The Jewishness of Christianity
I am a Gentile, but I have joined a Jewish religion. I am not a descendant of Abraham, but I am a “son of Abraham.”1 I am not of the people “from whom is the Messiah,” the Jews,2 but I claim to worship and follow their Messiah—probably much to their annoyance since they are still waiting for the Messiah to appear. I am an American, born and raised in Texas, but my spiritual roots are in Israel and the Ancient Near East. I am not a Jew, but I have chosen to identify with them because Christianity is Jewish.
Abraham, the father of the Jews, while being Semitic was not initially Jewish. We can suppose that he grew up around 2000 B.C. in southern Mesopotamia worshiping the gods of his land, pagan gods. But then God, the one and only God, the Creator of the universe, spoke to Abraham and commanded Abraham to worship Him instead of the pagan gods. God told Abraham to leave Mesopotamia and to go to a new land, the land of Canaan (eventually to become known as the land of Israel) and settle there.3 Thus God made a covenant with Abraham4 that included four promises that would result from Abraham’s obedience to His command. First, God would make of Abraham a great nation through his descendants.5 These descendants are the Jews. Second, God would bless Abraham and his descendants with a good life on their land and eventually with eternal life.6 Third, God would make Abraham’s name great and known throughout the world.7 Fourth, Abraham would become a kind of lightening rod in the world so that God would bless those who choose to be associated with Abraham and God would curse those who choose to shun Abraham, resulting in all the peoples of the earth containing individuals who would acquire this blessing.8
I participate to a certain degree in all four of these promises. First, I am a spiritual descendant—that is, a “son” of Abraham9—because I have believed God for what He has said about the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. Abraham believed God when He said that Abraham’s descendants would be as numerous as the stars of the heaven, and as a result God considered Abraham to be justified, to be forgiven of his sins and to be in good standing before Him.10 I have believed God for what He has said about Jesus’ being the Jewish Messiah, that by His death and resurrection I acquire a good standing before God and forgiveness for my sins.11Second, God has blessed me with the promise of eternal life.12 Third, I have acknowledged that Abraham was a great man in whose footsteps of faith I follow.13 And fourth, I have realized that to associate with Abraham by believing God as Abraham did results in God’s blessing me.14 In other words, I want to avoid God’s curse of eternal condemnation that results from rejecting His truth—specifically what He has said about Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish Messiah—and instead be blessed by God with grace, mercy, forgiveness, and eternal life—just like Abraham.15 Therefore, in spite of my being a Gentile who cannot trace his physical descendancy back to Abraham, I have chosen to embrace the Jewish religion of Christianity.
Moses was one of Abraham’s descendants and one of the most important Jews of all history. Around 1500 B.C. he led the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt and mediated another covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants, the Jews.16 This covenant contained 613 commandments ranging from the prohibition against murder to the sacrifices of animals. While this covenant did not solve the problem of providing the Israelites with both a changed heart and God’s eternal mercy, its intention was to point them to their need for a solution and to their Messiah, Jesus.17 In fact, this covenant could only make them more aware of their sin and need for God’s grace and eternal mercy.18 While the Mosaic Covenant continued God’s Abrahamic-Covenant requirement that all Jewish males be circumcised on the eighth day after their births,19 it did not directly provide for the Spirit of God circumcising their hearts—that is, changing them into authentic believers of God’s promises and true keepers of God’s commandments.20 This is why I, a Gentile, need not become so Jewish in my Christianity that I follow the commandments of the Mosaic Covenant.21 In fact, the Jews do not have to become so Jewish that they follow this covenant’s commandments.22 Instead, they and I only need to become as Jewish as the New Covenant requires.23
What is the New Covenant? As God says through the prophet Jeremiah, it is God’s writing His Torah, His teachings and commandments, on the hearts of the Jews.24 This is another way of saying that the New Covenant is God’s circumcising and changing people’s hearts so that, while they remain sinners, they become fundamentally committed to the truth of their sinfulness and their need for God’s eternal grace and mercy in order to escape His judgment and condemnation. But this is exactly what God has promised to do for the Jews at some point in history—change their hearts so that they embrace the truth about themselves and God.25 Until now, the Jews have mostly believed the error that they are capable of obeying the commandments of the Mosaic Covenant and making themselves worthy of God’s blessings, God’s grace, God’s mercy, and even eternal life.26 But believing this error is to misunderstand the whole concept of grace. God’s blessings and grace, by definition, are not earnable, not even by faith.27 Instead, God’s grace and mercy along with His Spirit’s changing people’s hearts so that they become authentic believers in God’s truth are all given by God independently of anything a sinner does.28
Apart from His grace, God would condemn us eternally because He hates our sin. The clearest example of God’s hatred of our sin is the death of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, on the cross.29 This is also the clearest picture statement of our inability to do anything—even have faith—to gain eternal forgiveness and salvation from God’s condemnation.30 Therefore, believing in Jesus as the Jewish King of the eternal kingdom of God who sacrificed Himself on the cross so that God might grant us changed hearts and deliverance from judgment and condemnation becomes the most Jewish act that any human being can perform.31 Believing this is to have, in keeping with the New Covenant, God’s Torah written on our hearts together with a longing for a complete transformation of our moral nature in eternity, in heaven, when God will consummate the kingdom of His Son, Jesus the Messiah.32 I have recognized that I cannot make myself worthy of God’s favor through obeying the Mosaic Covenant or through any religious or moral actions. And thus I need God’s unmerited grace and mercy to rescue me, a Gentile sinner, from His condemnation. This is the Jewishness of Christianity.
God also made a covenant with King David around 1000 B.C.—that his son would be God’s Son who would sit on David’s throne over Israel forever. Initially Solomon, David’s immediate son, was the “fulfillment” of this promise, and then also was each descendant of David after that who ruled over the kingdom of Judah until the Babylonians destroyed it, Jerusalem, and the temple around 600 B.C. Eventually, another descendant of David arose to fulfill this role as the last and final King of Judah and Israel—Jesus of Nazareth, who will rule over the eternal kingdom of God.33 But Jesus offended the Jews because while He claimed to be the Jewish King and Messiah (literally “Anointed One,” the same meaning as “Christ”), He refused to embrace their Judaism, a Judaism characterized by earning God’s favor and blessings through self-righteous obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. Rather, Jesus defined Judaism as God’s graciously granting forgiveness and His blessings to people through changing their hearts by His Spirit and causing them to repent and to pursue moral obedience to God.34 Since then, the fact that the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day condemned Him to death through crucifixion has only confirmed to the Jews that Jesus is not their King. A crucified King, a crucified Messiah, makes no sense to the Jews, in spite of the fact that their Scriptures prophesy this very thing.35 Who Jesus is—God incarnate, the Son of David and Son of God as the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, the crucified and resurrected Messiah/King of the Jews, and the adversary of any belief system that promotes earning God’s blessings rather than embracing them by means of His grace—makes Jesus the focus of the New Covenant and the Jewishness of Christianity.36 I, a Gentile, have believed all this about Jesus—that He died for my sins as well as for those of the Jews, thus making me a participant in the most Jewish of all religions, Christianity.
Eventually, God will cause the Jews to embrace all these truths, too, when they recognize the Jewishness of Christianity.37 In the meantime, Gentiles like me are hitchhiking on the Jewish religion and enjoying the results of God’s grace—faith in Jesus Christ; repentance of the deep, deep sin within us; pursuit of morality even while we groan over our continued sinfulness; and confident expectation of eternal life and moral perfection in heaven after the second coming of Christ in accordance with God’s predestined, sovereign plan.38 In fact, for all of church history so far, the majority of participants in this Jewish religion have been Gentiles. We can only look forward to when the Jews discover the Jewishness of Christianity and join us. What an amazing thing for me, though, to be a Gentile and worship and follow a crucified and resurrected Jewish King, Jesus of Nazareth, who now sits at the right hand of God the Father waiting “until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.”39
1. Galatians 3:7. Back to text.
2. Romans 9:1-5. Back to text.
3. Genesis 12:1. Back to text.
4. Genesis 15. Back to text.
5. Genesis 12:2. Back to text.
6. Genesis 12:2; Deuteronomy 4:1, 28:1-14; Hebrews 11:8-16 Back to text.
7. Genesis 12:2. Back to text.
8. Genesis 12:3. Back to text.
9. Galatians 3:7. Back to text.
10. Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3-5; Galatians 3:6. Back to text.
11. Romans 3:21-26. Back to text.
12. Romans 6:23. Back to text.
13. Romans 4:10-12. Back to text.
14. Romans 4:16-17. Back to text.
15. Romans 4:23-25. Back to text.
16. Exodus 19-40; Leviticus; Numbers; Deuteronomy. Back to text.
17. Romans 10:1-10. Back to text.
18. Romans 3:19-20, 5:20-21, 7:7-25. Back to text.
19. Genesis 17:9-14; Leviticus 12:3; Romans 2:25-27; Romans 4:9-12. Back to text.
20. Romans 2:28-29. Back to text.
21. Romans 2:26-27. Back to text.
22. Hebrews 7-10. Back to text.
23. Romans 3:21-26. Back to text.
24. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:7-13, 10:15-18. Back to text.
25. Deuteronomy 30:6; Romans 11:11-32. Back to text.
26. Romans 2:17-25. Back to text.
27. Romans 3:20, 4:1-5, 5:20-21, 11:6. Back to text.
28. Romans 3:21-26, 4:16. Back to text.
29. Romans 3:25-26. Back to text.
30. Galatians 2:15-21, 3:13-14; Ephesians 2:1-10.Back to text.
31. Hebrews 3:1-6. Back to text.
32. Jeremiah 31:31-34; Romans 8:16-27; 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:8. Back to text.
33. Matthew 2:1-6; Luke 1:26-38; Romans 1:1-7; 2 Timothy 2:8. Back to text.
34. John 1:12-13, 3:1-8, 6:44, 6:63; Jeremiah 31:31-34. Back to text.
35. Isaiah 53;1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Back to text.
36. 2 Corinthians 2:1-2. Back to text.
37. Romans 11:11-32. Back to text.
38. Romans 7:24-8:39. Back to text.
39. Psalm 110; Hebrew 1:13, 10:11-13. Back to text.
Copyright March 2009 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.