have to say about Israel? What does He think and feel about Israel?

Before we can set out to answer this question, we must first examine our own stance and disposition concerning the word of God, whether we believe it to be inerrant in this matter or not. Our journey through the scriptures will be a struggle if we do not hold God’s word, in its entirety, to be true. We must start and be guided by the premise that it is God’s word, not man’s, that establishes the truth—past, present, and future. It is for this reason that our study of Israel, as with any Biblical endeavor, must set off with this question in mind: Is God’s word true, eternal, and will it accomplish what it says He will do? Is His word true and reliable, even if it does not align with our logic, our culture, our feelings, and our assumptions? We need to contend with this because God’s word, at some point, will challenge our conventional wisdom, our notions of what is right and wrong, good and evil. So the question stands: Do we take God His word… His ENTIRE word?

Through His messages to the prophets, God made clear that His word would accomplish what it was set out to do, and it is this word that He calls His people to live by through faith, despite our surrounding circumstances and contexts. It is this word that is the foundation, the very substance of our faith. As Paul states in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17). Outside of the word of God, there is no faith, for it is the word of God that paints the picture of the realities that have been, that are, and more importantly, that have yet to be. In fact, it is the realities of what has and what is that continue to direct our attention to what will be. This is why there is so much repetition in the scripture, so much remembering because what has been is a shadow of what will be. Thus, if we ignore even one jot or tittle of the word, if we dismiss any of the events in God’s story–be they relevant to us or not–then we erase details within the picture, within this future spiritual reality on which our faith is set. Thus, we must start with the premise, as Abraham did, that God’s word is true and that it is worth acting upon whether we see its fulfillment in our lifetime or not.

Before starting our journey, let us reassure ourselves of the reliability of God’s word. There are a few examples that are worth taking note of to establish or re-establish our bearings.

In the book of Numbers, we find a powerful example through the false prophet Balaam. Balaam was called by Balak, the king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon Israel, hoping this might lead to victory over Israel:

Numbers 22:5-6

“See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land…” 

Inside, we sense that Balaam knew that he could not contradict the word of God, so in his response to Balak’s request, we find the unshakeable truth that God’s word cannot and will not be tainted:

Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18).

Balaam shares this with Balak, but Balak insists that he come anyway, convinced he would find a way to circumvent God’s word. At the request of Balak, Balaam makes several attempts to curse Israel but only blessings are allowed to come forth from his mouth. In his second attempt, God utters, through the mouth of Balaam, the following prophecy:

Numbers 23:19-20

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has He said and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed and I cannot reverse it.”

No matter how many attempts he makes, Balaam cannot contradict what God has declared, thus confirming the following truths:

God cannot lie. 

He does not need to repent for what He has spoken. 

What He has said, He will do. 

What He has spoken, He will make good. 

What He has blessed (concerning His people) CAN NOT be reversed. 

Despite man’s futile attempts to contradict God’s words and promises, His words will carry out what He sends them to do. The prophet Isaiah confirms this truth, likening God’s words to rain which is sent to the earth for the purpose of producing fruit. Just as the rain falls from the heavens and returns when its purpose is accomplished, so is the word of God:

Isaiah 55:10-11

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, but make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent.”

Again Isaiah states,

Isaiah 40:8

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus verifies these words, stating,

Matthew 24:35

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”

Even beyond this present heaven and earth, God’s words endure. They have to because even when the current heavens and earth pass, God’s word will continue working out His eternal purposes. This is why His word endures and, according to Peter, is incorruptible:

1 Peter 1:23

“…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.

It is this incorruptible seed by which we are born and by which we live. It is for this reason that Deuteronomy commands–and Jesus echoes this command– that, “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”(Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).

With this in mind, we know that one of the central promises God made in the Bible was to His servant Abraham. The book of Hebrews beautifully restates this promise:

Hebrews 6:13-18

“For when God made a promise to Abraham because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ’Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ And so after he patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

The words of Hebrews echo the words of Balaam, namely that it is impossible for God to lie. God’s words, His promises are immutable. To solidify His word to Abraham (as if He needed to), God even swore by Himself and confirmed it with an oath, and it is impossible for God to break His oath. The apostle Paul assures us that even when it appears that His word has faltered, “Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Certainly, from our limited perspective, history seems to suggest errancy in God’s word, but what do we believe? When we consider the state of Israel and her so-called “failed history” God’s word seems to have fallen short but is this true? Could it be possible that, despite what we judge with our own eyes, our ears, and our understanding, God’s word is accomplishing exactly what He said it would?

Again we set off on this journey, we must do so constantly reading the scriptures through this lens: what God said, He will bring to pass. This is the faith that God asks us to cling to–the faith that clings to the assurance of His word. This is the faith that God uses to open our eyes, revealing the substance behind the shadows we are looking at. It is faith that gives us the confidence that what He promised He is able to perform.

Now I Know You

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“For now I know that you revere God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” —Genesis 22:12

Throughout the scriptures there are various ways in which this word “yada” is used, but the overall implication is that it has very intimate connotations both in how we know something or someone, and how we are known.

In Genesis we see this word being used by God to express His knowledge of Abraham’s heart based on Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice that which is most important to him. Through this act of obedience, God came to know the intimate devotion and faith within the heart of Abraham. It was revealed that Abraham not only believed that God’s promise would come to be, but that it would come about even when the command of God seemed to be stripping His very promise away.  Abraham had an incredible amount of faith, and this faith he possessed was demonstrated in the act of offering up his son, even when he knew that he needed that son for the promises to be filled. We know that it would have been easy and even appropriate for Abraham to rationalize his way out of this, for him to say, “I don’t really need to do this because God knows my heart and my intention. On the contrary, Abraham’s way of expressing his devotion and trust in God was to do exactly as God told Him… to carry out the command. 

Sure, because God knows everything—even the depths of our hearts, and every action we will perform—He could have said to Abraham, “I know that you love Me and believe My promises, so I am not going to ask you to sacrifice your son because I know that you would do this for Me.” He didn’t say this, and I cannot fully explain why God asks us to do these things, despite the fact that He already knows what would happen and what lies within our hearts. The only thing I can think of is that for some reason or another the act itself is important to God; it pleases Him, and it seems to be something He likes to experience with us. It is equally (or ought to be) equally important for us because it is a confirmation that the faith, trust, and devotion we have in our hearts are more than mere feelings, assertions, or intentions. The action confirms what we profess to “feel” or possess in our hearts. According to James, these actions complete our faith:

“You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was completed” (James 2:22).

What is important to note here is that it’s not just any action that confirms this for God, but it’s obediently carrying out the exact command that God asks us to do because this makes evident that we have faith that His exact word is true and right and beneficial for us, whether we understand or agree with it or not. Abraham was not permitted to modify the plans of God to accommodate his desires, preferences, understanding, comfort, or even his fears. Abraham did not say, “I know God told me to offer up my son, but I’m sure He would still appreciate it if I offered a ram instead because He knows my heart.” Nor did Abraham lean on his own understanding because if he had, it would have been easy to say, “I know God told me to sacrifice my son, but God is love and He is against murder, so what He said must not be true, or He must just want me to think about what this spiritually means.” We have to believe that Abraham struggled because what God asked him to do presented a variety of conundrums, but regardless, he did exactly as God commanded knowing that God had the power to work it all out in the end… and God did work it out in the end.

This is where faith and works intersect, as a way for us to demonstrate to God that we wholeheartedly believe that every word that comes from His mouth is not only true, but given to provide and bring life. Throughout the gospels, Jesus demonstrated and modeled this faith and obedience (he showed us its perfection). He came to this earth to teach and obediently live out the word of God (John 7:16; 4:34; 8:55; 12:44-50; 14:24, 31; Matthew 4:4). Jesus demonstrated exactly what it means to listen and to obey because He always did exactly as He was instructed by the Father. He did not deviate to the right or left, but obediently followed the path God laid out for Him. Even more, Jesus lived each command obediently, not only because He understood the physical implications of each command, but He understood the deeper spiritual truths behind each command. 

There are many words that God has spoken or commanded us that seem irrelevant, obsolete, or even contrary to His nature, but the measure of our faith lies in our confidence that if He said it, then it is true. The measure of our confidence in this truth, then, is whether we are willing to obey it despite our every inclination not to. Our obedience confirms our confidence and faith in the truth of God’s word, just as Jesus’ obedience confirmed the truth in and His devotion to God’s word and commandments. Thus, the obedience we live is not our own, but that of Christ (1 John 2:6), and Jesus was fully obedient to the word of God (John 15:10) because he knew that His commandment is life (John 12:50). In doing so, not only will we “know” God as Christ knew Him, but God will know us with the intimacy that He knew Abraham. After all, as we read in Matthew 7:21-23, knowing Christ is not the only essential thing, but Him “knowing” us seems to be of greater importance. How then will He know us? Through our doing the will of the Father (vs. 21). What is the will of the Father? The will of the Father is embedded in law, the prophets, and the rest of the scriptures, magnified in the obedience of Jesus Christ.

In the end, the essential question may not be did you know Me, but does He know “yada” us? Or, what does He know of us? If God knows us the way that He “knew” Abraham, then we will not even have to bother with the first question, because it will be made evident through both our faith and obedience in His word. In other words, if God comes to know us the way that He knew Abraham, then it is clear that we know Him. 

Beware of the Adversary

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Matthew 16:22-23“And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, ‘God be merciful to you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but man’s.’”

The course of human history is wrought with men and women—some very well intentioned—who have stepped in God’s way. In this case, Peter is a prime example of how quickly we can “lose” our composure and become an adversary before God. In these situations, men and women often seek to “rescue” God from his own evil plan. This is what we see in Peter, and well intentioned or not, he was wrong. Jesus spoke sharply to rebuke him, addressing him as satan, and calling him a stumbling block. These are powerful words, but the spirit that was in Peter at this moment was the spirit of the adversary. 

At the beginning of His ministry, the devil tempts Jesus in the wilderness, and embedded in these temptations is the very spirit we see in Peter. On three occasions the devil attempts to persuade Jesus to abandon the path that was set before him for the less demanding way. In other words, he baits Jesus into ditching God’s will for humanity, and he does so cloaking his deception in light. First, He moves to convince Jesus that He does not really have to subject Himself to starvation because He wields the power to remedy His own hunger and is able to easily turn stones into bread. On his second attempt, he seeks to convince Jesus to throw himself down from the heights and God would be obligated to swoop in and act. He reinforces his deception by quoting the very words of God (Psalm 91), falsely attempting to reassure Jesus that these are God’s own words and not his own. Finally, the Adversary promises Jesus the kingdom—an easy life—if He would simply bow down and worship him, thus tempting Jesus to bypass the cruel suffering that God was subjecting Him to. In each of these temptations, we see the enemy attempting to either thwart the plan of God or paint God as the adversary. As we can see, there is no limit to what he will do. This is why it is said of him that he deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). When the enemy uses counterfeit truth, then he is able to infuse men and women with the conviction that their cause is noble, righteous, and ordained by God. In reality, though, they are acting like adversaries. This is why truth is the enemy’s most powerful weapon, because he twists it in the attempt to make the Author of Truth look foolish, cruel, inadequate, self-seeking, and incompetent. 

We see this happen in the very beginning when the serpent tells Eve that God is forbidding the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil because He is withholding enlightenment and godliness from His creation. In other words, the devil is swooping in to save Adam and Eve from the dictatorship and tyranny of God, pointing out that they “will not surely die.” On the contrary, they will become more alive, acquiring divine sight and knowledge. Why would God not want them to attain this? Perhaps they misunderstood Him. The seed of doubt concerning God’s character, intentions, and instruction is planted, and the two are quickly knocked off course, blaming each other, blaming the serpent, and ultimately blaming God. Satan attempts this same tactic in the wilderness, and he tries again through Peter. Peter, believing that he is doing right, rebukes Jesus for speaking such “evil”. Little did he know that the “evil” he was trying to protect Jesus from was the very centerpiece of God’s redemption of mankind. This is why Jesus’ rebuke was sharp and needed to be–Peter was standing in God’s way. 

Thus, we see that the greatest weapon the enemy uses against mankind is not direct sin. Men are inclined to sin; our nature drives us toward sin. Little effort is needed by the enemy to drive us into greed, sexual immorality, slander, malice, and the like. Why spend his energies on these when there is little return on his investment? His greatest weapon, his weapon of mass destruction, is his ability to use truth and “good will” to turn us into little adversaries—questioning, judging, and doubting the very word and authority of our Creator. If the enemy can twist our view of God by discretely polluting His plan, His character, and His credibility, then we risk becoming as Peter was: satan. He pulls us in to do the work for him. This should wake us up to the deceptive power of the enemy. After all, if it can happen to Peter, then we are all vulnerable. In this state, we stand in God’s way, question His motives, rebuke His actions, and unwittingly drive to overthrow Him. Often times we fervently join this fight under the banner of truth and righteousness, convinced that we are actually doing God and ourselves a favor. When the enemy has poisoned our minds in this fashion, he wins because it is in this state that we believe in the deception so much that we become disoriented and we make war against the light by throwing ourselves in God’s way.

My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts

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imageIsaiah 55:8-9
“’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
           As we begin this journey that God has called us forth to, as we make the commitment to ingest the scriptures from beginning to end, we must do so with the words of the prophet in the forefront of our minds. In fact, we must imprint this truth on the forefront of our minds. Failure to do so will most certainly lead to misunderstanding, frustration, and accusation. For generations, men and women have both embraced God and viciously attacked God, all based on their willingness to accept or reject this one premise: His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts higher than our thoughts. The Word of God contains stories of beauty, but there are also many realities that are difficult to swallow and grasp. The temptation of man—since our birth in the garden—has led us to the same end: to make the word of God more palatable and enticing, understandable and simplistic. Instead of wrestling with the difficult spiritual and ethical truths, instead of seeking divine knowledge and understanding, we have taken it upon ourselves to become the chief editors of God’s Word. In other words, instead of taking God at His Word, we have taken the liberty to tell our fellow human beings—and God Himself for that matter—what He is thinking, how He feels, how He must act, what His own intentions are, and how He must behave in His dealings with mankind. For indeed, God’s ways are are higher than our ways, and instead of striving to grasp them, we’ve pulled them down so that He essentially acts and thinks as we would want Him to in any given situation.
The scriptures have been a thorn to man because they certainly do not conform to our expectations. In fact, they often transcend our understanding, and they speak in contradiction to our own ways. If we can learn to submit to the pure, unadulterated Word of God, then it, by no means, will make them easier to grasp, but piece by piece, we will begin to see beauty in the incongruity. God’s web of truth and majesty will slowly unfold before our eyes.
In several of his writings, Paul emphasizes these truths:
1 Corinthians 1:20
“Where then is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to gentiles foolishness. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
1 Corinthians 2:6
“Yet we do speak a wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory.”
The wisdom of God is not synonymous with the wisdom of man. Through our own wisdom, through our own understanding, we will never come to fully see, know, or understand God. God designed it this way, why?
1 Corinthians 1:27-28
“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, THAT NO MAN SHOULD BOAST BEFORE GOD.”
Reading and grappling with the story, from beginning to end, I am being deconstructed, we are being deconstructed. Before God can unveil His truths He must unravel ours. Unless we allow Him to do so, and unless He chooses to do so, then we will never grasp the truths of the good tidings from Genesis 1:1 through the book of Revelation. They will always remain to us a collection of disconnected fables, proverbs, prayers, and myths.

Trouble in the Middle East

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Hear and Obey: Vayyakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

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The word sh’ma in Hebrew is such a beautiful and instructive word, speaking to the very heart and nature that God desires from His children. For the people of Israel are to be characterized not only by their attentiveness to God’s instruction, but also by their steadfast obedience to those very instructions. Sh’ma is a double command to “hear”—with attention, interest, and understanding—and to obey. In living the divine life, both aspects of the command are not only necessary, but without exception. In other words, to have one without the other leaves the follower susceptible to either irreparable negligence or inaction. In this week’s Torah portion, we bear witness to the fullness and reality of this command, carried out by Moses and the people… Continue Reading            Vayyakhel PDF