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Further thoughts on the Parashah...

The Work of Faith...

Further thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim

by John J. Parsons
www.hebrew4christians.com

In our Torah portion this week (Mishpatim) we read that when the people gathered before Moses to receive the covenant, they said: "All that the LORD has spoken we will do and we will hear (נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע)." Note the order: first comes the decision to obey, and then comes understanding... As Yeshua said, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know," and "if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 7:17; 13:17). The heart of faith is willing to do what God asks before hearing what exactly is required. Many people operate the other way round, sitting in judgment of God's word, demanding to understand why they should obey. You cannot understand apart from trust, however, and that is categorically true of all forms of knowledge. We are to be "doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving ourselves" (James 1:22). We don't audit the words of Scripture since we ourselves are under examination! The Scriptures demand us to respond, choose, decide. The word is like a shofar blast rousing us to action. We are to be doers, not just passive hearers. The Greek verb is emphatic: "Be doers!" (γίνεσθε) means "be born! come alive! do, live, exist before God! This is a call to creative action, to newness of life!

The Scriptures state that "if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like" (James 1:23-24). If we just hear the truth but do not act upon it, we are comically likened to someone who carefully looks at his face in a mirror but then promptly forgets what he looks like after he steps away... Likewise those who only hear the word but do not bring it to life in their deeds forget who they are and why they were created (Eph. 2:10; Titus 2:14; Col. 1:10). When we look into the mirror of truth we see our need for teshuvah and turn to God for the healing miracle he provides (Heb. 4:12).

There is a deeper law, however, a "mirror" that reveals something beyond our passing image. When we look intently into the "perfect law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת וּמַחֲזִיק) - the law of faith, hope, and love for our Savior - we find blessing in our deeds (James 1:25). Note that the verb translated "look into" the law of liberty is the same used when John stooped down to "look inside" the empty tomb of Yeshua (John 20:5). The deeper law reveals the resurrection power of God's invincible love. The Torah of the New Covenant also has many mitzvot, though these are based on the love God gives to us in Yeshua: "This is my Torah: that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).

We are set free from the verdict of the law to serve God without fear, on the basis of his saving love and grace given in Yeshua (Gal. 5:1), but our freedom is not meant to violate the Ten Commandments or to engage in licentiousness (Gal. 5:13; Matt. 7:21). The moral law speaks, as it were, to young children who need a guardian until they can attain to their place as hiers (Gal. 3:24). Mature sons and daughters do not not need the law but operate on a different level, and enjoy a different relationship with the Master of the house. Serving God this way results in holy passion. The verse, "the appearance (i.e., mareh: מַרְאֵה) of God's glory was like a consuming fire" (Exod. 24:17) may be read, "the mirror (or reflection) of God's glory..." When we act as God's children, full of faith in his love, and walking before the power of his presence, our hearts reflect his passion, too.

As a brief addendum, let me ask how you can "do the word" and live in harmony with the divine commandments... The dividing line between faith and works is often difficult to discern, after all, and indeed Yeshua told us that faith in Him is itself a type of "work" (John 6:29). Studying the Scriptures, praying, trusting God in the midst of our pains and struggles, and worshiping are all in a sense "works," yet they express the inner reality of faith.... Here is the conundrum: Do we "do the word" by means of our own resolution (i.e., will) to act, or is a deeper miracle of transformation first necessary? If the latter, is the miracle entirely sufficient, or do we need to add something else for it to come into being? The Scriptures command us to be "slow to anger" and "put away wrath," and yet how is that possible apart from God's help, after all?  How can we manage destructive emotions that sometimes arise within the heart? How do we "put away" fear? On the other hand, how can we be commanded to love? to be joyful? full of faith? These considerations reveal the divine-human partnership: We "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). In the end we are faced with paradox: We are utterly dependent upon God to work within our hearts for salvation, yet we are also entirely responsible for working out that salvation in our daily lives. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Mark 10:27).


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