Jewish Heritage of Christians

(Note: This is an early writing on the topic of overlap between Judaism and Christianity. It’s provided here for reference purposes.)

INTRODUCTION

The text below discusses the importance of our Jewish roots and heritage as Christians. In summary, the essay proposes that Judaism and Christianity are not incompatible and that if someone is of Jewish heritage and culture, they should not be made to convert to a “Christian Religion” that attempts to strip them of their Jewish identity.

THE ESSENSE OF CHRISTIANITY

Christianity at its core is not a religion. It is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, in which, hopefully, He is honored, respected and given authority over one’s life (accepted as Lord). Religion, if anything, threatens to replace our relationship with Jesus. The New Testament has very little to say about religion apart from this verse, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [James 1:27 NIV] In fact, the word religion only occurs five times in the entire Bible and that is limited to the New Testament.

JEWISH FAITH

It is entirely possible to live as a Jew, in fact, to be a Jew, while believing in Jesus Christ as Messiah. The Apostle Paul was offended at the suggestion that his beliefs and lifestyle were anything but Jewish (see Acts 24:14-15). He believed that his hope in Messiah was central to his Jewish faith. Many of the early believers in Jesus were, in fact, Jewish or converts to Judaism who saw Jesus as the Messiah who was written of by the prophets.

CAUSE FOR ALARM

There is a disturbing trend in the church away from the life and teachings found in the first century family of Christians. We are drifting away from some important aspects of our Jewish roots and heritage.

TO BE LIKE JESUS

To be more like Jesus, it would be reasonable to eat broiled fish, visit Synagogue regularly, observe the Jewish feasts and Holy Days, study Hebrew, honor Saturday as the Sabbath beginning Friday evening, drink Kosher wine from Israel, refer to the Hebrew calendar, have Deuteronomy 11:20 and other scriptures nailed to door frames, not eat unclean foods, and try to observe the Old Testament laws. One’s beliefs can be Evangelical Christian, yet be living somewhat Jewish.

Ananias is an example of a Christian who lives like a Jew: “He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews.” [Acts 22:12 NIV]

ON BEING JEWISH

“…a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” [Romans 2:29-3:2 NIV] “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” [Romans 9:4-5 NIV]

GIVING TO THE JEWS

“if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” [Romans 15:27 NIV]

ABRAHAM IS THE FATHER OF US ALL

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” [Romans 4:16 NIV] “So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.” [Galatians 3:9 NIV]

DO NOT BE ARROGANT, BUT BE AFRAID

“Do not be arrogant, but be afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either. Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree! I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” [Romans 11:20-27 NIV]

CITIZENS WITH ISRAEL — MEMBERS OF ONE BODY

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” [Ephesians 2:11-13 NIV] “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” [Ephesians 2:19-20 NIV] “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” [Ephesians 3:6 NIV]

OBSERVERS OF THE LAW

“I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written in the Prophets…” [Acts 24:14 NIV] “I have done nothing wrong against the law of the Jews or against the temple…” [Acts 25:8 NIV] “… the requirements of the law are written …” on the hearts of the Gentiles. [Romans 2:15 NIV] “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” [Romans 2:13 NIV] “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” [Romans 3:31 NIV] “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more…” [Romans 5:20 NIV] “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” [Romans 7:12 NIV] “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” [Romans 7:14 NIV] Regarding the law, it is written in James 4:11, “… When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.”

THE ABSENSE OF THE LAW IS LAWLESSNESS

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” [1 John 3:4 NIV] “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders…” [2 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV]

REGARDING THE CUSTOMS OF MOSES

In the scripture, those who claim that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a threat to the customs of Moses are false witnesses: “They produced false witnesses, who testified, ‘This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.’ ” [Acts 6:13-14 NIV] Speaking against the Temple or The Law is not part of the Gospel message.

SALVATION THROUGH WORKS AND LEGALISM? NO!

I’m not saying that “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” [Acts 15:1 NIV] Nor am I trying “to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?” [Acts 15:10 NIV] Regarding The Law, I stand with Paul and say, ” ‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible’ — but not everything is constructive.’ ” [1 Corinthians 10:23 NIV] So I’m not yoked to the law but have taken up the yoke of Christ. While I feel totally free in the grace of salvation, I see there are many aspects to The Law that are beneficial and constructive. After all, it was Jesus who said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 5:17-20 NIV]

WHAT ABOUT THE LAND OF ISRAEL?

Regarding Israel (the political geographical location), the scripture has much to say about it. I believe that God can set apart a people, time or place as Holy. I believe Saturday is a day that has been set apart (like a geographical place in time) by God as blessed and Holy. [Gen. 2:3] I believe the scripture indicates that Israel as a place has been set apart by God as blessed and Holy. It seems like 8,000 square miles is a fairly small plot of land compared to the 3.7 million square miles of land we have here in the United States. The land for peace agreements don’t sound like a very good deal. They remind me of our arrangement with the Native Americans. As I recall that didn’t go too well for them either. I would think that since the Jewish people have roots in that region that date back to the time of King David and Solomon, earlier than the 10th century B.C., that they would have rights to the land.

WHAT ABOUT THE HEAVENLY ISRAEL?

When I think of Israel, I think of a heavenly country. [Hebrews 11:16] I think of present day Jewish people who are walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. I believe the whole earth has the potential to become an Israel — that the people and the land of this earth will one day, perhaps gradually, maybe suddenly, become citizens of a God ordained Israel.

WHAT, THEN, OF CHRISTIANITY?

In summary, I believe our Christianity will, like the early church, be a blend of Jew and Gentile. [Gal. 3:28] “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” [Galatians 6:15 NIV] “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV] If we are not already Jewish by birth, we may very well be Jewish by re-birth.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, let’s do all we can to promote Jesus as Lord (one who walked as a Jew while on this earth) without becoming arrogant (Romans 11:20), offensive or anti-Semitic. I welcome any comments or feedback you might have.

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