Can Yoga Be Redeemed?

I must state as clearly as possible that anyone who gets involved with yoga, and kundalini energy which is the aim of all yoga, is making a very, very big mistake. No matter how committed a Christian may be, pastor or lay person alike, when a believer chooses to involve himself or herself with the world of the occult, including any and all levels of yoga practice, for “exercise” or otherwise, very powerful spontaneous demonic manifestations can and do oftentimes occur. Many ignorant people say that yoga exercises can be separated from yoga philosophy. This simply is not true. It is a well known fact that yoga postures/poses are the outworking of occult philosophy. Yoga is an occult practice. It is the basis of the Hinduism. Westernized as “Breath Religion”, “The Science of Breath”, and “Transcendental Meditation” it leads individuals to believe the great lie of human “godhood”. Yoga is demonic in origin, it comes from the teachings of demons, and it stands vehemently opposed to the God of the Bible and to every Christians’ faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Yoga, even done as merely an “exercise”, has the power to produce occult phenomena dangerous enough to undo the human psyche. Sadly, countless people, including many undiscerning Christians, believe that yoga can be done as exercise or as an integrative worship practice – as part of a “transformative process” of drawing “closer to the Divine”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Kundalini is the mainstay of all yoga practices.” – Hans Ulrich Reiker, The Yoga of Light: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, New York: Seabury Press, 1971, p. 101

Before moving on to anything further, let’s establish the agreed upon background.

  1. There is another realm every bit as real, perhaps more real, than this realm. We can say this with confidence for a variety of reasons, but including the command to Moses to build the Tabernacle as a copy or pattern of what he would be shown: the real in the heavenly realm.
  2. These two realms are interconnected, as evidenced (among other things) by Jacob’s Ladder (and Daniel’s vision where Michael had to come rescue Gabriel, etc., etc.)
  3. Our daily, tangible lives are indissolubly linked to the spirit realm as evidenced by Paul’s statement, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Second, let’s establish that neither myself nor the quoted author are arguing that any movement is inherently evil. There is nothing inherently evil about raising the middle finger. But… what is it that makes that gesture evil?

Theoretically (and realistically) someone could not know the significance of that gesture and raise their middle finger with no malicious intent. But here’s the point… for some time folks who perceive the lack of comprehension will not respond to that gesture, but at some point someone is going to punch them.

The answer to my previous question is that there is contextual agreement upon the significance of a movement. I raise my palm up to you when you’re running toward me and you will know that I am indicating you should stop, though that same movement would have meant, “Greetings,” if you met a Lakota Sioux in 1824. The yoga postures were designed and communicated by spirit entities and they, in agreement with previous and contemporary humans, have invested those movements with significance that the demonic entities treat very legalistically. This significance has persisted for millennia, and is not about to be let go of by those behind their revelation to humans (c.f., 1 Enoch 9:5-7).

A yoga pose, accidentally struck, is a non-thing, a triviality, an accident. But yoga poses regularly practiced are the waving of a flag in the spiritual realm. They will attract attention, whether you wave that flag with intent or not.

But there is more to it even than that. Just as few know much about Kinesiology and yet is has an effect, just as putting one’s shoulders back will enhance breathing compared to doubling over and hunching one’s shoulders, the yoga postures are designed with an awareness that humans rarely possess about the effects each pose has on receptivity to spiritual activity, and the enhancement or alignment of “energies” in the body that are often unperceived.

The entire thrust of God’s commandments suggest that His children are to be aware of the spiritual realm but permit God alone to mediate our interaction with it. The practice of sorcery, divination, necromancy, and pharmakeia for man-initiated connection/communication with the spirit realm is prohibited with prejudice. While we want to deny it, the adversaries know that this is precisely what yoga is for, and they are encouraging its growth among us at every opportunity.

Swami Sivasiva Plani wrote in 1991,

A small army of yoga missionaries – hatha, raja, siddha and kundalini – beautifully trained in the last 10 years, is about to set upon the western world. They may not call themselves Hindu, but Hindus know where yoga came from and where it goes. (“An Open Letter to Evangelicals,” in Hinduism Today, January 1991)

Sannyasin Arumugaswami asserts, “Hinduism is the soul of Yoga….A Christian trying to adapt these principles will likely disrupt their own Christian beliefs.”

As I mentioned previously, the argument is not that any movement (or breathing pattern) is in and of itself inherently evil. No, everything God created is good, and every good and every perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights who is above.

I think, however, that we too often forget what evil is: the twisting of what was created for good away from God’s intent. The variety of ways in which this truth works itself out in our lives is too seldom recognized, which is unfortunate because its contemplation is quite revelatory.

To establish the interplay at work here, let’s take an extreme example, so clear and evident that it will illumine our perception when analyzing more murky examples. Marital intimacy and fornication are the same movement. God created this “movement” and He clearly intended it for good, so what is it that makes marital intimacy one of the greatest goods we can experience and extra-marital relations wrong—with a spectrum of wrong extending to some of the worst evils we can contemplate, and yet still the same movement?

Clearly intent is a major factor, but it is not just intent. For example, had we lived in 1st century Corinth, we would not have imagined that we could wander into the local temple with our spouse, and in the midst of the thousand courtesans the temple housed, engaged in marital intimacy with our spouse to the glory of God, while all around us worshipers of Aphrodite coupled to the glory of a rebellious spirit. And let’s be honest, despite the best of imaginary intentions, if we made that our regular practice, how long do you think it would be before our perspective on what is permissible began to be impacted? Humans are hard-wired to accept what is familiar as acceptable.

Let’s try the typical arguments in favor of yoga out in this context… So if a couple goes to the Temple Aphrodite with no intent to connect with or interact with demonic powers, does not pray to anyone but YHWH, and puts themselves in postures of intimacy only with their spouse, this would be somehow wrong? Well, perhaps not, strictly speaking. Can we agree that it would be at least unwise, and at best confusing? And when one considers that the spiritual powers are territorial in nature (cf. Deut 32:8-9, “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his alloted heritage.”) it becomes evident that place and context matter.

Because of this Deuteronomy 32 worldview, we can understand that location in the Bible has cosmic significance. Ground is either holy, meaning dedicated to Yahweh, or it is the domain of another god. This is why the terms used to refer to the rebellious spirits in Scripture are often those of geographic dominion: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia,” “principalities,” “rulers” (Daniel 10:13; Eph 6:12).

This worldview is reflected in many places in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament the book of Daniel refers to foreign nations being ruled by divine “princes” (Dan. 10:13, 20–21). Another example: When David was running from King Saul, he was forced out of Israel into Philistine territory. In 1 Samuel 26:19, David cried, “They have driven me out from the LORD’s land to a country where I can only worship foreign gods” (GNT). David wasn’t switching gods. He also wasn’t denying that God was present everywhere. But Israel was holy ground, the place that belonged to the true God. David was stuck in the domain of another god. [Michael Heiser, Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World And Why It Matters]

Old Testament era people knew this: think of Naaman taking Israeli ground back with him to Syria (2 Kings 5:17-18). This was clearly Paul’s view as well, “No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. [or stretch the stretch of demons in the house of demons] You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” No, rather, “flee from idolatry”! (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

So, while we might call it a “yoga studio,” the reality is that this is a pagan temple, and we are as proscribed from engaging in what God intended for good there as we are at the temple Paul refers to. Eating and drinking, moving and stretching, and sexual intimacy are all created by God for good, but location, intent, association, and community all matter.

But what about this question? “What happened to the redemption theology we discussed back in the day – Christians through the Holy Spirit and practice can redeem the intents of evil, turning for good what Satan intended for bad?”

Indeed! We were redeemed in order to be redemptive. Nothing has happened to this imperative in my theological understanding. However, context, intent, location, association, community, and culture all make a difference. In the case of sexual intimacy, redemption means pulling it out of the public eye. In the case of eating and drinking, redemption means doing so in God-honoring settings, according to the rules He gave, and in accordance with needs and balanced desires. In the case of movement, it is theoretically possible to imitate yoga moves in your own home, independent of anyone else’s intention and practice, except…if you do some research you will discover not just that these movements themselves are flag signals in the spiritual realm, but that they are intentionally designed to open one up to influence and interaction. The details of this go beyond what I am comfortable discussing in a public forum, and frankly, if you decide to look into it, I would recommend doing so with another trusted brother or sister. This will take you some very uncomfortable places.

So, God created movement, envisioned stretching, and wanted us to glory in exercising the bodies He created and the wonder that they are: all to His praise and His glory. He also revealed some information and hid other information. It was rebellious spirit-realm-dwellers who began to reveal additional but only partial information that God had not revealed (cf. Gen 3:1-7; 6:1-5; 1 Enoch 6-10), and I think we are wise to remain within the boundaries of what God prescribed and proscribed.

That having been said, there is something called Praise Moves, which takes the idea of healthy movement and stretching and intentionally situates those movements within worship of the One True God. I have felt very ambivalent about this organization, even though the founder is a former yoga master, and is adamantly opposed to the yoga. But your challenge, Will, confirmed to me as I thought this through that it is possible to redeem the concept of healthy movement, so long as it is entirely disconnected from the practice of yoga, and situated within the context of Christian worship, rather than demonic obeisance. It’s still not my thing, but that’s neither here nor there.

Wrestling with God’s Law as Ceremonial, Civil, & Moral

In light of recent posts that have touched on the overarching structure of Scripture and how the OT and the NT properly interact, I’m curious…how do you all feel about the traditional division of the law (moral, ceremonial, civil), and how would you say it’s proper to determine that something from the OT does *not* carry over?

While there is significant preceding evidence that God entered into covenantal relationship with humans, at Sinai he specifically and exhaustively made clear—in a manner intended to be received by all who heard it, and to endure for all to come—that he intended to relate to mankind in a covenantal manner. He thus promised to be faithful to his chosen (elected) people, and they in turn were expected to obey his law or Torah. The law dictated the lifestyle of the people and reflected how a human was to relate to God, to others, to self and to material things (see McGonigle & Quigley, A History of the Christian Tradition from Its Jewish Origins to the Reformation, pg. 34).

To the degree that these laws directly reflected the nature of God in universal and timeless application these laws have never and will never be annulled. Laws of this nature have sometimes, helpfully, been called the moral law of God. Those laws appear in seemingly random places throughout Scripture and are variously summarized in multiple places and ways, including the 10 Commandments, the 2 Great Commandments, Micah 6:8, and elsewhere.

It is impossible to ignore the observable reality that within the Sinai legislation are laws peculiar to the situation of national Israel within the Land of Promise, ruled by judges and magistrates constrained by the Sinai legislation as their national law, and in the presence of a functioning Tabernacle/Temple system. Christian men have therefore sometimes quickly summarized those laws which endure with universal application as moral, those which apply specifically to the Temple system as ceremonial, and those which specifically direct the nation-state of Israel in the Land and governing themselves as civil. This shorthand description can function as a helpful categorization in aid to the complex process of deriving healthy, biblical application in diverse times and places.

To the degree that so-called ceremonial or civil laws reflect the character of God in a universally applicable manner, these laws remain binding in every age, though they do not, necessarily, direct all men in every place with specificity. So, all men everywhere are required to acknowledge God and no god before Him (Ex. 20:2-3), yet it is also true that all men everywhere are not mandated to redeem their firstborn son for the price of five shekels, to be given to the sons of Aaron (Num. 3:40-51).

There are several Reformation-era statements on these matters that are very helpful, especially when read as summary statements, reflecting extensive underlying exegetical work. Here are two that I especially like:

I. As the ceremonial law was concerned with God, the political was concerned with the neighbor.

II. In those matters on which it is in harmony with the moral law and with ordinary justice, it is binding upon us.

III. In those matters which were peculiar to that law and were prescribed for the promised land or the situation of the Jewish state, it has not more force for us than the laws of foreign commonwealths.

(Johannes Wollebius [1589-1629]), Compendium theologiae christianae)

VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.”

(39 Articles of Religion, 1562)

I’ve been giving this topic significant thought for several years now. In fact, I think I first mentioned it briefly in public at the 2013 New England Messianic Conference. I’ve been spending a lot of time on the topic recently because I think I’m finally making some progress in articulating something that will make sense to people. For a long time it was something I was intuiting, and I struggled to convey what I meant.

One thing I believe we should acknowledge is that the stereotypical response of pro-Torah people to this topic has not been well thought out, or sensitive to historical context. Among the Reformers and their early descendants (with some exceptions) references to the tripartite division of the Law were not meant to be rationale for how to escape the present applicability of God’s law, but used as a short-hand reference to figuring out how to apply God’s law. Unfortunately, being not well-informed on Reformation-era thought, too many have reacted against one sentence in the 19th chapter of the Westminster Confession (echoed in Chapter 19 of the 1689 London Baptist Confession), without being familiar with the broader context in which those statements were made.

I think we can all agree that figuring out how to apply God’s law to our contemporary situation is rarely easy. Just like “circumcision” had become shorthand for the proselyte conversion process in the 2nd Temple era, the division of the law into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories had become shorthand during the Reformation era and following for referring to the significant wrestling they had done to determine the manner in which God’s law should be applied in their time period.

But we read, “All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament,” and we freak out. Forgetting how precise these folks were in their working out of these concise statements. See, for example, the two quotes above.

There are at least four items of background we need to be aware of when considering this topic:

  1. For the Reformers, the reference to a tripartite categorization of God’s law was not a way to escape keeping God’s law, but a shorthand reference to textual exegesis focused on the manner in which his law should be kept.
  2. Over time, however, at least in practice if not in theology, this idea became a justification for why, essentially, nothing more than the 10 Commandments applied to contemporary Gentile believers.
  3. Dispensationalists seized on the complexity of the problem and the inevitable resulting inconsistency and said, “See, you can’t do this, it’s a unified whole and you must acknowledge that the entire thing has been done away with.”
  4. In reaction against the Dispensationalist’s view, which had increasingly influenced the practice, if not the theology, of Reformed people in the pews, Pro-Torah folks (ironically) insisted that the Dispensationalists were right and the law could not be categorized into parts, but must be accepted as a unified whole, but then in practice continued to inconsistently practice only those things which might be described as moral, while ignoring all those things which might apply to our congregational life (ceremonial) or political scene (civil).

It is time for us to stop reacting and to continue proactively articulating historically sensitive, theologically mature, biblically defensible, and eminently practical statements of our own. These will correct but not reject the overwhelmingly faithful line of reliable saints who have preceded us.

Briefly Considering Torah-observant Baptistic Theology

I just listened to the Aug 2 “Messiah Matters” episode in which callers could ask Tim Hegg a question (Show # 228).

While listening I heard a quote from me referenced, and was intrigued by Tim’s response, which matched precisely what I would have expected. The portion of my comment read aloud was,

The baptistic perspective is premised upon the idea that the New Testament supersedes the Old.

My full comment was this:

Food for thought: the baptistic perspective is premised upon the idea that the New Testament supersedes the Old. To recognize the continuity of the Scriptures, and consequently the abiding validity of the Torah, but retain the baptistic perspective is to reject the premise but retain its fruit.

Tim disagreed. Before digging into my objections I would like to state up front that I have great respect for Tim. Primarily because he is, in my opinion, the most trustworthy Messianic teacher alive. Nevertheless, I have two major issues with Tim’s response:

  1. Tim’s immediate response was, “It’s just the opposite,” but this is demonstrably inaccurate.
  2. His follow up was an attack upon a straw man.

I do not fault Tim for either of his responses; he had not seen my quote or its surrounding context, and didn’t have time to consider it carefully; his response, however, confirmed my assertion that stereotypical Messianic thought on this matter remains reactionary.

Objection 1. “It’s just the opposite.”

Within mainstream Reformed thought, whether of the Swiss, Dutch, English or Scottish streams, there is a fundamental assumption of continuity between the Testaments. Only in the Anabaptist and eventually baptistic Reformed movements do we see the presumption of discontinuity spring up.

Reformed Baptists agree with Reformed paedobaptists that God made a covenant of works with Adam, which he broke and so brought condemnation on the whole human race (Rom 5:18). They also say that God mercifully made a covenant of grace with His elect people in Christ (Rom 5:18), which is progressively revealed in the Old Testament and formally established in the new covenant at the death of Christ (Heb 9:15-16). The only way anyone was saved under the old covenant was by virtue of this covenant of grace in Christ, such that there is only one gospel, or one saving promise, running through the Scriptures.

Baptist covenant theologians, however, believe they are more consistent than their paedobaptist brothers with respect to covenant theology’s own hermeneutic of New Testament priority. According to the New Testament, the Old Testament promise to “you and your seed” was ultimately made to Christ, the true seed (Gal 3:16). Abraham’s physical children were a type of Christ, but Christ Himself is the reality. The physical descendants were included in the old covenant, not because they are all children of the promise, but because God was preserving the line of promise, until Christ, the true seed, came. Now that Christ has come, there is no longer any reason to preserve a physical line. Rather, only those who believe in Jesus are sons of Abraham, true Israelites, members of the new covenant, and the church of the Lord Jesus (Gal 3:7). In both the Old and New Testaments, the “new covenant” is revealed to be a covenant of believers only, who are forgiven of their sins, and have God’s law written on their hearts (Heb 8:10-12).

The majority of historic Reformed Baptists held to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 because they believed it is a compendium of theology that best summarizes the teaching of Scripture in small compass.” [it should be noted that the 2nd London Baptist Confession of 1689 is, literally, the Westminster Confession of Faith with changes made where Baptistic theology necessitated differences over against mainstream, classic Reformed theology].

– (https://founders.org/2017/03/30/what-is-a-reformed-baptist/, emphasis mine)

One of, arguably the foundational, differences between classic Reformed theology and Reformed Baptist theology was almost veiled in the above quote, so lest it be missed, let’s highlight it by quoting from another source:

It may be helpful at this juncture to make a distinction between the different types of covenants as seen by [classic Reformed thought]. Though there are many different covenants made throughout the Old Testament, they would all be seen as administrations of the same Covenant of Grace. For instance, the Old Covenant is synonymous with the Mosaic Covenant and is seen as an administration of the over-arching Covenant of Grace. In fact, the smaller covenants made throughout time, from Adam to Christ, are simply administrations of the same Covenant of Grace, not being altogether different covenants in themselves. Herman Witsius writes:

‘It is a matter of the greatest moment, that we learn distinctly to consider the Covenant of Grace, either as it is in its substance or essence, as they call it, or as it is in divers ways proposed by God, with respect to circumstantials, under different economies. If we view the substance of the covenant, it is but only one, nor is it possible it should be otherwise. […] But if we attend to the circumstances of the covenant, it was dispensed at sundry times and in divers manners, under various economies, for the manifestation of the manifold wisdom of God.’ (opus magnum, published 1677)

There is a key piece which must be understood concerning [classic] covenant theology. There is a distinction made between the substance of a Covenant and the administration of a Covenant. This distinction is absent within Baptist covenant theology. So, the Covenant of Grace is the substance and is administered by way of the Old Covenant and then later, the New Covenant. Both of those Covenants (Old and New) are seen to be merely two different administrations of the same Covenant of Grace, not being viewed as covenants in and of themselves.

The Baptist framework for Federalism is quite different. Instead of the “one covenant, two administrations” paradigm, the Baptist holds that each covenant is distinctly different from one another. Furthermore, the Baptist holds that the Covenant of Grace didn’t exist as a covenant in the Old Testament, but only as a promise. (Gen. 3:15; Rom. 9:8) This means that the covenant [of grace] … was only promised in the Old Testament and later fulfilled in the New Covenant with the advent of Christ. The Covenant of Grace then is synonymous with the New Covenant; it was promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled (and concluded) in the New Testament.”

– (http://reformedcollective.com/2016/01/07/covenant-theology-the-distinction/ )[1]

Objection 2. Tim rebuts a straw man (in two ways)

Besides the fact that Tim proceeded to attack classic Reformed theology as if it is universally supersessionist (which is ironic, given that Reformed Baptist theology is universally supersessionist, but classic Reformed theology is not), my argument in particular is profoundly not supersessionist. Tim, of course, wasn’t familiar with my argument, so I am not faulting him for this, but rather pointing out that he never actually engaged my argument.

So, Tim countered not my argument, which is inherently non-supersessionist, but what he perceives to be the perspective of paedobaptists (which is also a sort of straw man, in that this is the perspective of some paedobaptists, but not all). This is an example of what I mean when I argue that the current de facto position in Torah-Observant theology is often reactionary rather than thoroughly exegetical.

Finally, we need to be so careful when assigning the accusation of “replacement theology” (or supersessionism) to Reformed perspectives. Undoubtedly, it exists; I am emphatically not denying this. However, the truth is that the biblical position itself is often attacked as being supersessionist (consider Paul’s statement in Romans 9:6-7, c.f., Galatians 3:29).

So when N.T. Wright or another more classic Reformed scholar, vigorously protests that they are not supersessionist, we ought to allow them to define their terms every bit as much as we desire to do so for ourselves. Wright claims he has an “expansionist” theology, a description I quite like. I think Wright wanders into replacementist applications of his perspective, but I believe him when he insists this is not his intention.

What Am I Saying?

My argument is this: regardless of what various Reformers said, we ought to allow the text and its progressive revelation to take us wherever it goes—never mind what apple carts it might upset—though always being slow to contradict generally reliable teachers who have preceded us, but ultimately maintaining a more radical commitment to the text than to the tradition which formed us, or which we are reacting against.

Let us momentarily put aside the history of theological argument since the Reformation, and ask the following question: if you were a 1st century Jew, shaped only by the Torah and its prescriptions, what would you presume about God’s method of inclusion? Would you not take it for granted that the children of covenant participants were included in the covenant, and that the sign and seal of this covenant participation was circumcision?

If you were subsequently a reader of the writings of Paul, believing that he was not contradicting anything established by the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, but amplifying the truths there potentially obscured, and if you then realized that Paul was painting circumcision as the marking of the flesh and baptism as the marking of the spirit/heart, baptism not replacing but rather amplifying circumcision, would you not then naturally presume that the children of covenant participants would be given the “new covenant” mark?

I am not denying that some have argued baptism replaces circumcision. Granted; some have also argued that the law is done away with. What is either error to us who recognize the essential continuity of the Testaments?

So then, when we find in the Canons of Dort:

Since we must make judgments about God’s will from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life in infancy” (1.17),

I contend that 2nd Temple era Jews like the Apostles would have read this and agreed, never mind whether Calvin, Witsius, Luther, or Owen gave an accurate rationale for the statement’s truth or not!

So long, however, as we read the Bible through the lens of baptistic theology we are prevented from seeing this reality. If then, there is a unity in Scripture’s covenants as described by either “The Promise” (Kaiser/Beecher) or “The Covenant of Grace” (classic Reformed theology) would we not expect that whatever it is that circumcision and baptism accomplish or signify, it would be expected by Torah-formed believers that each would be applied to infants?

Does baptism replace circumcision? Emphatically not! Now, can we please move on to asking what Scripture does teach about baptism?


[1] This may be helpfully pursued further in reflections found at https://www.heartandmouth.org/2017/02/23/case-reformed-infant-baptism-1/

More Help from Ryken on Galatians

Ryken-Galatians

Anyone who tries to be justified by working the law is attempting the impossible. God did not give us the law to make us good. Part of the law’s purpose, in fact, is to show us how bad we really are. Therefore, it is completely hopeless to get right with God by keeping the law; “the law is a matter of performance, but a performance that is beyond human possibility.”5 If justification did come by the law, we could not be justified, because we cannot keep the law. The Puritan William Perkins explained it like this: “If we could fulfill the law, we might be justified by the law: but no man can be justified by the law, or by works: therefore no man can fulfill the law.”6

The problem with the law, then, is not the law; the problem with the law is our sin. Since we cannot keep the law, the law cannot bless us. All it can do is curse us, placing us under the condemnation of divine wrath.[1]

Here Paul summarizes everything he has been saying in this chapter. He reminds us of the blessing given to Abraham: a right standing with God. He reminds us that this blessing is for all the nations of the Gentiles. He reminds us that God’s blessing includes receiving the Holy Spirit, with all his gifts and graces.

All these blessings could never come by works of the law. They come only “in Christ Jesus.” This is the doctrine of union with Christ—that all of God’s blessings come to us when we get into Jesus Christ. And the way to get into Jesus is by faith. All of God’s blessings come only through faith in the cross of Christ. Through the old cursed cross the nations of the world receive forgiveness for their sins. Through the old cursed cross we are accepted by God’s justifying grace. Through the old cursed cross we receive the promised Holy Spirit.

We receive all these things by faith in the crucified Christ. Faith deserves to have the last word because it is the last word in Galatians 3:14. What was a curse for Christ becomes a blessing to us by faith.[2]

§

The Holy Spirit gives us real liberty in Christ. True Christian freedom is not to sin but to serve. It is not license to indulge our sinful nature, but liberty to serve one another in self-renouncing love.

When we love one another in the Spirit, we also enjoy a third kind of freedom: freedom to fulfill the law. Here we come to one of the most surprising verses in Galatians. After we are commanded to “serve one another” through love (Gal. 5:13), we are told that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:9–10). The Spirit makes us free to keep the law of love.

This law of love is familiar. It comes from the law of Moses: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). Jesus taught the same thing. When someone asked him to name the greatest commandment, he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39).[3]

§

The answer is that the law has to be kept in its place. As we have noted before, the Protestant Reformers spoke of several different uses of the law. The first is to drive us to Christ. The law does this by showing that we cannot justify ourselves before God. The law is not the means of our salvation. It cannot make us right with God. The most it can do for us, before we come to Christ, is to show us our sin.

Once the law has driven us to Christ, however, it does something else for us. It shows us how to live for God by telling us to love our neighbor, among other things. It does not tell us this as a way of getting right with God—as far as justification is concerned, we are “not under the law” (Gal. 5:18; cf. 4:21)—but as a way of living free in the Spirit. Our liberty is not lawless. We are not under the law; nevertheless, we fulfill the law. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892) explained this in a picturesque way:

What is God’s law now? It is not above a Christian—it is under a Christian. Some men hold God’s law like a rod, in terror, over Christians, and say, “If you sin you will be punished with it.” It is not so. The law is under a Christian; it is for him to walk on, to be his guide, his rule, his pattern: “we are not under the law, but under grace.” Law is the road which guides us, not the rod which drives us, nor the spirit which actuates us. The law is good and excellent, if it keep its place.10

It is vital to understand that God has never done away with his law. His basic commands have not changed. His will for our lives, as expressed in his moral law, is eternal. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). God still wants us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and by doing so to fulfill his law.

The way to keep the law in its place is always to think in the proper theological categories. Although the law cannot justify, it can help to sanctify. Justification has to do with God declaring us righteous; sanctification has to do with God making us holy. The law cannot justify us because it declares that we are not righteous. But once God has declared us righteous in Christ, the law helps to sanctify us by showing us how to be holy. John Stott writes, “Although we cannot gain acceptance by keeping the law, yet once we have been accepted we shall keep the law out of love for Him who has accepted us and has given us His Spirit to enable us to keep it.”11[4]


5 Donald A. Hagner, “The Law in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians,” Modern Reformation 12.5 (Sept./Oct. 2003): 34.

6 William Perkins, A Commentary on Galatians, Pilgrim Classic Commentaries, ed. Gerald T. Sheppard (London, 1617; repr. New York: Pilgrim, 1989), 163.

[1] Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 110.

[2] Ibid, 118.

[3] Ibid, 222.

10 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit (1857; repr. Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim, 1975), 2:124.

11 John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians: Only One Way, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1968), 143.

[4] Philip Graham Ryken, Galatians, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2005), 223–224.

Studying Galatians? Here’s Some Help.

There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace. To exercise unshaken confidence in the doctrine of gratuitous pardon is one of the most difficult things in the world; and to preach this doctrine fully without verging towards antinomianism is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done.

– Archibald Alexander[1]

Alexander captures perfectly the challenge: to preach the doctrine of gratuitous pardon fully without veering into anti-law/cheap grace, pseudo-theology is no easy task, and is therefore seldom done… and I might add, even more rarely done accurately or well.

Philp Ryken provides us one of the best examples I’ve yet encountered in his commentary on Galatians. And yet, he is not perfect. As Alexander observed this, “is no easy task.” Ryken manages to get the big picture entirely correct, and to explain it an easily understood manner. He does so in spite of getting some of the details wrong. He often misunderstands the point of the New Perspective on Paul, and yet does so in the midst of making valid points about the message of Galatians.

The reason I bring that up is this: it has been those details which have caused most contemporary Christians (even Christian scholars) to get the big picture of Galatians wrong. I celebrate Ryken because he maintains the accurate big picture! However, I am concerned for the future because he fails to correct some of the details that led us to the situation now confronting us.

That having been said, I wholeheartedly commend Ryken’s Galatians commentary to you as the best layman’s explanation of Paul’s letter to the Galatians presently available.

If I were to summarize the message of Galatians, and consequently the message of Ryken’s commentary, it would be this:

Having been saved entirely by grace through faith, do we now keep the law in order to retain our salvation? ABSOLUTELY NOT! We keep the law because we are dead to it and alive to/through Christ, who is the embodiment of the law’s requirements! But we now walk in his character (walk in the Spirit/keep the law’s instructions) through grace and faith, every bit as much as we were initially justified by grace through faith.

The follow on question of, “In what manner does the law of God now instruct believers?” is a very different question.

  1. First, we must acknowledge that the law plays no process in justification other than to point out our need for it.
  2. Second, we must acknowledge that our place in Christ’s affections is never improved through law-keeping.
  3. Thirdly, we must acknowledge that the law of God continues to describe Christ’s character, and only then ought we to ask, “How does the law of God now instruct me, and how shall we now apply it?”

Most contemporary Christians never move past the second point, and consequently never ask the critical question, which would enable them to complete the Lord’s Great Commission: teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

As a complement to Ryken’s Galatians commentary, I would also strongly commend to you his book Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis.

If one wants to get into the weeds and/or attempt to defend Ryken’s reading of Galatians, in that case, the writings of Tim Hegg or R.J. Rushdoony are very helpful. But for the purpose of simply understanding Galatians accurately oneself, there is no commentary superior to Philip G. Ryken’s on Galatians.

 


[1] A. Alexander. Thoughts on Religious Experience, 1844; repr. London: Banner of Truth, 1967, 165–66.

Considering Tassels

This post was originally written in 2016, but I was having considerable formatting issues with it that I couldn’t seem to resolve, so I decided to start over from scratch, and it is therefore now re-posted. I remain in complete agreement with what I wrote back then.

Abstract: Wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command of Num. 15:38 and Deut. 22:12, but is not a literal fulfillment of the commandment. All things considered, for Gentile believers it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction. Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach.

“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.” Numbers 15:38

“You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself” Deuteronomy 22:12

The command regarding tassels ought to instruct all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile. The question of how it ought to instruct may depend upon on one’s ethnicity, time or place.

I would assert, for example, that a Jewish man (or woman, potentially) wearing a tallit kitan or using a tallit gadol with tzitzit attached is a valid keeping of this command, and that a Gentile doing so may be a valid keeping of this command.

I would also posit that a Gentile wearing culturally-developed tzitzit on one’s belt loops is a valid manner of honoring the command, but not a literal fulfillment (or keeping). All things considered, I would also suggest it is likely not the most well-advised manner of honoring this instruction due to reasons of potential misunderstanding, misapplication, and offense.

Nevertheless, we see from the text that God considered it important for His people and we might observe that the principle behind this case law related to: remembrance, identity, and witness. Furthermore, that the keeping of the command assisted the Israelites in the practice of walking in godliness, and promoted a sense of belonging and community. Could anyone argue that today’s Gentile believers don’t also need this?! Additional reflection may yield a more advantageous and multiple-commandment-balancing approach to honoring this instruction.

I am, therefore, seeking an application of the command regarding tassels that is:

  1. consistent with God’s original intent,
  2. consistent with the significance of the command in the milieu of the original implementation,
  3. inoffensive to as many parties as possible,
  4. consistent with a professional image (be in the world but not of the world), and
  5. feasible for wide-scale adoption across the people of God in the United States (our milieu).

Historically speaking, it is of great interest to note that at the time when God gave this commandment, everyone in the Ancient Near East (ANE) wore tassels on their garments—Israelite and non-Israelite. The fringe functioned as one’s signature (pressing the fringe into clay in the same manner as signet rings came to be used), as a sign of your prestige, and were a method of identification or sign of belonging (to a class, family, or tribe). The Israelites’ fringes were to be a distinctive application of a normative cultural expectation.

If one were to argue that wearing tassels on one’s belt loops is a direct fulfillment of the command and that this is necessary, I would ask, “Where is the parapet around your roof?” (Deuteronomy 22:8)

Similarly, wrapping teffilin is a valid method of honoring, or helpful symbolic application in the interest of keeping the commands of Deut. 6:8; 11:18, but it does not—in and of itself—fulfill the commandment. How can we prove this? Because we are also told in the same language that the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the redemption of the first born “shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes” (Ex 13:9, 16).

In my personal edition of the Morning Prayers I attempted to capture the heart of these commands in the following manner: “Today, Father, may your words be always in front of my eyes; may my hands be engaged in the practice of your commands.” There is a wide variety of ways in which to keep this injunction; observing Unleavened Bread is among them, and the phrasing of the commandment to let this observance be a sign on your hand and memorial between your eyes speaks more to observing the festival with intention than with a physical practice of writing the date of Unleavened Bread on our hand or something similar.

So long as one recognizes that wrapping tefillin is not the actual keeping of the commandment, it remains a helpful spiritual discipline, but once one begins to think that in the practice of wrapping tefillin you have satisfied the intent of the commandment, problems develop.

Given that:

  1. specifically knotted tzitzit have become an ethnic identity marker for the Jewish people,
  2. that unless I wear a cornered garment I cannot literally fulfill this commandment anyway, and
  3. that the commandment was given in the context of a distinctive application of a cultural norm,

I think it is more than well-advised to practice the command in a manner that does not potentially lay a stumbling block in the path of my brother the Jew (saved or unsaved: one thinks of the reaction of UMJC folks to Gentiles wearing tzitzit in general and specifically to wearing them on the belt loops) or the misinformed Gentile Christian, who perceives it as coming back under the law.

For the last couple of years I have worn a blue and white bracelet as my manner of honoring the tzitzit (and tefillin) command. I am not entirely satisfied (theologically nor practically) with a tzitzit bracelet, but it was a healthy step in the right direction (in response to having become a stumbling block to my Synagogue President neighbor, even though wearing tzitzit “properly” on a tallit kitan).

I am entertaining ideas like embroidering 3 white and one blue line on the sleeves of my shirts, or attaching a fringe that is clearly different from the traditional Jewish tying of the tzitzit to the corners created by the vents of a camp-style shirt. I don’t always wear un-tucked, vented shirts, however, so I lean toward the embroidery idea, as this is non-offensive and within the bounds of normative cultural expectation (one thinks of logos on shirt sleeves) that is nevertheless distinctive.

Imagine if every man in our congregations wore shirts with the “tzitzit logo” on the edges/wings (canaphim, c.f. Malachi 4:2 & Numbers 15:38) of their sleeves! Think of the identity-lending power, and the community-belonging power of this! Invest that practice with the significance of fulfilling Deut. 6:8 and one is keeping the commandment in a way that is faithful to God’s intent while also conscious of the commands, “You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD” (Lev 19:14), and “Build up, build up, prepare the way, Remove every obstacle out of the way of My people” (Is 57:14).

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that this sleeve logo idea is probably the application most consistent with the spirit of the command regarding tzitzit. Think about it: our culture is familiar with all football jerseys being the same and yet having distinct identification markings, both in color and logo. Logos have become ubiquitous on a variety of culturally normative clothing styles. To put a distinct arrangement of white and blue threads on the sleeves of a shirt (sleeves being the closest thing to “wings/corners” we have on contemporary clothing) references a familiarity with the most recently common observance of the command (rabbinically defined tzitzit), honors the commandment, offends no one, and yet retains the reminding, identifying, community-building power of the original command in its Bronze Age context.

How shall today’s believing Laplander apply this command? I don’t know, but they ought to be asking that question. And the eventual result will be a culturally diverse, yet commandment-honoring keeping of God’s law that testifies both to the “house of prayer for all nations” reality of God’s people, but also to the coalescing power and identity-giving nature of being “imitators of God therefore like dearly beloved children.”

P.S. It occurs to me that I have elsewhere expressed some of what undergirds the above in a very succinct manner:

If love emphasizes people and law emphasizes principle, without the dynamic interplay of both aspects of God’s character, we get an unhealthy (i.e., sinful) imbalance. Therefore, if it is lawful, “so far as it depends on you,” to “live peaceably with all,” then it seems it would be loving to use language [or halacha] that puts, “no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry.”

________________________________________________________________
Background on fringes as normative ANE dress:

  • “The tassels, according to ancient Near East parallels, were threads of the embroidery and could be decorated with a flower head or bell. The more ornate the hem, the greater the social status and wealth of a person (Milgrom 1983: 61–65).” from Douglas R. Edwards, “Dress and Ornamentation,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 233.
  • “fringes (tassels, borders, hems), a common decoration on Near Eastern garments.” from Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 323.
  • “Fringes,” in J. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 68-70.
  • Stephen Bertman, “Tassled Garments in the Ancient East Mediterranean”, The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1961), pp. 119-128.
  • http://rzim.org/a-slice-of-infinity/from-the-fringes
  • J. Milgrom, “Of hems and tassels: Rank, authority and holiness were expressed in antiquity by fringes on garments,” Biblical Archaeology Review, v. IX, # 3, May/June 1983, pp. 61-65.
  • J. Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary, Volume 4 – NUMBERS, Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 1989 – 1996, p. 410-412
  • W. Gunther Plaut, et al. The Torah: A Modern Commentary. N.Y., Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981, p. 1123

09-12-2018

The Lord woke me up an hour and 19 minutes before my alarm. I do believe that it was the Holy Spirit Who woke me up, or an angel, but it was hard to believe while in bed. I realized while stumbling up the steps toward my office that part of the reason is I find it difficult to believe God wants to spend time with me. I know that to be true theoretically; I’m not sure I believe it in my heart.

The verse for today is Hebrews 3:12-13:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Oh the irony.

Lord, forgive me.

Actually, I do believe it; that’s why I’m here right now, doing this. I struggle to act on it because I cannot prove it intellectually.

Lord, help me. Help me to learn the grammar of Spirit to spirit communication. Help me to know You heart to heart.

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Psalm 139:23-24