Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Not so long ago I saw a series of statements, all very similar, put out by a major “high-profile” ministry—you know, the kind of ministry that is on the major Christian television channels and reaches millions of people with their message. The statements were as follows, one of them spoken in a sermon by the preacher and the second and third shared several days later in a social media post built around the initial one.
Without the cross, there was no grace.
Without the cross, there is no grace.
Before the cross, there was no grace.
Statements two and three, as I said, were shared in a social media post from the ministry and as such were likely put together by a ministry staffer trying to be creative and not knowing that they were further misrepresenting grace and its relationship to the cross than even the preacher did in his initial statement. I mean, it’s bad enough that the statement was made that without the cross, there was no grace, which we will see is not true throughout this message. Grace is found all throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible that most Christians wrongly call the “Old Testament”). So, clearly there was grace both before and without the cross.
But then we have the two follow-up statements that say there is no grace without the cross and that there was no grace before the cross. These are much more problematic. After all, we could say that the initial statement refers strictly to new covenant and then we might be OK. We could possibly even say the same about statement number two if it weren’t paired in the same promotion as that third version of the phrase. But once it was declared that before the cross, there was no grace, they crossed the line from what may have merely been a poor choice of words to a claim that is outright unbiblical and probably, as such, blasphemous.
Grace Predates The Flood
But Noach found grace in the sight of Adonai. ~Genesis 6:8 (CJB)
Some translations say that Noah found favor in God’s eyes or that God was pleased with Noah, but there is no doubt that the use of the word “grace” in 16 out of 50 English Bible translations that I looked at shows that it is widely confirmed that it is more than acceptable to say that it was grace that Yahweh bestowed upon Noah.
Something important to note is that, as the story continues, Noah was given a series of instructions for building an ark—a giant floating wood box that would house him, his family, and a representation of all animal kinds, two each of all biblically unclean animals and seven of all biblically clean animals. As noted in my previous article on Noah and grace, it was only after Noah received this favor from God that he was given the instructions pertaining to the ark.
In my recent message Legalism I discussed how we don’t even have a legal right to obey Yahweh’s Torah until we first enter into covenant with Him through the work of His Son first at Calvary’s cross, followed by His resurrection from a borrowed tomb. Additionally, in that same message, I pointed out how it’s extremely rare that someone is truly obeying The Bible to earn or maintain salvation—a form of legalism—because, with the exception of Orthodox Rabbinic Jews, most people who obey The Bible, especially Torah, do so because they first came to a belief that Yahweh is God and Yeshua is the Son of God who died to atone for the sins of the world.
So, as the belief that salvation is earned or maintained through obedience to Torah is wrong and the correct belief that obedience to Torah is the resulting evidence of real and genuine salvation, a majority of people genuinely embrace faith and grace before they become consumed with obedience. It’s the people who are consumed with obedience who are really saved. All the people you see claiming faith in God and claiming to follow Yeshua and claiming to have received God’s Spirit of Holiness (Ruach HaKodesh) but aren’t consumed with Torah-obedience are most likely not even really saved. Yes, you might come across a few people here and there who are new enough to the faith that they haven’t yet become consumed with obedience, but those are rare. Most of the people you encounter in today’s “Christian Churches” are simply rebellious practitioners of the counterfeit “gospel” Paul warned about in 2 Corinthians 11:4—followers of the counterfeit “Jesus” of current culture and a recipient of a different spirit that are also included in Paul’s warning in the same passage.
It is very important that we recognize Noah as the first recipient of grace listed in the record of Scripture. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that he was the first person ever to receive God’s grace and it can even be argued that grace is found woven throughout the Creation record of Genesis 1, including man’s placement in Eden, God’s Garden, Noah is the first person we see who is documented to have received grace from Yahweh.
Noah is also the first person to engage with Yahweh in a redemption covenant. God chose to flood the world and start over. Some would argue that God wanted to just destroy the whole world and be done with it, and certainly the language may appear to suggest just that to a person unfamiliar with the cultural views of those who wrote The Bible and the character of the God of The Bible. But God is God, if He wanted to destroy His own Creation nothing would really stop Him.
The reality is that God is LIFE, more than anything else. He has no desire to destroy what He created, His masterpiece that we call Earth. He didn’t want to destroy, but to renew. While this gets into a bit of a different topic, too many places where English Bibles use the word “new” are better understood as “renew”. This is often the case with covenants, especially the new covenant mentioned in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8. The same is true of the “new” heaven and earth spoken of in Isaiah, Matthew, and Revelation. It is not that God will annihilate the planet and make a new one. It is that He will cleanse and purify the existing Earth and renew it.
The covenant with Noah is critical to our understanding of this. God did not destroy the Earth with water. He renewed it. He rebooted the globe, to put it in a term many today will understand, the way we reboot a computer. And then He made a covenant with Noah that is extended to all who would descend from his lineage. Let me help you out: If you believe The Bible, then you believe that YOU are a descendant of Noah.
This is not to get into Noachide beliefs that can deviate into poor doctrinal views. There are those who teach that the laws given to Noah in Genesis 9 are the only laws that a “Gentile” (non-Jew) need follow. This is in error. If anything, the Noachide Laws are a good starting point, a launching pad of sorts, to set the tone for a life of Torah-obedience. But, like any other set of “minimal laws” religion tries to claim, a belief that these are the only biblical commandments a particular group of people needs to obey is a doctrinal error that easily collapses when common sense is applied.
As a member of humanity you are a descendant of Noah. As such, you are an eligible partaker in the covenant God made with Noah, a covenant that includes grace. This grace was established before and without the cross. As we will see later in this message, this grace is extended whether we choose faith in Yeshua or not.
Grace In The Abrahamic Covenant
Genesis 18:3, as it is translated in the Jubilee Bible 2000, records Abraham pleading with God, “My Lord, if now I have found grace in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy slave.” Reading further into the passage, verses 17 and 18 show God saying, “Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation and that all the Gentiles of the earth shall be blessed in him?”
The direct context of Genesis 18 is dealing with the pending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it still reveals to us that Abraham found grace in the eyes of God. As we know, and as I already stated, Abraham would become the father of the people who would become known as the Israelites.
It is critically important that we, as followers of Yeshua, understand that grace was imparted to Abraham just as much as Noah. Unlike the direct ancestral lineage all human beings have with Noah, the same may not ring true regarding Abraham. It seems that the only two people groups today who have a clear lineage to Abraham are those if a true Jewish/Hebrew bloodline and those of a true Islamic bloodline, as it is commonly believed that Muslims, apart from converts, have their blood lineage through Ishmael. Though, Scripture does record Abraham fathering other sons with a second wife he took after Sarah’s passing and those men became nations in their own right.
There are some today who seek, as such, to find some type of DNA connection to Abraham and the Jewish people. I had a friend a while back who, among other things, decided to get his DNA tested through one of those groups that provide such a service today to tell you what your ancestral background is. Upon finding out that he was “one percent European Jewish” he went from already strange beliefs to being really out there. I was half tempted to have my own DNA tested to see if I could beat one percent and put him in his place. But, obviously, I did not do that and really it was a passing thought I didn’t take very serious anyway.
Here’s the thing: You don’t need to have your DNA tested to see if you are Abraham’s seed. You don’t need to get mixed up in some of the craziness that has stemmed from things like the Two-House Theology of the Hebrew Roots Movement, where some extremes and fringe groups have taken foundational truth and used it to develop wild theories about a need to find a DNA connection to Abraham. This is not to say everything taught under the banner of this Two-House Theology and the Hebrew Roots Movement is wrong, just that we don’t need to have our DNA tested to see if we are Abraham’s seed.
And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s seed—heirs according to the promise. ~Galatians 3:29 (TLV)
It’s important to know that your link to the Abrahamic covenant comes through Yeshua, your Messiah, alone. Understanding this will help prevent you from getting wrapped up in groups that are focused on wild blood and DNA theories, like my friend had developed (which, sadly, resulted in having to permanently cut ties with the guy, after he began to verbally assault me and make unfounded accusations because he got tied up with cult-like beliefs—and it wasn’t just me, he did the same with other mutual friends).
It’s also important to know that being Abraham’s seed is, much like Paul’s notion of being grafted into the cultivated olive tree that is Israel, a statement of adoption into the Hebrew faith and people. That doesn’t mean you have to start “acting Jewish”. There are numerous customs and traditions in modern Jewish practice that clearly are not biblical, though certainly not nearly as many as Christianity seems to have. What it does mean is that we must renounce Replacement Theology that says that the “Christian Church” replaced Israel, Christians replaced the Jewish people, and the “New Testament” replaced the “Old Testament”. None of that is actually sound doctrine when you understand what being grafted into Israel and being the seed of Abraham is truly all about. Author and journalist Bruce Feiler says it this way in his book Abraham: A Journey To The Heart Of Three Faiths:
I have come to talk about how Christians have viewed Abraham over the centuries. The Christian interpretation grew out of the Jewish one and for generations offered a similarly broad message, that Abraham’s blessing was open to all people, regardless of lineage. But over time, just as Jews tried to claim Abraham uniquely, Christians attempted to commandeer Abraham for themselves. The deterioration of the relationship between Jews and Christians can be seen as vividly as anyplace else in their rivalry over their shared father.
I always find it interesting when Christians actually believe that they are a replacement for the people that God made covenant with through Abraham, and then somehow think that they are this same Abraham’s lineage through a different covenant than the one initiated in the Book of Genesis. In reality, as already alluded to, if you study it out references to the new covenant, especially as seen in passages like Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8, both the Hebrew and Greek indicate that it is better said as a renewed covenant. This means that God didn’t replace anything, He simply renewed the same covenant He had already made with Abraham and made it better through Yeshua. So grace, then, comes first through Yahweh’s covenant with Noah and then with His covenant with Abraham. Let’s continue on and see who else received grace before the cross.
Grace In The Exodus
Here we see another pre-Calvary recipient of grace, the prophet Moses who led God’s people out of bondage in Egypt and on to their Promised Land—known to this day as the land of Israel. This mission given to Moses was a daunting task and, as with Noah, at the center of it all we find that this man found grace in the eyes of Yahweh.
Among the most important events in the Exodus record is the giving of the Torah to God’s people through the prophet Moses on the top of a mountain named Sinai. Many Christians today view this event as the central point to what is often called the dispensation of the law. In dispensational theology various time periods in history are segmented and given some type of dispensational name. Most who adhere to this theology believe that Christianity from the moment of the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua to the present day is a period known as the dispensation of grace. Beliefs that there was no grace before the cross come out of this theology and, as we are seeing, this is completely wrong as there are plenty of examples of grace before the crucifixion and resurrection events.
Proponents of a “New Testament” dispensation of grace often don’t realize that they present a lawless version of Christianity. No matter how hard they try, once they separate law and grace into separate dispensations of time in history, they have eliminated the requirements to obey anything in The Bible under such a thing as this alleged dispensation of grace.
Have you ever heard a Christian tell you “I’m not under the Law”? This is the typical response that you get from religious people when you present a biblical commandment that they have been taught is obsolete or that they simply don’t want to follow, such as: the food laws, the Sabbath Day, celebrating the Feasts, etc. But hand this person a loaded pistol, point to some random person, and say, “OK, we’re not under the Law, so I want you to murder that person right there.” Or, approach them and say, “You know your spouse is pretty hot, and we’re not under the Law, so I am thinking that I want to have sex with him/her… you won’t mind, I’m sure, because, again, we’re not under the Law.” All of a sudden there ARE biblical commandments right out of Torah that are still binding. So which is it? Are we under this dispensation of grace or do we still have to obey The Bible?
In his book Galatians: A Torah-Based Commentary In First Century Hebraic Context Messianic Jewish scholar Avi ben Mordechai states that the abolishing or abrogating of the Torah “is nothing short of abolishing grace and truth.” I want you to consider for a moment that not only was Moses Himself given grace by Yahweh, but that the giving of the Torah was itself an act of grace. To build on what Avi ben Mordechai says, Dr. Daniel I. Block, a professor of “Old Testament” at the distinguished Wheaton College, states the following in his book How I Love Your Torah, O LORD!: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy:
The giving of the Law was thus a climactic moment of divine grace. YHWH’s rescue of Israel was significant both soteriologically and judicially. He freed his chosen people from slavish vassaldom in Egypt and claimed them as his own vassals, a status symbolized by the stipulations, decrees, and laws, to which he demanded compliance. But these laws were not to be viewed as a burden laid on their shoulders that was so heavy that no one could carry it. That is not grace! That is tyranny and deceit. To Moses, receiving the revelation of God’s will was a supreme privilege—and the more detailed the revelation the greater the privilege. The Israelites had been liberated from the bondage of Egypt that they might become the privileged servants of YHWH, in fact, his “sons” (14:1).
No wonder the Apostle John could write, after four decades of reflection on the significance of the Incarnation, “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law [i.e., the Torah] was given  through Moses; grace and truth came [or, happened, ] through Jesus Christ” (John 1:16-17). Contrary to the interpretation of this verse suggested by the inserted adversative conjunction “but” in the King James Version, the contrast here is not between law and grace, but between two ways in which grace has been communicated in two climactic moments in time: first, the grace of the Torah was mediated through Moses; second, grace and truth have been personified in Christ. Moses certainly viewed the revelation of the laws at Sinai as a climactic moment of grace, as did the poet who penned Ps 119 centuries later. And this is how we should view the law of God, whether it is the law revealed in the Old Testament or the law as it is revealed in the New Testament.
The revelation of the Law was a supreme act of grace preceded and superseded only by the experience of the Exodus itself.
I love that last sentence, that actually found it’s way into Block’s work a couple of paragraphs after the first two paragraphs I cited here, because it shows that not only was the giving of Torah an act of divine grace but that the Exodus is an even greater act of grace. So, we see here a three-fold pattern of grace. First, God gave grace to Moses. Second, His grace delivered His people from bondage through the Exodus. And third, His grace provided them with His Torah.
Let me reiterate that Torah is an act of grace. So much of modern teaching on grace presents grace and The Law as being exclusive or opposing to each other. But grace is Torah, and Torah is grace. Any presentation of grace that is separated from the need to obey God’s Torah is a counterfeit version of grace that will deceive you and send you straight to hell if you allow yourself to be misled by it along with the masses that are following such a heretical view of grace today. Don’t be deceived. Grace is not a license to sin, and according to 1 John 3:4 sin is the literal transgressing of God’s Torah. The breaking of Torah is a rejection of grace.
Up to this point I have provided three important and powerful examples of grace documented in the Tanakh (“Old Testament”), but these examples were toward individuals. If I left it at this point and if Scripture were otherwise silent about grace until the Gospel and Apostolic Writings, then it could still be argued that grace was perhaps given to a few chosen individuals before the cross, but overall it was not given to everyone. So, I want to continue now by looking at some “Old Testament” examples of grace given to groups of people.
Grace In The Wilderness
In his commentary Barnes’ Notes On The Bible Presbyterian minister Albert Barnes proposes that this wilderness referred to is “Either the desert which lay between Assyria and Palestine; or more probably an allusion to the wilderness of Mount Sinai.” Regardless of what group of people is referred to here, it is very clear that this passage points to a people group who received grace in a wilderness experience.
Throughout the history of the record of ancient Israel as documented in the Tanakh, we find God’s people in a series of events that span from slavery in Egypt to wandering the wilderness to dwelling in the land promised them to being exiled in Babylon. These experiences were important in the narrative as they all worked to shape Israel into the people God wanted them to be.
Some may argue that some experiences told in the storyline of The Bible are a result of God’s people provoking His wrath through their disobedience. While there is a certain level of truth in that, even in His wrath He was bestowing grace on His people. The only time that God’s wrath is void of His grace is the moment He looks at someone who has entered eternity and has to utter those words, “Depart from Me, worker of lawlessness, I never knew you.” And I remind you, that word lawlessness is a direct reference to those who do not follow His Torah.
So many people have wrongly viewed the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, what Christians wrongly call the “Old Testament”, as something of the past, something replaced by something new, something void of grace where God suffered His people under the “bondage of the Law”. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we can see through the grace in the wilderness, the experiences that so many view in a negative light are often the very things that cause people to rise above the evils of this world and fully embrace Kingdom life. Take a look at this excerpt from Christian author and speaker John Bevere’s classic book The Voice Of One Crying, a book that I can say was very important in my early Christian walk as it helped me find a foundation of holiness that has led me to a no-compromise faith. And I have never backed down since. I have watched the masses of professing Christians live their worldly version of a false religion that is leading them to hell in practically every fellowship I have been a part of. But I have stayed true to the foundation, refusing to follow the majority. Says Bevere:
We can see the results of the wilderness in the children of Israel after leaving Egypt. The wilderness served two purposes for them. First, it weeded out all those who were serving the Lord for selfish purposes — they were scattered in the wilderness. Second, it prepared the people to go in and take the promised land. You do not see the same rebellion and lust in the book of Joshua as you do in the books of Exodus and Numbers. Those who ere self-seeking were weeded out while the rest were strengthened by the trials they faced in the desert.
God’s grace is woven through every facet of the historical storyline of The Bible. When discussing this topic some time ago with a good friend who teaches as a professor at a Christian Bible College, he said, “I would argue that God moving towards Adam in the Garden was a gracious move.” In addition to that, he offered three definitions to keywords that I think must be considered for better clarity of this topic.
Justice: Getting what you deserve. Mercy: Not getting what you deserve. Grace: Getting something you don’t deserve.
The same ministry who made the statements offered at the beginning of this message, those that said there was no grace before the cross, said that there was mercy before the cross, but not grace. This is what happens when we mix up important words and don’t pay attention to basic definitions… in addition to ignoring the actual use of the word in question throughout the pre-Gospel record of The Bible. The reality is that, while not always mentioned in detail, the biblical record indicates that every single Israelite in the history of the world, from Abraham forward, was and is a recipient of the grace of God—cross or no cross. I would further contend that you could find all three of these—justice, mercy, and grace—in every book of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
It is also important to note that grace is not exclusive to salvation. Yes, we are saved by grace and not by works, lest anyone should boast. That’s a biblical fact that cannot be refuted. Works and Torah-obedience are the resulting fruit of actual salvation, meaning that salvation still hinges on obedience. You do not earn or maintain your salvation through such obedience. But you can also be the recipient of grace and still not be saved, as we are about to see.
Grace To The Wicked
This is a passage that I found very intriguing as I was looking through the various times grace is bestowed on people in the “Old Testament”—before the event of the cross. Here we see that grace was shown to the wicked. It seems almost irrelevant to our study that these people insisted on continuing in unrighteousness, as they still received grace from Yahweh. And yet, as we will see, there is great significance to their rejection of the ways of God.
I am reminded of those words in Matthew 5:45 where Yeshua says: “[God] causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Yes, God’s blessing falls on the unrighteous and His grace is shown to the wicked. But make no mistake about it; the wicked are still the enemies of God.
There is a trend today to say that God loves everyone. There are teachings that claim that all will go to heaven. One “pastor” who has recently gained a lot of attention is being reported as saying we need to unhitch ourselves from the “Old Testament” and throw away even the Ten Commandments. Consider the question that Arthur W. Pink poses in his book The Sovereignty Of God: Does God Love Everybody? To answer this question he says the following:
One of the most popular beliefs of the day is that God loves everybody, and the very fact that it is so popular with all classes ought to be enough to arouse the suspicions of those who are subject to the Word of Truth. God’s love toward all His creatures is the fundamental and favorite tenet of Universalists, Unitarians, Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, Russellites, etc. No matter how a man may live—in open defiance of heaven, with no concern whatever for his soul’s eternal interests, still less for God’s glory, dying, perhaps with an oath on his lips—notwithstanding, God loves him, we are told. So widely has this dogma been proclaimed, and so comforting is it to the heart that is at enmity with God, we have little hope of convincing many of their error.
That God loves everybody is, we may say, quite a modern belief. The writings of the church fathers, the Reformers, or the Puritans, will (we believe) be searched in vain for any such concept. Perhaps the late D. L. Moody—captivated by Drummond’s The Greatest Thing in the World—did more than anyone else in the last century to popularize this concept. It has been customary to say God loves the sinner, though He hates his sin. But that is a meaningless distinction. What is there in a sinner but sin? Is it not true that his “whole head is sick” and his “whole heart faint,” and that “From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness” in him? (Isa 1:5-6). Is it true that God loves the one who is despising and rejecting His blessed Son? God is light as well as Love (1 Jo 1:5; 4:8), and therefore His love must be a holy love. To tell the Christ-rejecter that God loves him is to cauterize his conscience as well as to afford him a sense of security in his sins.
The fact is, the love of God is a truth for the saints only, and to present it to the enemies of God is to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. With the exception of John 3:16, not once in the four Gospels do we read of the Lord Jesus, the perfect teacher, telling sinners that God loved them! In the book of Acts, which records the evangelistic labors and messages of the apostles, God’s love is never referred to at all! But when we come to the epistles, which are addressed to the saints, we have a full presentation of this precious truth—God’s love for His own. Let us seek to rightly divide the Word of God, and then we shall not be found taking truths that are addressed to believers and misapplying them to unbelievers.
That which sinners need to have brought before them is the ineffable holiness, the exacting righteousness, the inflexible justice, and the terrible wrath of God. Risking the danger of being misunderstood, let us say—and we wish we could say it to every evangelist and preacher in the country—there is far too much presenting of Christ to sinners today (by those sound in the faith), and far too little showing sinners their need of Christ, i.e., their absolutely ruined and lost condition, their imminent and awful danger of suffering the wrath to come, the fearful guilt resting upon them in the sight of God. To present Christ to those who have never been shown their need of Him, seems to us to be guilty of casting pearls before swine (Mat 7:6).
While this message is to deal with the issue of grace throughout the Hebrew Scriptures prior to the event of the cross, it’s important to pause and reflect on what Reverend Pink said here. As I stated leading into this citation, there are a lot of unbiblical views being spread around today, perhaps much worse than they were in 1919 when Pink’s The Sovereignty Of God was first published. It’s important to pause and meditate on truth when faced with Scriptures like those that say God shows grace to the wicked, lest we ourselves are misled by trends to use such passages to claim that God does not care that they are wicked.
Remember that the passage in Isaiah 26 says that these people, despite being shown grace, still do not learn righteousness. It is very important to note that just because we are saved by grace through faith, the receiving of grace does not in itself ensure that you are saved. We still have statements in The Bible that say we have to endure to the end (Matthew 24:13) and that we are justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). As I often tell people, you cannot earn or maintain salvation through obeying Torah (The Law), but if you really are saved then you will obey Torah as a result of your being saved.
Think of it like this: Yeshua is the door, grace and faith are the keys that unlock the door, and obedience to Torah is the hinge by which the door swings open so you can walk through it.
God Gives Grace To The Humble
Humility is a characteristic of the true servant of God that I find very few people really understand today. And yet here, under the old covenant, before the event of the cross, we find that God gives His grace to those who discover what it truly means to be humble.
We can argue here, and through all of the scenarios I have covered in this message, that the new covenant is a better covenant. I have no issue with that, the Apostolic Writings are clear that the new covenant is a better covenant with better promises. All that really tells me is that the fact that God gave grace in the old covenant means that His grace is somehow even better today than it was before the cross, but make no mistake about it, there was grace before the cross.
As I mentioned, I feel like humility is a subject few people today—even among those in the faith—have a grasp on. It seems that most tend to think of humility as some type of quiet submission or being what many would mockingly call being a “yes man” (or woman). That’s not humility and most of the time it’s not even a good characteristic.
Don’t get me wrong here, humility from a purely Judaeo-Christian perspective is found only in obedience to the Word of God. But the key is that it’s not obedience because you are afraid that if you don’t obey God will “send you to hell”. While there may be some level of truth to that, a truly saved person obeys because they are a truly saved person. While Scripture does tell us we are to fear God, obedience as a result of fearing His wrath and an eternity in a lake of fire almost always results in legalism.
Now, I will remind you that it is not legalistic to obey The Bible. But it can be if your obedience is born through a wrong heart condition. Dr. C. Peter Wagner, in his book Humility, proposes that: “Humility has many parallels to holiness.” After offering this comparison he provides some commentary and then states the following after suggesting that modern Americanized Christianity has a holiness deficiency:
Why do I suggest that we have a holiness deficiency? Christian author George Barna’s research leads me to that conclusion. Holiness, at it’s roots, means to be set apart. Therefore, Christians who are presumably set apart to God (vertical), should also be set apart in their behavior from those around them who do not love and obey God (horizontal). But here is what Barna discovered:
The Bible clearly states that true believers should be readily distinguished from nonbelievers by the way they live. Yet, the evidence undeniably suggests that most American Christians today do not live in a way that is quantifiably different from their non-Christian peers, in spite of the facts that they profess to believe in a set of principles that should clearly set them apart.
The point I am trying to make is that humility, just like holiness, needs both dimensions, the vertical and the horizontal, in order to be complete. But, as far as our daily lives here on Earth are concerned, the horizontal matters most.
I looked up the reference to Barna’s book, The Second Coming Of The Church, and his original statement goes on to say: “We tend to rely upon a cultural filter rather than a biblical filter for interpreting daily events, information, experiences, and opportunities.” I have heard it said that we should seek God’s Kingdom over the culture we live in and that you cannot (as a true Believer) mix sacred things with secular. Yet, even in places where such things are said, what is actually being done is much more in line with the concerns expressed here by Wagner and Barna in their contributions to the above citation. In other words, not surprisingly, these “ministries” are talking a good game, but not doing what they are teaching.
What I find most troubling is that Barna’s book was published in 1998, meaning that his findings were from over 20 years ago, as of the writing of this article. Even Wagner’s statements were published in 2002, so they are somewhat dated as well. What that means is that these statements were published well before the explosion of the hyper-grace movement and the influx of secularism plaguing the American Christian Church on a level unlike any I have ever seen before in over 20 years of ministry.
In about the past ten years I, along with many others who refuse to compromise, have noticed a major shift in Christian trends. If the Church was indistinguishable from the world in 1998, how much more today?
One thing I have noticed is that Christians, by and large, have no real issue with keeping most of the commandments in The Bible that would apply to them (barring those that are clearly exclusive to Levite priests, those in judicial or civil service positions in a Torah-led society, those that pertain exclusively to the Temple that currently does not exist, etc.). They have no problem with obeying things like “Do not commit murder” or “Do not commit adultery” or “Do not steal”. These commandments, after all, are generally accepted as moral standards in almost every worldly culture. But, because of that, how does obeying those commandments really set you apart and distinguish you from the world?
You tell Christians about such commandments like those regarding the biblical Feasts of Yahweh, the Sabbath Day, the food laws, the one about not getting tattoos, or even that really weird one about not wearing wool and linen together—you know, those commandments that would actually distinguish you from the world—and you will likely be met with some rebuttal like: “Now you know, we’re not under the Law and we don’t follow those ancient Jewish rituals today.”
Right! You don’t want to celebrate the Feasts that God instituted. You want to celebrate those secular-pagan holidays that the rest of the world celebrates—Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. You don’t want to follow those food laws because then you might stick out and someone might ask you about your religious beliefs if they notice you never eat pork or shellfish or anything else The Bible says not to eat. And that Sabbath Day, well, how absurd that anyone today suggest that we actually keep the Sabbath Day, and especially that we keep it on the Sabbath Day (which is NOT Sunday).
I get it. You need to fit in with the world and the culture you live in. After all, if those unsaved souls in your community see that your Church is just like them, they might just want to come, right? But such a demonic plague of blasphemy is not how The Bible tells us to draw in the lost. According to Yeshua, we are to lift Him up and then He will draw the people to Himself. Any Church that uses worldly methods to lure in the world is only serving to lead people to hell through the doors of the Church.
Think about this: Some would scoff at the notion that The Bible gives any type of instructions on the clothes we wear, whether it be the commandment saying not to wear wool and linen together or the commandments against cross-dressing. But does your clothing choices set you apart from the world? Many people today are consumed by the latest fashion trends. They will look to anyone from those the world idolizes, such as Kim Kardashian, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, or whoever else is popular to even the homosexual community that drives many of the modern “fashions”. If your clothing choices are based on what you see these people wearing or promoting and not on the Word of God, I propose that you are not distinguishing yourself from the world and you are probably engaged in idolatry!
I know historically some Christian sects, such as the early Pentecostal Holiness groups, got rather legalistic with “religious laws” about clothing, making such extrabiblical rules as women should wear sleeves to the wrist and skirts to the ankles. I want to be clear that is not what I am talking about. If you, as a woman, base your clothing choices on what The Bible says, then there is no real issue with a sleeveless dress on a hot summer day. I mean, I don’t know any man who get’s sexually aroused by an armpit. But that’s how some Christians have thought in the past. The Bible does say that a woman should wear modest apparel, as to not draw attention to herself. But I have seen plenty of outfits on women that are perfectly modest but would send some of those old legalistic Pentecostal Holiness people into a panic.
I don’t care what people in Hollywood are wearing. I buy clothes based on three primary criteria from The Bible. First, I buy clothing that is made for a man, because there is a biblical commandment telling me to do that. If I were a woman, I would buy clothing that is clearly made for a woman, because there is a parallel commandment telling women to do that. Second, I check the labels to make sure that there is no mixture of wool and linen. Believe it or not, on rare occasions I see an article of clothing that breaks this Torah commandment. If I find such a garment, I simply don’t buy it. Third, I seek to buy only clothing made from all natural fabrics, whether it be cotton, wool, linen, silk, or whatever. If I see something like polyester, acrylic, nylon, or any other man-made fabric fibers I normally will not buy it, unless I absolutely have to. For example, it’s nearly impossible to find socks that have no artificial materials in them, but even at that I look for the highest content of natural fibers possible. You can still find socks that are at least eighty percent cotton or that are mostly wool.
That third criteria is not necessarily in The Bible directly, but in many ways I believe it is. You see, one thing I have found in studying the Torah in depth is that artificial products, whether it be food additives, clothing items, or whatever, defy the created order of God. If there is a cotton shirt and a polyester shirt next to each other at the store, I see that man-made polyester fabric as saying “God, you didn’t do a good enough job when you created cotton plants, so we humans had to do it better than you.” This principle applies to everything. If you have a choice between God-made and man-made, ALWAYS CHOOSE GOD-MADE. I long for the day when someone invents an automobile made from all natural materials that runs on solar energy or water or some other natural resource with no harmful emissions!
God gives grace to the humble! If we consider Wagner’s conclusion that humility and holiness go hand-in-hand, then the verse also says that God gives grace to the holy—those who live by His Torah. If we consider further what Barna contributes we can say that God gives grace to those who live in such a way that they can be distinguished from the wicked lost.
We can take this right back to the first place grace is mentioned in Scripture, when Noah received grace. After Noah received grace, he was given instructions regarding the building of the ark and he had to build it according to those directions before that grace would deliver him from the storm to come. Had Noah not built the ark, he would be like those wicked we looked at earlier who received grace and still perish. Receiving grace does not ensure you will be saved.
God gives His grace to those who make a determination to obey His Torah because the only people who actually need His grace are those who make that commitment. Grace is given to human beings to give us what we need to obey the commandments. If you have no determination to obey, you have no need of grace. God gives grace to the humble.
Again, when Scripture says that the wicked receive grace it says that they continue in their wicked actions. Whatever grace they receive is wasted, squandered away, and thrown right back in the face of the God who gave it in the first place. The wicked might receive grace, but they don’t need it nor do they even know what to do with it until they come into covenant with the God of grace and determine to obey His Torah. But when the humble receives grace, it propels them to obedience.
Some would even argue that grace is seen throughout the earliest parts of Genesis in the Creation record, God’s act of preparing the animal skins for the man and his wife after the fall, and in receiving Abel’s offering of the best of his flock with favor, despite the lack of mention of the specific word “grace” in all of those accounts. Certainly those are all examples of the grace of God flowing into His people and His whole Creation.
Even in the story of Esther we find that this soon-to-be queen found grace in the eyes of the earthly king (see Esther 2:17). The whole book of Esther is a unique picture of the redemption and preservation of God’s people that culminates in a celebration that continues to this day, the biblical festival of Purim. Though not grace received from Yahweh, it is a mention of grace extended prior to the cross and a very important mention of grace in Scripture.
Certainly there are many other examples of grace throughout the narrative of the Tanakh (“Old Testament”) that I did not get to in this message. I focused primarily on accounts where the record clearly attributes grace to the situation, but regardless of how many more places one can see the working of grace throughout the historical storyline of Scripture it is quite apparent that grace thrived between The Creation and The Cross just as much as it is thriving from The Cross to the present day. There clearly was grace before the cross, and plenty of it.
I find it amazingly perplexing that there are entire ministries today who are thriving on false messages of grace. From the wolves in sheep’s clothing teaching the antinomian hyper-grace heresy to the mind-boggling statement that there was no grace before the cross, there is a clear need for the true Body of Messiah to stand firm on the truth about grace. Grace is not a license to sin, for sure. Neither is grace exclusive to Christians who want to find any justification they can for their heretical Replacement Theology.
We must also be mindful of the Marcion heresy that presents two different Gods: A “God” of the “Old Testament” who was an angry God of wrath and law, and a “God” of the “New Testament” who is a God of love and grace. God’s wrath, His Law, His love, and His grace are woven throughout the whole Bible. Grace is clearly seen throughout the events of the Tanakh and obedience to the Torah is clearly promoted throughout the Apostolic Writings.
To close, we have looked at many places throughout the Tanakh (or, as many Christians say, the “Old Testament”) where grace is given either to specific individuals or to groups of people. As such, I want to leave you with two summarizing thoughts that will wrap up this whole study and that I hope will stick with you and forever impact your understanding of grace:
There was grace before the event of the cross of Calvary, where our Messiah was crucified on Passover, laid in a tomb on the most lonely and solemn Sabbath in the History of the world, and rose again on the Feast of First Fruits.
God gives grace to the humble… to those who embrace holiness… to those who decide to live in such a way that distinguishes them from the world.
If you want to experience real grace to the fullest, you will only find it in wholly following Yeshua, fully submitting to The Bible, and living in total obedience to the Torah of Yahweh.
~Blessings and Shalom
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