What is a True Jew?

Jewish scrolls of the (Old Testament) Scriptures

“The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. And if the Gentiles obey God’s law, won’t God declare them to be his own people? In fact, uncircumcised Gentiles who keep God’s law will condemn you Jews who are circumcised and possess God’s law, but don’t obey it, for you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” –Paul (Romans 2:25-29)

OK, so wait: if a Jew accepts Jesus as their Messiah, are they still “Jews”? I mean, yes, we have “Messianic Jews”, which are Jews who have done just that but who also keep the culture and traditions of Jews (as did the first century Jews), but theologically-speaking, or in terms of titles, are they not now “Christians” (for first Century “Christians” were Jews)? I’m just looking at what Paul’s saying, and wondering: if somebody is a Jew inwardly, then would they not accept Christ? Because many of the Jews who Paul ministered to and argued with claimed Judaism, yet they rejected Christ. So were they actually Jews then? Paul talked of the Jews’ zeal being misguided, for though their zeal was for the Lord, they rejected His Messiah. So maybe the answer to my question is that Jews are those who worship God and are Jews inwardly, but who also continue to reject Jesus? But then, isn’t that opposite of what Paul just got done saying?

To answer the question that I’m sure many were thinking I would be talking about, based on the title of this post, what about the many “Jews” we have today who have nothing to do with following (or even knowing or wanting anything to do with) the Mosaic Law, God, or their identity as God’s people (the many who are basically like the Israelites in the Old Testament)? Can they still be called “Jews”? And that’s a good question because as I’ve come to understand it, Judaism is a religion, not a nationality. It was formed while in Exile (Babylon) by those from Judah (Judah-ism) to get back right with God, the Mosaic Law and obedience, everything they’d rejected previously, and which by doing so led them into their exile in the first place. Also, the Hebrews letter (New Testament) was written to the “Hebrew Christians” in order to persuade them from returning to the Law (under the Mosaic Law vs. those under God’s Grace), as many were pondering in order to escape the persecutions of Christians (Jews who put their faith and trust in the Messiah) at that time. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), they’re called “Israelites” because such was from whom they came (Canaanites were from Canaan, Egypt from Egypt the person…), however they don’t go by this name anymore. But seriously, if a person who calls him or herself a Jew has nothing to do with the religion “Judaism”, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, nor God’s commands or decrees,  then should we still call them “Jews”, for aren’t they just secular “Hebrews”? Also, if they continue to reject Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah, then, as ones claiming the “Jew” title, are they  not still bound by the Law regardless of their participation in Judaism, due to their ancestral connection with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel (as were the Israelites between the Exodus and the Exile) and their ancestral connection with those whom God rescued out of Egypt?

Now, if we ask that of the Hebrews/Jews today, then we also have to look at those who claim to be Christians and yet behave the same way (we have a LOT of those in this country, don’t we?). So if you dress like a Christian, attend church each Sunday, believe in God and claim to be a Christian, yet have nothing to do with Jesus in your behaviors, don’t read/study the Bible, pray only on occasion, indulge in desires of the world….then does that make you a Christian? We’ve all heard the comparison to this where if you live in the garage, that doesn’t make you a car, right? Jesus warned us in Matthew 7:15-20 to watch out for such people though, calling them “false prophets” (NLT: False Christians), for they will fool you by how they look (and act?), but are really “ferocious wolves”. He said that we’ll “recognize them by their fruit.” And sometimes, as with Jesus and the fig tree, you may have to examine them from up close to see the fruit (or lack of) that they bear.

But what do you make of all this? For according to Paul, if a Jew, who has the Law, sins, then they’re on the same grounds as the Gentile (who doesn’t have the Law) and sins. And sin always demands the response of repentance, regardless of where you’re standing:

  • Christians need to repent.
  • Jews need to repent.
  • Gentiles need to repent.

So regardless of who/whose you are, reconciliation with God still needs to be made.

But for God’s people (those of us whose hearts are right with God), I wonder if it’s sometimes more serious or crucial to repent, not for salvation’s sake, but judgment, since Christians and Jews (are supposed to) know better, since we have the Scriptures to guide us. For instance, if we have LED flashlights, then there’s no reason for us to be bumping into things in the dark. Gentiles (non-believers), on the other hand, don’t have the flashlight/guide, so it’s expected that they’ll bump into things in the dark. But if they knock something over or break something by bumping into it, they’re still judged accordingly (since they had a chance to ask for and receive a flashlight, but refused). But it’s expected that they would. Those with the flashlights, on the other hand, should have no reason to damage anything (sin), for they have their light and guide. So when they do, they’re judged accordingly.

So again, regardless if you are a Gentile, a Hebrew, a Jew, or a Christian, Christ is needed in the center of the equation if you are to be (or become) right with God. For if He is not, then you’re in the same place as those who do not even know Him.

A True Jew then, is not a Hebrew (Jew) who was born into the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who is circumcised, nor whose ancestors were among those held in captivity by Babylon. A True Jew is a Hebrew whose heart is set right with God through the transformation made when, through faith, they accepted the Messiah, known as Yeshua. For only through faith in Jesus the Messiah can one be made right with God. Otherwise, as Paul explained it, they’re not true Jews, they’re just Hebrews on even ground with the Gentiles.

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