Following on the heels of the post I put up a couple of days ago titled “Does God Expect The Gentile Believer In Yeshua To Obey Torah Today?“, I think now is as good a time as ever to address what Paul really meant when he used the phrase “putting yourself under the law“.
The first thing you need to understand is when Paul said “putting yourself under the law“, he was NOT talking about whether or not to obey the Torah commands.
It wouldn’t make any sense if he was.
Because think about it, the Torah includes commands such as “Honor your mother and father“, “Do not murder“, and “Do not commit adultery” etcetera.
Is Paul now saying that such commands which are the foundation of morality in a civilized society no longer valid?
Of course not.
So let’s get this through our heads.
Paul was NOT talking about whether or not to obey the instructions, teachings and commands of the Torah.
He was addressing the question of whether a gentile had to formally convert to traditional Judaism as it existed in its day in order to gain membership to the body of Messianic believers (which were all Jewish).
And Paul’s answer to that question was a definite NO.
Paul made it clear that not only was conversion to Judaism not required, but to do so would have been counterproductive to God’s plan to create ONE body unto Himself.
So first, let’s make sure we understand this point clearly.
How a gentile is to gain admission to the Kingdom of God (what Paul termed the true or spiritual Israel) is one thing and how to live AFTER one has gained admission to the kingdom is another matter altogether.
Paul was addressing the former and not the latter when he said “putting oneself under the law“.
“Putting Oneself Under the Law” does NOT, and I repeat DOES NOT mean “obeying Torah”.
Now let’s talk about why Paul was adamantly opposed to a gentile formally converting to traditional Judaism in order to become a member of the body of Messianic believers.
Here’s the thing.
If a gentile attempts to gain admission to the Messianic Kingdom of God by converting to Judaism, it puts himself in kind of awkward position with God.
Recall this verse from Leviticus.
“The land must not be sold permanently,
because the land is mine and you reside in my
land as foreigners and strangers.”
Really think about the implications of that verse.
God is literally telling the Israelites, “The land of Israel is MY possession and by divine fiat I’m just renting it out to you“.
Here’s what I see (and I could be wrong).
What I see God telling the Israelites is, “I have given you rights and I have chosen you to be under my divine protection but you are still GERIM to me”.
In other words, when God says to the Israelites “You are as foreigners and strangers to me“, in a sense He seems to be saying “You are NOT yet on an equal footing with me.”
God seems to be telling His Chosen People that in my Kingdom of God, you are still second-class citizens.
Just as the gentile GERIM in ancient Israel was considered a second-class citizen (although simultaneously considered an honored and protected guest), on a different level of intimacy, God’s Chosen People the Israelites were also considered as GERIM or “foreigners” and “strangers” just sojourning with HASHEM.
To put it simply, Israel not yet attained the level of first-class citizenship which would be realized with the coming of the Messiah.
Now contrast everything I just said with what Paul says about a gentile believer in Yeshua.
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Messiah Yeshua himself as the chief cornerstone.”-Ephesians 2:19
Speaking directly to the gentiles, Paul is telling them you are no longer GER but fellow citizens with God’s people.
And who are “God’s people“?
In this context, I would think Paul is referring to Jewish believers in Messiah.
Let’s not forget that ALL the early believers were Jewish.
EVERY. ONE. OF. THEM.
In the upper room at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came down in power, every person in that upper room was Jewish, there wasn’t a gentile in the bunch.
In fact, as far as the early Messianic believers were concerned, they didn’t even think a gentile could be saved.
It wasn’t even on their radar.
That’s how Jewish this whole new Messianic faith was.
So let’s get back to the question of why Paul was opposed to the gentile undergoing a traditional conversion to Judaism.
Paul was trying to say that a gentile who tried to enter the Messianic Kingdom by converting to Judaism made himself as a GER to God just as the Israelites were GER to God in Moses’ time.
Did you get that?
I hope you did, because this is key!
Let me say it another way.
If a gentile converted to Judaism, his status became the same as every other native born Jew.
In other words, he became a GER sojourning with God, as Leviticus 25:23 says in referring to the Israelites.
So Paul’s whole point was why in the hell would you wanna do that when you can become a 1st Class citizen with all the accompanying rights and privileges in the Kingdom of God through faith in Messiah?
Through faith in Messiah, a gentile could essentially skip over the status of a being fleshly Jew and batta bing batta boom attain first-class citizenship in the Messianic Kingdom together with those Jews who had accepted their Messiah.
Remember, Paul said “There be neither Jew nor Gentile in the Body of Messiah“.
When a gentile attempts to become a part of the body of Messiah via a conversion to orthodox Judaism, he essentially goes against this formula.
He’s going down the ladder from from first class citizenship in God’s Messianic Kingdom to the second-class citizenship of the Israelites during Moses’ time (remember God considered them as GER to Him).
So yes, I’m saying the Jew when he accepts his Messiah also leaves behind his status of being a GER as God labelled him in Leviticus 25:23 and becomes what Paul calls a “real Jew” or a “spiritual Jew“.
And the gentile from the status of nothing (as Paul puts it), leapfrogs over everything and becomes a first class citizen along with the “real Jews” (Jews who have accepted the Messiah).
And again, ethnic distinctions remain!
I’m talking about a change in spiritual status here.
In a nutshell, Paul was saying to the gentile “Why do you want the second-class status of a GER by converting to orthodox Judaism when you can have first-class status in the Messianic Kingdom?“
It seems like some gentiles don’t get this point.
Out of feelings of inferiority, I’ve even seen some gentiles convert to Judaism first and then afterwards accept Yeshua as Messiah, so they could get the whole package so to speak.
And by the way, Paul said the same thing to the Jewish people.
He essentially told them, “You no longer have to be as GER to the Lord. Through faith in your Messiah, the current legal status you were born into as GERIM to God can be transformed into first-class citizenship in the Kingdom”.
And remember, whether it’s a Jew or Gentile, this status change is ONLY possible under the covenants God has only made with Israel.
A Jew becomes a first-class citizen in the Kingdom of God only through Israel’s covenants (obviously) and a gentile becomes a first-class citizen in the Kingdom of God only through Israel’s covenants.
And I remind you that the New Covenant was a covenant that God ONLY MADE WITH ISRAEL.
The gentile has to be grafted in to partake of it, but I’m repeating myself here, so let’s close as this is getting dang loooong.
When Paul used the phrase “putting oneself under the law”, he was NOT referring to Torah obedience.
If you still think otherwise, I would suggest you meditate long and hard on these verses:
“For it is not merely the hearers of Torah
whom God considers righteous;
rather, it is the doers of what Torah says
who will be made righteous in God’s sight.“
“For circumcision is indeed of value
if you do what Torah says.
But if you are a transgressor of Torah,
your circumcision has become uncircumcision!
Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the
righteous requirements of the Torah,
won’t his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?
Indeed, the man who is physically uncircumcised
but obeys the Torah will stand as a judgment on you
who have had a b’rit-milah and have Torah written
out but violate it!”
“For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah,
do naturally what the Torah requires,
then these, even though they don’t have Torah,
for themselves are Torah!”
And no, Romans 2:14 isn’t talking about some fuzzy, subjective, abstract notion of right and wrong that somehow miraculously comes into our minds after being born again as Christianity teaches.
There is only ONE Torah and that Torah are those instructions God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.
After being born again, it is the Spirit of God that should lead you to and give you a desire to follow Torah.
If not, I’d be concerned about what kind of spirit you’re really following.
To conclude, “putting oneself under the law” meant undergoing conversion to Judaism in order to gain entrance into the Messianic Kingdom.
Paul was NOT talking about HOW one should live one’s life AFTER entering the Kingdom (meaning after being born again).
That’s a totally different matter altogether.
The appropriate response of a person who was been saved through his or her faith in Messiah is Torah obedience.
It has never been otherwise and that is what both Rabbi Paul and Messiah Yeshua affirmed.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“Don’t think that I have come to abolish |
the Torah or the Prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to complete.
I tell you that until heaven and earth pass away,
not so much as a yud or a stroke will pass from the Torah
— not until everything that must happen has happened.
So whoever disobeys the least of these mitzvot
and teaches others to do so will be called the least in
the Kingdom of Heaven.
But whoever obeys them and so teaches will be
called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Not everyone who says to me,
‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven,
only those who do what my Father in heaven wants.
On that Day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord!
Didn’t we prophesy in your name?
Didn’t we expel demons in your name?
Didn’t we perform many miracles in your name?’
Then I will tell them to their faces, ‘I never knew you!
Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness!”