An article by Scott Clem
What do the Judaizers of Galatians & Acts 15, Dispensationalism, and the Hebrew Roots movement all have in common?Heretical error: portraying that the grace of God in Christ isn’t enough to make you a full member in the new covenant community of believing Israel. It holds that Israelites after the flesh are special and distinct, and entitled to something more than the mere Gentile believer–having special promises outside of Christ. Thus, if a Gentile wants these promises too, he has to become a proselyte to physical Israel, in addition to trusting Jesus by faith.
We know that under the old covenant the physical nation of Israel was distinct from all the nations, and that they alone were the covenant people of God. As Paul would say, Gentiles were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel” and “strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph. 2:12). Despite the old covenant being restricted to ethnic Israel, Gentiles were welcome to become a full member of the covenant community of Israel. How? By renouncing their old life and heritage, and committing oneself to God under the law of Moses. We call such people “proselytes.”
Three things were required for the admission of a proselyte: circumcision, baptism, and the offering of sacrifice. Women proselytes were only subject to the ladder two requirements. After his baptism the proselyte was considered to be a new man, “a little child newly born,” as “one that is born in the land” (Exo. 12:48). He was assigned a tribe (Ezek. 47:22-23) and a new name was given to him. Either he was named “Abraham the son of Abraham,” or the Scriptures were opened randomly, and the first name that was read was given to him. He had to put behind him all his past. Even his marriage ties and those of kinship no longer held good. A Gentile “proselyte of the covenant”, or ger ha-berith, was considered as being in every respect a “perfect Israelite”; and A FULL MEMBER OF ISRAEL, having an “inheritance with [them] among the tribes of Israel.”
The work of Christ changed all that. In Acts 10 onward, Gentiles were being saved and added in among believing Israel, but without becoming full proselytes first. It was scandalous! Keep in mind that Messianic Jews didn’t consider themselves to be a different religion called “Christianity”. Believing Israelites, like Paul, Peter, and the proselyte named Nicolas (Acts 2:10; 6:5;13:43; 24:14, 17), simply considered themselves to be true Israelites who had believed and received the promises made to their fathers(Acts 13:13-43; 3:12-26).
How could they tell saved Gentiles were being added among believing Israel? They were being filled with the same Holy Spirit as believing Israelites, but without the proselyte requirements of the law. This is what the 1st church council in Acts 15 is all about. The believing Pharisees wanted these saved Gentiles to go through the full proselyte process before they would accept them as full members of Israel, claiming they couldn’t really be saved without doing so(Acts 15:1-5).
The apostles saw the salvation and conversion of Gentiles differently (Acts 15:6-35). Despite NOT being circumcised or following the law of Moses, they recognized that the Holy Spirit of God MADE these Gentiles FULL COVENANT MEMBERS in the SAME covenant community of believing ISRAEL in CHRIST, on the basis of FAITH alone, and NOT the law of Moses. James even quotes Amos 9:11-12, saying that these saved Gentiles being added in among believing Israel was God building again the house of David that had fallen–referring to the once united kingdom of Israel, now being unified and rebuilt under King Jesus.
This leads us back to Galatians 6 and Paul’s reference to saved Jews AND Gentiles as the “Israel of God.” In Galatians, some Jews were trying to make saved Gentiles feel inferior, compelling them to be circumcised and to keep the law of Moses before accepting them as FULL and EQUAL members in the covenant community of Israel (1:6-10; 2:1-5:18). Paul rebukes this SHARPLY, arguing that circumcision or uncircumcision means NOTHING in the new covenant community of Israel, only a “NEW CREATION” in Christ matters(6:15-16).
His argument all the way through is that in the Messiah, believing Israelites are no better and no more privileged than believing Gentiles, and that trying to be an Israelite through the law means you have fallen from grace and have gone back to bondage–being a debtor to the whole law! What had previously distinguished Israel, i.e. the law, was permanently set aside now that Jesus has come (3:23-25). WHAT MATTERS NOW to be part of the true Israel is FAITH in the Messiah(3:26-29)!
Some argue that the “Israel of God” statement is Paul’s way of distinguishing saved Jews from saved Gentiles. Why would Paul argue forcefully all throughout the letter how there’s NO difference between Jew or Gentiles in Christ, only to distinguish believing Israelites at the end, setting them apart as special and different from the Gentiles? That would have destroyed Paul’s own argument and justified the Judaizers! It’s ludicrous to even think such a thing, and the context makes it clear that in this “Israel” ethnic distinctions are NO LONGER RESOLVED on the basis of the law, but rather by being JOINED WITH THE MESSIAH through FAITH alone.
Gentiles, who were once alienated from the commonwealth of Israel through the law, have been forged together with believers from ethnic Israel into one “new”humanity through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:11-15). The “law of commandments contained in ordinances” was “abolished” in Christ’s flesh, breaking down the “middle wall of partition between us.” As such, believing Gentiles are “no more strangers and foreigners, but FELLOW CITIZENS“ and “FELLOW HEIRS” with ethnic Israelites, now of “THE SAME BODY, and PARTAKERS of HIS PROMISE in Christ BY THE GOSPEL,” rather than by the law rather than by the law (Eph. 2:19: 3:6).
Dispensationalism is no different than the Judaizers of the past, attempting to divide the new covenant community (i.e. the body of Christ–the true Israel) by making some people more special or privileged than others–and on the basis of ETHNICITY & LAW DISTINCTIONS no less! It promotes that physical Israel–natural born or proselytes, will inherit special promises outside of Christ. This dispensational doctrine feeds things like the Hebrews Roots movement, with Gentiles thinking they need to proselytize through LAW KEEPING in order to be part of Israel, as if what they have in Christ isn’t enough! This was the poison that Paul took such issue with, a heresy that has caused confusion and robbed people of the knowledge of who they are in Christ. All of the covenants and promises find their “YES” in Jesus–the true Israel, NOT in ethnic Israel outside of Christ. That’s “another gospel.”
Dispensationalism has just dressed up this Judaizing doctrine in new clothes, veiling it under the guise of a new eschatology. There is no future for physical Israel OR the nations outside of the body of Christ–the ONLY HUMANITY who will survive the destruction of the old creation and inhabit the new creation.“If any man be in Christ, he is a NEW CREATURE (creation).” Thus, ethnic Israelites and ethnic non-Israelites will enjoy the new creation if and only if they have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ and become part of His Body–the church, the “Israel of God.”