Question: Recently I’ve been aware of a growing movement that I sense is slipping back into legalism—the modern Messianic congregations. There seems to be an underlying pride that sets them apart from converted Gentiles. They practice a lot of Jewish traditions woven into the Christian service. What do you think?
Response: Many congregations of Jewish believers are very biblical; but others have, as you suggest, fallen into legalism by putting themselves to some extent under the laws of Moses. Calling themselves “completed Jews” (an unbiblical term), they think it helps to adopt Old Testament Jewish customs. In contrast, the Bible says there is “neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians:3:28) in the church, but Christ has made from Jew and Gentile “one new man” (Ephesians:2:15).
Paul rebuked Peter for going back to Jewish separatism and for compelling “the Gentiles to live as do the Jews” (Galatians:2:14). The entire Epistle to the Galatians argues against any Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, observing the Old Testament Law. We have a higher standard: to be like Jesus by allowing Him to live His life through us. Jewish customs have no place in Christ’s church! The freedom we have in Christ from the Law of Moses and from Jewish legalism and customs was difficult for the first Jewish converts to accept. The apostles and elders gathered in Jerusalem to consider this issue and under God’s guidance declared that the Gentile believers were not under the Law (Acts 15).
What about Jewish believers? There is no difference (Romans:10:12) between them and Gentiles in Christ, for He has “broken down the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians:2:14) between them, having “blotted out the handwriting of ordinances [the Law] that was against us...nailing it to his cross” (Colossians:2:14). Jews may honor their ancestral heritage (in the Passover, etc.) but must not mix Jewishness with faith in Christ. Messianic congregations who are trying to act Jewish need to heed Paul’s exhortation: “Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage [Law]” (Galatians:5:1).