Exploring the Book of Ya’aqov, Pt. 10
For whoever keeps the whole תּוֹרָה, Torah, and stumbles in one point, has become guilty of breaking it all. For He who is saying, “YOU MUST NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,” also said, “YOU MUST NOT MURDER.” And so, if you do not commit adultery, yet you commit murder, you have become a sidestepper of תּוֹרָה, Torah. Therefore, as ones who are about to be judged by a תּוֹרָה, Torah of liberty, so speak, and so do; for the judgment without loving-kindness is shown to him who has not done loving-kindness to others; loving-kindness triumphs over judgment. (יַעֲקֹב Ya’aqov 2:10-13, mjlt)
Everyone—everywhere—yearns to be free. Strangely, the definition of freedom changes from one person to the next, and what you may perceive as boundless freedom might be a dungeon-like prison to me. But regardless of the type of thing we each call freedom, no one disagrees that in order to be truly free we must be free of anyone telling us what to think, what we can say, or what we can do… no one disagrees, that is, except for the true disciple of Messiah.
For many believers, their reaction to the idea that “whoever keeps the whole תּוֹרָה, Torah, and stumbles in one point, has become guilty of breaking it all,” is to say, “See! We don’t need to keep all those rules! It would be unjust for God to tell us we have to do all those things, and then to find us guilty when we can’t. And God is not unjust!” But this is not the point at all. The reality is that unless we are completely ungoverned by any set of values or beliefs or morals—in other words, rules—then we are cherry-picking according to our own individual sense of “freedom.” This is why “if you do not commit adultery, yet you commit murder, you have become a sidestepper of תּוֹרָה, Torah.” The point is not whether or not one is capable of keeping the Torah perfectly, and thus avoiding guilt, but rather that the rules are there for a reason, and one does not have the “freedom” to keep some and dismiss the others.
Such thinking reveals a wrong-headed approach to freedom. Freedom is not anarchy—the eschewing of rules, the absence of law and order. Freedom is not the unleashing of base desires, or the license to act upon impulse with no limits or boundaries. On the contrary, in order for freedom to exist—in order for it to function—we need to be able to distinguish bad from good, wrong from right, dangerous from safe. We need to know where it’s okay to go, and where it’s not. That’s the purpose of the rules.
And yet, while many of us accept the necessity of the rules and say we are willing to abide by them, the idea that we can be free while at the same time having what we think, say, and do dictated to us is unimaginable. Of course, we have to live within the boundaries of certain thick, black lines, but placing restrictions on every single thing that comes out of our mouths and is done with our hands? Surely, that’s not freedom in any sense of the word!
What we need to realize, however, is that the same Torah that provides the rules—that says where it’s okay to go, and draws those thick, black lines—is the same Torah that also sets people free; it is “a תּוֹרָה, Torah of liberty.” And because that Torah liberates those “who are about to be judged by” it, for them, there is but a single unavoidable directive: “so speak, and so do.”
The way we love our neighbors—the way we treat each other, the way we display or withhold loving-kindness—is all wrapped up in very things we say and do. We find liberty, then, by adhering to the dictates of Scripture, not because it is confining and restricting (though it certainly is), but because it limits the extent to which we can hate, and treat each other poorly, and live in all manner of sin. The liberty provided by the Word releases us from the weighty burden that comes from choosing to color outside the lines.
If we are truly Messiah’s disciples, we are not free to think and speak and do as we please. Rather, we must live according to the Scriptures, because by the loving-kindness it teaches we will be judged. Will we act according to our own ideas of liberty? Or will we let the Word of God constrain us to what we may do? This is the true freedom.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!