I was raised Reform/secular Jewish but was exposed to Conservative and Orthodox Judaism at various times. (Orthodox is the most religious, a strict adherence to a traditional understanding of Jewish law as interpreted by rabbinic authorities over the centuries. Conservative relaxes the Jewish religious rules but maintains the traditional belief system. Reform is a very watered down version of the Jewish religion, more cultural than anything else. Secular is Jewish in ethnicity and little else.)
We kept the Jewish holiday traditions which were meaningful to me, and inclusive of prayers, but devoid of any connection to God. I was a child of many questions, wanting to know the why behind each thing we did, searching for meaning, relevance, connection, history, and continually frustrated with “we do what we do because that is what Jews do.” I had a conceptual belief in God, believing that there was a power beyond myself, but nothing more.
Life outwardly was good however inwardly I felt purposeless and drifting even while firmly and actively engaged in the roles I held as a daughter, student, friend, employee, wife, mom. I was defined by what I did, and how well I did it. My life from young on was a relentless cycle of trying to live up to expectations (whether others or my own; whether real or imagined), perfectionism, and the crushing agony of never being “enough”, whatever “enough” was.
Saturday March 6, 2004, through an invitation from a friend, I attended a women’s seminar at this friend’s church that was based on Isaiah 64:8 (OT), (64:7 Tanakh) “We are the clay, and You our potter, and all we are the work of Your hand.” Using a real potter’s wheel, working on a lump of clay, the speaker seamlessly wove the theme from the Tanakh through the New Testament. (I did not know the term Tanakh back then, but I recognized it as “the Jewish bible.”) It was a moment when many questions I had asked since I was a little girl snapped into sharp focus and in the days that followed, God propelled me to dig and seek, with a hunger and an ability like never before.
Sunday March 21, 2004, with no special impetus that morning other than with a clarity like never before, I understood the need for some way to redeem myself in God’s eyes. I understood that the New Testament flows seamlessly from the Old Testament. It is not separate and apart. I understood the terms Messiah, Savior. I understood that Jesus was that. I understood that Jesus is God and was here on earth as a person. He is the Messiah the religious Jews are praying for. They are praying for his arrival. However He was here once and will be returning. I understood that Jesus lived a sinless life here on earth, died on the cross and was resurrected, alive, seated at the right hand of God. I understood that He died for me and for my sins. All I had to do was receive Him for who He is, Lord and Savior. I was born again.
What I found the most incredible was seeing a connection for the first time in my life between myself and God. I was excited, bubbling over. Sunday May 15, 2005 I was water baptized, immersed. I also remained (and remain) connected to my Jewish heritage with a richness and fullness that is precious.
However, before long, the initial excitement, joy, revelation, change in me faded, and while I understood the awesomeness of where my final destination would be in the eternal sense after my life here on earth is over, I did not understand how this played out in my day to day life in this world.
I was back on the pre-salvation roller coaster cycle of trying to live up to expectations, trying to be perfect, even more so than ever before. I at that point had the understanding that I was expected to get better and better, more and more perfect, now that I was born again. If I did not, if I fell short, if I fell, period, into any aspect of missing the mark of the law-set of holiness, the salvation that had graciously been given to me by God, would be taken away. I basically exchanged one set of shackles in bondage with another, and I was back in an emotional and spiritual prison.
Going back in time a bit, summer 1978, interestingly at a Jewish owned sleep-away summer camp, I took part in a production of the play “Godspell.” From that time on, I was drawn to those songs. January 2012, my husband and I saw “Godspell” on Broadway in NYC (which was fabulously performed), and on a spiritual sidebar, God was increasingly pointing out to me works versus grace.
God’s “Godspell” through the show led me to a revelation of His grace that moved me from a state of salvation that was merely existing as I kept striving to “be good” but kept struggling and failing and falling in what I thought I had to do (increasingly “be perfect”), to thriving with a fire of excitement, understanding, and passion for Jesus in me.
At the same time God had led me to a different church’s women’s bible study, and I was learning a deeper gospel of Jesus than I had been taught before (by August 2012 God moved us over to this church as a family.)
With a whole new depth I grasped the magnitude of Jesus as the final atonement. He is the culmination of all the sacrifices listed in the Tanakh [Old Testament] (Leviticus 4, Leviticus 16, Numbers 15) and the fulfillment of the annual day of atonement observed in the Jewish holiday tradition in Yom Kippur. Prior, each sacrifice was a covering over the sin, an atonement. That is why the sacrifices had to be repeated. The shadow of the Tanakh/Old Testament sacrifices point to the culmination in the final sacrifice, the final atonement which is the propitiation.
The propitiation is beyond a covering, it is the quenching of God’s wrath for me, when He completely removed my sins and took them upon Himself (expiation.) It was recently explained to me in a way that absolutely blew me away with its clarity in my mind, and I quote “Atonement (that is restoring us to fellowship with a just and holy God and therefore reconciling our relationship to our Creator and Judge) is the goal, and propitiation, expiation, redemption, imputation, etc. are the means to accomplish that goal.” The goal and the means.
While saved back in 2004, that crucial understanding of the fullness of the gospel was missing in me prior to 2012. Fullness meaning that salvation is not simply a moment in time when I became bound for heaven after I die here on earth. There is more as we still have a life we are living here on earth.
I then understood even more deeply the beauty of living out my new identity in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26; Ezekiel 36:26-29; Colossians 1:10-14; Colossians 1:21-23; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Colossians 2:6-15; Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8; Philippians 2:12-13.) (Ezekiel 36 in Tanakh as the Ezekiel verses above are linked to the OT.)
I am strengthened. I am firmly established. I am steadfast. I am firmly rooted. I am qualified. I am rescued. I am transferred. I am redeemed. I am reconciled. I am forgiven. I am holy. I am blameless. I am beyond reproach. I am complete. I am alive.
Therefore as I have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so I will walk in Him, overflowing with gratitude. I will see to it that no one takes me captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, rather than according to Christ. God has given me a new heart, and put a new spirit within me. His Spirit. My life now is walking out what has already been credited to my account; empowered, energized, enabled, excited by that new heart and
God’s Spirit put in me!!!
I learned, in a personal, deep, practical way as I had never grasped before, once God saves us, He continues to bring us deeper and deeper into His gospel, for it is the power and the motivator for our life. We walk out here on earth what God has credited to us, that new identity. That inheritance is ours positionally, and our life is God working it out through us, experientially, as we live our life here.
Yes, I have choices to make but it is not about me focusing on myself. Just like when Peter tried to walk on water (Matthew 14:28-33), he was fine and able to do so when his eyes were on Jesus. The moment Peter moved his gaze from Jesus onto the wind and his own ability, Peter began to sink. It is no different with us!
With my focus on Jesus, the finished work on the cross, and that identity that has been given to me at the moment of my salvation, my sanctification progressively flows out of that. It becomes a supernatural, natural maturation; growth.
The moment my gaze shifts from Jesus onto myself and onto my own performance, self-focused behavior modification, I begin to sink. Comparative and competitive with others, prideful. As scripture and psychology both attest to, we will walk out, behave, what we in our mind believe we are.
There is nothing more exciting and beautiful! To God be the glory!