Paul wrote in his letters that not all of Israel is actually considered to be of Israel…
Romans 9:6b (HCSB)
…For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
And… that all believers (even Gentile believers) are considered to be the Israel of God…
Galatians 6:15-16 (HCSB)
For both circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation. May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!
This leads to a question…
Descendants of Israel not being of Israel, non-descendants of Israel (Gentiles) being of Israel, and the visible demarcation which identifies who is of Israel and who is not (circumcision) now means “nothing”?
Seems confusing, right?
But, it’s not…
Old and New Covenant Membership
This shift of membership to Israel points to what I would call “The Great Reversal.” In other words, unbelieving, Old Covenant members (those who make up Israel according to the Old Covenant) are actually not part of Israel according to the New Covenant. On top of that, believing Gentiles (those who do not fulfill the requirements of the Old Covenant in order to be a member of Israel) are “the Israel of God” according to the New Covenant. As Paul had explained to the church in Galatia, circumcision and uncircumcision (that which separates Israel from Gentiles according to the Old Covenant), “mean nothing; what matters instead is a new creation.”
There is another aspect to “The Great Reversal.” Not only does the makeup of Israel flip completely in the “new creation,” but how its members’ behavior is labeled is flipped as well. Paul instructs Gentile believers to not act like “Gentiles” because they now have the Holy Spirit…
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 (HCSB)
Finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God — as you are doing — do so even more. For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, not with lustful desires, like the Gentiles who don’t know God. This means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. For God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. Therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you His Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:17 – 5:5 (HCSB)
Therefore, I say this and testify in the Lord: You should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their thoughts. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them and because of the hardness of their hearts. They became callous and gave themselves over to promiscuity for the practice of every kind of impurity with a desire for more and more. But that is not how you learned about the Messiah, assuming you heard about Him and were taught by Him, because the truth is in Jesus. You took off, your former way of life, the old self, that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; you put on, the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth. Since you put away lying, Speak the truth, each one to his neighbor,, because we are members of one another. Be angry and do not sin., Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity. The thief must no longer steal. Instead, he must do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by Him for the day of redemption. All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. But sexual immorality and any impurity or greed should not even be heard of among you, as is proper for saints. Coarse and foolish talking or crude joking are not suitable, but rather giving thanks. For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral or impure or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom of the Messiah and of God.
Peter also touches upon this same theme when addressing the church at large (which includes Gentiles)…
1 Peter 2:11-12 (HCSB)
Dear friends, I urge you as strangers and temporary residents to abstain from fleshly desires that war against you. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that in a case where they speak against you as those who do what is evil, they will, by observing your good works, glorify God on the day of visitation.
Who We Now Are
In one of the most encouraging passages in all of scripture, Paul lays out the transformation which the Gentile goes through when he or she gives their allegiance to Christ…
Ephesians 2:11-22 (HCSB)
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh — called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it. When the Messiah came, He proclaimed the good news of peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.
We (Gentile believers) are now the “Israel of God,” along with believing Jews!
Think of “The Great Reversal” this way…
Unbelieving Jews in the flesh are Gentiles in spirit, and believing Gentiles in the flesh are Jews in spirit.
Godspeed, to the brethren!