“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” — Exodus 19:5-6
At the very foundation of the Jewish and Christian faith is the concept of the covenant, or brit In Hebrew. The Bible teaches us that God chose and initiated a covenantal relationship with us — one that defines events of the past and assures us of promises for the future. This is one of six devotions related to these divine contracts that eternally bind us with God.
Walk into a room filled with people you don’t know that well, and more often than not, the question will arise, “So what do you do?” We tend to define ourselves in terms of the things we do. But when it comes to answering the question, “Who are you?” we often stumble on the answer. We may respond by describing our physical characteristics, or by talking about our personality, or ethnicity.
What about your faith? Do you describe your identity as being Christian or Jewish? A lover of God? One who studies the Scriptures?
In fact, one of the most prevalent misunderstandings between Christians and Jews is how members of the other community define themselves. It may come as a surprise for Christians to learn, for example, that Jews tend to view most non-Jews as Christians (expect, of course, if they belong to another religion.) Jews for the most part are unaware that Christianity is not something you are born into, but is a faith that one personally and consciously accepts.
Being Jewish, on the other hand, is something that we are born into. Every child born of a Jewish mother is a member of the Jewish community. Even those Jews who don’t practice the faith remain a part of the group. Being Jewish, therefore, is not so much accepting a faith system as it true with Christians, but being part of a covenantal community that one is born into.
We understand this from our biblical roots. When the Israelites gathered at Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with them. They were bound together, with God, as His covenant people. This covenant is a perpetual heritage that all Jews are part of, whether they accept it or not.
God also gave Israel the distinction of being “my treasured possession.” Out of all the nations of the earth, the Jewish people would be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” to God. These distinctions form the context of what it means to be born into the Jewish community.
Christians and Jews perceive their faith differently. We define our identities in different ways, but we share a common heritage of faith in God. So the next time you hear the question, “Who are you?” remember that your identity is more than what you do, what you look like, and even where your family comes from. It includes your understanding of your relationship with God.
That’s our true identity.
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