The Age Of The Anti-Hero

Parashat Shoftim | Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

We live in the age of the antihero. If you’re not familiar with the term, this is the protagonist of a story whose life doesn’t really have the expected qualities of a hero. Usually, their motivations are self-centered and their morality is all but absent, yet we cheer them on. Some recent examples of this are characters like Jack Sparrow, The Punisher, Deadpool, etc. Currently, the antihero is one of the most popular character archetypes in storytelling because fans identify with them.

The incorruptible hero that always saves the day has gone by the wayside. We look at those perfect heroes of previous generations—Superman, Captain America, Roy Rogers, etc—these have either completely come to naught or have been reinvented to have questionable morals. Our culture desperately longs to identify with a hero, but we don’t want the hero to be any better than ourselves. Anyone who doesn’t teeter on moral collapse is seen as too perfect to be real, a shallow and plastic imitation of the real thing. This makes following a perfect God a challenge because so many people feel they can’t identify with Him. This brings us to our Torah portion.

The King James translation of Deuteronomy 18:13 says, “Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.” According to most people, this is what God expected of His people prior to the coming of Yeshua. Once Yeshua went to the cross, however, grace was poured out and God’s standard of righteousness was removed. According to this line of reasoning, God knew that no one could actually do what He required them to, so He sent His Son to die so that they wouldn’t have to obey His rules anymore.

To emphasize this point, many point to Yeshua’s teachings in Matthew 5. Here, he makes a series of contrasts between what appears to be the way people understood a particular commandment and the impossibility of truly keeping that commandment. He uses the phrase, “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” to make each of his points. For example, he says:

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27–28)

Since keeping one’s heart free from lust seems impossible, many people believe Yeshua must have been showing the Jews that the bar was so high they could never reach it on their own. They could never be “good enough” to earn their salvation, so they should quit trying by following the “Law.” The only thing they could do is rely on Yeshua’s righteousness and not their own. According to this line of reasoning, God expects perfection and the only way we can be perfect is by accepting Christ. Yeshua seems to agree by concluding that section of his teaching with, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Can we be perfect like God?

But this is not at all what Yeshua was trying to convey and this interpretation has done great damage to Yeshua’s Kingdom message. One of the core reasons many misunderstand both the Torah and Yeshua’s teachings is because of this subject of being “perfect.” A more accurate translation of this concept is “blameless.” Blameless doesn’t mean being perfect. It means avoiding intentional sins and being quick to repent from them if we do fall into them.

Too many people believe that their bad habits and poor behavior are simply a constant within their life. Although they may have trusted in Yeshua for their salvation, they will continue to find certain undesirable behaviors difficult to avoid. For some it is anger. For others it is lust. For still others, it is drunkenness, or envy, or slander. But all of these make the fatal assumption that our redemption is only skin deep and can never truly transform who we are as a person. The work of Yeshua, however, makes us a completely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Yeshua points our heart back toward his Father any time it begins to stray.

Yes, we all have our shortcomings and fall into sin. But sin should be the exception in the life of the Redeemed, rather than the norm. If we are as prone to run to sin as much now as before we were redeemed, then we need to re-evaluate our commitment to Yeshua.

A few years back I had a close friend tell me that he finally realized, after living his entire life as a follower of Yeshua, that he didn’t have to live a defeated life and didn’t have to struggle with sin the way he had always believed. He finally realized that Yeshua didn’t just die so that we could be forgiven, but that he was resurrected so that we could have a new life, released from the chains of our sinful behavior patterns. Rather than justifying his sin by saying it’s covered by the blood, he realized Yeshua really could remove it from his life and it didn’t have to be a part of his identity.

Being perfect doesn’t mean being plastic. It means being real. But not real in the sense of justifying hypocrisy. It means we live out our beliefs, rather than making excuses for why we don’t. It means living by the Spirit rather than the flesh, dying to self so that Messiah can live through us. Which life are you living? Are you living a life that glorifies your flesh? A life of hypocrisy, hiding your sins from the public eye? Or is it a life that has died to itself so that Messiah might live through you? If not, it’s not too late to make the transition.