“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Heb.10:38, KJV)
The writer of Hebrews states this as part of his argument for standing strong in faith in the face of growing persecution and uncertainty. He is quoting Habakkuk, and this is a rabbinic use of the verse. The passage in Habakkuk reads like this:
“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith…”(Hab.2:4, Koren Jerusalem Bible)
The common perception in Christian theology is that “faith” is the opposite of “works”. By extent, then, “grace” becomes the antithesis of “Law”. This false dichotomy is the unfortunate result of the reductionist manner in which the gospel has been been proclaimed since the days of the Reformation generally, and the Great Awakening more particularly. (Of course, all of this has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church’s theological beat-down of Jewish practice in its developing doctrines of the early centuries, but that is the topic of a different conversation to be had at another time).
It is a firing-line style of preaching the message of salvation which places people upon an imaginary precipice, forcing the trembling sinner to choose between the engulfing flames of God’s wrath or the waiting, gentle arms of Jesus. A romantic notion, no doubt, but nowhere near the actual gospel of Jesus and the apostles.
One of the results of this approach to the gospel message has been its increasing anti-semitic tone. You see, the Law was given to the Jews, but most Christians think that through his death and resurrection that Jesus has “fulfilled” the Law, thereby “cancelling” it. Many Christians are sophisticated enough in the scriptures to at least recognize that the Law has not been cancelled, but nonetheless persist in believing that since Jesus “fulfilled” it, that it in effect has no power over the believer. Subsequently, the Christian, in most Christian expressions, is taught to walk in the “spirit” of the Law, by obeying the Law of Love, taking Jesus’ exhortation to “love your neighbor” as the replacement commandment for all the minutia of Old Testament Law. Continue reading