“What on earth is a Judaizer?” you ask.
Well, let me go ahead and tell you: the Judaizers were Christians (Jewish and non-Jewish) who believed circumcision, Sabbath, and purity laws were still binding on Christians. And they are public enemy number one is most Sunday school classes on Paul’s letters.
But let’s pause for a minute and reflect on their situation from their perspective, especially that of the Jewish Christian.
Imagine that your family kept the same customs for over 1,500 years. Every year they kept the Sabbath. Every year they kept the purity laws, paying close attention to what they ate. And every year they made three pilgrimages to remember their deliverance from Egypt.
These people weren’t much different than you or I. They were raised with certain traditions, interpretations, and expectations for how they were to live. Their inclusion in their communities, work places, and families were dependent on them adhering to these rules, rituals, and holy days.
Then one day, after 1,500 years of doing the same thing, a man comes, heals someone who is blind, tells you that your leaders killed the Messiah but that God raised Him up, and, oh by the way, all of the things you believe to be important aren’t necessary for you to have a relationship with God.
What would be your reaction? What kind of emotions would you experience? Would you have doubts? Uncertainties? Would you immediately drop everything and go full steam ahead into a new world?
My guess is that you would find yourself occasionally slipping back into your old habits, worldview, and traditions without even thinking about it. Some of the old jargon of your traditions would find its way into your conversations about life and faith.
You may even occasionally make judgements about others based on categories you no longer adhere to.
You may even, like Peter, find yourself buckling to social pressure and excluding people who, intellectually, you know are included.
So while Paul came down on them hard in some of his letters, let’s not be too harsh on them ourselves, especially if we are guilty of the same thing.
For example, take a Muslim twenty-year-old. She was raised in a Muslim home. She grew up reading the Quran, attending a mosque, and learning under an Imam. She attended a Muslim school, shopped from Muslim shops, and read Muslim literature. Her only exposure to (how we as Christians view) Jesus is limited at best.
It can be easy to judge her because she doesn’t believe in Jesus.
But think about yourself at twenty. Was your faith your own or your parent’s or culture’s? Had you begun to think, to challenge, to confirm that what you believed was true? I hadn’t quite yet, personally. I didn’t really start that until I was twenty-two.
Just as it can be easy for her to judge you for not being Muslim, it can be easy for you to judge her for not being a Christian.
Laura had a friend in college who was Muslim. She had never really been exposed to Christianity before she met Laura. But as they worked together in the tutoring center, they asked each other questions, listened to each other, and talked about their faith.
Unfortunately, we moved to Florida shortly after they met, but hearing some of her stories from Laura made me realize that she wasn’t all that different from myself. The main difference was that I was born into a Christian household that was just as dedicated to their faith as her family was. Had I been born into her shoes, where would I be? What would I believe? Would I be a Muslim foreign exchange student attending a college in rural Alabama?
Questions like this are tough, and they challenge some of our long held assumptions. Some of us have probably never even asked these questions because we haven’t had a friend like Laura’s. I know I haven’t had a friend like that.
But these kinds of questions make me relieved that I am not the judge. It’s not up to me to decide where you spend eternity. It’s not up to me to decide who goes to Heaven. It’s not even up to me to answer these questions.
While I believe that the Jesus story is the most compelling, is truth, and leads one into the objectively best life that there is (life to the fullest), I’m so thankful that it is His story and not mine, and it is up to Him who He includes in that story. After all it was His blood, not mine, that came out of His side on the Cross.
What’s my job? To proclaim that Truth. To tell His story. And to live my life according to it by relentlessly loving my neighbor, even my enemies.
But the circumstances that lead to someone not believing or maybe not even hearing about Jesus are beyond my control.
Who knows what abuse they endured in their life that robbed them of their innocence? Who knows how many toxic views of Jesus they were taught that hardened their heart (I mean isn’t rejecting something like the prosperity gospel a sign of spiritual maturity?)? Who knows all of the details of how they were raised?
Listen, if I could raise the dead, heal the sick, and speak in tongues to prove to them that my worldview is true, then I would. But I can’t.
So I’m going to proclaim the good news, preach Jesus, and live my life for Him. Everything else I’ll leave up to Him because “what man knows the things of a man except for his spirit that’s within him?”
Trust me when I say, I’m in no position to pretend I know who is and isn’t going to Heaven, and if I felt like that was up to me, I don’t know how I could function. But I will tell you this: I will keep preaching and living out the freedom, peace, and love that can be found in the Messiah regardless of what else happens, and I’ll invite you and everyone else to do the same.