The Hebrew Christian And His Heritage
I am sure that if Moses and the Old Testament prophets of Israel were alive today and were as outspoken about the moral and spiritual condition of the Jewish community of today as they were in their own day, they would be accused of being anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish and branded as traitors of the first degree.
They would be accused of turning away from the heritage of their people. They would be accused of promoting a false religion. In short, they would incur the ire of the Jewish community just as they did in their own day. Why? They refused to identify with the moral and religious practices of Israel. As men of God, do you think they could or would have any part in the culture which God through them was condemning (cf Isa. 1:1-15; 29:13; Jer. 2; 7; 12:7)? This would be hypocrisy of the highest order.
The only heritage and culture these men of God and the faithful remnant of Israel could identify with and hold on to were those standards of faith and practice as found and taught in the Word of God. “Thy testimonies have I taken as an heritage for ever; for they are the rejoicing of my heart” (Ps. 119:111).
What was the culture and heritage with which the Apostle Paul identified and about which he boasted? Was it that he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews or that he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees or that he was the most zealous for the Law? Indeed not! It was that he could enter into fellowship with a holy and righteous God on the basis of the shed blood of his Messiah, the Lord Jesus. He counted everything else as rubbish in comparison to having a personal relationship with Messiah Jesus (Phil. 3:4-11). Paul’s letter to the Galatians clearly points out not only his feelings on the matter of holding on to Jewish customs and traditions, but being inspired, it is God’s view on this as well!
Today some sincere Hebrew Christians cite Acts 21:17-26 to show that early Hebrew Christians lived within Jewish traditions and customs. Some of the Hebrew Christians encouraged Paul to participate in a purification ritual at the Temple. The hope was that by continuing to observe the tradition of the elders, the unbelieving yet observant Jews would see that Hebrew Christians hadn’t forsaken these traditions, and it would be easier to win them to Messiah Jesus. However, the account does not stop at verse 26. From verse 27 and following, we discover that Paul was recognized as an outspoken Hebrew Christian and any attempt on his part to identify with their Jewish traditions and customs was completely unacceptable to them, i.e. non-believing Jews (cf “Leave Us Alone”, Voice of the Vaad, September 1975). Thus, it has been down through the ages of time that the individual believer must turn away from the broad road to turn onto the narrow road of God.
Therefore, as a Hebrew Christian, I must ask and answer the question, “What in the Jewish culture can I identity with?” Am I to continue to identify with a culture that has as its center and circumference a deliberate and determined rejection of: (1) the authority of God’s holy and inspired Word; (2) the person and purpose of Messiah Jesus and His “ecclesia” (Church)?
While I can and do identify myself with my people who have been persecuted and murdered simply because of being Jewish, I cannot identify with the traditions and customs, the way of life and the attitudes that deny God’s Word and deny the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in fact such denials that have brought God’s judgment upon Israel since the days of Moses (cf Lev. 26; Deut. 28).
I can anticipate someone asking, “If you don’t identify with the traditional heritage and culture of the Jewish people, with what do you identify?” Fair question. I identify with my forefather, Abraham. By personal faith in the Lord God (Gen. 15:6), Abraham was declared righteous before a holy God. Likewise, by my putting my faith in Messiah Jesus, I too am declared righteous before a holy God.
I believe it is important to point out here that when you are born physically, you are born into a culture. The same is true when you are born spiritually into God’s family. Since this has happened to me, I have been born into a new culture and heritage (2 Cor. 5:17). Now my culture, my way of life, is centered upon the norms, standards and practices of God’s Word. For you see, I take on the culture of the One who begat me . . . God! Through the Holy Spirit I begin to have a new life. Old values, attitudes, motives, hatreds, prejudices and sometimes even allegiances change. These changes reflect the new culture which God gives me.
Such an answer would indeed sound strange to my Jewish brethren. Why? Because he does not identify himself with Abraham in the sense of having a personal and saving faith in the Lord God of Israel. Knowing God personally and having a vital relationship with Him is not part of his culture or heritage. Knowing the Messiah and knowing that his sins against a holy God are forgiven are not part of his culture. Such concepts and ideas are as far away from what he believes as the earth is from PIuto.
As a Hebrew Christian, the feasts and festivals of the Tenach are much more meaningful to me now. They portray in shadow form that which has become real in Messiah Jesus. A perfect example of this is the Passover, for Christ is the true Passover Lamb.
My interest and regard for the land of Israel has increased. Why? Because of God’s great interest and regard for Israel. My love and concern for my people, the Jews, has increased because as a child of God, I have a love and concern for those whom Messiah Jesus loves and is concerned. And as God’s love isn’t restricted to just one group of people, but extends to the whole world, so does mine.
In summary then, as a Hebrew Christian, I must reject any efforts to make me identify with any elements of Jewish culture and heritage that traditionally reject the absolute authority of God’s Word and the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Such traditions and attitudes have robbed my people of God’s richest blessings and have caused them untold anguish and misery.
No, my culture and heritage as a Christian of Hebrew background lies in knowing God through a personal relationship with Jesus the Messiah and knowing the power of His resurrection, as does any Christian. “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance . . .” (Ps. 16:5).