Hebrew Roots Movement – Choosing Style Over Substance
One of the attractions of the Hebrew Roots movement is that it provides Christians with a means to outwardly demonstrate their devotion to Yahshua while avoiding the far more costly price of true discipleship. It is my belief that many make this trade-off unconsciously. They do not sit down and reason that they will embrace the forms and rites of the Hebrew Roots movement as a substitute for taking up their cross and following Yahshua. The decision is more subtle. Most Christians recoil at the idea of suffering for their faith in Christ. Dying to self and facing persecution in this world are both ideas which cause the flesh of man to recoil in distaste and horror. This innate aversion to suffering causes many Christians to avoid giving serious thought to the idea that the sufferings of Yahshua are appointed to them as well.
The subject of the cost of Christian discipleship is avoided in the churches today. On those rare occasions when some teaching on this subject is offered, what is taught often obscures the truth, rather than clarifying it. Most believers have been introduced to Christianity in apostate denominations and man-centric congregations which proclaim the benefits of faith in Christ while neglecting to reference the cost of being a disciple. Yahshua only ever gave one form of invitation. He invited men and women to “Come, take up YOUR CROSS and FOLLOW ME.” He informed those who aspired to become His disciples that doing so would cost them EVERYTHING.
Now great multitudes were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace. So therefore, no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
In these words, Yahshua proclaimed the costliness of being His disciple. To be a disciple a man or woman must forsake every relationship. No familial love can hold a higher place in the disciple’s heart than their love and devotion to Christ. When Christ calls a man or woman to follow Him, they must do so irregardless of the protestations of parents, wife, children, brothers, or sisters. They must follow Christ to places their own soul despises. They must accept whatever life and experiences Yahshua chooses for them. It is a requisite of discipleship that a man or woman die to their own dreams, desires, and goals for life. Their sole aim must be to follow Christ wherever He leads them and to live for His satisfaction and glory. Yahshua stated in this passage that the cost of following Him includes yielding everything the individual possesses to be disposed of as He commands. If Christ speaks to a person, as He did to the rich young ruler, telling them to sell everything and give the money to the poor and then come take up the cross and follow where He leads, then this is what the disciple must do.
It is at this point that a great many men and women balk. Like the young ruler, they walk away grieved, for they are attached to their many possessions, to their comfortable life, to the acceptance they have among family and the members of society. To embrace a life that will result in reproach, in suffering, in separation from the embrace of loved ones, is too high a cost for many to pay.
It did not take long for the church to begin omitting the preaching of the costliness of Christian discipleship. To become a Christian was redefined as an act of belief. A person had to confess their belief in certain things relating to the Son of God. If they did so, the clergy members assured them they were “saved.” Walk the aisle, say the sinner’s prayer, get dunked in the church’s baptismal pool, and a person will have their name added to the church rolls while receiving assurances that their name is also recorded in heaven’s rolls.
Such an experience is very common in the churches today. What is presented is an aberration of the truth. Significant and vital portions of the gospel message are left out. Yahshua said there is a GATE that all men must enter, and there is also a WAY that all must walk. The churches are in varying degrees proclaiming the GATE, but they are omitting the WAY. This exclusion will result in the ruin of many lives. The churches are filled with blind followers of blind leaders.
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is afflicted that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”
You likely have had the preceding words of Christ misquoted to you. Most popular Bible translations state that “the way is narrow that leads to life.” Thus the gate is declared to be narrow and the way is also declared to be narrow. However, in the original Greek the two adjectives describing the gate and the way are distinctly different words. The gate is described as “stenos,” while the way is defined as “thlibo.” The word “thlibo” does not mean narrow. It is translated as narrow nowhere else in the New Testament. In every other passage in which this word occurs it bears the meaning of affliction and suffering.
II Corinthians 1:6
Now if we are afflicted (thlibo), it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer.
II Corinthians 4:8-9
We are afflicted (thlibo) in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…
I Thessalonians 3:4
For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction (thlibo); and so it came to pass, as you know.
They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted (thlibo), ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy)…
Why did the translators of many of the most popular English Bibles unfaithfully render the words of Christ relating to the nature of “the Way” which must be walked in order to receive eternal life? It is because the churches have rejected the message of the high cost of being a disciple of Christ. The King James Bible was produced under the auspices of the Anglican Church of England. This “high church” was big on form and style, but little on substance. The clergy dressed in elegant robes and held services in elaborate cathedrals. They made a very good living, and quite a comfortable one. What they did NOT do was yield their lives to go wherever Christ directed and to do whatever He commanded them. These men were of the same ilk as the Scribe who approached Yahshua and said he wanted to be His disciple.
And a certain scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Yahshua said to him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
Scribes in that day led comfortable lives. They were respected and would commonly have homes near the local synagogue. This Scribe wanted to be Christ’s disciple, but he also wanted to continue to live comfortably. He likely thought all he would have to do as a disciple of Christ was to alter some of his doctrinal positions. He was not prepared to surrender everything, abandon the comfortable life of a Scribe, and accept afflictions and suffering. Yahshua understood this and went straight to the point at which the Scribe would stumble.
Observe the deceit that has occurred in the churches today. Few ministers are willing to accept the cost of being Christ’s disciple. Rather than walking away grieved as did the rich young ruler, the church leaders have acted unfaithfully. They have removed all mention of the cost of discipleship from their doctrines. They are proclaiming an apostate gospel devoid of the disciple’s cross. They have attempted to make becoming a Christian easier on the flesh and soul of man.
Most ministers today assure their congregants that they are in good standing with the church and with God if they confess certain things about Christ, participate in church services and put some money in the offering plate. Christianity becomes an exercise where people meet to discuss doctrines, and to observe various rites and traditions, but there is no requirement of yielding one’s life wholly to the Lordship of Christ. Consequently, Christians have become as salt that has lost its savor. They are good for nothing, not even fit for the manure pile.
Everywhere one turns today they find substitutes for pure Christian discipleship. None of these substitutes will result in the child of God coming to spiritual maturity. This is what Yahshua declared to the rich young ruler.
The young man said to him…, “What do I still lack?” Yahshua said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
The Greek word translated as “perfect” is “teleios.” This word means “perfect, entire, mature, lacking in nothing.” It is the will of Yahweh that He would have full stature sons and daughters who are conformed to the image and likeness of Yahshua.
For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ.
If all God wanted to do was bring men and women to a confession of belief in His Son as the atoning sacrifice for their sins, He could very well rapture all people into heaven as soon as they profess faith in Christ. He does not do so, however. Yahweh’s plan is not merely to bring people to faith in His Son, but to transform them from the selfish, sensual creatures they have been into selfless, spiritual creations who manifest His character in their words and actions. This requires a process of transformation where the old nature is progressively brought under subjection to the authority of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yahweh will lead each person down a path specifically designed for them with the goal in mind that they might eventually come forth in the image of His firstborn Son.
The path Yahweh will lead every man and woman down is by necessity a path that includes experiences of suffering, along with numerous trials and sacrifices. It is as we encounter these experiences, responding to them in the power of the Spirit, putting the flesh and its selfish response to death, that we are transformed measure by measure into the image of Christ. Walking the path Yahweh chooses for each person is indispensable for their maturation. We cannot choose our own way and achieve the results Yahweh has in mind. We have to yield to follow Christ wherever He would lead us. The Scriptures reveal that the life of a disciple of Christ is synonymous with a Spirit directed life.
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
If you were introduced to Christ through the Christian religious system predominant in Western nations, you most likely never heard the cost of discipleship accurately proclaimed. Western Christianity allows the aspiring disciple to continue to reign as lord of their own life. They can choose what job they want to work at and where they want to live. They remain in charge of how they spend their money, with the possible exception of being instructed that ten percent should be given to the church. The Western Christian is free to decide whether they marry, and whom they marry (as long as it is another professing believer). Christianity becomes a religious experience which the convert adds to their existing life, rather than a radical exchange of ownership and authority.
I Corinthians 6:19-20
Or do you not know… that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price…
I Corinthians 7:22-23
He who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price…
True Christian discipleship is characterized by a surrender of one’s will to the leading of the Spirit of Christ. Where He says go, we must go. What He says do, we must do. Nothing can be held back. Yahweh will root out every area of independence. He will bring us to consider any instance of reserve where we have not accepted the cost of following in the footsteps of His Son.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised. For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.
Many Christians are unaware that they are shrinking back from a complete abandonment to the will of God due to the fact that they have never been told that such a surrender is required of them. They have ignorantly embraced the status quo; the lukewarm, insipid, unsavory form of Christianity that is common in their culture. Perhaps you have embraced the Sunday and Wednesday form of Christianity where you attend a couple weekly meetings at the church, listen to some preaching, and are admonished to try to live a good life the rest of the week. This is not Christian discipleship. If you are involved with a prosperity church that proclaims a message that God wants you to be materially successful and comfortable in this life, you are most assuredly not walking as a disciple of Christ. If you are involved with an apostolic or prophetic church that focuses on signs and wonders while failing to proclaim a complete surrender of your will and life to the leading of the Holy Spirit, you are not qualifying as a disciple of Yahshua.
The Hebrew Roots churches are merely one more iteration of apostate Christianity. They are offering up an attractive substitute for the costly discipleship which Yahshua called all men unto. There is a special attractiveness in this movement, for many are led to falsely equate observance of various Laws of the Old Testament with the will of the Father for their life. The Law contained no more than a shadow of the will of God. Those who embrace the Law as their substitute for the voice of the Holy Spirit will inevitably find themselves spending their lives following ordinances and rules that cannot make them perfect.
For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.
The subject of the Law and its relationship to the Christian is a complex topic whose explication is beyond the scope of this book. Those who are interested in a thorough address of this subject are invited to read Laying Down the Law. The apostle Paul revealed one of the motives driving some to embrace circumcision and an observance of the Law as a substitute for a Spirit directed life.
As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.
Observing the Law, or making a pretense of doing so, permits men and women to appear righteous in the eyes of others, while enabling them to escape persecution. The Law, however, though divinely inspired, is not a substitute for a Spirit directed life. The Law was given UNTIL Christ should come, fulfill all the righteous requirements of the Law, offer up His soul as an atoning sacrifice for man, rise from the dead and send forth His Spirit to indwell all who believe upon Him.
Galatians 3:19, 23-25
Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made… But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
“Until, “Before,” “Now.” These three words all make reference to time. There was a time when Yahweh entered into a covenant of Law with mankind. It was not an eternal covenant. It was for a specific period of time. That time ended with Christ. With the introduction of a new covenant, a covenant of faith in Christ, the covenant of the Law ceased. NOW that faith has come, we are no longer under the tutor of the Law. We now have the Spirit of God resident within our beings that we might freely know the thoughts of Yahweh and always be informed of His will for our lives.
I Corinthians 2:11-12
Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.
Christ said, “My sheep hear My voice.” If we will attend to the voice of the Spirit of Christ within us, and yield ourselves to go where He leads and accept the life He chooses for us, Yahshua assures us that at the end of the journey we will be mature sons who manifest His life and character. There is no substitute for a Spirit directed life. Not even a life devoted to the Law and to an embrace of Hebrew roots can serve as a substitute for a Spirit directed life. Indeed, when one embraces the Law as their guide, the Law becomes an impediment, hindering the believer from looking to the Spirit of Christ as their guide.
The Hebrew Roots movement has an additional attractiveness in that it sets before the Christian various symbols, rites, holidays, and items of dress that provide them a means to outwardly attest to their inner devotion to Christ. Yet, all of these things are carnal. They are nothing more than external trappings. The true manifestation of our union with Christ is expressed through the spiritual fruit produced through our oneness with Yahshua.
“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
Christ did not say His disciples would be known by their Hanukkah candles, by the Israeli flag flying outside their home, or by their usage of the Hebrew language interspersed in their daily conversation. Christ’s disciples are not recognized by wearing kippot, or tallit, or tzitzit. You will recognize the true disciples of Christ by their spiritual fruit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Yahshua have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Looking Like Christ
In his book Messianic Judaism is Not Christianity, Stan Telchin (a Jewish believer in Messiah) addresses some of the motives that Gentile believers become involved in these groups. One of the reasons he has frequently heard is that the Gentile believers have a love for the Jewish people and wish to gain some acceptance with them by adopting Hebrew roots. Stan writes that those who embrace Hebrew Roots to be accepted by Jewish people are misguided.
Gaining acceptance by the Jewish community seems to have become one of [Messianic Judaism’s] primary objectives… As Jews who believe in Jesus, Messianic Jews want to be identified with and accepted by a Jewry that has largely rejected God and His Word. Clearly, this is not a biblical objective…
I agree with Arnold Fructenbaum who says, “It is self-deceiving to believe that a Jewish lifestyle is the means of being accepted by the Jewish community or the Jewish leadership.” The traditional Jewish community abhors Messianic Judaism…
In order to be a Jew, a person must be born of Jewish parents. It does not matter what his parents believe or what the person himself or herself believes. Many of us are quite comfortable with Jewish Hindus, Jewish Buddhists, atheistic Jews, agnostic Jews, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews. We even can understand humanistic Judaism. The Jewish community does not have any trouble continuing to call these people Jews.
But when a Jewish person accepts Jesus, the situation changes. Why? Because so many Jewish people have bought into the rabbis’ repeated slogan: “You cannot be Jewish and believe in Jesus.” When it comes to followers of Jesus, by whatever name they choose to identify themselves, the line in the sand is drawn. These people are not welcome. What that has to tell you is that those in Messianic Judaism fool only themselves when they insist that they soon will receive approval from the Jewish community…
[Stan Telchin, Messianic Judaism is Not Christianity]
In his book, Stan Telchin provides the testimony of a number of people who left Messianic Judaism. The reasons they provided for departing from this movement are insightful.
“Tell me Charlie, did you stay in the synagogue very long?”
“Well, we stayed about a year and a half,” he replied. “But then I began to be troubled by what I observed, and Fran was equally troubled.”
“By what?” I asked.
“Well, from a theological point of view, it seemed as if they were concentrating on emulating rabbinic Judaism with a Christian vocabulary rather than focusing on the finished work Jesus did on the cross. This thereby encouraged Gentiles to do things that Gentiles were never required to do in Scripture. We Gentiles never had to wear yarmulkes (head coverings) or tallits (prayer shawls) ot tsitsit (fringes on our garments). Yet the implication was that if we wanted to belong, we had to wear them. And there were so many Gentiles in attendance! More than eighty percent of those who came each week were not Jewish. Why did they have to do these things?…
Then Fran jumped into the conversation. “The Gentiles who attended seemed to be worshiping symbols of Judaism. Isn’t that idolatry?” she asked. “And I know of a Gentile couple who went to an Orthodox rabbi and converted to Judaism. The husband was circumcised, and they try to keep a kosher home. And for others, there seemed to be an identity crisis. Some of the Gentiles I met began to search their family tree in order to find a Jewish relative. They wanted to be Jewish, and they tried to live by the Law… If you want to know what really did it for me and why I insisted that we leave that congregation, I’ll tell you. I was filled to overflowing with all the ‘wannabes’ and the ‘Pharisees’!”…
“Jean” is a young Jewish mother of two beautiful children. She attended a church before she met her future Jewish husband, but when they decided to marry, he convinced her to attend his Messianic synagogue. She agreed to do so, and for several years they rarely missed a service. Then things began to change. When I asked Jean what it was that disturbed them, she said, “I want to be very careful about how I answer that question, so let me put my thoughts in writing to you.”
A few weeks later, Jean wrote to me:
I have been agonizing as I have relived the experiences we had at the Messianic synagogue and why we left. Simply stated, I was at once saddened and angry by the way many of my Gentile brothers and sisters – who made up about 85 percent of the congregation – showed almost a contempt toward God by despising what He had made them to be. I felt they did this when they dressed as Jews and adopted all sorts of religious traditions that they convinced themselves they were obligated to practice.
Week after week I would anguish over the emphasis on Jewishness rather than “Jesusness.” Gentiles were changing their names to Jewish-sounding ones and calling themselves Jews.
Brothers and sisters, being “Christ-like” does not mean one has to act Jewish. It certainly does not require that one embrace rabbinic practices that are not found in the Bible. Becoming Christ-like is a matter of character, not external custom or religious practice. Do not be deceived by those who would put style before substance. The kingdom of God does not come with outward signs to be observed. The kingdom of God is within you.
[This is the end of the book Attractive Deception – The False Hope of the Hebrew Roots Movement]
Bonus: I was recently blessed to watch the following video demonstrating the compassion of some Lithuanian men and women for one who was a visitor to their nation. I am reminded that kindness is something Yahweh formed within man. Satan has gone a long way to eradicate it, but it still shines through even among people who are strangers to the faith of Christ. (Romans 2:14-15)
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days.
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