Circumcise Your Heart

The message of Messiah Gate seems confusing to some readers. They wonder if our background is Jewish or Christian; if we celebrate feast days and honor the Shabbat, or Sabbath.

[We do celebrate the Jewish roots of our faith within the context of their fulfillment in Messiah.]

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that there is no distinction for those who believe in Jesus Christ; and to the Galatians he wrote that there is neither Jew nor Greek for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Paul wrote that a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly according to the circumcision of the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit.

Jehovah said to the men of Judah, Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart (Je 4:4).

So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer (Dt 10:16).

Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live (Dt 30:6).

Physical circumcision, as commanded unto Abraham, was a sign of obedience that is the outward cleansing of the flesh, but it was only a shadow pointing to the circumcision of our heart which is the inward cleansing of our soul.

Are you under the Law, or led by the Spirit?

Paul wrote that if you are under the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Here’s the context: There were Jewish believers in Galatia teaching Gentile converts they had to obey the Law to be saved so the Galatians began circumcising themselves, and Paul rebuked them:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [Gal 3:1-3]

[There are messianics today who profess Jesus Christ, but live by the Law; and we must be discerning with whom we fellowship.]

Paul admonished the Galatians for abandoning grace, and receiving a distorted gospel:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! [Gal 1:8]

The essence of Paul’s teaching is that we are saved by grace through faith, and not of works; and that we are dead to the Law, but alive in Christ Jesus.

Within the messianic community you will find teachers that call believers to celebrate the feast days, keep the Sabbath, adhere to dietary restrictions, obey ordinances and statutes and conform to the Law of Moses.

Paul was accused in his day of blasphemy for teaching Gentiles that these observances were unnecessary. The sect of the Pharisees who believed in the LORD, called Paul to testify before the Jerusalem Council to answer their charge that it was necessary for Gentiles to be circumcised, and to observe ceremonial law.

After much debate, Peter stood up and questioned the reasoning for placing this burden upon the Gentiles, while recognizing that it was a yoke that not even Jews were able to bear; and he affirmed Paul’s teaching that we—both Jew and Greek—are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

James—the half-brother of Jesus, and head of the Jerusalem assembly—had the final say:

Therefore it is my judgement that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood. For Moses from every generation has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Ac 15:19-21).

The apostles and elders at Jerusalem then sent Paul, Barnabas, Barsabbas and Silas to deliver the Council’s decree to Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. It read in part:

Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls…we lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials that if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well (Ac 15:23-29).

The distorted gospel is still being preached today by a segment of the messianic assembly which includes both Christian and Jewish converts. They adhere strictly to the Law and Torah, but it might be useful to read what Moses told the children of Israel:

Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today (Dt 5:1-3).

Moses was speaking of the law which was not given unto the patriarchs; that is, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but to the children of Israel who were brought up out of Egypt.

It is well to consider that the LORD didn’t make this covenant with you nor did He make it with me.

We have been told by the LORD that the people broke His covenant with Moses; and we have confirmation by Peter that the Law was a curse that neither they nor their fathers could bear.

Paul warned the Galatians if they abide in the Law they are cursed; that no one is justified by the Law which is not of faith; and that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming our sin bearer. This begs the question which Paul asked the Galatians (rhetorically), Why the Law then? [Gal 3:19]

A careful study of Paul’s writings will reveal the paradox of his thinking that the Law was both a blessing and a curse. Put simply, the Law was given to reveal our sinful nature, but it could not save us. The Law is not the problem then, we are.

Paul explains that the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and death.

To our brethren—both Jew and Gentile—who strictly adhere to the Law and Torah, please heed this warning from Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) who wrote that you are then under obligation to keep the whole Law (all 613 statutes and ordinances). Remember that James wrote if you stumble in one point you are guilty of all (James 2:10).

That is a heavy burden to bear.

When Christ kneeled before the woman’s accusers (Jn 8:1-11), and wrote in the dirt, causing them to walk away, it’s at least probable He was writing down their sins: envy, lust, immorality, strife, jealousy, impurity, drunkenness, carousing, idolatry, sensuality, anger, disputes, dissensions…

It is very dangerous seeking redemption by works as Paul writes:

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).

Friends, the law cannot save you for it was given to condemn, but faithfully seek the grace of God and His righteousness.

Next: When Paul Rebuked Peter

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Was Abraham Saved By the Law?

The short answer to this question posed by a reader is, no. The Law had not yet been given. Moses delivered the Law to the children of Israel 430 years after Jehovah made His promise to Abram. 

In Abram’s day there were no Jews or Israelites. Abram was both a Semite (descended from Noah’s son Shem), and a Hebrew (descended from Shem’s son Eber). Jehovah extended His promise to Abram’s son Isaac; and again to Isaac’s son Jacob whom the LORD renamed Israel. [Jews descended from Judah, one of Israel’s twelve sons.]

If Abram could not be saved by the Law, how then was he justified? The Apostle Paul teaches very clearly that no one can be saved by works lest any man should boast; but many people have told us that they believe God will save them simply because they are a good person. If this were true then:  

The grace of God is nullified, and Christ’s death on the cross was meaningless.

We read in Genesis (chapter 15) that God told a mystified Abram his reward would be great. Abram replied that he had no children for an inheritance so the LORD took him outside and said:

Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be (Ge 15:5).

The Bible says that Abram believed the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. Abram was 85 years old. It wasn’t until Abram was 99 years old that the LORD commanded him to be circumcised.

We read that the LORD declared to Abram:

I am God Almighty…I will establish My covenant between Me and you…No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham (or father of many nations). And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you (Ge 17:1-5, 11).

We have seen that Abraham was already deemed righteous by God apart from the Law, and that circumcision was a sign of that covenantal relationship much like baptism is today.

Some readers see a division between the Apostle Paul and James  (half-brother of Yeshua) regarding the faith of Abraham. Both New Testament writers point to the Genesis account that Abram’s belief was counted as righteousness, but James adds that by his works Abraham’s faith was justified.

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” (Jas 2:18).
  
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and he was called a friend of God (Jas 2:21-23).

The offering of Isaac is an interesting study of faith. It’s a common misconception that Isaac was but a lad when Abraham offered him to the LORD. The Hebrew word for lad—used also to describe the accompanying servants—can also be translated young man.

Also, Abraham instructed Isaac to carry the stock of wood up the mountain to burn at the altar; a difficult task for a little boy, but not so for a grown man. Additionally, the historical references in Genesis suggest that some time had passed before Jehovah had commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son whom some historians determine was in the range of 20-33 years of age.

More important to consider is that human sacrifice is an abomination to the LORD; and killing Isaac would effectively dissolve the covenant Jehovah made to Abraham. Abraham had faith that the LORD would either provide a substitutionary atonement, or that He would raise Isaac from the dead. It was a test of faith that Abraham stretched out his hand to slay his son when the Angel of the LORD (pre-incarnate Christ) called out:

Abraham!, Abraham! Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, for now I know that you fear God since you have not withheld your only son from Me (Gen 22:12).

A reader with faithful discernment will see that the offering of Abraham’s son pre-figures the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son—the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

Next: Did James Contradict Paul?

Did James Contradict Paul?

A reader posed the following question which has caused difficulty for many believers: Did James contradict Rabbi Saul (Apostle Paul) regarding salvation by faith or works? Before we examine the weightier issues related to this topic let us first establish that we are saved by grace so that no man may boast before God.

This is what Paul wrote:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Eph 2:8-9).

Paul is saying that we do not receive salvation through the performance of good deeds. It is by grace (a gift of God) through faith (a gift of the Spirit) that we are saved .

This is what James—the half-brother of Yeshua—wrote, rather plainly:

Faith without works is dead (Jas 2:17).

At first read it seems as if James and Paul are not on the same page. On the contrary, James enhances Paul’s teaching by suggesting, so to speak, that the proof is in the pudding.

To appreciate what James was teaching we must understand the spiritual climate of his day. The faithful were growing in numbers from amongst both Jews and Gentiles. Those of the Pharisees, who believed  in Yeshua, were teaching that the Gentiles needed to observe Mosaic Law and be circumcised.

There was much dissension and debate within the Jerusalem assembly whether Paul’s doctrinal teaching of grace was, in effect, blasphemy. During his first missionary journey to Lystra, Jews from Antioch and Iconium dragged Paul outside the city and stoned him, leaving him for dead. As the disciples gathered around him, he got up and continued preaching and praising God.

Paul traveled on to Jerusalem to testify before the Council of Elders. James was head of the Jerusalem assembly, and he had the opportunity then to dispute any of Paul’s teachings.

Peter stood up and admitted that the Jews themselves could not obey the law which he likened to a curse:

Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are (Ac 15:10).

After Peter’s testimony, James spoke to the assembly saying:

Therefore it is my judgement that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him (Ac 15:19-21).

James very clearly establishes the foundation of Mosaic Law, but the sticking points were the hundreds of statutes and ordinances—like circumcision and dietary restrictions—that Jewish believers wanted to impose upon the Gentiles.

The Council drew up a letter to be distributed amongst the Gentiles for their instruction:

For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well (Ac 15:28-29).

This edict was sent out with the authority of the Council of Apostles and Elders; and we cannot ignore that there were no instructions regarding circumcision or keeping of Shabbat (Sabbath)—signs which Jehovah gave specifically to the children of Israel.

We know that James wrote his epistle to Jewish believers who had been dispersed due to persecution. The doctrine of grace was difficult for them to understand, and some mistook it to mean that the law of works was abrogated.

James exhorts his readers to be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves (Jas 1:22).

He adds:

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world (Jas 1:27).

We are saved by faith for good works. Or as Paul wrote to Titus:

Christ redeemed us from every lawless deed to be a people zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).

We conclude that James and Paul are in agreement.

Next: Christ is Our Atonement