In Jewish evangelism, people sometimes raise objections or ask questions—not because they want answers, but because they want to refute what they are being asked to consider. To one who is determined not to believe, no answer will suffice. On the other hand, if a person really wants answers that will enable him or her to comprehend our gospel message, no question is unanswerable. Granted, many spiritual concepts cannot be fully explained to the finite human mind; nevertheless, there is always a satisfactory answer for one who is willing to believe. This is the first of a series in which we will be dealing with the questions most often posed to our staff by unbelievers.
Q: How can you believe in Jesus and still call yourselves Jews? Why don’t you just call yourselves Christians for Jesus?
A: Actually, we call ourselves both Jews and Christians. The idea that these categories are mutually exclusive is a misconception born of intolerance and prejudice.
The definition of who is a Jew continues to be debated within the Jewish community. No agreement exists as to whether Jewishness is to be defined in terms of religion, culture, parentage or simple majority opinion. Yet biblically, a Jew is one who belongs to the people descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—the people with whom God made the covenants through Abraham, Moses and David. God himself made us Jewish; therefore it does not depend on our particular beliefs or actions. Perhaps this explains why a Jewish baby is Jewish long before he or she has had any opportunity to formulate opinions about religion or culture. Actually, those of us who have become believers in Yeshua have found, along with our faith in God, a deepened and renewed commitment to our heritage, our culture, our traditions and our people.
Concerning the term Christian,” the word comes from the Greek “christos,” translated from the Hebrew “mashiach”—our English “messiah. “A Christian is not defined as someone who attends a church or who is a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Rather, a Christian is someone—Jewish or Gentile—who has made a decision to follow Yeshua as the Messiah. In other words, becoming a Christian is a personal matter between an individual and God; nobody can be “born a Christian.” You must have a second birth or be “born again.”1
The first Christians were Jews who came to believe that Yeshua was the Messiah. None of them renounced their Jewishness. Their faith was based on God’s age-old promises found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the very beginning, Christianity was considered just another sect within the Jewish faith. For the most part, it was not until years later that Gentiles were even offered the opportunity to become believers in Yeshua without first converting to Judaism.
It follows that if Yeshua is the Messiah of Israel, then nothing could be more Jewish than believing in him—or more honoring to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
- John 3:3-7 in the New Testament and its background in the Hebrew Scriptures in Ezekiel 36:25-27. Jesus told the rabbi Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God… Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
Ezekiel likewise described the process of spiritual change: “Then will I (God) sprinkle clean water on you, and ye shall be clean; from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you… and ye shall keep mine ordinances and do them.”