QUESTION: “If I believe in Jesus Christ do I become a Jew? I have been told that if I believe in Jesus Christ I become a spiritual Jew and am a part of Israel. Is this true?”
ANSWER: This is an excellent question, and it goes to the heart of an issue that has for too long created a lot of unnecessary conflict in the body of Christ. How we answer this goes to the root of our understanding how natural law and spiritual law merge together.
First, we must remember that all humans originated from one man, Adam (Acts 17:26). All people share a common ancestry. Second, after the global flood over humanity all people originated from the family of Noah (Genesis 6-9:7). Third in Genesis 10:1-11:9 we see the earthly development of the various peoples who will spread out over all of the earth. The human race developed from the three sons of Noah. Descendants from Ham, Shem, and Japheth begin to populate across the various main regions of the earth. At this point Jews did not exist.
Now, and fourth, after the call of Abraham (Genesis 12) we see his life become a focal point in God’s work in history. In Genesis 17 God made a promise to Abraham that he would become a father to many nations (Genesis 17:5). This key phrase is critical to grasp. A misunderstanding here causes later confusion when examining a phrase used in Galatians 3:29. I will elaborate further.
Abraham had two sons, Isaac (from Sarah his full covenanted wife) and Ishmael (from his concubine Hagar). From Ismael came the people known as Ishmaelites. Isaac later joined/married Rebecca. They had a son named Jacob. From the son Jacob came the people known as Jews, or the Israelites. Abraham fathered many nations whereas Jacob, whose name became Israel by God,fathered the Jewish people (see Genesis 32:28). The children of Jacob constitute those who have the DNA code that Jacob passed onto to them.
Fifth, when we come to the book of Galatians we see this statement made by Paul: “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 4:29). You ask why do some believe when we believe in Jesus we become Jews? This passage has a lot to do with that. Many teachers believe that when Scripture says we are the seed or offspring of Abraham we believers in Christ by that declaration have somehow become Jewish. But this is not consistent logic. Abraham was not a Jew. He was a grandfather to the one who started the Jewish nation, a distinctive people. But Abraham was not a Jew. Israel did not formally develop until God focused in on Jacob and declared him as the beginning of the Israel line. Those physically born from Jacob constitute the Jewish race.
That matter just noted makes a huge difference in this discussion. Being a child of Abraham is not the same thing as being a child of Jacob. The DNA that Jacob passed down to his physical offspring is what makes someone Jewish. Only Jews descend from Jacob. Arabs and Jews have a direct connection by lineage to Abraham. But only Jews come forth from Jacob.
Sixth, when we believe in Christ we have a spiritual connection to Abraham because he had a spiritual connection to the Lord. He had faith in the Lord. When we believe in the Lord we also have that same faith. This brings up another point that needs consideration. A spiritual connection is not the same as a physical DNA or ethnic line connection. Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum asks the right question to this issue when he says, “is the spiritual seed of Abraham ever called Israel” (Israeology, p. 702)? The answer to this is clear. Nothing in Scripture ever says that. The Bible would have to say we believers in Christ are the children of Jacob if we are to believe we somehow become spiritual Jews.
Seventh, one of the issues in this debate is a misunderstanding of the definition for spiritual. DNA is an earthly or natural law matter. On the other hand, the term spiritual means something else. That term has to do with something that means under the control of the Holy Spirit. A person born of God through the Holy Spirit becomes a spiritual person. They receive a new nature (see John 3:1-16). That means they receive a new disposition inside their spirit. Their heart and mind becomes focused on Christ. So the term spiritual does not pertain to the physical world. A Gentile who believes in Christ becomes a spiritual Gentile. A Jew who believes in Christ becomes a spiritual Jew. An Asian person who comes to Christ becomes a spiritual Asian. Spirituality does not alter a person’s physical DNA or ethnicity.
In summary those seven points can help resolve this matter. God sees both the spiritual people and the physical peoples in his world. He sometimes speaks to both and sometimes he speaks to just one group. For example, in the book James we see God speaking primarily to the Jewish believers who have suffered dispersion from the land of Israel. James says he is writing to the twelve tribes in dispersion (James 1:1). The Israel nation has existed ever since the time of Jacob. Even if they do not have a homeland and they live in dispersion they exist. Any person born of the line of Jacob is a Jew. God knows who they are and he sees them. On the other hand, God writes to all believers in other places of Scripture. In many letters in the N.T. God speaks to all of the saints, and that would include Jews and Gentiles in Christ (see 1 Cor 1:2; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; Col. 1:1). It is incorrect to say we become Jews when we come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Our DNA or ethnicity does not change. Our physical lineage remains even in Christ. We believers in Christ share equality in the spiritual privileges alongside of Israel (Eph. 2:11-22). Jews and Gentiles in the body of Christ make up the citizenry in the new people of God, the “household of God” (Eph. 2:19). But those citizens do not have a change in their DNA code. Jewish people remain Jews as they are citizens in the new people of God just as Gentiles remain Gentiles in the new people of God.
Thanks for asking. I hope this helps.