How to Be Spiritually Complete

Matthew 19:16, What good thing. Yeshua’s answer to the rich young ruler when he asks him what he must do to have eternal life might, in a cursory reading, appear that Yeshua is promoting a works based salvation. However this is not the case. Yeshua cleverly shows the young man that he is incapable of obtaining eternal life through good works, for man isn’t capable of perfectly following the Torah. In the case of the young man’s, he thought himself to be perfectly righteous, when in reality, Yeshua showed him that he was covetous, and therefore still an unrighteous sinner thus disqualifying himself from reward of eternal life. Yeshua, by contrast instead of promoting a works-based salvation, instructs the young man to deal with his sin by selling his possessions and giving the proceeds to the poor, and then becoming a follower of him. The lesson here is that salvation and eternal life can come only as we turn from our sin and become a follower of Yeshua.

Yeshua teaching disciples

What Yeshua is really saying when he answers the young man’s question is this: “If you want to be perfect [Gr. teleios meaning “brought to its end, finished; wanting nothing necessary to completeness]” turn from sin by obeying the Torah more completely, but also follow the Messiah by becoming his disciple. Remember, to hear and to obey [Heb. shema] the Messiah was a command of the Torah as well (Deut 18:15), and to not believe in him is sin (John 16:9 cp. 3:18). So according to the Bible, to be spiritually perfect or complete one must, as Yeshua said, love him by keeping his (Torah) commandments (John 14:15). It is the Torah that shows us how to love Elohim (and our fellow man as well).

Yeshua makes a similar point in his exchange with a scribe in Mark 12:28–34. While extolling the virtues of Torah-obedience, and commending the scribe for his understanding of the deeper heart issues of Torah-obedience, Yeshua makes an interesting concluding statement. He tells the scribe, “You are not far from the kingdom of Elohim (v. 34) as if to tell him, “You’re on the right spiritual track with regard to your Torah-obedience, and you’re heading for the kingdom, but that alone won’t get you into the kingdom. You must also become a disciple of Yeshua.


3 thoughts on “How to Be Spiritually Complete

  1. Your post was a good explanation of the dynamic between faith and works Just yesterday I was noting the different perspective between Paul, teaching on “dead works,” and James remarking that works that come from new life in Christ demonstrates your salvation. I recalled learning this lesson as a new believer, but it was with much frustration that the Lord put two “opposing” views in the Bible. Before my conversion in 1973 I could not see that I wouldn’t go to heaven because I really was a nice person who did a lot of good deeds, hadn’t murdered anyone, or robbed a bank!!! 🙁
    But God broke through my deception, and I was gloriously saved. Some weeks later, I told my husband (remarking about saying the sinner’s prayer weeks earlier), “Well, I did admit that I was a sinner, but at least I was good enough to ask Jesus into my heart.” Kennedy, also a new believer, looked puzzled at this revelation, knowing it didn’t sound right but just listened. The next morning I was thumbing through Ephesians and this passage caught my eye:

    For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Eph 2:8-9

    I got it! No, I wasn’t “good enough” to ask Jesus into my heart. I couldn’t do anything to get saved other than believe, or I would boast about it. And even my belief was not from my own natural expertise, it was God’s gift to me that opened my eyes! Even when we obey God, it is not our human strength that empowers us. From that time on, I told everyone how gracious God was to save me, and that salvation was totally devoid of my “goodness” or my “good deeds.” I had that doctrine down pat.

    BTW, am I exceeding “lawful” length for a posting? Now that I’m in the story this far, I’ll go ahead and finish it, but really, is there a limitation of number of words I should follow?
    The Rules of Conduct didn’t weigh in on that. 🙂

    Some while later, I read James 2:18-24. Verse 24 exploded in my mind: “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.” What? This could not be true. How could this contradiction exist in a book of truth? It’s all too much to understand. I asked God, sarcastically, “So, what kind of good works must I do to be saved?” I was so frustrated that I slammed the Bible shut with anger and went to bed. The next morning, I “just happened” to open the Bible to John 6:

    Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent. John 6:27-29

    My sarcastic reaction of the previous night had me on my knees, crying out:

    “Oh Father, I am sorry, SORRY, S O R R Y for throwing a temper tantrum last night. I didn’t know what I was talking about. Thank You for explaining that both scriptures are true. The work You require is my belief in You. I get it! Belief is a work of God. And then after I do the work of “belief,” I will be compelled to do good works, like telling others about Jesus, praying for them, and being kind to the poor. If I don’t have faith (belief) first, my good works will not be of the same eternal value. I won’t tell about Jesus. I won’t pray for others, and there will probably be wrong motivations in my helping the poor. I GET IT!!”

    • Thank you for sharing these deep insights from your own experience.

      Where many people miss it is viewing scriptural ideas through a Western mindset instead of from a Hebraic vantage point, which is that of the biblical authors. In Western thought, we tend to look at things from a linear perspective —— like viewing points on a time line. We say and thinks things like this: I got saved, justified, sanctified, etc., etc. at such and such point in time in the past. While this may be true, Hebraic thought views things more as a process that involves events that have occurred, are occurring and will occur in the future. For example, the Bible teaches that you were saved (at the time you “came to Yeshua”), you are being saved (e.g., work out your salvation with fear and trembling, Phil 2:12), and you will be saved (in the ultimate sense when you receive your glorified body at the second coming resurrection and are adopted into the family of Elohim as a literal child of Elohim). The same is true of justification. When one understands this, the seeming conflict between Paul and James resolves itself.
      Paul was speaking about justification at the time of initial salvation or conversion, while James is talking about the on-going process of justification via the production of good works (i.e., loving Yeshua by keeping his commandments, John 14:15). That’s the part of working out your salvation with fear and trembling that Paul admits to in Phil 2:12.
      Peter discusses this same concept when he talks about making your calling and election sure so that you don’t fall spiritually along the way en route to the kingdom of heaven and the redemption and glorification of your physical bodies into eternal life before Elohim (2 Pet 1:10).
      I believe that the justification that James is talking about is nothing more than what Paul expresses in the famous Eph 2:8–9 passage, but with the addition of verse ten, which many people overlook. Please note the highlighted portion of verse ten (below), which is the justification by works part of the equation, which is nothing more than the process of, if you will, “staying saved” once we’ve received our initial salvation. The Bible expresses this concept in many ways: enduring to the end, overcoming, walking on the straight and narrow path, staying close to Yeshua and abiding in him, loving him and keeping his commandments, producing the fruits of the Spirit, working out your salvation, making your calling and election sure, and so on.

      8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8–10)

      I’ve just presented a brief lesson in Hebraic thought versus Western thought. Did this make sense?

      • Thank you for the privilege of sitting at the feet of the Teacher. Through your response, I sensed Yeshua’s delight that I am letting Him move me from primarily a western mindset into one of Hebrew thought. I also read your article on this topic and gleaned much more.

        Re: Eph 2:8-9, I was stunned that though I used verse 10 fairly often in conversations with others, I had never linked verse 10 with the two preceding verses. That was such a good insight, and so simple! To answer your last question, YES, it makes sense!

        P.S. Sorry I delayed responding to your good thoughts on my post: I am recovering from eye surgery, and while I am doing fine, I am just now getting back to my computer and must limit reading at the present. Again, thank you, Brother Natan.

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