Five Reasons Why I Keep TorahOctober 7, 2016
I grew up in a conventional Christian home. My family went to church on Sundays, and I embraced my parents’ faith from a young age. But when I was fourteen, my parents and siblings and I went through a radical transformation that changed our lives. Some of the beliefs we had grown up with were challenged, and we began to see the Bible in a new light. Our faith came alive like never before. That encounter was, essentially, the discovery of Torah.
The Hebrew word torah is usually translated as “law” in our English Bibles. A more accurate translation, however, would be “teaching” or “instruction.” The word applies primarily to the first five books of the Bible (often referred to as “the Torah of Moses”), but by extension it could be applied to all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. In our context, however, it especially came to refer to God’s commandments as contained in the Hebrew Scriptures.
My family’s discovery some 15 years ago brought us to the conviction that God’s commandments found in the Old Testament actually apply to believers today. This was revolutionary. Previously we assumed, like all other “normal” Christians we knew, that only the New Testament applied to us. The Old Testament had lessons for us to learn, and there were enduring principles we would glean, but we weren’t supposed to actually obey the commandments therein. The Law had changed with the coming of Christ, and now we followed a new set of commandments, the “Law of Christ.” These assumptions were radically challenged, and our family came to the conviction that we hold to this day: God’s Torah is for us to obey. And it isn’t just my family that has come to these conclusions. We are just one example of a large movement of people known variously as the Torah movement or the Messianic movement.
The road we are on is certainly a narrow one. In some ways, we are an enigma. We don’t fit well into simple religious categories. We certainly have many things in common with our fellow Christians, most importantly the belief that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, as well as the majority of our theology. Yet in our practice, we have many things that resemble Judaism: We keep a seventh-day Sabbath, we abstain from the meat of unclean animals, and we celebrate the Biblical festivals. We also tend to love Hebrew and follow a few helpful Jewish customs. Because of this, we don’t fit in very well with either conventional Christianity or conventional Judaism. Christians have Jesus, Jews have Torah, but we have both. In some ways we stand at the crossroads between these two religions, which is an uncomfortable place for many.
Over the years we have encountered many arguments against our stance, as well as many misunderstandings of our beliefs. I would like to clarify some of these misunderstanding by explaining why exactly it is that I Keep Torah. The following are my top five reasons:
Reason #1: Because my Rabbi kept it.
Yeshua (Jesus) was Jewish. He was a Jewish rabbi (teacher), and like other rabbis He had disciples. A disciple is a student who seeks to emulate their teacher in every aspect. Discipleship is the art of imitation. A disciple’s job was to soak up every word of their rabbi and mimic their mannerisms and customs.
Each of us are called to be disciples of Yeshua. We are called to emulate Him, to walk as He walked. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” (1 John 2:6) We want to live out our faith according to the example He gave us. The question posed by WWJD bracelets (“what would Jesus do?”) is best answered by asking “what did Jesus do?”
It just so happens that Yeshua kept Torah. He kept the Biblical dietary laws, He kept the Biblical festivals, He wore tzitzit (tassels) on the four corners of His garment, and He even (contrary to popular opinion) kept the Sabbath. He was perfect in His obedience to God’s commandments. He was sinless.This is a point on which I intend to elaborate in future posts. The Gospels clearly portray Yeshua as perfect in His obedience to the Torah. He kept ...continue And His life is the model we are to emulate. As believers our job is to become like Yeshua. The closer we get to Him, the more like Him we ought to become.
This is really the crux of it for me. This is my single-biggest reason for following Torah. It’s not because I want to be Jewish, or I have a strange fascination with ancient legislation. It’s because I want to be more like my Rabbi. I want to walk in the same manner in which He walked.
Torah is not a diversion or a distraction. Yeshua doesn’t take a lesser role in my life than He did previously. On the contrary, He has become even more my focus than before. In following Him and walking in His footsteps I can’t help but follow Torah.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. (1 John 2:3–5)
Reason #2: Because I love Him.
The more we love someone, the more we want to please them. As our love grows, so does our willingness to serve. This should be true of any relationship, and especially of our relationship with God.
“We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Yeshua gave Himself up for us. Our natural response to such love should be to give ourselves over to Him in return. He is our source of life, and we owe everything to Him. This is where obedience comes in. Obeying Torah is a natural result of our love for Him. As Yeshua says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15)
“And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” (2 John 1:6) Love results in obedience. The more we love Him the more we desire to follow Him without compromise. This is not legalism. We do not serve under compulsion, but out of gratitude. We do not obey as an attempt to earn His love, but because He has already loved us and we are delighted to respond to that love. This leads us to the next reason…
Reason #3: Because I am saved.
A common misconception is that people like me follow Torah in order to be saved. Some people assume that my pursuit of Torah is a pursuit of salvation. I once had a pastor tell me that people like me are “relying on the Law.” The only possible reason I could want to keep the commandments of the Torah, in his eyes, was to try to earn right-standing with God.
Nothing could be further from the truth. I do not believe that observing commandments earns anyone salvation. I don’t believe it ever has. No one has ever been saved by following Torah, or any other set of rules for that matter. Scripture is clear that salvation is only through the shed blood of Yeshua, and that it is by grace, through faith. Nothing we do can ever earn that salvation; it is a free gift.
Salvation begins with justification, that moment when God declares us righteous through the merit of His Son, Yeshua. Justification is not the end, however. It is only the beginning of a lifelong journey of sanctification, becoming more like Yeshua. Paul makes this clear in his description of salvation by faith:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10)
Paul is clear that while works can never produce salvation, salvation ought to produce good works in our lives.
This is exactly what James had in mind when he said that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17). James is certainly not teaching salvation by works. But a true life of faith should bear the fruit of good works. It has to be in that order: salvation, then obedience. Trying to put obedience first is like putting the cart before the horse.
Consider the children of Israel in the book of Exodus: God saved them from slavery before He brought them to Mount Sinai. The redemption from Egypt was not contingent upon their obedience. It was a free gift. And after they received that gift, then God gave them the Torah. Redemption came first, then Torah; not the other way around.
I don’t keep Torah in order to be saved. Rather, I keep Torah because I am saved. I follow Torah as one who is already redeemed. The price for my salvation has already been paid, and in response I willingly obey out of love and gratitude for my Redeemer.
Reason #4: Because it is a joy.
Many believers assume, on theological grounds, that trying to keep God’s commandments is an impossible burden. They assume any attempt to do so must be a miserable endeavour, fraught with discouragement and failure. They assume that keeping Torah is a joy-killing experience.
My experience (and the experience of every other Messianic Torah believer I know) runs contrary to that popular idea. The notion that “Torah is a burden” has not been validated by real-life experience. On the contrary, Torah is a joy! It is a delight.
For example, the Biblical Sabbath and festivals are a delightful experience in our home. Everyone in our family will tell you, without thinking twice about it, that the Sabbath is their favourite day of the week. It is a day we take off just to spend with God. In our modern hectic, crazy world, how anyone could see that as a burden is beyond me!
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) Far from being a burden, they are a delight. Consider David’s attitude toward the Torah: “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. . . Oh how I love your Torah! It is my meditation all the day.” (Psalms 119:47, 97)
It is a privilege to serve and obey God. I don’t see Torah as something I have to do; it’s something I get to do. Every commandment offers us an opportunity to show our love and adoration for our Saviour.
Reason #5: Because it makes my faith make sense.
Torah gives substance to my walk. It gives concrete definition to God’s will. Often among believers, God’s will is defined as something hazy and subjective. But realizing that God’s will is expressed in His Word, and that all of His Word is applicable, offers concrete direction. It is liberating to have a clear standard. It is liberating to know what God likes and what He doesn’t like. God’s Torah really is “a lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105).
The Sabbath and the biblical feasts offer the opportunity to live out our faith in exciting ways. This is especially true for our children. Meaningful Torah traditions give us the opportunity to learn about God using all our senses: sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. Without that, our faith easily becomes something abstract, and difficult for children to grasp.
To me, a pro-Torah understanding of the Scriptures makes sense. It is logical. I believe God does not change, and that His word does not change. He is not self-contradictory. His Word is unified, and getting to live it out makes it come alive.
These five reasons sum up why I keep Torah. Now I know that many people will still have objections. There are common passages that are brought up to try to prove that my perspective is wrong. Most of these passages come from Paul’s writings. I will save answering those objections for future posts. But for now, let me just suggest that there are other legitimate ways those passages can be interpreted.
In the end, none of us are perfect. I know I am certainly not. But we should all be striving to know Yeshua better and be more like Him. As Paul says, “Not that I have already obtained [becoming like Messiah] or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Messiah Yeshua has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Messiah Yeshua.” (Philippians 3:12–14)
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|1.||↑||This is a point on which I intend to elaborate in future posts. The Gospels clearly portray Yeshua as perfect in His obedience to the Torah. He kept the festivals: Luke 2:41; John 5:1; 7:10. He wore tzitzit: Matthew 9:20; 14:36. He kept the Sabbath: Luke 4:16; 6:5. This is also borne out by the description of Yeshua as a sinless, spotless sacrifice: 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 9:14; 1 Peter 1:19; 2:22; 1 John 3:5. According to 1 John 3:4, sin is lawlessness (transgression of Torah), and so for Yeshua to be sinless means He was perfectly obedient.|