Let’s examine the motivations for following Torah.There are several reasons why the Torah is to be lived. All reasons are meant to be considered equally.
1. Because G-d Tells Us To!
One word frequently used to describe much of the content of the Torah is the Hebrew mitzvah. This simply means “commandment.” It is something G-d has told us to do. Don’t be frightened by the concept, as if it is something only for the Tenach. Although Jewish scholars are quick to assert that there are 613 commandments in the Torah, New Testament scholars nave noted that there are over 1,000 such “commandments” in the Brit Chadasha! A commandment is a commandment. After all, what is the difference between celebrating Shavuot and choosing elders to govern your fellowship? Both are commanded. We want get into that here.
2. Torah Gives Definition
What does it mean to be Jewish or an Israelite? As noted earlier, the Torah is the only authoritative document, which answers this question. Many Jewish traditions are purely cultural, but the Torah presents a required lifestyle of holiness that is cross-cultural. Whether from Morocco or Brooklyn, Jewish people are bound together by certain practices, such as circumcision and eating kosher, that are taught in the Torah. It is the Torah, then, that gives the Jewish descendants of Jacob their identity. Believing in Yahshua only makes that identity complete as an Israelite of G-d’s “called out ones.”
3. Because it is Who We Are!
Personally, this reason may be best because it solves all of the problems for both Jewish and non-Jewish people. First, if we follow Torah only because it is commanded, it can easily turn into legalism. Let us enter by a different door altogether. Let us enter the arena of Torah through the door of our identity in Messiah, and see where it leads us.
The Scripture teaches us a critical truth. In bringing us to faith in Yahshua, G-d has made us into completely new people. We are new creations, with the Messiah living in us. Moreover, we are receivers of and participants in the Refreshed, renewed Chadasha. Jeremiah 31 teaches that G-d promises to write Torah on our hearts when He makes us new. Do not miss the full implications of that. Torah is written on our hearts! Among other things, this means that Torah is part of our basic makeup as believers in Yahshua. The new-creation man or woman, therefore, should only do what comes naturally to him or her. In this case, it means living out what is written in the Word-all of the Word.
4. The Mirror
Why do we follow Torah? Because it is who we are as new creations. When we read of the redeemed person as described by the precepts of Torah, we are, in reality, reading a description of who G-d has made us in the Messiah. Let us go to the concept of the mirror image referred to in James 1:22-25. Here we learn the importance of being doers of the Word instead of listeners only. The illustration is of a person looking at himself in a mirror, but verse 25 describes that “mirror” as the Torah. (Though translated “law” in nearly every English translation, it is actually Torah.) He who does not do the Word is one who looks at his face in the Torah and immediately forgets what he looks like. In that state, therefore, he does not do the Word. But the person who sees himself in the mirror-the Torah-and remembers what he looks like, this is the one who does the Word. When we look into the mirror of the Torah, our reflection is that of a redeemed person as described therein. The individual teachings, in essence, describe what the redeemed one looks like. Because it is Yahshua who has made us new, made us the righteousness of G-d (II Corinthians 5:21), all that is left for us to do is to choose to walk in that new life-the righteous life of Yahshua-the life of Torah.
That means, we do not follow Torah as though it were merely a list of do’s and don’ts. We follow it because it is written on our hearts. It is who we are as new creations. It comes naturally to us because G-d has made us into new people! But unless we know what our real spiritual identity is, we can’t enter into the whole realm of our new life in Messiah that is available through the Torah.
5. Because Our Messiah Did It
Don’t all believers want to do what Yahshua did, and to be like Him? Aren’t we encouraged to be like Him in scripture? We are quick to practice letting His love flow out from us, and learning to worship and pray as He worshiped and prayed. Rightly so. But what about following the Torah as Yahshua did? His life was so characterized by Torah that even as late as the next generation of Jewish believers after Him, He was referred to as “The Torah.” Even John 1 describes Yahshua as the Word, a reference to the Torah.
There is one more key to this point, which will unlock its importance for us. The key is to remember that Yahshua is in us! We are new creations, with the Living Torah inside of us. This truth is so powerful that, when we think about it, the question we should be asking is not “Should we follow the Torah?” but “How do we come to know this ‘treasure in jars of clay’?” (II Corinthians 4:7)
6. Because of what it Communicates to unbelievers
This is the final and most emotional point. I am speaking here as Jewish person to other Jewish people and Israelite believers especially. But I am also making an appeal to non-Jewish believers, who need to be awakened to a major theological tragedy that has been perpetuated for the last 1,800 years.
The anti-Torah theology, which so dominates the body of Messiah today, originally taught and practiced in the second century, arose from a distinct anti-Judaism propounded by some of the most influential scholars and leaders in the body of Messiah. And because many theologians in the Body today have swallowed the anti-Torah teachings of the Church fathers, the conclusions they continue to teach and publish naturally reflect the same bias. The believers of our era may not be as anti-Jewish as many of the Church fathers were; nevertheless, many have inherited their anti-Torah, anti-Jewish interpretations of the Brit Chadasha Scriptures.
Many today do not think for themselves, nor practice honest exegesis of the Brit Chadasha. If they did, they would conclude that the Brit Chadasha, in reality, is very Torah-positive and encourages a Torah lifestyle. And while it is no easy task to change beliefs that have been dearly held for over 1,800 years, change they must-if for no other reason than to be honest with the Bible.
But there is another reason. We need to ask some very serious questions. What does the prevailing anti-Torah theology say to the traditional Jewish world? How do they see us? What do they understand of our thinking? Moreover, Jewish believers, what is the message being conveyed to our families and Jewish friends by our attitude toward Torah?
Simply stated, we are communicating confusion and error to the very people through whom the Word of truth originally came. As a result, on the human level (that is, apart from the elective grace of G-d) there is very little motivation within the traditional Jewish world to hear the Good News. Rabbi Benjamin Blech is a prominent teacher at New York’s prestigious Yeshiva University, a major educational institution for the Orthodox Jewish world. In his excellent textbook on basic Judaism, he makes this very poignant criticism of “Christianity”, as he understands it:
Christianity therefore rejected the law and gave a new interpretation to the covenant at Sinai. This is the crucial distinction between the Old Testament and the New. The Torah was assuredly given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, but its laws were no longer binding, according to Christianity. How could G-d have given directives that He Himself later saw fit to change? He Asks.
Blech is saying that by rejecting Torah we have, at best confused the Jewish people in regard to G-d’s revelation in the Scriptures. At worst, we have written them off as a group. Inasmuch as the Church’s anti-Torah bias led to the theological (and physical) persecution of the Jewish people, Christian rejection of the Torah has ultimately resulted in Jewish rejection of Yahshua. In short, for our people, the Good News has become nothing but the sad and bad news.
The Church’s anti-Torah theology is a tragic flaw as concerns the Jewish people. Dr. David Stern recognizes this when he says, I am certain that the lack of a correct, clear, and relatively complete Messianic Jewish or Gentile Christian theology of the Torah is not only a major impediment to Christians’ understanding their own faith, but also the greatest barrier to Jewish people’s receiving the Gospel Most Christians have an overly simplistic understanding of what the Torah is all about; and second, that Christianity has almost nothing relevant to say to Jews about one of the three most important issues of their faith.
7. Are We Listening?
Our goal in pursuit of Torah will be accomplished when each believer can sing Psalm 19:7-11 along with David. Many believers do sing this song, in reference to the whole Word of G-d. This is fine. Remember, though, that when David wrote these words, he was writing about the Torah.
“The Torah of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.”