There is a certain amount of mystery involved in how people come to faith in the Messiah. This is doubly so for Jewish people. How does this happen? And how might we aid in the process? This blog-post seeks to address these issues.
Charles Kraft, Professor of Anthropology at the Fuller Seminary School of Interculural Studies, postulated three encounters to be borne in mind, and handled with intelligence and prayer, in the process of assisting others in coming to a robust Yeshua-faith. Reflecting on my own experience in outreach praxis and counseling, I have identified an additional three encounters, of which the last applies particularly to Jewish people. Kraft’s three encounters, plus my three, bring us to six encounters, which I also term axes (plural of axis, rather than hatchets), that is, axes of spiritual transformation.
We may find Kraft’s three encounters (axes) in this statement made by the Risen Messiah to Paul on the Damascus Road:
I will deliver you from the People and from the Goyim. I am sending you to open their eyes; so that they will turn from darkness to light, (TRUTH encounter)from the power of the Adversary to God,(POWER encounter), and thus receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who have been separated for holiness by putting their trust in me.’ (ALLEGIANCE Encounter) (Acts 26:16-18).
Truth Encounter/Axis - When people are in the process of coming to Yeshua faith and in the continual process of growth in this life, one axis of progress or resistance is in the area of truth claims. By this I mean that a person must come to see that the biblical worldview and perspective speaks authoritative truth about reality and the human condition, a caliber of truth that stands in judgment over other claimants to truth-telling. This does not mean that there is no truth other than what we find in the Bible. As Saint Augustine of Hippo said 1600 years ago, “All truth is God’s truth.” But to recognize the truth for what it is, the Bible and its view of reality and human responsibility serves as the touchstone. In coming to relationship with God and in coming to terms with His claims on our lives, we will experience an encounter with God’s truth and what we are going to do with it.
Power Encounter/Axis – Another axis along which we will trace progress and the lack of it is the power encounter. In varying degrees, even in our enlightened Western culture, when people live independent of the will of God, and sometimes in rank defiance against that will, they become spiritually compromised and subject to incursion by dark forces that seek to keep them stuck, mired in rebellion, with no positive spiritual momentum. One might call this a kind of thralldom, “the state of being in the power of another person or under the sway of an influence.” For most of us, this sense of compromised freedom is slight and occasional, while for others of us, it is palpable and real. This is especially evident in various kinds of addictions, entrapping, cyclical, and unproductive habits of body and mind. Alternative spiritualities are also a doorway through which such influences invade our lives, compromising the freedom for which we were created by God.
All of this being true, the process of making progress in coming to fullness of Yeshua faith will include breaking with these other empowerments and entanglements, confessing what was wrongly chosen, renouncing paths out of harmony with God’s will, and finding freedom in the Divine Spirit, whose service is perfect freedom.
Allegiance Encounter/Axis – This is the axis of loyalty. The God of Israel, the God and Father of our Messiah, deserves our full loyalty. What this involves is living a Shema kind of life, loving ADONAI our God with all our heart, all our being and all our resources.” The God of Israel demands and deserves that kind of allegiance. This involves a lived out commitment to obey God in what he calls us to do and who he calls us to be. This is not trendy, and is not very popular nowadays. But it’s a non-negotiable. Yeshua put it this way, using typical middle-eastern hyperbole: “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison--your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).
Relationship Encounter/Axis – Coming to a renewed relationship with God through Yeshua faith necessarily and irreducibly involves a transformation of our perspective on human relationships. It means sober reflection on how one has related to people in the past, how one has treated them, responded to them, regarded them. This is a rather pervasive category. For example, one ought to see the issue of pornography as a relational issue, how it indicates and affects how we see and treat others, and also, how it reflects our predatory benefitting from how others have literally prostituted their own lives and human status in service to our overgrown appetites. The Bible reminds us that “he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Our relationships with people and with God are coordinate. This is part of the cost of being a disciple.
Presence Encounter/Axis – It is common for people to think of coming to Yeshua faith as an exercise in persuasion, a kind of signing on the dotted line. Evangelism seems almost to be a sales call. No, that will not work. It has never actually been that way because this portrait of the process leaves out something crucial: the element of encountering the Divine Presence, the sense that one has encountered something and Someone from whom one cannot turn away without betraying oneself. Some of us have had dramatic encounters with God, some of us not so much. But for all of us, this element of encounter is there, even if only perceived in retrospect. So when we are nurturing someone in Yeshua faith, and praying for them, we ought to seek that time when they will turn a corner in their thinking and imagining and discover they have bumped into God.
Covenantal Encounter/Axis - Even the most secular Jew is bound to God and to all other Jews through holy covenants, especially the Abrahamic (through br’rith milah) and the covenant at Sinai. Through the Abrahamic Covenant, and its sign, circumcision, a horizontal relationship is created amongst all Jews. Similarly, in the confirmation of the Sinai Covenant on the plains of Moab (Deut 29:9-14), we are told that this covenant of responsibility to conform to a body of law applies not only to those who were there that day, but to those who were not there that day, meaning all Israel throughout time.
Today you are standing, all of you, before ADONAI your God - your heads, your tribes, your leaders and your officers - all the men of Isra'el, along with your little ones, your wives and your foreigners here with you in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water.The purpose is that you should enter into the covenant of ADONAI your God and into his oath which ADONAI your God is making with you today, so that he can establish you today for himself as a people, and so that for you he will be God -as he said to you and as he swore to your ancestors, to Avraham, Yitz'chak and Ya'akov." But I am not making this covenant and this oath only with you. Rather, I am making it both with him who is standing here with us today before ADONAI our God and also with him who is not here with us today (D'varim/Deuteronony 29:10-15).
All of us are bound together, sharing a common relationship and Torah-shaped responsibilities. This is why Jewish tradition rightly says,”kol yisrael averim zeh bazeh—all Israel is responsible for one another.”
This perspective is at cross purposes with today’s prevailing individualism. But it is clear that in coming to understand who we are, and in returning to the paths to which God has called us all, all of us as Jews must deal with our responsibility to support each other and join with each other in a covenantal way of life.
As we coach our friends toward Yeshua-faith, as we act as spiritual midwives, we need to prayerfully pay attention to these six axes of spiritual transformation. Is our friend making progress? Is he or she stuck? And is there some sort of entrenched resistance in one or more of these areas?
We will turn to the issue of dealing with these areas of entrenched resistance in our next blog, on Spiritual Strongholds. Stay tuned.