The following is a compilation of thoughts and ideas that I wrestled with early in my walk of faith and especially in my Messianic journey. I have used the New American Standard Version for Scripture quotations. My questions are in blue. All bold, bracketed, or italic emphasis in Scriptural references is my own.
Starting with faith in Jesus
In August 1996, shortly after the birth of my daughter, I confessed Jesus as my Lord and Savior for the first time in my life. That day I began a journey and a relationship that will continue until and (I pray) after my death. Initially I did not ask many questions about my Savior, my faith, or my life with Him. I just showed up with joy regarding my salvation and served the congregation where I attended however I was able to do so.
Here is where I started out:
For G-d so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of G-d- not by works, so that no one can boast.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Praise the Lord! By the grace of G-d and the work of Jesus as the Lamb of G-d offered up for my sins I have been saved from the consequence of the sins that I have committed and will ever commit. I have no question or challenge as to the validity of that grace or the salvation provided there-in. I just accept it for the free gift that it is. I have confessed my sins and been forgiven.
After accepting the Lord, however, there were several questions kept coming to mind:
OK. I'm saved. Now what?
- How should I live my life?
- How should my life change as a result of being saved?
- Should my life change as a result of being saved?
- Can I just do whatever I want?
- Can I go on swearing like a sailor, going out and getting drunk on the weekends, making lascivious comments to female coworkers, and living the same life of sin that I lived before I was saved?
Scripture says no:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
I know that I am a sinner saved by grace and that will stand before G-d one day and I want to stop sinning.
When sinners were brought before Jesus what did He tell them?
To the woman caught in adultery: stop sinning (John 8:11)
To the man who had been ill for thirty-eight years: stop sinning (John 5:14)
So I'm supposed to stop sinning. OK, I get that.
But if I am supposed to stop sinning shouldn't I find out what sin is so I can avoid it?
What is sin?
1 John 3:4
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.
The original Greek word in Scripture that is translated as "lawlessness" is anomia which means "without the law".
- So what does Scripture mean by "lawlessness"?
- Are they talking about driving too fast and breaking the speed limit law?
- What about changing lanes without signaling?
- How about embezzlement or murder?
- US law, Canadian law, Swedish law?
- Without what law?
What does that MEAN?
Well...who wrote the book of 1 John?
Jesus' disciple John did.
John was a Jewish man (as were Jesus and all His disciples). When John wrote "law" what did he mean? There was only one thing that meant "law" (in a generic sense) in the lives of the twelves Jewish men who were Jesus' disciples: G-d's Law as given to Moses (the Law is known in Hebrew as the Torah). It is, in fact, the only law given to us in Scripture. There is no other law given to us in regards to G-d and godliness, holiness, and righteousness.
G-d gives each of us unique and specific instructions (for example: Moses, Jonah, etc) that we should obey. "The Law" (Torah) is G-d's foundational set of instructions for all mankind. Disobeying G-d's specific instructions to each of us is just as much as sin as disobeying any of G-d's general commandments or instructions.
Sin (in regards to the "Law") is violating the commandments G-d gave to the world through Moses. The Hebrew word translated as "law" in our English Bibles is the Hebrew word torah. It is more accurately translated as "instruction" or "teaching" with the legal weight of the English word "law" (i.e. do this or there will be consequences). The Torah is G-d's revelation of His will and wisdom... His teaching about who He is and who we are created to be as reflections of him.
What does Scripture say about the Torah?
The Law [Hebrew: Torah] of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
Let us assume for the sake of discussion that the Torah is the law G-d desires for us to obey in order not to sin.
What does G-d want me to do?
Follow some rules that He gave to nomadic sheep herders living in tents 3500 years ago?
How can I really know what G-d wants?
Scripture tells us:
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what G-d's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.
How is my mind renewed?
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
So our "old self" is our sinful nature (the body of sin) which was crucified with Christ? Got it! Our "new self" is our new life after being saved.
What about the "renewed in knowledge" part?
What does that "renewed in knowledge" part mean?
Well... what is the only source of knowledge we have of G-d? Scripture is the only source of that knowledge...G-d's Word as revealed by His Holy Spirit!
How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?
What was it that they needed to "hear"?
What was it that was being "preached"?
SCRIPTURE! The promise of Messiah is found in Scripture. I guess that means Scripture has a purpose. Part of the purpose is to renew me with the knowledge of Who He is and who I am created to be in Him in order to bring unbelievers to faith in Him.
What about knowledge of G-d through the Holy Spirit?
I have yet to find any passage of Scripture that indicates unbelievers can have knowledge of G-d through the Spirit. It is only after a person comes to faith in Messiah that he is given the Spirit. There are some verses, however, that refer to knowledge given to the believer through the Spirit:
1 Corinthians 12:8
For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit...
However, we must test every spirit to determine if it is The Spirit or not:
1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from G-d, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
How do we "test the spirits"?
Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1). Surely He must have tested the spirits to see if they were of G-d or not.
When Jesus was tempted by a spirit to do something how did He determine what was right?
Rather than following the direction of the evil spirit (Satan) Jesus held to and responded with G-d's Torah commandments! (see Matthew 4:1-10).
What else is Scripture for?
Scripture outlines many purposes for itself, however, none seems to be as inclusive as a quote from Paul's second letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is G-d-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of G-d may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Training in righteousness?
What is righteousness and why do I need to train in it?
Then he [Abraham] believed in the LORD; and He [G-d] reckoned it to him as righteousness.
"For I have chosen him [Abraham], so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him."
Righteousness appears to be not only what we believe (verse 15:6) but something we do (verse 18:19). That is definitely not the idea I used to have of righteousness.
Righteousness is something different than salvation. A Christian can be saved (which is a "true or false" condition) and not be living in a righteous manner.
Marriage is a good analogy for this. A person can be married (also a "true or false" condition... either you are married or you aren't) and not be acting in a manner consistent with their marital status. In order to be righteous in their marriage a person must behave in a manner that is consistent with the fact that they are married. In order to have a good marriage man and woman in the marriage must train themselves to have a good marriage: they must practice! In a similar way we must "train in righteousness" and practice having a proper (righteous) relationship with G-d.
What about that "every good work" part of 2 Tim 3:16?
Christians aren't supposed to have anything to do with good works... are we?
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and be filled," and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." You believe that G-d is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
Scripture says that faith without works is dead. It doesn't say that it isn't faith or that it isn't true faith. It says it is dead faith. Just like a dead tree is still a tree... just one that does not bear any fruit.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Scripture tells us that we were created in Messiah for good works! Yes, it sounds like Christians are supposed to have something to do with good works.
If we dig further into Scripture and read about the the disciples, we discover that they were all Jewish men. For Jews in the 1st century (as well as now in the 21st century) the concept of "a good work" is encapsulated in the Hebrew word mitzvah. A mitzvah is the act of performing the commandments of G-d as defined in the Torah (Law of Moses). Each commandment is a mitzvah ... a good work or "good deed" that is to be done.
A mitzvah is also any good deed that we do for others. A boy scout helping an older lady across the street is going a "good deed"... a mitzvah. Doing what your father or mother asks you to do is a mitzvah. Performing the commands of our Heavenly Father is also a mitzvah.
Summary thus far:
- I am saved by grace through faith. (Eph 2:8-9)
- As a consequence of that salvation my "old self" is crucified with Christ so I am no longer a slave to sin. (Rom 6:6)
- The "new self" shares in the resurrection of Christ and is being renewed in the knowledge of the image of its Creator. (Col 3:9-11)
- In this renewing process I am able to test what G-d's will is- His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:2)
- Scripture is the source of the knowledge of my Creator. (Rom 10:14)
- Scripture is useful for equipping believers for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
- "Good works" = mitzvot = obeying G-d's commandments.