Grace isn’t Forgiveness

Too often I hear people talking about grace as if it is synonymous with forgiveness, and forgiveness as if it is synonymous with mercy.  It isn’t, and they aren’t.

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Grace is the way God shows his love for us. The best form of grace we have is that God sent Yeshua the Messiah to make a way for us to be able to avoid the punishment we all deserve.

Grace isn’t mercy, either. Mercy is nothing more than a reduction in the severity of some action, such as being punished. For example, we may be eligible for 10 years of hard labor, but a merciful punishment will take into account extenuating circumstances and maybe reduce the time to 5 years. Mercy doesn’t absolve us from punishment, it simply makes the punishment less severe.

Forgiveness is not grace or mercy- it is the removal of guilt. When we do something wrong, we are guilty and forgiveness removes that guilt. On a spiritual level, it allows us to come back into communion with God. On a physical level, it can allow a relationship to be restored, either fully or partially.

Forgiveness does not automatically absolve us from the consequences of what we did wrong. In the physical world, we almost always will have to face the consequence of our sin, whether forgiven or not; however, in the spiritual realm, when God forgives our sin it means our guilt against God is removed, meaning there will be no eternal consequences.

Grace is what God feels because he loves us so much, and because of his grace he will have mercy on us when we do wrong, and when we accept Yeshua as our Messiah, through him God will forgive our sins and remove our guilt.

So, in a nutshell, here is how it works: God’s mercy results in people being punished less than they deserve for their sins, and his forgiveness is available to remove our guilt when we accept the ultimate form of his grace, which is Yeshua the Messiah.

Any questions?

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Until then, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!



And Now for the Rest of the Story….

I’m thinking I should make this title a separate category, and include in it all the other parts of Bible passages that are ignored. Such as the one where Yacov (James) says that the new Believers will learn the rest of the Mosaic laws they should follow because they will be attending the Shabbat services at their local synagogue (Acts 15:21.)

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Today I want to talk about Matthew 23:23, where Yeshua said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

The traditional Christian teaching stops at “…justice, mercy, and faithfulness.” They talk about the love of the Messiah and how we are to love each other, that love is all we need for salvation because the law was nailed to the cross with Jesus.

But how does that work with the rest of Yeshua’s statement, i.e. that they should have considered those things WITHOUT neglecting the tithes?

Yeshua is clear that the law regarding tithing (which implicitly means all of the instructions God gave in the Torah) is not replaced by love, justice mercy, and faithfulness. These things are weightier matters, but not exclusive or secondary.

The truth is that to love justice, be merciful and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8) one would, by necessity, observe and follow the instructions God gave us in the Torah because they tell us how to be just, how to be merciful, and what faithfulness entails.

This is where Christianity has misled those who want to trust in God and Yeshua as their savior: by teaching that the “law” was done away with, or that love and Grace replace obedience, the Christian “church” has led its adherents away from God and into lawlessness.

Look- not eating ham will not get you into heaven, and eating ham will not send you to hell. The actions we perform are representative of the way we believe. It’s like I always say: people don’t mean what they say, they mean what they do.

Just as Yeshua said in the Gospels, what goes into us doesn’t make us unclean, but what is in our hearts does. My heart desires to please God, but whereas my spirit is willing, my flesh is weak. Because my flesh is weak, I sin. I don’t do what I want to do and do what I don’t want to do (sound familiar? Check out Romans 7:15-20.)

Eating ham, technically, is a sin and deserves punishment, but because my heart wants to please God, when I do wrong I repent of my sin. That repentance causes me to ask forgiveness, and through Yeshua’s sacrificial death I can receive that forgiveness, preventing me from going to hell. So it isn’t so much the sin I commit that is the problem, it is the reason I do it and the level of repentance I feel after I do it.

This is what Yeshua meant when he said to deal with the weightier matters of the law without neglecting the rest. Justice, mercy, faithfulness- can you see how these are things that come from the heart? Someone who cares nothing for people will not be just, they will be self-centered and selfish. People who are not repentant will not be merciful or concerned with other’s feelings, and will not have faith in anyone but themselves.

Only those who care about God and about people and have faith in God and others will be merciful and act justly. They will repent of their wrongdoing and try to improve. They will also feel the desire to please God, which he tells us we can do by being obedient, by following the instructions he gave us which tell us how to be faithful (i.e., how to worship him) and how to treat each other.

Those are found in the Torah.

It is up to you to choose what kind of a heart you will have: it will either be open to God or closed to salvation. No one can have two masters.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Mercy Isn’t Amnesty

The Bible is rife with passages that talk about the forgiveness, compassion, and mercy that we can expect from God. He (usually) waits a long time before issuing his punishment only because he is giving us that amount of time to repent, and even when he does punish (which is often terrible to endure), he does so with mercy.

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There are too many houses of worship (meaning all religions) that teach only about the love and mercy of God, up to the point where people begin to believe that because God is merciful they will not have to suffer for their sins once they repent and ask for forgiveness.

Let’s get real people- that ain’t how it works.

God does not desire that anyone, at any time, should ever die in their sin. He says so, twice, in the Book of Ezekiel alone; the first time in Ezekiel 18:23 and then again in Ezekiel 33:11. He tells us he gets no pleasure at all from someone who dies in their sin, and that he would rather they turn from that sin, and live.

He also tells us that a righteous person who begins to sin will be guilty and die in their sin, yet a guilty (sinful) person who repents and does what is right will be forgiven and live (eternally.)

There are always consequences to sin, and more often than not, the innocent are the ones that suffer as a result of these sins. I am sure we all have seen people who are sinful and evil, yet it appears they go free, untouched by the legal authorities and blessed with wealth, success and what the world sees as rewards. That may be, but in the end, they will come before the Judge of the World and there won’t be any high-priced shyster to defend them.

For the purposes of this discussion, I would like to define “sin” as mindfully rejecting God’s  instructions and being unrepentant about it, whether that unrepentance is because you choose to not care, or because you have been taught it is acceptable (i.e., the Once-Saved; Always-Saved teaching of many Christian religions.)

Too many religions teach that because God is merciful we can be forgiven of our sins, which is accomplished through faith in Yeshua Ha Mashiach (most know him as Jesus Christ); although this is correct, the implied lesson is that once forgiven, we are “off the hook.” Well, the Bible shows us this is not the case.

David was a person after God’s own heart, yet when he sinned with Bathsheba the child born of that sin was taken by God as punishment; Aaron’s sons were not unrighteous, but when they sinned by offering unknown fire they were killed immediately; Dathan and Abiram were leaders and important men within the community, yet when they were unrepentant of their rebellion against Moses (who was doing God’s will) they were swallowed up by the earth; and we can even include the fig tree Yeshua cursed (Matthew 21:18)  in this list.

In case you are wondering how a tree can sin, the cursing of the fig tree was to demonstrate that someone who pretends to be righteous but is faking it will be judged correctly and suffer for their deception.

Sin always comes at a price that the sinner must pay in this world. The forgiveness we receive from God through Yeshua is only found in the spiritual realm, reserved for the Acharit HaYamim (End Days) where we spend eternity in God’s presence. The horrible truth of the matter is that the forgiveness we receive through Yeshua is not going to grant us amnesty from the consequence of that sin while still living on the earth. This is a hard word to hear, but it is one that we must accept because when we do, we will be less likely to sin again.

The idea that forgiveness through Yeshua means amnesty from the consequence of sin is traditional Christian teaching; I say this because I have never heard this teaching in any synagogue or read it in any Jewish theology book, but I see it all over the Internet and from many Gentiles (Believing Gentiles, too) whom I have met.  This teaching is nothing more than a lie from the pit of Sheol and is setting us up for death. We must always remember that sin is hurtful to us and to others, usually the ones we love.

Don’t be fooled by those who seem to escape the consequence of their sins in this world- you can be sure they will suffer in the next. As for me, I would rather take my medicine now and get it over with, and know that when I repent of my sin and ask forgiveness through Yeshua I will have eternal peace and joy.

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Until next time, L’hitraot and Baruch HaShem!

Special Reading for Sukkot- Chol Hamoed (Weekday of the Festival) Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

This reading is from the parashah Ki Thissa, and recounts Moses asking God to stay with the Israelites as they travel through the desert. Moses also asks God to show His Glory, which God agrees to do but Moses can only see His back as He passes by. God tells him He will put him in a cleft of a rock and cover Moses’ face as He passes because no one can see God’s face. As God passes He declares (what in Judaism is called) the “13 Attributes of God’s Nature” to Moses, and (consequently) to us. The reading ends with God reiterating commandments regarding idolatry, ransom of the first-born, not allowing intermixing with other cultures, the Shabbat, the festivals of Shavuot, Bikkurim (First Fruits) and Sukkot and certain Kashrut (Kosher) laws.

The way Moses prayed when he asked God to forgive the sins of the people is one of the most identifying aspects of Jewish prayer: we pray communally, not individually. Moses certainly was not one of the sinful, rebellious types that were rampant within the million or so Israelites he was leading, but yet when he asked God to forgive the sins that they (not him, but they) committed, he included himself with them. Jewish prayer is communal, we know that in God’s eyes we are one entity, one nation, one people, and when one of us sins we are all covered with that sin. It is one of the things that is really unique about the Jewish relationship with God. This is not meant as an attack or accusation, but most every Christian prayer I have ever heard is on an individual relationship with God; it is a one-to-one, personal relationship that doesn’t include anyone else, take responsibility for anyone else, or even acknowledge anyone else as part of that relationship. When a Christian prays for forgiveness it is only for themself.

In Judaism we pray differently. Yes, we ask God for forgiveness of our own sins, but we also always take responsibility for the sins of the nation. On Yom Kippur we recite the Ashamnu prayer which translates as “We are guilty”; the prayer “Act for the Sake of” ends with asking God to act for His sake if not “our” sake; the Al Het (All Sins) prayer is a recitation of every sin you could ever think of, and we ask for forgiveness of each one, but (as I said) it is not “For the sin I committed in Your sight”, but it is “For the sin WE committed in Your sight”, and what is repeated throughout this prayer is:

ועל כלמ, אלוה סליחות, סלח לנו, מחל לנו, כפר-לנן  (Forgive us all sins, O God of forgiveness, and cleanse us.)

Jewish prayer and relationship with God goes way beyond just “You-and-me.” And even though we pray as a nation, we still have a personal relationship with God: being one people doesn’t mean we aren’t each uniquely loved and known by God.

After Moses has interceded for the people and gained God’s forgiveness, God hides Moses in the rock cleft and passes by announcing His 13 attributes (these definitions are from my Chumash):

1. and 2.- The Lord, the Lord. The Rabbis interpret this as meaning God is the same before we sin, and the same after we sin, indicating that change must be from the sinner’s heart because God is the same all the time;

3. God– the allmighty Lord of the Universe;

4. Merciful– full of affectionate sympathy for the sufferings and miseries of human frailty;

5. Gracious– assisting, helping, consoling the afflicted and raising up the oppressed. In Man these attributes are temporary but with God they are inherently eternal.

6. Long-suffering– slow to anger and not rushing to punish the sinner but affording opportunities for the sinner to retrace his evil courses;

7. Abundant in goodness– plentiful in mercy and blessing beyond what Man deserves;

8. Truth– eternally true to himself pursuing His plans for the salvation of mankind and rewarding those who are obedient to His will;

We need to take note that the Hebrew used here is “v’rav chesed v’emet“: loving-kindness (rav chesed) comes before truth (emet), indicating that we are always to tell the truth, but to tell it in love.  We see this message often in Yeshua’s teachings and the Epistles of the New Covenant…Gee, I wonder where they got it from?

9. Keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation– remembering the good deeds of our ancestors and reserving reward to their descendants;

10. Forgiving iniquity– bearing with indulgence the failings of Man;

11. (forgiving) Transgression– deeds that spring from malice and rebellion against God;

12. (forgiving) Sin– the shortcomings of Man due to heedlessness and error; and

13. Will by no means clear the guilty– no matter how willing or how strongly God desires to forgive us our sins, He is also holy and will not allow the impenitent to go unpunished.


So nu…  there you have it! You want to know God? Here He is. This is what God wants us to know about Him, and for me that is all I need to know about Him. I think the most important attributes we human beings (and especially worshipers of God) need to remember above all are long suffering and willingness to forgive. The old saying, “To err is human; to forgive, Divine.” is absolutely in line with Torah.

We are to imitate God, but (of course) we can’t imitate God- He is eternal, spirit, holy and ineffable. But we can imitate some of His attributes, such as His forgiveness, His charity, His love for others, His desire to help the needy and to prosecute the guilty. Love of righteousness and hatred of evil: these things we can imitate, and I believe God wants us to do exactly that- imitate those of His attributes which we can imitate!

God gave us this “To Do” list, so let’s get to work on it.


God’s Mercy in Action

Do you recall what happened when Joshua first attacked Ai?

They had just come from a great triumph at Jericho, defeating the fortified town and destroying all the people and all the booty, just as God commanded.

Oh, but wait! Someone didn’t destroy all the booty, did he? Achan kept some of the spoils, against the commandment of God, and because of that the entire community (God sees the Children of Israel as a single entity) suffered defeat when they attacked Ai. Only a handful of the inhabitants routed the army of 3,000 Israelites, and could have damaged, if not destroyed, the fierce reputation that Israel was beginning to generate.

After the sin was atoned for (at the cost of the life of Achan, his entire family and all their possessions), the next attack at Ai was totally successful.

Here’s the part where, after such a harsh punishment, we see God’s mercy: God told Joshua that after destroying the town and people of Ai, the Israelites could keep the spoils. Achan paid the price for his disobedience, but God saw the weakness of the people, and instead of testing them further He mercifully relented and allowed them to keep the spoils, knowing that they were unable to control themselves.

Often I heard it said that God will never test us beyond our measure, and I believe that. However, I also see in the Bible that God will, initially at least, test us to the full extent of our self-control and obedience.  The man who collected sticks on the Sabbath (in B’midbar/Numbers) was killed for his sin, yet those that collected extra manna were not killed for their sin (to God, sin is sin- there is no little sin or partial sin, so collecting extra manna when told not to is no different than collecting sticks on the Sabbath.) All that happened to them was that the manna did not survive longer than the regular manna.

God showed His mercy to the children of Israel in the desert. How many times did He want to destroy them for their sins? He sent birds to give them meat, but they suffered a plague from it which Aaron stopped. He sent poisonous snakes to kill them, but then he mercifully allowed those bitten to live; I am sure that many died before Moses made the brass snake that kept people alive. He sent a plague against them that Pinchus stopped, He sent a plague against them when David sinned with the census, but then withheld His hand. He was even merciful to Ba’alam by not killing him on the road to curse the Jewish people (Ba’alam got his later, though, for the sin of telling Bilam how to entice the Jewish men into sin.)

God starts out with His laws and commandments, and the first ones to disobey usually are the ones who end up showing that God is serious. The first to disobey get the worst of it, but it seems, as I read the Manual, that God’s mercy will intervene after that and even though others may sin, their punishment is less severe.  God is our King, but His mercy allows us to survive our own disobedience, as a people. Individuals will suffer, but the people will go on. God told Moshe (Exodus 33) that He will show mercy to those whom He will show mercy, and have compassion for those whom He will have compassion for.

Basically, God says that He will choose who gets the full monty and who doesn’t. It’s not our choice, so, in essence, you pays your money and you takes your chances. If we choose to sin, we may get away with our lives, we can be forgiven, but we may end up destroyed in a heartbeat, too.

Do you really want to take that chance? Is the reward we get from any sin worth our life? Our eternal soul? Achan, Saphira, Ananias, the guy who collected sticks- they all died in their sin.

God is King, Judge, and merciful Father. All in one. He will decide what the outcome of a sin is, and we have to decide to try to keep from sinning. He will forgive those who seek forgiveness, over and over. We see that throughout the Tanakh- no matter how often Israel sinned against the Lord, when they did T’Shuvah and cried out to Him, even though they fully deserved their punishment and the suffering they were undergoing, His mercy came forth upon them and He sent them a saviour. The Book of Judges shows this happening, over and over.

Trust God to be merciful, but never, never, NEVER expect Him to be merciful when you want Him to be. It’s His choice, not yours. The best thing to do is be as obedient as you can. God has set the rules and it is up to us to follow them. If  we fail to obey by accident He has shown He is willing , even desiring, to forgive when we come before Him asking forgiveness. However, if we disobey purposefully, well…you are taking your chances with His mercy. Personally, I don’t think there is anything on Earth that is worth having if it means taking a chance on God’s mercy. Therefore, as for me and my family, we choose the Lord and His ways.

I know, because of my sinful nature, I will fail to obey at some point in my life. Probably more than just once, too. Because my heart wishes to obey, I have hope from knowing how God has been merciful, and I pray that God will be merciful in His judgement of my actions. I pray that I will be one of those sinners He chooses to have mercy on and compassion for.

Some of you may be feeling uncomfortable with the idea that God may not be merciful, because the usual teaching is all about God’s mercy and compassion, His love, His son’s love, forgiveness of sins, take you as you are, unconditional salvation, happy-happy-happy, yadda-yadda-yadda. All that is true, but we have to also remember that He is holy, the Holy of Holies, and sin is an anathema to Him. It is a stench in His nostrils and He has no desire to be anywhere near sin. We are told that we should not test the Lord, our God, but if we sin and expect Him to be merciful every single time we sin, we are really telling God what to do, aren’t we? He says it is His choice, and He is, after all, the one who makes the rules. He invented this game called life; He made the rules, He set the board, He determines what is a good roll and what is a bad roll, and He has the final say and judgment on everything that happens while you are playing. Don’t even think of expecting His mercy when you intend to sin; if you sin by accident, if you sin before you realize what you are doing, be penitent, ask forgiveness and pray for His mercy. Don’t expect it, don’t demand it, but plead for it in earnest and heartfelt prayer, with a broken spirit and a contrite heart. David knew how to ask for forgiveness, and he was a man after God’s own heart, so do as David did.

God is merciful, He loves every single one of us, and He wants us to have eternal life. He isn’t just willing to forgive- He wants to forgive. BUT…He is God, He is holy, and He will judge. He didn’t make the rules just so we could break them, and He made the rules for everyone. It’s not what we want the rules to mean, it’s what He says the rules mean, and that will count for us or against us. That’s why you need to read the Bible and see what God says, then measure it against what your ‘religion’ tells you, because ultimately you will stand before Him and you will have no one to blame but yourself.

Yes, we are saved by the sacrificial death of Yeshua, and His life, His death and His resurrection is proof that He is Messiah. And yes, He will stand at our side when we are before the Lord on Judgement Day and speak for us. It is His righteousness that saves us, not our own. Yet we still want to be honored, don’t we? Dont’ you want God to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when you are before Him?  I certainly wouldn’t want to hear God say, “Okay, you’re in, but you barely made it; you did a lousy job when you were alive, so you can clean the toilets and dust the stars. And don’t think even think of eating at the adult’s table!”

God is good, all the time. God is righteous and holy, all the time. God is merciful, NOT all the time. God told us this about Himself, so remember that the next time the little red guy with the horns on your shoulder tells you it’s okay to do something because God is merciful. Don’t test God and don’t take His mercy for granted. Do what is right and let righteousness guide your way.