We have been raised in a society that focuses a lot of attention on individualism. Oddly, as much as we all profess to ascribe to some level of non-conformism, we all conform to some standard. All of us want to “belong” to something. Belonging by definition involves conforming. As it happens, YHVH has provided a standard by which he has called us to live.
In the previous entry we established that there are many internal and external factors that contribute to what we could call our identity. But, ultimately, it is YHVH’s version of who we are that matters most. How can we be sure what that is?
Those of us who have chosen to follow YHVH – including we who believe in Yeshua’s birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign – are enjoined by Scripture to follow YHVH’s mitzvot*; his instructions, rulings, precepts, teachings. That is our standard of conformity. Deuteronomy 6:4-8** instructs Israel to follow YHVH’s instructions. Yeshua said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) And one of the strongest statements along these lines is from Paul, in Romans 12:2, “…be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is the good and acceptable will of God.”
This is where we, as believers, belong; within the safe boundaries of YHVH’s mitzvot; learning to know him; walking according to his Spirit.
What does this mean? Who are we? Can we just be our normal worldly selves while we belong to YHVH? According to scripture, all who believe are “seed of Abraham” (Galatians 3:29), and we are Israel. If we have chosen to follow YHVH, we have been accepted into the “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12), and we have been grafted into the tree that is Israel (Romans 11).
This is controversial territory. There are several tangential discussions we could undertake at this point. Some of them are important to understanding what I am trying to say about identity! One of the primary points of debate is something called “replacement theology.” The classic understanding of replacement theology is the idea that “the church” replaced “Israel” because Israel “rejected” Yeshua. However, the “grafted in” passage in Romans 11 makes it clear that “wild branches” were grafted into the “cultivated tree.” The tree was not uprooted and replaced. We have become part of YHVH’s family by our faith in him.
Another perspective on replacement theology says that anyone claiming to “be Israel” who is not Jewish is trying to supplant, usurp, and replace the Jews as heirs of Israel. Nothing could be further from the truth. We – non-Jews – are joining, not replacing. Plus, scripture clearly states that all who “believe with their hearts and confess with their mouths” (Romans 10:9-10) are partakers of the promise and have become “joint heirs” with Yeshua (Romans 8:17).
This is our identity. We are Israel, together with all who love YHVH.
There is also the question of Jewishness. Let’s look first at the term itself. The word “Jew” is derived from the name of the tribe that returned from Babylon (with Benjaminites, too) ~ Judah, or Yehudah. The territory they lived in was called Judea. Hence, they came to be called Jews. Now, some believe, and it is probably true to some extent, that the “other ten tribes” have over time assimilated back into Judaism. In that case, and according to that belief, the term Jew can refer to people of all twelve tribes today. But, when you hear someone refer to Moshe delivering the Jews from Egypt or to the Jews wandering in the desert, that is inaccurate. The full company of B’nei Yisra’el was delivered from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness, not just “the Jews.” That term was not yet in use. [Future entries will discuss the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom]
To mainstream Christian eyes, our “Hebrew Roots” congregations look “Jewish.” That is because the Jews have preserved Torah for millennia. Many of us have adopted some Jewish customs because they are based on the instructions of Torah. This does not mean we are “becoming Jewish.” We have also altered our holiday schedules. This is because YHVH told us in Torah when to celebrate feasts. This does not mean we have forsaken Yeshua (Jesus). I will save further discussion of these things for future entries.
If you love YHVH, you are Israel. Not a Jew (necessarily). Not an Israeli citizen (in the modern nation-state of Israel) (necessarily). But you ARE an heir of the Kingdom of YHVH.
Are you carrying valid identification? Can others see YHVH in you? Is his word written on your heart?
· * Mitzvot ~ commandment
· ** Deuteronomy 6:4-8: “Sh’ma, Yisra’el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad [Hear, O Israel! Adonai our God, Adonai is One]; and you are to love Adonai your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your resources. These words, which I am ordering you today, are to be on your heart; and you are to teach them carefully to your children. You are to talk about them when your sit at home, when you are traveling on the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them on your hand as a sign, put them at the front of a headband around your forehead, and write them on the door-frames of your house and on your gates.”