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The Pauline View of Torah Compliance

The apostle Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, perhaps more than any other man, lived and breathed Torah compliance. He was a Pharisee of the Pharisees by his own admission. So fervent was his disgust for fellow countrymen that embraced Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah that he obtained legal authority to imprison and murder them. He gave consent to a Jewish mob to stone Stephen. Saul the Pharisee got the shock of his life when, on his way to Damascus to wreak havoc on the Lord's church, Jesus stopped him in his tracks with a blinding light. When he inquired as to who it was that had engaged him, he heard these words: “I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest!” 

The confrontation of Saul by Jesus took place circa 35 A.D. Saul afterwards changed his name to Paul, became apostle to the Gentiles and inspired author of gospel and church truth. His thirteen epistles set forth by revelation the unique relationship between Law and Grace. In 64 A.D., thirty years later, Paul wrote his epistle to the church at Philippi, which was established circa 53 A.D. with the salvation of a jailor and his family. In that epistle, Paul disclosed his perspective on his former life as a Pharisee and how his faith in Jesus Christ had transformed his life (Philippians 3:2-14). 

What exactly is meant by 'Torah Compliance'? The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, or Pentateuch--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Two of these, Genesis and Numbers, are primarily historical in nature. The other three--Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy--consist of the Mosaic Law handed down to Israel by Moses. By 'Torah Compliance' we are referring to the Mosaic Covenant. The Torah itself contains four covenants--Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic (revealed in Genesis) and Mosaic. We use the more general phrase 'Torah Compliance' as a specific reference to the Law of Moses even though the Torah itself includes multiple covenants. 

One reason Paul shared his former thinking with Philippian believers was the constant opposition he and his converts endured from disciples of Moses, who felt that faith in Jesus neither precluded nor nullified the need for Torah observance. These 'Judaizers' were a problem for the church in Paul's day as they remain today. The mantra of 'Torah compliance' is not new. There are a number of publications and other media that advocate Torah compliance and the 'restoration' thereof as integral to a life that pleases God. The text of Philippians 3:2-14 is the death knell of the Torah compliance mentality. 

Paul begins by juxtaposing the words “concision” (3:2) and “circumcision” (3:3). The word 'concision' means “to cut up, mutilate.” It's a reference to physical circumcision, which disciples of Moses deemed a necessity for salvation. Paul clearly uses it here as a code word for those who embrace Mosaic Law. The word 'circumcision' is a reference to spiritual circumcision of the heart, a spiritual reality for the believer in Jesus without regard for physical circumcision or the lack thereof. In the church at Philippi, there were no doubt many uncircumcised Gentiles. But they were circumcised in heart. Paul identifies three characteristics of this group: they (1) worship God in the spirit as opposed to carnal ordinances, (2) rejoice in Christ Jesus as their total sufficiency, and (3) have no confidence in the flesh in terms of Torah compliance. 

Paul continues with a list of 'in-the-flesh' credentials from his Saul of Tarsus days. He endured physical circumcision on the eighth day of his life. His parents saw to it he was Torah compliant before he even had a chance to consider it for himself. He was a Hebrew of the Hebrews, a Pharisee as touching the Law. In other words, he was a zealot for Torah compliance, who had few if any peers. As touching the righteousness which is in the law, he was blameless (fully compliant). As a Pharisee, Paul considered these credentials as “gain” (3:7). The word 'gain' is kerdos, signifying “lucre, advantage.” Paul felt his religious credentials as a Torah-compliant Hebrew would produce an advantage Godward. But after he met Christ Jesus face-to-face, all of these gains turned into losses. The word 'loss' is zemia, signifying “damage” (as the result of violence). All of Paul's Torah-compliant credentials, in his thinking, became damaged goods. This is what the cross of Christ does to the works of the Law and human pride. 

Paul uses the word “count” three times in 3:7-8. It's the Greek hegeomai. Its root means “to lead.” But it can have a variety of meanings depending on contextual usage. In this context, it means “to account, deem or consider.” In 3:7, Paul employs the perfect tense (completed action, abiding result). In 3:8, he uses the present tense twice (ongoing action). Paul had come to the settled conclusion that all his pre-conversion efforts at Torah compliance were damaged goods, and kept on considering that to be true.

What was it that replaced these damaged religious goods? It was “the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). The word 'excellency' is huperecho (huper=”above”, echo=”to have”). It means “to have above, to be superior in rank, to excel." Paul deemed the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord superior to his efforts at Torah compliance. Paul is referring to a personal, intimate knowledge of Jesus; heart knowledge as opposed to mere head knowledge. In comparison to his knowledge of the Lord Jesus, Paul considered his former efforts at Torah compliance no better than “dung” (refuse) that he might win Christ (i.e., a deeper knowledge of and conformity to the image of Christ). He continues: And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (3:9). Torah observance, at its very best, is self-righteousness—nothing more, nothing less—born of the Mosaic Law. And as such, it CANNOT please the God for whom it's allegedly rendered. 

The righteousness with which God IS pleased is that which is produced in a believer's life by the Spirit of God as they walk in dependence upon Christ. When a man believes on Jesus, the Lord justifies him (makes, declares him righteous). This imputed righteousness becomes his permanent standing in Christ, never to be lost. When the believer walks in daily dependence on Jesus, God sanctifies him (builds IN him Christ's righteous character). This imparted righteousness (the fruit of discipleship) can vary according to one's steadfastness in faith or lapses thereof. Spiritual awakening, or revival, is the move of God's Spirit among his people to cleanse from sin, reignite faith and reinvigorate the sanctification process. Torah compliance has no power whatsoever to impart righteousness or build Christian character. That's the purview of the Spirit of Christ as the believer walks in humble dependence upon his Lord. 

Paul reiterates his desire “to know him, and the power of his resurrection” (3:10). It is the power of the resurrection that produces the new birth. That same resurrection power, now WITHIN the believer and unleashed by faith, is what Paul and every other true disciple desires. Again, there is NO resurrection power available in Torah compliance. The schoolmaster is able to BRING a man to Christ, but is NOT able to SAVE the man or FORM Christ in the man (Galatians 3:24-25; 4:19). At the “resurrection of the dead” (3:11), God will transform believers in the twinkling of an eye to a state of perfect righteousness in a glorified body like unto Christ's. Paul desired to “attain” this state before the resurrection and thus  “apprehend” that for which Christ had “apprehended” him (3:12). Perfection in righteousness was NOT something Paul had attained to or apprehended. But the ”one thing” (3:13) that had become the focus of his life was to “press [chase, pursue] toward the mark [goal] for the prize [reward] of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:14).  The high calling of God is holiness, as in Christ-likeness, not something as rudimentary, weak and beggarly as Torah compliance! The verb 'press' is present tense, signifying an ongoing effort. The goal is Christ-like righteousness, which itself becomes the reward for a life of humble dependence upon Jesus. 

The predicate 'I press' has two present participles in nominative case as modifiers. Paul lived his life both “forgetting” those things which were BEHIND (his past) and “reaching forth” to things that were BEFORE (his future). Paul was literally “one who kept on putting out of mind” the past and “one who kept on stretching himself out” toward the future. If there is a formula for success in pursuing Christ-likeness in this life, one would be hard pressed to improve upon these two activities. In forgetting the  things of his past, Paul likely had in mind both his successes and failures. The context demands that we include in that past ALL his efforts as a Pharisee to be Torah compliant, which he later understood to be a futile exercise in self-righteousness. 

The gospel of grace in Christ Jesus is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes it. The gospel believed puts the believer IN Christ and Christ IN the believer by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the enabling power of the Spirit—resurrection power—that makes for the formation of righteousness in the believer's life. It is God working IN a believer to will and to do of HIS good pleasure that allows that believer to work OUT his own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12-13). The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made him free from the law of sin and death so the righteousness of the law can be fulfilled IN him (Romans 8:2, 4). Torah compliance is external and can do NOTHING to improve the inner man. But faith in Christ Jesus causes the indwelling Spirit to write the Law of God in fleshy tables of the heart, resulting in righteous character-conduct from the INSIDE to the OUTSIDE of the believer's life (2 Corinthians 3:3). 

The Christian is NOT lawless or without Law. He is "under the Law to Christ" (1 Corinthians 9:21). He is DEAD to the Mosaic Law, having died with Christ, so he can live by a superior, more excellent Law—the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Christ is resurrection power. Christ is our righteousness. Christ transforms the believer. It is Christ who apprehends the believer to attain to HIS righteousness. This living dynamic of grace is IMPOSSIBLE through Torah compliance. Paul discovered this truth after his encounter with Jesus Christ. It was transformative. All  his achievements as a Torah-compliant Jew he counted as DUNG, that he might win Christ!

Let's step back for a moment. For those who insist upon Torah compliance, what is the goal? It cannot be for the purpose of eternal life, for “Christ is our life” (Colossians 3:4). It cannot be in the hope of future glory, for it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 127). It cannot be for the purpose of being part of Christ's bride, for the believer is already married to Christ (Romans 7:1-4). It cannot be for the purpose of finding acceptance, for the believer is “accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). It cannot be for redemption, for “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:9). It cannot be for the purpose of achieving righteousness, because the Law can bring neither righteousness nor spiritual life to those who seek to be compliant (Galatians 3:21). It cannot be for the purpose of finding peace with God, for the believer, having been justified by faith, has “peace with God” through the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). Christ is made unto us who believe “righteousness” (1 Corinthians 1:30). He is the “end of the law for righteousness” to all who believe (Romans 1:4). The believer is “complete in him,” which means Torah compliance can add NOTHING to a believer's standing before God (Colossians 2:10). 

If one studies the NT phrase “in Christ,” he will discover that the believer, by virtue of his position “in Christ” and “Christ in him”, enjoys a wealth of benefits—redemption, no condemnation, freedom from the law of sin and death, no separation from God's love, membership in Christ's body, sanctification, wisdom, hope, created unto good works, reconciliation, redemption, liberty, election, acceptance, predestination, a seat with the risen Christ in heavenly places, consolation, eternal security, fellowship, and many more. They are ALL part of ONE salvation package. NONE of them can be obtained through Torah compliance. God bestows them simultaneously upon a believer of the gospel, one who has been crucified and resurrected with Christ as well as passed from death unto life (John 5:24). So again we must ask: Why Torah compliance? 

It's evident at this point that the huge problem with the Torah-compliance doctrine is its attack on Christ himself and the gospel. The NT teaches us that Christ is all-sufficient, that his death on the cross was a complete propitiation (satisfaction) for transgressions of the Law, that his death and resurrection provide a clear line of demarcation between Law and Grace. Those who embrace the doctrine of Torah compliance make themselves “enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). The doctrine implies that (1) Christ's death on the cross was insufficient to atone for all of our transgressions, and (2) Christ's righteousness, which God the Father imputes to those who believe on his Son, is insufficient to give a sinner a righteous standing before God. It is the height of spiritual folly to believe that adding the filthy rags of “MINE OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS” (3:9) to Christ's righteousness can in any way improve my standing with the Father. But such is the spiritual folly of Torah compliance! 

In fairness to some that may have drifted into a Torah observance mentality as the result of listening to silver-tongued false teachers with clever-sounding biblical arguments, they clearly don't understand what they've done. They may be well intentioned. But good intentions are no excuse for bad doctrine. One purpose of this article is to help them unentangle themselves from the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1).

Men pursue Torah compliance for one of two reasons. The first is due to a BLINDED mind, which Paul described in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” God created the FIRST Adam in his own image and likeness. Sin marred that image. Christ, the LAST Adam, is the image of God as well. The big difference is the LAST Adam was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection. Whereas the FIRST Adam was created in innocence, the LAST Adam was raised in perfect righteousness. The “glorious gospel of Christ” is the good news that the risen Christ, in response to child-like faith, takes up permanent residence in the heart of a believer and becomes his Righteousness. Satan blinds the minds of unbelievers to this simple truth. That's why Torah compliance is so alluring to a carnal, unregenerate man. It allows self to think he is a contributor to his salvation rather than a humble recipient of God's saving grace. 

The second is a CORRUPTED mind, as Paul warned believers at Corinth: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (2 Corinthians 11:2-4). The gospel is a straightforward proposition. It's the good news that (1) Jesus died (atoned) for our sins and rose again, and (2) faith in an all-sufficient Christ puts the believer IN Christ and Christ IN the believer. 

The entire NT message can be summed up in three words: CHRIST IS ENOUGH! Torah compliance is just one satanic device among many to corrupt the believer's mind into behaving like Christ is NOT enough. Torah compliance is ANOTHER gospel promoted by ANOTHER spirit that presents ANOTHER Jesus other than the One who saved him in the first place. For the lost man with a blinded mind, the doctrine of Torah compliance will lead to the Lake of Fire. For a saved man, whose mind Satan has corrupted, Torah compliance leads to the frustration of God's grace and spiritual adultery. To use Paul's words, the person Satan deceives into Torah compliance, whether lost or saved, will live in a spiritual DUNG heap until they discover (or rediscover) grace and the all-sufficiency of Christ.  

It's worth noting that Paul listed “zeal” in "persecuting the church" as one of his religious credentials. It is no surprise that those who have confidence in the flesh (Torah observers) persecute those who have no confidence in the flesh (Christ's disciples). It's the difference between those who mind “earthly things”  and those whose “conversation is in heaven” (3:19-20). Those who have confidence in the flesh are the “enemies of the cross of Christ” (3:18). In my youth, Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong were the most popular proponents of Torah compliance. In the current day, Torah Restoration Ministries led by Evangelist Daniel John Lee is a classic example. According his teachings, the apostle Paul will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire for disavowing Torah compliance as essential to salvation.  

Salvation is in Christ and in Christ alone. Anything that seeks to replace or augment Christ, including Torah compliance, is pure DUNG! Early on in scripture we learn that there are only two basic types of religion: the way of Cain (works) and the way of Abel (faith). Torah compliance represents the way of Cain. Faith in Christ represents the way of Abel. God rejected the former and accepted the latter. Daniel John Lee is nothing more than a Dungmaster. One who visits his website will find all manner of high-sounding Hebrew lingo. But to those versed in the gospel of grace, they'll recognize Torah Restoration Ministries as a Dungheap, the religion of Cain on display. One wonders why he calls himself an evangelist since there is no gospel to be found on his website. Paul warned Timothy: “From which some having swerved have turned aside unto vain jangling; Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:6-7). This is a perfect description of Daniel John Lee and every other advocate for Torah compliance, who have turned aside from the gospel of Christ to vain jangling. They are self-proclaimed teachers of the Law who have bastardized the gospel! 

Let's review what the circumcised in heart, including Paul, have in common. They worship God in the spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. This is the heart and soul of the local NT church—one that truly represents Christ. At the risk of oversimplification, a genuine church can be found WORSHIPING God the Father and REJOICING in and WINNING Christ the Son. In that blessed mix, there is absolutely NO room whatsoever for confidence in the flesh. That's why you'll NEVER find a genuine NT church, one that pleases the Father and honors the Son, teaching Torah compliance as an essential to salvation. These kinds of God-honoring, Bible-based churches have been in existence since the days of the apostles even though they might not have been mainstream.  

True Christianity is Christ living in his people through the power of the indwelling Spirit, who alone is the power behind true righteousness, holiness and godliness. Men can NEVER please the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ by their attempts to comply with the Torah. True Christianity operates by a higher Law, the Law of the Spirit of life. This is the Pauline view of Torah compliance. 


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