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ERHAPS one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible is the Epistle to the Galatians written by Rav Sha’ul (Paul), the so-called Apostle of Liberty. As Shimon Kefa (Peter) wrote:

“And regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him who wrote unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”[1]

 

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AUL, of course, remained a loyal, Torah-observant Jew throughout his lifetime. However, many throughout the centuries have twisted his writings, and made him appear to be anti-Torah.

     The Epistle to the Galatians is one of those books that is easily misunderstood, much as the vision of Peter with the sheet lowered from heaven with a multitude of animals on it has been misinterpreted to mean that Peter could now eat whatever critter he wanted to eat,  even though Peter himself understood the meaning of the vision to mean, “God has shown me that I am not to call any man unholy or unclean.”[2] Those who disagree with this interpretation should rip the Epistles of Peter out of their Bibles, because they obviously don’t believe that Peter was very inspired. The purpose of the vision was to help Shimon Kefa (Peter) to be willing to share the Good News of Messiah with Cornelius, the Roman centurion, even though this Italian might have just eaten Italian sausage with his spaghetti (if they had spaghetti back then!).

     Rav Sha’ul wrote his epistle to the Galatians because there was a very real problem with some Pharisaic Messianic Jews trying to impose their legalism onto the Gentile believers in Galatia. These men were legalists, although some use the term “Judaizers” to describe them. True, they were Jewish, but the term “Judaizer” sounds a tad anti-Semitic to me. After all, there are many legalists on this planet, and only a very small percentage of them happen to be Jewish. Many years ago, we became members of a Christian denomination which told us we couldn’t dance, drink wine, smoke, go to movie theaters, play cards, etc.  Admittedly, we aren’t recommending all of the above activities. However, it is interesting that this Pentecostal denomination considered the mitzvoth (commandments) given to us by God to be legalism, and substituted a host of manmade prohibitions. Personally, I prefer the commandments of God! Yeshua was very opposed to those who would exalt manmade precepts and traditions above Torah. The manmade prohibitions are the real legalisms! As Yeshua said to the Pharisees:

“Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.  Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’ For neglecting the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men.”[3] Although Yeshua was criticizing Jews for exalting manmade commandments above the commandments of God, in this age the “Church” is most guilty of this grievous sin.

         

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OBODY is “saved” by the works of the Law. We are all saved by grace, not of our own good works. I don’t know about you, but I need the blood of Messiah on a daily basis to cover my sins, as I still fall short. We believe firmly in telling others of their need of the blood of atonement provided freely by Yeshua. He paid the penalty for all of our sins—past, present, and future.

     This does not mean that Torah is abolished, however. Yeshua tells us that Torah is still valid.[4] Yochanan gives us the New Testament definition of sin: “Whosoever commits sin transgresses also the Law; for sin is the transgression of the Law.[5]

     I think one of the things that makes Torah unpopular is the unfortunate translation. It is usually translated as “Law,” and I occasionally use that same mistranslation, because that is what most people are familiar with. However, a more accurate translation is “Instructions.” Torah doesn’t save anybody. We are not “redeemed” by Torah. However, what Torah does do is give the instructions for how a redeemed person should live.

     The so-called Judaizers (I hate that term!) were very wrong in demanding Gentiles to get circumcised. It is impossible for circumcision to save anybody, Jew or Gentile. Also, circumcision is commanded only to the physical seed of Abraham, to be done on the 8th day, as well as for the men in Abraham’s household who were bought with money.[6] In no place of scripture are Gentiles commanded to get circumcised. In the Greek, Rav Sha’ul says, “Would that those who are troubling you would even castrate themselves.”[7] Scripture clearly doesn’t require Gentiles to get circumcised. In addition, it would have been a major impediment to the Good News of Messiah going forth to the Gentiles had such a heresy been allowed to proceed. However, this doesn’t mean that Torah is irrelevant to Gentiles. “The same Law (Torah) shall apply to the native as to the stranger (Gentile) who sojourns among you.”[8]

 

MESSIAH  SET  US  FREE!

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Messiah hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”[9] These opening words of Galatians 5 have been used for centuries as a foundation to attack God’s holy commandments as “bondage.” The curious thing is that this epistle was written to Gentiles who came to believe in the Jewish Messiah. They never were in “bondage” to Torah. It is unlikely that they had ever heard of God’s Instructions in their pagan days. It is kind of blasphemous (in my humble opinion) to consider obedience to God as being some kind of bondage. Yes, the Galatians were in bondage, but not to any commandments given to mankind in the Scriptures; they were in bondage to their pagan beliefs and traditions. Paul wrote to them:

“However, at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are not gods. But now, after that you have known God, or rather are known of God, why do you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days, and months, and times, and years.  I fear for you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain.”[10]

 

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T is utter blasphemy to consider God’s commandments to be “weak and beggarly elements,” but this is exactly what many churches and denominations teach! Incredible, but true! Paul was warning these new Believers in Galatia not to return to their former pagan practices and beliefs. Yeshua the Messiah sets us free from bondage to sin, unbelief, and all the lies of HaSatan. Yeshua did not come to set us free from YHWH’s Instruction Book—the Torah. He didn’t die a horrible death on the Cross to abolish the Law; He suffered that awful punishment to pay the penalty for our transgression of Torah. He who knew no sin became sin for us, on our behalf.

     In Galatians 5:2-7, Rav Shaul again speaks strongly against Pharisaic Messianic Jews who were telling the Gentile Believers to get circumcised. Again, anyone seeking to be justified on the basis of their own righteousness instead of the imputed righteousness of Messiah has totally missed the point.

     Error also has a habit of multiplying itself. As Rav Sha’ul said, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.”[11] Leavening is chametz—yeast. It only takes a tiny bit of yeast. You add that yeast to the bread dough, and in a few hours the entire loaf is permeated with yeast, causing the dough to rise significantly. Likewise, error seems to multiply itself. I think this is one of the reasons Paul wrote so strongly against certain errors that were creeping into the early congregations. He spoke very strongly against such errors, lest they multiply themselves, and soon have various “cults” splitting off from the true bodies of Believers.

     Galatians 5:13 contains the warning to “not use freedom for an opportunity for the flesh, but by love serve one another.” Once you have been delivered from sin (made free), you don’t want to become re-entangled into it again. Also, he said, “by love, serve one another.” Too many times, the very soulish person is willing to serve, but only after first asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” Love should be the first and primary motivation. If you serve only for selfish reasons, then you already have your reward in this world, rather than in Olam HaBa (The World to Come). The pleasures of this world are temporary, whereas the heavenly treasures (and pleasures) are eternal. Use your ministry gifts for Him out of a motivation of love. As he says in the following verse: “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This, of course, is a quote from Leviticus 19:18. Yeshua was asked in Mark 12:28 about which commandments were foremost of all. Yeshua replied with the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and the above quote from Leviticus.

     The story is told about a young Gentile. He went to the great Jewish scholar Shammai, telling him that he wanted to convert to Judaism, but only if Shammai could tell him all he needed to know while he stood on one foot. Shammai chased him away. Then this Gentile went to the other great Jewish scholar, Hillel, and told him that he would convert to Judaism if Hillel would tell him everything he needed to know about Judaism while he stood on one foot. Hillel told him, “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do unto your neighbor. All the rest is commentary.”[12] The Gentile then decided to convert to Judaism. Yeshua said basically the same thing, but in a positive sense, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Both sayings are somewhat based on Leviticus 19:18, which is one of the foremost commandments of Scripture.

     Rav Sha’ul made this little commentary on this foremost commandment: “But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed by one another.”[13] I’ve heard it said that the Church is the only army that shoots its wounded. Unfortunately, this often applies to Messianic Judaism as well. We have seen Messianic Jews (including leaders) fall down with major moral failures. I don’t believe in sweeping everything under the carpet. But at the same time, I wonder if we always do enough to restore such individuals. Occasionally, there also are major splits and divisions over relatively minor differences in vision, theology, or direction. This is an area in which we have seen much improvement, with various Messianic Jewish organizations reconciling themselves with each other. As Yeshua said, “By your love, they shall know that you are my talmidim (disciples).”

     Rav Sha’ul said, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that you cannot do the things that you wish.  But if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”[14]

     We are basically dualistic beings, and often are confronted with “doing evil” or “doing good.” The rabbis call these impulses the yetzer hara (the evil impulse) and the yetzer hatov, (the good impulse). Jewish cartoonists years ago would have these impulses personified with an angel sitting on one shoulder of an individual and a devil sitting on the other shoulder, while each would whisper in the ear of the person, one trying to get the person to do good and the other trying to get the individual to do evil. As Rav Sha’ul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”[15] When we “entertain” the yetzer hara, we open a door to the enemies of our soul, and it makes it more difficult to “walk in the spirit.” While the concept of demonic beings may not be popular, it would be difficult to explain some of the horrendous evil we continue to see in the world, if not for these demonic beings. Setting our hearts on the things of the flesh does indeed make it harder to do what we should do. Again, quoting Paul: “For I delight in the Law of God after the inward man. 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 in my members.”[16] We need to die to self daily!

 

THE  NEW  COVENANT

I would like to comment on Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:18: “But if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Regretfully, many Christians interpret this to mean that that God’s holy Torah is somehow in opposition to the Spirit. Nothing could be further from the truth! Ezekiel wrote: “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.”[17] It is the Spirit of YHWH that enables us to keep His mitzvoth. God’s Spirit and God’s Torah are buddies, not mortal enemies! (Am I the ‘Judaizer’ your pastor warned you about? Perhaps. However, I might need to warn you about your pastor! You may have been sold a bill of goods, and it is time to go by the Word of God, and not necessarily what your pastor has been telling you all these years!)

     In any event, Paul is right when he said, “But if you are led of the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” Here difference between the old covenant and the new covenant: The old covenant was written on tablets of stone, but the new covenant is internalized written on our hearts:

“Behold, the days come,” saith YHWH, “that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband unto them,” saith YHWH. “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days,” saith YHWH, “I will put my Law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.”[18]

 

In Acts 5:32, we find that God gives the Holy Spirit is “given to those who obey him,” admittedly not a popular concept in a lawless age. Under the Old Covenant, we might have obeyed YHWH because of fear, knowing the consequences of disobedience. However, in the New Covenant, we obey His righteous ordinances because it is a demonstration of our love for Him. Basically, the New Covenant is the Old Covenant written in our hearts. In the same way, children often obey their parents out of fear of punishment. As they internalize their parents instructions, they behave themselves as a demonstration of their love and respect for their parents, or simply because it is the “right thing to do.” If you are a New Covenant Believer, it means that you are not under the Law, but that the Law is internalized, written on your heart.

 

Works of the Flesh

Rav Sha’ul continues: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, sensuality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, jealousy, murders, drunkenness, carousing, and such like, of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in times past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”[19] Yes, we are saved by faith, and by faith alone. But if you regularly practice any or all of the above sins, you “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” I didn’t say that; this was written by Paul, the Apostle of Liberty! Having said the “sinner’s prayer” twenty years ago doesn’t guarantee your salvation today.

     I don’t have time to comment on all the works of the flesh. However, I would like to comment on a couple of them. The word that the KJV translates as fornication is the Greek word porneia, which can also mean harlotry or simply sexual immorality, as it is sometimes translated. At the very minimum, I would suggest that it includes the forbidden relationships mentioned in Leviticus 20. While the world today winks at sexual immorality, it is something that God takes very seriously.

     The other word I would like to comment on is idolatry. I don’t know too many who actually bow down and worship statues nowadays. However, in today’s culture, there are many other “gods” that people worship: Money, Possessions, Entertainment, Sports, Cars, Sex, Power, Prestige, Fame, Career, Education, Rock Stars, and a host of other “gods.” Anything that is more important to you than the Almighty might qualify as a “god” that you worship. “Thou shalt not have any other gods before Me.”

     Of course, the Scriptures are far more than a list of things you should not do. Paul also tells us some things that should be evident in our lives: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Messiah's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”[20]

     There is, of course, a side benefit to all this: We have a peace that the world cannot give to us. We can sleep better at night without a troubled conscience. And the world is a little better place, because we have passed through. In addition, we have the assurance that we are walking close to Yeshua, and we have the assurance of our salvation. Like it or not, we have a choice between heaven and hell. May we all make the right choices! Where do you want to spend eternity?



[1] 2 Peter 3:15-16.

[2] Acts 10:28.

[3] Mark 7:6-9.

[4] Matthew 5:17-19.

[5] 1 John 3:4.

[6] Beresheet (Genesis) 17:10-14, 27.

[7] Galatians 5:11.

[8] Sh’mot (Exodus) 12:49. (See also Lev. 24:22.)

[9] Galatians 5:1.

[10] Galatians 4:8-10.

[11] Galatians 5:9.

[12] Shab. 31a

[13] Galatians 5:15.

[14] Galatians 5:16-18.

[15] Ephesians 6:12.

[16] Romans 7:22-23.

[17] Ezekiel 36:27.

[18] Jer. 31:31-33. (See also Hebrews 8:8-10)

[19] Galatians 5:19-21.

[20] Galatians 5:22-25.