Do I Love God Enough To Obey Him?

The apostle John had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Though Jesus loved all of “his own who were in the world,” John is identified in particular as a disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:1, 23; 19:26; 20:2, 21:7, 20-24). If we want to know Jesus — and we do, because that’s part of salvation and eternal life (John 17:3; Phil. 3:8) — then who better to learn from than John?

We’re taking a short break from our series on godly wisdom because I really felt like this was the topic I should be studying this week. Love and relationship are so important to God. Knowing Him and being known by Him are central to salvation, Christianity, and our eternal hope. We have to know Him in His way, though. Jesus said there will be people at the end who think they know Him and yet never had a relationship with Him (Matt. 7:21-23). That’s a scary thought, but John makes sure to leave us guides in his writings for how to love Jesus and how to tell whether or not we truly know Him.

Knowing God is Essential to Life

John’s writings are among my favorite in the New Testament. He highlights Jesus’ power and divinity — the things that make Him so much higher than us — more than any other gospel writer, yet He also highlights Jesus’s love and His longing for relationship — the things that make Him closer to us. The way John talks about Jesus and the Father makes it clear that the powerful, eternal, creator God longs for a relationship with us.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him. Without him, nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, and lived among us.  (John 1:1-4, 14, WEB)

Jesus came here not just to die for our sins and reconcile us to God, but also to get to know us. He is the good shepherd who knows His sheep and is known by His own, who choose to follow Him (John 10:14, 27). He calls us His followers, friends, chosen, and beloved (John 15:12-16). And He reveals that knowing Him and the Father is key to eternal life (John 17:3). The importance of knowing and being known by God cannot be overstated. Read more

Book Review: Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curt Landry

Back in February, I read an article on Bible Gateway interviewing Curt Landry about his new book Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage: How Understanding the Jewish Roots of Christianity Can Transform Your Faith. As a Messianic believer, I was excited that a book about appreciating the Jewish roots of our faith was being released by a mainstream Christian publisher like Thomas Nelson.

I didn’t get to read the book until recently because I was distracted by other new releases, some of which I had advance reader copies to review, and I was waiting for a library to buy it. I finally got a copy through an inter-library loan program and eagerly sat down to read. Unfortunately, while this book contains some really good content, I felt like it was too much about Curt Landry and not enough about its stated purpose of helping people understand how the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform their faith.

Our Forgotten Heritage

When Jesus arrived here on earth (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name), He didn’t come to bring a new religion. Yeshua came as the next stage in God’s plan which He’d laid out from the foundation of the world. What we now call Christianity has its roots in the faith of the ancient Israeli people and the Jews of Jesus’ time. Though this phrasing is mine, this is one of the main arguments of Landry’s book and it’s the part I found most fascinating.

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Understanding How the God Who Exercises Loving Kindness, Justice, and Righteousness Brings Us Salvation

“I am Yahweh who exercises loving kindness, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for I delight in these things,” says Yahweh.

I quoted this scripture from Jeremiah 9:24 in last week’s post and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. God defines Himself by using these three concepts and says He delights in them. If they’re that important to Him, then they should be important to us.

I feel like we talk fairly often about the fact that God balances justice/judgement and mercy/loving kindness. But sometime we’re puzzled about how exactly that works. Back in Medieval times, theologians wondered how a God of judgement and justice could also be one of mercy. Now we ask how a God of love and mercy could also be one of judgement. I think taking God’s characteristic righteousness into account — as well as studying the Hebrew word meanings — can help answer those questions.

Shapat, justice

We in the Christian churches today often start with the New Testament when trying to understand a concept. It can be useful, though, to start with the Old Testament because that’s the foundation the New Testament writers built on. In Hebrew, words for justice, judgement, government, and ordinances are all interconnected in the root word shapat (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, entry 2443).

We tend to think of judgement/justice as a judicial concept. In Hebrew thought, though, the functions of government were’t divided as we so often do today. The primary meaning “of shapat is to exercise the process of government” in any realm or any form.

When the Bible speaks of God’s judgement or justice it’s also referencing all aspects of His government, not simply judicial laws. To quote TWOT again, “although the ancients knew full well what law … was, they did not think of themselves as ruled by laws rather than by men … The centering of the law, rulership, government in a man was deeply ingrained.” Apply that concept to God, and the notion of justice has to do with Him as the center of true law, rulership, and government. He is the source of real authority and has the absolute right to rule as He chooses.

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Seeking God’s Righteousness

I’ve been reading a book called Reclaiming Our Forgotten Heritage by Curty Landry and one of his comments about what we’re supposed to “seek first” caught my eye. This book is about how understanding the Jewish roots of Christianity can transform your faith. It’s amazing to me how much we can miss when we read the Bible in English with a Western cultural mindset. And it’s equally amazing how much it can deepen our understanding of God and His ways to dive-in to the roots of our faith.

One of the things Landry talks about is how our interpretation of words and stories in the Bible can change based on whether we approach them through a Western philosophical lens or a first-century Jewish one. An example is how we see the word “righteousness” in Matthew 6:33.

When we read “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we in the Western world tend to think this means we have to be righteous in the sense of being a “law-abiding citizen” of heaven. But a Jewish person listening to Jesus would have thought of the Hebrew concept of tzedakah, which changes how you interpret this verse. Let’s take a look at that.

Righteousness in Hebrew

Tzedakah is about justice, righteousness, and truthfulness (Brown, Driver, Briggs lexicon, entry H6666). It’s associated with God’s fairness and is also tied to acts of charity and giving. At my Messianic congregation, this word is written on the box where we put tithes and offerings because tzedakah is so closely connected with righteous giving.

In his article “God’s Kind of Righteousness,” Lois Tverberg points out that “tzedakah means more than just legal correctness – it refers to covenantal faithfulness, often resulting in rescuing those in distress and showing mercy to sinners.” It’s quite a bit different than what most of us think of when we think “righteousness,” but it’s very much in line with God’s character.

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The Christian Community and Our Godly Identity

In last week’s post, I talked about the new identities God gives us when we enter a relationship with Him. For those of us with a Western cultural mindset, “identity” is typically connected with “individualism” — who you are that makes you unique from everyone else. But the Bible was written by people with an Eastern cultural mindset, where identity is a more collective concept that involves how you fit in to a group or family.

When we find our identity in God, it is a collective as well as an individual thing. The Christian life isn’t meant to be an isolated one. We’re part of a community, a family. If we neglect to recognize that, then we’re missing out on a huge part of our identity as believers. And if we purposefully cut ourselves off from the community, we reject an incredible blessing.

Being in Christ Is Being in Community

I recently read a fascinating book called Participating In Christ by Michael J. Gorman. One of the key points he makes is that “to be in Christ is to be in community” (chapter 10). We miss this in English far more easily than we could if we read it in Greek.

“This life in Christ is lived not in isolation but only in community. (We must keep in mind that most of the words for ‘you’ in Paul’s letters are plural pronouns, and most often the imperatives are given in the second- [or third-] person plural form.) — (Gorman, Participating In Christ, Chapter 1)

“You (plural) are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). “By grace you (plural) are saved” (Eph. 2:5). We often read these verses, and many others like them, as a deeply individual thing but they’re addressed to a community. Our individual relationships with God are vital. But so is our communal relationship with God and His people. Read more

It’s Amazing What Happens When God Gives You A New Identity

One of the main themes of this blog is my belief that we find our true identity when we connect with God and learn who He created us to be. In order to do that, sometimes we have to let go of the old ways we used to define ourselves.

People in the Bible had to do this, too. Moses went from prince of Egypt to shepherd in hiding to leader. Saul went from insignificant Benjamite to king of Israel (1 Sam. 9:16, 21). Paul went from a Jewish religious leader persecuting the church to preaching Jesus (Gal. 1:22-24). They all had to change big parts of their identities to become who God intended them to be.

We all have ways we define ourselves. I’m a writer, a sister, a teacher, a dancer, a daughter, an introvert, a person who struggles with anxiety. When we enter relationship with God, we’re called to use our roles and identities for Him. Sometimes, though, we need to leave parts of our identities behind that don’t line-up with His goodness and/or His plan. And we also get to add new aspects to our identities that make each of us a more whole, complete person.

Becoming A “New Man”

Our walk with God is one of transformation. We don’t stay the way we were before salvation. We learn to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” as we “grow up in all things into him who is the head, Christ” (Eph. 4:1, 15, WEB). We can’t live in the same way as those who don’t know God once we’ve entered a covenant relationship with the Lord (Eph. 4:16-20).

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