One of the apostle Paul’s defences of his life and good faith began with the assertion –
“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today.” – Acts 22:3
As he describes his Damascus road experience, Paul recalled the message he received from Ananias, a highly respected fellow-Jew living in Damascus. Paul still answers both the commander of the Roman troops and the angry, Jewish mob with the same words – ‘I am a Jew…’
By the same token, it is Paul who argues most strongly that Gentiles can become believing Christians without first having to become Jews. Aristarchus from Thessalonica was accepted as a valid brother and partner in mission with Paul, without his being circumcised or forced to identify himself with the Jewish people.
In his preaching to the Greeks, Paul proclaimed to them —
“For as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” – Acts 17:23
He accepted that they were already ‘worshipers’. A Syro-Phoenician, a Roman or a Greek could all begin and enjoy a relationship with God, by faith, without needing first to become proselytes to Judaism.
At the same time, each person, from whatever background, knew judgement and transformation in becoming part of the Lord’s family –
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28
Believers from Gentile backgrounds had to face facts about their earlier worship of idols. Their stand had to reflect the holiness of their new Lord.
A Samaritan had to face the reality, declared from above, that she worshiped what she did not know, for salvation was truly from the Jews. Believing in the Messiah brought transformation to an empty life whose worship was a waste, and whose sequential adultery was not the joy for which she was created.
Syro-Phonenicians, seemingly involved in the occult world, Romans, an occupying force with a view of their Caesar as a god, and Greeks, with their mythologies and false ideas of salvation – all came for some degree of judgement as the light of the gospel touched their lives.
The tension portrayed in Scripture is a tension highlighted in mission, especially cross-cultural mission. God’s goal is that they should more faithfully honour Christ the King.
John 4:22; 2 Corinthians 7:1