Law versus Grace

One of the most important aspects of the Passover event was God’s self revelation of His character. God had brought Israel out of Egypt and promised He would be with them as Moses led them into Promised Land.  But Moses wanted more. He wanted the assurance of God’s presence throughout the journey.  He wanted to see God’s glory!  (Exodus 33) God graciously agreed to Moses’ demand with the caveat:

 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock.  So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.  Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:19-23)

So God revealed His memorial name to Moses and also His character.   Moses asked God to show him His glory and God showed Moses His goodness.  Then He proclaimed His character.  Sadly over the years people have tried to redefine  Him, but God’s self-description has proved to be true through His actions.

Law versus Grace

“We’re not under “law” but under “grace.”  How often have you heard-or even said-that? But is that true? If so, that means that God has changed over the years.  It means that God revealed Himself to Adam, Eve, David, and Isaiah as being vengeful, angry, and without mercy.  I doubt you believe that. The Bible assures us that God never changes.  He cannot change.  The theological word for God’s change-less-ness is “immutable.” So where does this lie against God’s character come from?  Perhaps from this verse:

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17)

At first glance, this verse appears to be a comparison between “law” and “grace and truth.”  It’s as if there were a scale to measure God’s character, putting Law on one plate and Grace on the other.  How ridiculous! What is being compared?  The comparison is between the methods of mediation. God transmitted “the law” through the hand of Moses, but God BECAME grace and truth in Jesus. Consider this: wasn’t the “law” an act of God’s grace?  Look again what the “law” has done for us:

  • Revealed our sinful nature
  • Convicted us of our sin
  • Proved our need for forgiveness
  • Provided for our atonement by God’s grace through faith.

Look again at that list and ask yourself, “Wasn’t the law an act of God’s grace to allow sinful men to stand in His presence?” The answer must be a resounding “YES!” Thus I contend that the God who gave the law to Moses on Mt Sinai is the same changeless God who gave His life on Mt Calvary. Maybe at this point we need to consider what God says about Himself? To answer that question, we can simply turn to Exodus 34:5-7 which records God’s self-revelation to Moses.

Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”

To correct this false understanding of God’s character we need to understand the Hebrew phrase: וֶאֱמֶֽת רַב־חֶסֶד [rav hesed v’emet] which is translated as ‘abounding in goodness and truth.’ This phrase used often throughout Scripture will prove to us that the character of God never changes.  

Truth: אֱמֶֽת

Did you know that you speak Hebrew? Every time you say “Amen” [אָמַן] are speaking Hebrew! We end our prayers with this precious word as an exclamation point showing our approval or our faith that God has heard us. Amen carries the meaning of certainty, solidarity, firmness regardless of circumstance, constant, or consistent. It evokes the picture of the strong arms of a parent holding a helpless infant:

The eternal God is your refuge. (Deut. 33:27)

The word in our passage is אֱמֶֽת [emet] which is a derivative of ‘amen’ meaning ‘truth.’   Another derivative is אֱמוּנָה [emunah] which is translated as ‘faith’ or ‘faithful.’ In the letter to the Laodiceans, the same word is used three times.

These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness.  (Revelation 3:14)

I think God is trying to tell us something! Regardless of which word is are it describes the trustworthy, changelessness of God.  

Grace: חֶסֶד

The word translated as “goodness” in our passage is the Hebrew word is חֶסֶד [hesed].  This is, without doubt, my favorite word to describe God.  The word is translated many ways ‘kindness,’ ‘mercy,’ and ‘love.’  None of these definitions really captures the word’s depth and breadth. Even our Hebrew lexicons have difficulty in defining this incredible word. In my opinion, the best definition is ‘faithful, covenant-keeping love.’  Hesed is best seen in God’s everlasting relationship with Israel. I AM bound Himself in covenant relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knowing the faithlessness of the people in their loins! Aren’t you glad that God’s grace is based on His character and not on ours?! Consider these verses which all use our word חֶסֶד:

My mercy I will keep for him forever, and My covenant shall stand firm with him. Psalm 89:28 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.  Psalm 23:6 Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage?  He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy. Micah 7:18

John 1:17

So now let’s look again at that troublesome verse in John’s Gospel.  The core of the issue is that simple conjunction “but” so let’s look at various translations:

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (NASB)

For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. (KJV & NKJV)

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (NIV)

You can see the how the translators tried to deal with “but.”  The King James and the New King James versions put the word in italics that says to the reader, “inserted to by editors” while the other translations were able to omit it.  Probably the best translation is the New American Standard Bible. An even better translation would be, “For the law was given through Moses and grace and truth BECAME Jesus Christ” or “Grace and truth were incarnated in Jesus Christ.”

God’s character never changes.

The God of Sinai is the same as the God of Calvary.


Rosh Hashanah and the Incarnation

The Feast of the Lord of the seventh month is all about the King

The Incarnation is the most important and least understood event in history.  While Israel ignores it, the Church celebrates it on the wrong day!  Like all the other events in Israel’s redemptive history, the Incarnation is also on one of the feasts of the Lord.  Yet as we review the prophetic aspect of the feasts, the long awaited promised coming of the Messiah is woefully lacking. But how can this be? From the beginning of recorded history, God promised He would provide salvation, the restoration of the devastation caused by the sin of Adam and Eve. That promise echoes through the pages of Scripture as God gives details like a clues to a wonderful treasure hunt. When at last, the King is presented to the world, in a most unlikely way, all heaven breaks lose with shouts of joy, never before seen or heard, creating abject terror to its witnesses.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:              “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14)

Would this not be the most appropriate feast for all earth to resound with similar shouts of joy praises to God? In other words, I suggest that the day of the “Memorial Shout” or “Memorial Blowing” commemorates the Incarnation of God, Yeshua the Messiah. I further suggest that  on this day we not only look back at the first coming of the King, but also to look forward to His return and  coronation. I believe that a major theme and focus of this holiday of the seventh month on God’s calendar is THE King – Jesus the Christ

  • His first coming
  • His second coming
  • His ultimate coronation as King of all kings.

Pressured to Celebrate the Feasts of the Lord

Friends pressure friends to celebrate or not to celebrate the feasts of the Lord.  Sadly rather than celebrating Jesus in the feasts with the freedom of the Holy Spirit, there is a growing tendency to make observance of the feasts more of a burden than a celebration.  The following is my correspondence with a woman who was feeling pain and confusion.

… It just seems that things have been really hard and confusing ever since we started to try and learn more about observing a Biblical Sabbath.  My older kids (girls 12 and 15) have especially been confused.  We have our friends who make it seem like even saying the word “Christmas”, yet alone celebrating any part of it, is an unpardonable sin.  They have gone as far as to say that they think those who are not following Torah may not make it to heaven.  My thought then is why did Jesus have to come and die for us?  No man can completely follow Torah.  There is so much in it to ponder and what still applies today  (tattoos, piercings, cutting of hair, mixed fabrics) ???   I love God and want to do what He wants me to do.  I also want to teach my children the right way to live ( I also have 2 boys- 7 and 9).  Our friends also think we shouldn’t do any sports or hikes or anything on the Sabbath.  I think, why would it be wrong to have family time, out in nature, and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation? Is the Sabbath really totally denying oneself of any personal enjoyment?  To me, playing softball on a Friday night is totally enjoyable, and not work at all, but is it wrong?  Obviously I am still confused about a lot.  Sorry for my ramblings.  Like I said, I want to follow God and do what He wants but at times things feel so legalistic and rigid.  LG

Here is my reply:

Thank you for the privilege of answering this question.  I have several comments. 1) Anyone who tries to make you feel second class or “wrong” is not moving in the Spirit of God’s love and grace.  Stand firm against any spirit of religiosity.  Paul makes it clear that we are not to consider one day as more important.  That said…

2) I do think there is a blessing in celebrating the feasts that the Lord has given us.  Certainly the Sabbath is the top of His list as He’s given us 52 times to enjoy the weekly Sabbath, not to mention all the other Sabbath days.  Being in the States, keeping the Sabbath is a challenge, but I do what I can…REST…without phone or computer.  Then I love celebrating the resurrection on Sunday.  That said….

I like to start Sabbath by being with friends for a Friday night Sabbath dinner.  (Most Jewish celebrations revolve around food!  Furthermore I would encourage anything that breaks the routine and stress of the week and enables you to quiet your body, soul and spirit.  The issue is REST…which the Bible interprets for us as “no work.”  Of course the caution here is that we can get too busy with fun activities.  God’s design works best when given a chance to be replenished.’

3)  Christmas is a unique holiday.  We know that Jesus wasn’t born in December and we know the pagan roots of the holiday.  I used to celebrate the Incarnation (and called it that) when I first went to Israel.  After a few years though my friends lost interest.   Being in the States, I find I’m enjoying  the decorations and festivities, although I don’t really partake except to join friends for dinner.  I give presents earlier, on Thanksgiving or Hanukkah.  But I do enjoy the tree which my housemate puts up.  So I have a rather special situation – enjoying without the doing.  But after a few years NOT celebrating the Incarnation in Israel, I’m slowly reintroducing bits and pieces to stimulate conversations with my neighbors.

I’m taking a middle of the road position.  What is important is being obedient to what God is telling you and doing so with grace and humility towards others.

Unity amid diversity is my passion.  I don’t even use the expression “Hebraic roots” as that tends to isolate or elevate one group of people.  The Bible talks about God being our roots.  I like to think of the Old Testament as the preparation for the Kingdom. Therefore the feasts and celebrations are Kingdom roots not Hebraic or Jewish.  That approach might help you with your decisions and with your friends.

I don’t specifically talk about Christmas in my Celebrate Jesus! but I do spend time on dealing with the issue of the Kingdom.  You might also be interested in the new booklet: Celebrate God’s Love, Hanukkah and Christmas, Fact or Fiction.

The bottom line of the various expressions of worship is to worship the Lord in:

  • Spirit
  • Truth
  • Humility
  • Love

May you enjoy a blessed holiday season, joanie


A simple but thorough resource for all the Levitical feasts, plus New Moon, Purim and Hanukkah.

To order:

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