By Mike Herzstein
I was born a Jew and brought up in that faith. Growing up, I enjoyed learning about my heritage and religion, and I sought after God by praying the prayers and performing the religious acts that I had learned. I believed that I needed to serve God by performing mitzvoth (good deeds that come from knowing the commandments) and through that I would find salvation. I attended Hebrew school, was active in my synagogue, had a Bar Mitzvah, and even was an assistant religious school teacher.
Most people who attempted to talk to me about Jesus didn't try twice. I had read about the Messiah, and was able to scare away most people who attempted to witness to me by challenging them in a few areas. They didn't know their Bibles well enough to question what I said.
Proving Them Wrong
One day, someone challenged me to read the New Testament and prove to them that they were wrong about Jesus. I thought it would be pretty easy, and I remember opening up the New Testament and thinking how irrelevant all the funny named books in there were to my faith.
I decided to start reading in the book of James and the first verse completely caught me off guard:
James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings. – James 1:1
I remember being shocked that James, a Jew, was writing to other Jews. I knew that Jesus was a Jew, but it hasn't occurred to me that His followers were as well. I finished James and jumped into the book of Matthew. Over a period of months I would look at prophecy in the Old Testament and come back to Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospels. Each time I did I became a little more convinced that there was something to Jesus’ claims of being the Messiah. I prayed and asked God to show me the truth, whatever it was, so I could stop spending time thinking about it.
Old and New
Soon after that, things became clear to me.
I came to see that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy after prophecy in the Old Testament and that He came to reconcile man to God in a way that was beautifully foretold. I accepted His Lordship and that His perfect life, death, and resurrection were the basis for my eternal forgiveness. I also learned that although righteousness through faith was a foreign concept to me, it wasn't a New Testament idea. I learned that Abraham was an early example of this in Genesis 15:6:
Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
For the first time in my life I had a faith that truly felt alive to me because of being in right relationship with God.
I wish I could say that life has been easy since I made that decision, but it has not. I've faced persecution, hardship, heartbreak, and failure, just like everyone else. However, I found something I never had before. I have a real relationship with the living God and through every trial I get to know Him more. That alone is worth more than anything I've given up or lost in life.
Paul wrote to the church in Philippi:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ… – Philippians 3:8
Now, instead of trying to work my way to God, I have the peace that comes from knowing that He worked His way to me and that the growth in my life comes from a satisfying, deeper relationship with Him, not from trying harder to fulfill a list of rules.