He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.[Yeshua — John 14:21]
Whenever discussing the topic of keeping the Torah, Christians are quick to recoil at the notion that anyone could follow all those tedious, archaic rules. We have been preconditioned to believe that it is impossible to obey all of God’s commandments, so why even try? We often visualize the Torah as an endless bookshelf of bloated law manuals, full of useless ramblings of legal jargon.
As one popular meme says … “Ain’t nobody got time for that!“
Furthermore, Christians have been taught that Jesus died to abolish the law and render it obsolete, meaning that those old laws have been destroyed and done away with. We find comfort in the thought of tossing all those burdensome law books in the trash, never to worry ourselves with them again. Like William Wallace in Braveheart, we revel in the cry of “FREEDOM!”
After all, anyone foolishly trying to keep the Torah and actually obey God’s commandments is exchanging freedom for the chains of legalism, which only produces joyless, judgmental, rigid, religious hypocrites. The world doesn’t need more Pharisees. We just need more Christians who love and live like Jesus, right!?
But wait, what does it really mean to love Jesus? Did Jesus ever tell us how we are to love Him?
Yeah. Actually He did.
If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.[Jesus Christ — John 14:15]
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. 24He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me.“[Jesus Christ — John 14:23-24]
If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.[Jesus Christ — John 15:10-11]
It is usually at this point that Christians begin to get a little uncomfortable. Virtually every single verse of Scripture that defines what it means to love Jesus directly corresponds to keeping God’s commandments. So unequivocally the Biblical definition of loving Jesus is keeping His commandments.
Keeping Torah = Loving Jesus
Which then begs the question. If loving Jesus is obedience to Torah, then how on God’s green earth has the Torah been rendered obsolete and tossed in the trash? If keeping the Father’s commandments is the very expression of love for the Son, then how is it possible that Jesus has gotten rid of the law?
There truly is no adequate answer to this question. Although the antinomians will try in vain to rationalize away this reality with desperate interpretive acrobatics, the truth of the matter is that not only is keeping God’s law possible, but according to Jesus it is the very standard by which our love for God is measured.
Heaven forbid that Jesus’s disciples actually walked by faith in keeping the same commandments He kept and obeying the same Torah that He obeyed! Heaven forbid Christ followers actually followed the example of Christ!
Putting all sarcasm aside, it is Biblically indefensible to cast the Torah out and replace it with some false system of cheap grace. When the standard of righteousness is abandoned, sin abounds. We should not be surprised that the modern Christian church is rank with perversion, immorality, and licentiousness. We have forsaken God’s commandments and drifted far off the narrow path of righteousness.
Clearly the law has not been abolished. Clearly God’s commandments are applicable for the believer today. Clearly our obedience to Torah is how we express love for Jesus Christ our Lord. Anyone who teaches otherwise is sorely confused and gravely in error, according to Jesus Himself (Matthew 5:17-19).
Now that has been established, let’s take a closer look at just how uncomplicated keeping God’s law actually is.
TOO MANY LAWS?
Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. 47For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life.[Deuteronomy 32:46-47]
Many have endeavored to determine just exactly how many laws are contained in the Torah. Traditionally the Jewish rabbis reached a consensus that the Torah consisted of 613 laws. Others have proposed that number can be refined to around 200 basic commandments. Of course all the laws can be categorized somewhere within the original 10 Commandments, which ultimately are established upon the two most foundational laws.
Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38This is the great and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[Matthew 22:37-40]
Once again, we must remember that God’s Torah is a law of love. He desires right relationships both vertically (with God) and horizontally (with our neighbor). Every commandment God has given us to follow is for His glory, our good, and the good of others. God revealed His eternal value system to bless us, not burden us.
Still, it is difficult for many Christians to comprehend the practicality of incorporating over 600 laws into their lives. On the surface, such an endeavor seems overwhelming and exacerbating. Perhaps a little perspective will help alleviate any initial anxiety one may feel toward the Torah.
Take the United States for example. Between our state and federal governments, we literally have millions of laws on the books. Yet my life is overwhelmingly unaffected by 95% of them. I’m only concerned with the ones that apply directly to me. As long as I am a law-abiding citizen, then I am a free. If I break the law, then I immediately come under the law and must face the consequences.
But I certainly don’t lose any sleep over the millions of laws that do not apply to me, nor should I. I only need to obey the laws that I’m aware of. As Paul says, “where there is no law there is no transgression” [Romans 4:15].
I approach the Torah in a very similar way. Not every one of the 613 commandments applies to me. This allows me to simply focus on obeying the ones that do, which is not difficult at all (see Deuteronomy 30:11-14). Once I understood this principle, it actually was very liberating.
KEEPING THE COMMANDMENTS
What does it mean to “keep” God’s commandments? We must make a distinction between keeping God’s law and actually doing it, or practically applying it to our lives. And before you think I am playing a game of semantics, let me explain.
First, it is important to understand the definition of the Greek word “keep” — téreó: to watch over, to guard, to preserve. To keep something means that you guard it, protect it, preserve it, treasure it, or observe it. To keep a law, however, does not necessarily mean that someone is able to practically do it. To keep God’s commandments means that you love, treasure, and guard Torah in principle, while not always applying the law in practice.
What if I told you that Jesus kept all of God’s commandments in fulfilling all righteousness, but at the same time He could not possibly have done or performed all of God’s commandments?
For example, there are dozens of commandments in the Torah that only apply to the Levitical priesthood and their role in temple worship. Since Jesus was neither a Levite nor served in the temple, those laws did not apply to Him. This means that Jesus did not practically do these laws, but He kept these laws in principle, meaning that He endorsed them, treasured them, and approved of them.
There are laws in the Torah that only apply to property owners. Jesus did not own any property as far as we know, not having a place to lay His own head. There are laws that only apply to women. Obviously, Jesus was a man and could not perform these laws, but He kept them by promoting and approving them. There are laws that involve the rules of war, yet Jesus did not command an army nor go to battle, so He never practically applied such laws in His life. There are laws only pertaining to husbands and fathers, and Jesus was neither during His lifetime.
I think you get the point.
Once we understand that “keeping” the law does not necessarily translate into practically “doing” it, then we can begin to understand that many, if not most, of the 600+ commandments in the Torah do not directly apply to our lives. And just like that, keeping the Torah became really simple.
As a general rule, each individual should strive only to obey the commandments that apply to him or her, while still “keeping” the whole Torah by endorsing, affirming, and guarding all the laws that do not apply. That is what it means to keep God’s Torah. Just like Jesus could not practically perform all 600+ laws, neither can we. We only live out and walk out the commandments that directly apply to us as individuals.
Now, it goes without saying that we will never be perfect in keeping the Torah. Of course God’s understands that we will fail and stumble and miss the mark. That is precisely why Jesus came into the world. I thank God for the obedient life of Yesuha our Messiah who fulfilled God’s law in perfect righteousness! I thank God for the substitutionary death of Yeshua on the cross, bearing the punishment I deserve for breaking God’s law. I would have no hope without Christ.
But just because I am saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus does not in any way give me the license to forsake or break God’s laws. If anything it should be my motivation and joy to strive toward obedience and pursue righteousness out of my love for Him!
As I continue in this series, I will do my best to address many of the individual laws in the Torah and examine if and how they apply to our lives.
In the meantime, I recommend you begin to study Torah for yourself and rediscover the heart of God for your life. As King David says …
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,[Psalm 1:1-2]
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.