I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 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! (Galatians 1:6-8)
As we have considered the Abrahamic origin and Jewish nature of the Good News, we should next consider the various gospel messages we receive in Scripture. We read plainly in the evangelists’ accounts about John the Immerser and Jesus both preaching, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This seems in stark contrast with the gospel messages promoted by Peter and Paul, who both put more emphasis on the divine nature of Yeshua (Jesus), justification by faith, the function of grace, and the eternal destiny of the believer. On the one hand, we have Yeshua saying, “Turn from your sinful ways and return to the Torah of God.” Then we see Paul emphatically denying the need for good works or adherence to God’s Torah. This is a difficulty.
Or is it? When we read the Holy Scriptures, we can often encounter apparent (and sometimes blatant) contradictions. For example, consider the accounts of who discovered Yeshua’s empty tomb. Or the multiple genealogies found in both Hebrew and Greek scriptures. The difficulty in reconciling these differences begins with our innate need to establish order and explanation for everything. In our evolved, post-Enlightenment, western culture, we have a tendency to only accept concepts that we can define. Another way to explain this is to say that we can’t say “I don’t know” and be okay with that. Likewise, we have all but lost the ability to look at conflicting information and accept that both accounts can be totally accurate.
The Bible was not written in a vacuum. And it was not written as a text book. Considering that we are two millennia removed from the latest Biblical accounts, there is a good chance that we might not be understanding the text in the way it was intended. Add to this the fact that we are not even reading the text in its original language nor with an understanding of the Jewish mindset of the writers, and we do not have much of a chance at rightly handling the Word.
For example… When we read about Yeshua (Jesus) preaching repentance, it can seem out of touch with the modern gospel as we hear it preached today, principally justification by faith. To the Jew hearing Yeshua, repentance was understood as an action–not the belief or mind-set change you will often hear mistakenly taught in churches today. No, repentance to the Hebrew mind was about changing behaviors, realigning them with God’s ways, His Torah (teaching). But the Greek word used to represent repentance, μετάνοια (metanoia), actually can mean to change your mind. But Yeshua was not speaking Greek. He was speaking Aramaic, a Semitic language closely related to Hebrew. If we then look at the Hebrew for repentance, שׁוּבה (shuvah), we find the more action-oriented definition “return.” That is very different from just changing your mind, in fact I find it quite comical to think that repentance is just about changing your mind. What good is a belief change if it doesn’t manifest outwardly? That is like faith without works, which James the Righteous calls dead. You want dead faith, dead repentance? Then just change your mind. Such a thing is pointless and meaningless without the full manifestation into your daily activities and the outward proclamation of your life witness.
So Yeshua is telling the Jewish people to return to God, but it isn’t so easy for Peter and Paul to go out to the pagan masses and preach the return to a God that these masses have never known. So the Gospel, still focused on the Kingdom and Messiah’s kingship, expands to include monotheism, the divine origin and nature of Yeshua, his mission, his teachings, his self-sacrifice, his resurrection, and his future return to usher in the great redemption of Israel and the foreigners who join with her. When Yeshua preached repentance, his audience understood all of this. We are the ones who are so far removed that we miss sight of the goal. Evangelicalism has stopped short of the gospel message by making personal salvation the end gold. That’s not even close. Personal salvation, or redemption, is just the beginning, as we read in Ephesians:
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. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
How quick we are to quote verses 8 and 9 to prove that we cannot earn salvation and thereby have no obligations once we are “born again.” But how often do you hear verse 10? On the contrary, there is such a pervasive fear of legalism within the body of Messiah that the importance of good works and value of obedience to God’s Holy Word has been virtually erased from the mindset of the average protestant Christian. And it all begins from both a lack of Biblical literacy and a failure of the average Christian to connect with the body of Scripture. The Enemy is robbing the body of Messiah of its potency by convincing believers that obedience to God’s Word is somehow unnecessary or, worse yet, even to be avoided. And well-intentioned believers are blindly walking that wide path with pride.
If you read a gospels and find a difficulty in reconciling the good news as Yeshua preached it and the good news that Peter, Paul, or the other Apostles preached, then take a step back and remember what the end goal of the message was meant to be. There is no difficulty here. Neither Peter nor Paul preached the good news with the intention that their hearers should abandon the Word of God, i.e. His Law, because they were almost always writing to mixed groups of Jews and Gentiles. The force of what they taught was that faith and trust in Yeshua brings salvation, as opposed to one’s status as a Jew. They taught the life, death, and resurrection of a divine Messiah whose work on the cross was meant to bring those who believe into the Kingdom of Heaven, one day to be realized by the Kingship of Yeshua sitting on his throne in Jerusalem. Peter so eloquently conveys this in his first epistle.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
If you are still stuck in that false law versus grace dichotomy, then you need to spend some time rediscovering Paul, who remained faithful to his Pharisaic upbringing throughout his life. He never abandoned his devotion to Torah. Careful and literate reading of his epistles will show as much. But careful and literate reading is not happening in our seminaries, our churches, or our homes.