Or do we just have a religion?
For most people, the word “faith” is but a synonym for “religion.” People ask, “What faith are you?” Meaning, are you Christian? Jewish? Hindu?
But in the Bible, “faith” is not presented as a religion in the traditional sense. Rather it is revealed as the unshakeable conviction that the words we heard God speak to our heart are absolutely true. “Faith comes from hearing” (Rom. 10:17). And our faith is revealed when we act upon those words as father Abraham did.
That means, no religion should be termed a “faith,” because no faith is needed to practice a religion. “Religion,” from the Latin word religari, means “to bind.” It simply binds its adherents to a written set of doctrines and practices that only require intellectual assent and will power. It is something any devout follower can subscribe to without exercising a shred of faith.
In short, religion is law. And law and faith, like oil and water, don’t mix. It matters not if it is the very Law of God handed to Moses on Mount Sinai (Gal. 3:12). Or the man-made rules imposed on Christians from church councils. Or Sharia as quoted from the Koran to Moslem. It’s all an attempt to gain the approval of Deity by obedient performance – not by faith.
The truth is God could care less about all our religious attempts to gain favor with Him, “For without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to Him must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).
Now I raise this issue because I see how a fundamental misunderstanding about “faith” could become a hindrance to building a deeper relationship between Christians and Jews who love Israel. For it is written, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) And how can we “be agreed” if our core beliefs are tied to incompatible, and at times hostile, religious systems?
Worse, the two religions of Christianity and Judaism today have so many variations it’s hard to say which one truly represents our respective beliefs. For a Roman Catholic is as different from a Quaker in his theology and practices, as a Lubavitcher from a Reconstructionist.
Yet, in spite of all the obstacles, a new warmth has blossomed between us, knitting the faith-filled members of our two communities together in a way not seen since the first century. It‘s a warmth that can only be understood as divine intervention. The question is, how do we keep our religious differences from smothering what God has started? For there are certainly many on each side who would see us retreat again behind doctrinal walls. It is a pressure we must resist at all costs!
I believe the way forward is to realize that we who love Israel represent the only two communities on earth actually founded on faith. And we each need to grab hold of that understanding with both hands. Because even though no religion can be considered true faith, faith could be described as God’s one true “religion.” As both God’s prophet and apostle have declared, “The righteous man will live by faith” (Hab. 3:4; Gal. 3:11).
It was this foundational principle that gained Abraham the most ringing endorsement found anywhere in Scripture: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6). That’s why Isaiah points to him as our model: “Listen to me you who pursue righteousness, who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father…when he was but one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him” (Isaiah 51: 1,2).
The first thing we should learn from Abraham is that righteousness is a reward for faith, not for obedience. Otherwise it would have been written, “Abraham _obeyed _God, and it was reckoned to him as righteous.” Obedience must follow belief, but it is no substitute.
Unfortunately, both Christians and Jews have historically put obedience to religious precepts first. It certainly tripped up many Jews when Messiah came in the first century. “For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own [through obedience to the Law] they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). And it will also trip up many Christians who are not walking in faith at his second coming.
Obviously, Christians and Jews are not on the same page yet about Yeshua being the means to obtaining God’s righteousness. Nevertheless, many in both camps do believe God is restoring Israel today.
We just need to nourish that faith and let the love of God heal the wounds we‘ve inflicted upon each other over the centuries.
Brian Hennessy is author of Valley of the Steeples