CHAPTER 1: Allowing the Spirit to Refocus Our Identity
by Jack Hayford
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling. (Ephesians 4:1-4)
Among my most treasured moments in ministry have been occasions I have been invited to serve as a spokesperson for reconciliation between fellow Christian believers whose ethnicity has historically presented obstacles for many of each group to withdraw from the other. I have been privileged to speak in settings where due diligence was being shown by both sides of an historic ethnic barricade. Such cases included me in ministering as a team member of settings involving (a) American black and white males, (b) Native or “First” Americans (North American Indians) and U.S. citizens of European extraction, and (c) walking with several denominations who, together, confronted their respective group’s involvement in racial bigotry, but now were coming to repentance and biblical brotherhood.
Unforgettable among these is that highlight occasion I shared with more than 1,000 leaders who were at the 2004 conference conducted by The Road to Jerusalem ministry led by Bill McCartney and Raleigh Washington. Dr. Bill Hamel and I each spoke, representing the historic and evangelical Christian community of our day, addressing Daniel Juster and Jonathan Bernis of the Messianic Jewish community. Our purpose was to break down all walls that have separated us as brothers within the One New Man.
Pastor Hamel and I were humbled to stand as representatives of Gentile believers, as well as Protestant denominational leaders, to pray as intercessory penitents for the violations-unintended or intentional-that have been inflicted by Gentile believers upon both the Jewish people historically and the Messianic Jewish brethren and sisters in recent years. We united on the platform, a large crowd comprising both peoples in near equal numbers. Though a symbolic act to those unaware of the spiritual power of “representational repentance,” we invoked God’s blessing to multiply our manifest unity of that moment in ever widening circles-among churches, groups, and individual believers globally.
In that moment, all who were present saw a living demonstration of the One New Man, Jew and Gentile grafted together, laying aside their differences, humbly asking forgiveness after centuries of persecution directed towards each other. Similar occasions in today’s global Church evidence increasing openness to this and other points of necessary mutuality, of growing unity, and at other times of frank, humbling repentance or honest recanting of erroneous concepts that, having been embraced, “brace up” walls of separation.
The Lord Jesus is calling us now, to a broader and even deeper awareness and awakening-to a distinct arena of unity and oneness that cannot be neglected without missing our call to this twenty-first-century hour. It is that-the times-that mandate the Church rise with spiritual passion and action, and embrace the truth and practice inherent in the words of Ephesians 2, calling believing Jews and Gentiles to give place to our Lord’s desire to platform “One New Man”-one truly united Body, fit for ministry, spiritual warfare, and servant-like compassion across our world-everywhere.
Needed: A Breaking, Not a Brilliance
I am honored to be invited to contribute to this collection of articles regarding the need for and pathway to a Body-wide awakening of the whole Church to God’s purpose regarding the One New Man He intends to manifest through Christ Jesus-Yeshua haMashiach. It is also humbling to rehearse what, for my part, is more of a testimony than an exposition. My offering here is not to describe a brilliance of biblical insight that brought me my own awakening, but rather, how graciously the Holy Spirit “broke in.” He began breaking away the cataracts of unperceived blindness and began processing my perspective in that way He grants a grace gift of revelation-a sudden insight that fully aligns with God’s Word, but ignites understanding that exceeds your own, and puts you on track with increasing enlightenment as you study further.
As a pastor, I’ve always been a serious student, deeply committed to teaching my flock. As a Bible college and seminary professor, I’ve sought to anchor myself and my teaching in the Word, and the doctrine. In other words, I knew the Scriptures, but I must honestly say with an unaffected humility, I did not learn or come to discern what has been a “biblically and theologically sound” pathway of understanding and fellowship in regard to those distinct points of biblical understanding that help us relate to and minister regarding Messianic Judaism. (In passing, let me note that our seminary at The King’s University now offers an accredited doctoral studies program in Messianic Jewish Leadership.)
Three Motivating Reasons to Write
What follows is an explanation of “how I got from there to here,” that is, from where my past perspectives and experience were almost completely absent of any sense or need to think about or be open to this subject, to the sense of gratitude for and clarity of conviction I have today. Here, I have gone to considerable length and detail, beginning with three reasons explaining what motivates my lengthier testimony as it relates to my own God-graced introduction to and my approach in partnering with Messianic Jews.
The first reason is to assert that this has vastly enlarged my understanding of the Jewish world-an important fact, given the location of the Kings, as well as my pastoral base for the 31 years where I led and fed the congregation of The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I hold all Jews in deep respect, no matter what their spiritual convictions may be. My belief is that our primary mission as a local congregation as well as an educational center training leaders for ministry in today’s Church, is to love, affirm, and stand with the Jewish people and Israel, especially at this politically strife-filled season of history.
Knowing God’s Word and discerning His ways of reaching to touch the hearts of His ancient chosen people is important to every one of us who see Jesus as the Messiah. Representing God’s heart for them with supporting love and in relationship that reveals a generous spirit has proven to be a fruitful, trust-building approach; one I believe is consistent with the Spirit of Jesus.
The second reason is to indicate my agreement that every effort should be bent toward helping the whole Body of Christ recognize, embrace, and receive Messianic Jews with understanding. Their salvation in Christ is not, as some critics argue, based on a compromised theology. Their use of terminology uniquely descriptive of themselves as Jews and not as Christians is not a denial of Jesus Christ (Yeshua haMashiach, in Hebrew). Neither is their continuance in their cultural celebrations of the Jewish background an addendum to salvation by faith through grace alone, rooted in Christ and independent of the law or its rituals.
For this reason, soundly based Messianic believers not only deserve the embrace of the whole Body of Christ, they need it. The historic societal rejection of Jews in general, beside the distinct and sometime brutal rejection or persecution many experience after receiving Yeshua as Lord, absolutely mandates the sensitive understanding and warmest embrace by the whole Body of Christ. Understanding the biblical call to our relating with them as One New Man is a pivotal assist toward living this way.
The third reason is to express my belief that the truth and spirit essential to embrace the biblical call to the One New Man will only ultimately be received by a Holy Spirit-begotten awakening of a Gentile believer’s “inner man.” Reasoned teaching is valuable, but prayerful availability to the Holy Spirit, as the One Jesus said would “lead you into all truth,” will determine the depth and practical commitment anyone brings to a One New Man lifestyle.
This is not because the subject is without intellectual or theological footings, but because it is spiritual truth. It will only realize a passionate response in our lifestyle where hearts invite the Holy Spirit-as they prayerfully open the Word and openly engage conversation and fellowship with Messianic leaders. This reality is not distinct for other “basics” about the transmission of transforming truth. For example, not one of us as Gentile believers came to Christ and unto new birth without the Holy Spirit’s assistance-none of us were reborn by mental powers but by the Spirit’s work of grace. And so it is that the nature of the theme at hand requires this same dependency upon Him.
A Spiritually Essential Precursor
The quest for One New Man-for acknowledging, pursuing, and embracing this spiritually essential precursor of God’s “last days spiritual awakening and awaiting worldwide revival” (see Rom. 11:12,15,25)-must become an essential, vital to us, in us and through us all. It is critical because the Word of God exhorts us to pursue it. But today it is also at a crisis point of needed awakening in the living Church; remembering the times call for it-both past times as well as today’sunfolding times.
Referencing the past-Gentile believers must give themselves to avoid the Church reliving any part of the sordid history of failure we servants of Jesus of Nazareth have written across the centuries as “Christians” relating to, or more frankly for the most part, failing the Jews. Those times past cannot be casually dismissed, especially at this early hour of the twenty-first century, when everything around us seems to warrant considering the possibility that we are living at the time the writer of Hebrews cites:
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks…whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:25-28)
Thus, we reference the unfolding present-the tumultuous world in which you and I are called to leadership in Christ’s/ Messiah’s Body.
Without question, these are days our identity as committed believes in Jesus Christ mandates our clarity of self-understanding concerning our relationship with Christ our Lord, and what He expects of our relationship with our Jewish brethren, as well as our understanding and support for all Jews globally and discerning support for Israel in her crises. These are times that born again believers in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, must be readied with a moral will to stand together in support amid a world being poisoned daily by a rapid and rabid increase in both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian actions and rhetoric. To do this, as believers in God, His Son, and His Word, we need to reevaluate our presuppositions-essentially to sift out the superficial in order to more firmly live out these times with deeply founded convictions.
So it is, in the light and spirit of the above, I invite you to join me as I relate the essence-a brief distillation-of a pilgrimage, of sorts; one that provides an account of one man’s “awakening”- mine! As I write to both Gentiles and Jews, hoping to prompt all to seek a fuller discovery of their identity as One New Man, my choice has been to maintain brevity. My goal is to provide outlined points of understanding that my own biblically based spiritual awakening brought me. At the same time, I want to assure the reader that my growth in living out this lifestyle unquestionably had seasons of slow growth, with only gradual gains in understanding.
But the journey is worth the “stretching” it brings, not only because it is a biblically directed pursuit but also because of the benefits one may realize. I readily affirm, for my part, how thankful I am as I continue to realize ever-expanding relationships with wonderful people, both among unbelieving as well as believing Jews. I know that without the quest urged in this book you hold, I would otherwise never have found so warm a welcome or such enjoyable relationships with so many in the entire Jewish community.
My Awakening-Two Points via Parallels
I begin by drawing parallels between my experience and that of two people in the Bible. The first is the man Jesus healed who had been born blind. The second is Peter, whose response to the Holy Spirit occasioned the first step that eventuated in the early Church finding its way to understand its mission to the Gentiles-to the nations of the world.
I have already noted my belief that the Holy Spirit’s touch of “revelation” must enable all of us to see the truths held in the Word of God. I am not implying a “mystical” approach to the Bible is essential; I am announcing that a tactical or analytical approach may often prove ineffective, though not because it is insincere. It is a valid but awkward statement to make that even in our approach to the Scripture it is sadly easy to step outside the bounds of sound interpretation.
First Corinthians 2:7-16 clearly declares this truth as we see how the “spiritual” is contrasted with the “natural” mind, and carefully discern that the latter is not automatically inactive at times, simply because a person has been born again. New birth most certainly capacitates us for “spiritual” understanding. But it is equally true that the revealing, teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit is only functional in the absence of personal prejudice, intellectual pride, or a disposition to entertain sin in one’s life. Since each of us is subject to being tempted to any of those, we are wise to pray that God would prepare our hearts, to draw us to genuinely humble availability to “see” our identity in His One New Man. These words hold a biblical proposition with a spiritually enriching possibility for each of us-indeed, for all the Church at large! It is a wonderful, highly livable and relational prospect for the Christ’s/Messiah’s Body, made possible by our Savior’s life-gift of salvation for the whole world-for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.
The Man Born Blind
First, my “awakening” was a process similar to the experience of the man “born blind.” Just as the man whose eyes Jesus “anointed” with mud and then commanded him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, I was alive-literally and spiritually. But other than a general understanding of “the Jews and Israel in last days prophecies,” I had no perception of the implications of the last days involving an unveiling of Jews to their Messiah before the Church was “taken up” to be with Christ. Though “born again” (like the blind man was physically alive) I was introduced by God’s grace to a progressing understanding of the Word of God as it pertains to the Jews in our times-and increasingly to see what it called for in my response.
It is an interesting study to elaborate at greater length, however, briefly observe here with me how his “seeing” was first, entirely achieved by Jesus’ sovereign act, initiating the man’s ability to see visually. But second, it processed to his seeing more deeply with time, as progressive understanding followed an initial unveiling. Moving through John 9, the Bible shows the man proceeding from the miraculous recovery of his eyesight, to an increasing discovery of who Jesus was.
With his first answer to the question, “How were your eyes opened,” he described his limited perception of Jesus only as “a man “ (verse 11).
Next, to the Pharisee questioning him as to, “What do you say about him?” the man said, “He is a prophet.”
The third inquiry-a further grilling by the religious leaders-occasions his great statement, “One thing I know-once I was blind but now I see!”
The interaction continues from there (verse 25) to his conclusion that his Healer was “a man from God.”
Finally, when Jesus personally seeks out the man (verses 35-38), we see the Savior escort him unto full understanding of Himself as “the Son of God.”
#1 – A Parallel re: Progressing Realization
Parallel to the man born blind: I was “born again“ already but was “blind” to the truth of the principle that reveals the spiritual indebtedness all believers owe to the Jews (see Rom. 15:15-17). Though I had received Christ, as well as having received His call into pastoral ministry before I entered college, I was in pastoral ministry nearly 15 years before I began to see how unaware I was. The implications of my spiritual obligation to prioritize our call to first, love, honor and thus reach out to God’s ancient people, the Jews. I was “blind though born again,” not even “seeing” the many basic biblical statements that forthrightly reveal that my faith in Jesus Christ had brought me (a) through their promised Messiah (see Gal. 3:26-27), (b) into an intended unity with believing Jews in the Body of Christ (see Gal. 3:28), (c) uniting us with them in faith first seeded by Abraham (see Gal. 3:29) and, (d) by faith in Christ alone, apart from the law, grafting me into the single root system through which eternal life flows-from the Messiah (see Isa. 53:2-6).
Simon Peter’s Vision at Joppa
The account of Peter’s experience in Acts 10 records a second picture somewhat parallel to my “awakening” to the truth of God’s One New Man hopes for all the redeemed. Opening to that passage, it is clear that Peter was, in yet another way, “blind” until the Holy Spirit confronted and enlightened him to truth fully revealed in the Scriptures all the time. His eyesight was not his problem, but his scope of vision for Gentiles was blocked by tradition.
Peter’s awakening came about by, and probably required, a vision that was deeply disturbing. It was a shocking vision-one that drastically upset his sensitivities. As he beheld it, distaste and embarrassment flooded his mind and emotions as God presented him with a bewildering scene of unclean and creeping creatures. He was presented with an array of animals and insects; all of which were previously forbidden by God as being unfit for consumption by His people of covenant.
Then his encounter cuts to the core of all he had been taught as the Holy Spirit commands him, “Rise, Peter, kill and prepare these unclean creatures for dinner.” The command, at first seeming to introduce “false doctrine,” was not reversing God’s Word, but shaking him awake to God’s fuller call to His will. Peter was brought to the amazing discovery that his “doctrine of separation” regarding impurity had blinded him to God’s desire to beget a redeemed people-Jews and Gentiles!-united in truth and love, now equally granted God’s grace and authority as “His people.” The result of his awakening was the opening of the young Church to its mission to the Gentiles; a mission to bring them “in”-into a circle, a communion that he until that day thought reserved for Jews only (see Acts 10-11, 15).
#2 – A Parallel re: Cultural Separatism
Peter could not even imagine seeing Gentiles becoming followers of Jesus without becoming “Jews” in ritual practices according to the Old Testament Mosaic systems. In short, being “saved” meant, “become a Jew.” The call was to a salvation linked to duties/rituals (works) more than faith. And Peter, though bold in his commitment to the Lord, represented an entire culture that did not “see” the greatness of God’s intent.
Then came His vision in Joppa, as the Holy Spirit invaded an unwittingly prejudiced man’s prayer closet to overthrow Peter’s presumed correctness regarding his cultural separatism from Gentiles. Again, a stream of experiences-a process-establishes a new perspective. His transformation begins with his spiritual encounter in Joppa (see Acts 10:9-16); the sudden and surprising confirmation of the arrival of the men sent to invite him to come to a Gentile home is attended by the Holy Spirit’s directive: “Go with them-nothing doubting.” But this is only the beginning.
The whole of the report in Acts 10-11 is a study in what can happen when only one leader allows the Holy Spirit to reveal God’s will for His people to break through cultural separatism. The outcome manifest in Peter’s experience is a testimony to what each of us can expand in the Body of all today’s believers. To see our identity in the Spirit’s biblically given “vision” of the One New Man calls us to grow in obedience as a people of attitudinal reconciliation; mutually practicing life-to-life integration, and growing with a dynamic witness to practical spirituality in the eyes of a watching world as we live in unity and partnership.
It begins with a heart being opened, just as Peter opened his, and advances as the Spirit of God processes hearts like ours from step to step. We saw it in Parallel #1, and it is here in its own unique expression in Parallel #2: (a) Peter’s vision, (b) Peter’s will to travel to a Gentile home, (c) God’s amazing confirmation of His power and love toward Gentiles as Peter obeys, (d) Peter’s forthright report and the response by the apostles in Jerusalem, (e) their collective choice to send Barnabas to see God’s works among Gentiles in Antioch, and (f) the reciprocal support gift of the Antioch Church to Jews for famine relief in Jerusalem.
The whole sequence is a lesson, shouting to us: If any one of us-but better, each one of us-will open to the Lord’s purpose to give rise to One New Man, revival will spread and Messiah Jesus will be glorified through His Church! Peter’s vision in Joppa, obediently responded to, instigated an awakening among first-century believers that not only opened the doors of acceptance to Gentiles but also set in motion the global spread of the Gospel.
Our Reverse Ways re: Parallel #2
Peter’s “blocked vision” prior to this event manifested in a Jewish mindset that couldn’t imagine God working among the Gentiles-much less, that He would expect them to bond as one with them. For me, until the transforming process began in the early 1970s, I could not have imagined seeing Jews open to their Messiah as it has happened over recent decades!
Gradually, the Holy Spirit confronted me with my need for adjustment-for being processed by increasing calls to “stretch” as far as God’s arms of love do, to embrace people with whom I had virtually no association at all. The summons to let God work His heart for His people in me effected changes in my perspective and adjustments in how I ministered. Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples was my being brought to think through the very term, Christian and what it did and didn’t mean-how it had confused and how it had abused.
I met Jewish believers in Yeshua who still called themselves Jews and said it was counterproductive to say they had become Christian. I came to understand the challenges they faced in distinguishing their “new birth” and commitment to Jesus as Messiah as something very different from two presuppositions essential to avoid as they bear witness: (1) Coming to Yeshua (Jesus) was not an entry into a system with a sordid history of persecuting and killing Jews-a sorry fact of “Christian” behavior over past centuries. Further, (2) receiving the Messiah-Yeshua of Nazareth as revealed in the New Testament-was not a rejection of their ethnic Jewishness.
However, misunderstandings regarding these issues have constituted a problem for many evangelicals who fault Messianic Jews for this choice, notwithstanding the reality of the Jewish believers’ testimony to their salvation; fully according to Acts 13:38-39. Though they have openly confessed Jesus as Savior (i.e., in Yeshua haMashiach), they are kept, in a sense, in the “outer court,” separate from a trusted welcome to fellowship.
It is a peculiar-and very painful-reversal of the precise attitude that many Jews in the early Church held toward Gentiles who had been born again but did not observe part of the ceremonial requirements in Old Testament law. Just as there was a separate court on the Temple grounds, confining Gentiles to limited integration with Jews, the Church today is parsed in part by some who hold Messianic Jews at a distance. (Sadly, such separatism is not only common among believers in this one regard: supposed “superior revelation” or “more excellent insight,” though declining in dramatic ways today, regrettably still imposes its presence between other groups of believers as well.)
Consider the possibility that our call to the One New Man, if responded to, may very conceivably be the key to the whole Body of Messiah opening to one another! Even though Peter, as a Jew, avoided Gentiles at the start, his receptivity of the Holy Spirit’s call beyond his until-then-unperceived sectarianism opened the door to a breakthrough that set the stage for the New Testament to truly receive and activate the call Jesus gave to “go to all nations.”
Allow me to begin drawing a conclusion to my testimony, with my humble appeal to all believers in Yeshua Adonai (the Lord)-Christ Jesus our Savior-by offering one illustration that describes just one “Christian” habit that God in His providence helped me to see and adjust. It was a very practical discovery of my own dependence on a “cultural approach” that was an example of mistaking wherein our identity as believers rests. Let me relate it as one case of a personal lesson I learned en route to understanding the Word’s call to One New Man.
First, let me say it clearly: I am not ashamed to be called a “Christian!” However, the pilgrimage I’m relating brought me to see that the Word of God had never assigned me the mission of preaching “Christianity,” and that neither did the Scriptures anywhere command people to “become a Christian” to be saved. God’s Word says. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”
At first I wrestled with this question about a treasured, traditional word. However, I recognized God’s simpler appeal not only reached with a sensitivity to all peoples, and now, for over 35 years, having resolved this issue in the Scriptures, I invite people to acknowledge their repentance and their will to turn to the Lord God, our Maker and Creator, to receiving Jesus, His Son as their Savior. A typical invitation may sound like this:
“He’s the Lord,” I say: “He died for our sins to bring us to Father God, He rose from the dead to prove He’s who He says He is, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. His love invites you to come home to Him-How do you receive His love? Listen, ‘God so loved the world, He gave His Son.’ Do you hear that-the way to receive God’s love is to receive His Son, Jesus. I’m not asking you to receive a religion, I’m inviting you to open your heart to Jesus-to Yeshua-the Savior-the Messiah.”
I had been blind to the way that “Christian” presented a “call to a culture,” rather than a call to the Person-Jesus our Savior, the Messiah and Lord of all. Among other things, I realized that this same blindness was not only a block to what became clearer communication to people of any culture I might address in Jesus’ name. However, the point is that it helped me avoid an insensitivity that would be counterproductive to speaking with sensible and spiritual sensitivity in any setting where evangelical Christians were seen as opposed to Jews in general, or unkindly disposed toward Messianic Jews. Of course, I want to encourage Jewish believers in Yeshua as Savior in their walk with Him…and with all their spiritual brothers and sisters of Gentile background.
So this chapter gives something of a testimony and a teaching, if it might be received as such. It reflects my great love and respect for Jews on any terms. However, I want to convey my distinct desire to honor each Jewish person whom the Ruach haKodesh (the Holy Spirit) has brought to faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, Savior. They represent the people God chose millennia ago to bear the testimony of the One God, Creator of all, to deliver the Holy Scriptures to the world, and to be the avenue by which the world’s Redeemer, the Son of God, would be born. In a very real sense, each of them may well be acknowledged as my “elder brothers and sisters,” and thereby I pursue the unity of our fellowship in Yeshua. Together, we have humbled ourselves before God’s love and grace through Jesus Christ, and have “come back to the true and Living God-Yahweh; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; Abba Yahweh-the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Rock of Israel; the God of the Bible’s old and new covenant and the King of the Universe!
So it is that as I look back, I am repeatedly reminded that only the Holy Spirit could have gotten through to register the truths and the understanding I now treasure. I do not value it as though I felt it a private possession, but as a “releasing wealth” that awaits every believer. Further, I in no way feel myself “somehow accomplished” as an advocate today for unity in the Body of Christ or as one who “really understands” Messianic Judaism. I neither claim that now, nor do I ever feel I’ll master anything of God’s consummate wisdom. For my part, it’s simply enough to submit myself to the “mastery of the Master.” With His help and His Holy Spirit’s promptings along the way, I want to live out my part in all Jesus has for me, including my being faithful to answer to this moment’s demands in relating to Christ’s One New Man.