A few nights ago, a dialogue between best-selling evangelical author Joel C. Rosenberg and Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Riskin took place in an Orthodox Synagogue on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
I attended the dialogue and am convinced that it was a significant event! I have been a believer for forty-two years, I come from a traditional Jewish background, and I never thought I would hear a clear testimony for Jesus in a modern Orthodox synagogue (the type of synagogue in which I was raised!)
Joel did a wonderful job of explaining the Gospel and was winsome and generous in his approach. Rabbi Riskin is an Orthodox Jew who has a better-than-average understanding of evangelical Christians; he started an organization, based in Israel, which engages Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox and others in dialogue. I am sure he understands that believers, like Joel, will not shy away from making the Gospel message clear when dialoguing.
One of our long-term staff members, Olivier Melnick, who watched the event online wrote a commentary that I wanted to pass along to you as I believe he really captures the heart of the dialogue and the issues that are on the table between born-again believers – both Jewish and Gentile – and the Jewish community.
Olivier’s comments primarily reflect the positive side of this dialogue, and next week I will try to point out some of the problems I see ahead of us as the discussions continue.
Focusing on what Unites Jews and Evangelicals
For as long as Jews and Christians have existed, there has been an obvious tension between both groups too often resulting in the ostracizing, force conversions, expulsions and deaths. Both sides have become very good at itemizing what divides them and dwelling on the differences. Over the years, finger pointing and blame shifting has almost become an art form in Judeo/Christian relations.
To be perfectly honest, I regularly find myself on the forefront of a constant battle to defend Israel and the Jewish people, and I do my own share of finger pointing. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that there is much to be learned about Christian anti-Semitism through the ages, and even today if we want to successfully defeat the beast. But I often wish that we could focus on what unites evangelicals and Jews more that what divides us.
On April 1st (no joke here!) a dialogue between Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and Joel C. Rosenberg, New York Times bestselling author, took place at an orthodox Jewish synagogue in New York. The theme for the evening was “Are We Still Alone?” and was based on Rosenberg’s new novel The Auschwitz Escape.
I resonate with Rosenberg who after visiting Auschwitz in 2011 and reading a book on the few who escaped the death camp, wanted to write a book about those who helped the Jews. That process led him to discover the incredible story of the small French village of Le Chambon sur/Lignon and how all the villagers went out of their ways to save Jewish people from the Nazi furnace. They risked their own lives and many even lost their lives as they were also taken to the camps with Jewish people. But to the villagers, saving the Jews was “the most natural thing to do!” like this elderly woman says in the book by Philip Hallié about le Chambon titled “Lest Innocent Blood be Shed”.
I haven’t yet read The Auschwitz Escape but I can tell you that we can learn a few things from the dialogue that just took place in New York. While I tend to side with Joel Rosenberg theologically, I am also very aware that as a Jew I am a constant target for many different people today. Yet, some of them have never met a Jew in person.
The fear expressed by Rosenberg and Rabbi Riskin, is that a second Holocaust would take place today, especially if or when Iran finishes building the bomb. It is a real fear because Iran wants the eradication of Israel more than anything. Even though President Rouhani sugarcoats his anti-Semitism to the West, his goal is the total annihilation of Israel. Disagree with him all you want (and I do), but at least Ahmadinejad was very clear about his desire to destroy Israel. So the question remains: Will there be Christians to stand for Israel?
Rosenberg made an excellent point when he defined who was an evangelical Christian based on what the Bible has to say. It can be very easy to succumb to some sort of corporate character assassination and put all Christians who didn’t help Jews in the same shameful category. I can even justify it by quoting passages like Psalm 83.
If a Christian is defined by a commitment to follow Yeshua’s teaching based on the Bible, then the boundaries are clear. Christians are forgiven not perfected (at least not yet). Christians can and will make mistakes, wrong judgments and even biased decisions. Yet, in Leviticus 19:18 we read: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord”. It is then repeated by Yeshua in Matthew 5:43-44 and even taken one step further: “You have heard that it was said, ‘ You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.
Have Christians fallen short over the centuries? Yes! Are some giving a bad rep to the rest of the Christian community? Yes! Should we then paint with broad strokes? NO!
On one hand, Rosenberg claimed that while some Christians might have made mistakes about the Jews and even some that lead to the death of some, this cannot disqualify them as born-again Evangelicals, and as much as I dislike the divide and its tragic results, I must agree.
On the other hand, I also agree with Rosenberg who stated that if you are characterized by a chronic hatred leading to a constant desire to destroy the Jews or any other human being for that matter, you are not a genuine Bible believing follower of the Jewish Messiah.
One of the most important aspects of true Christianity is the ability to love unconditionally. Christians who love Jews–and they still exist–ought to love them regardless of their ability or willingness to embrace Yeshua (Jesus) and His teaching. Anything short of that kind of love falls short of what Christian love is. Period!
Rabbi Riskin obviously didn’t share Rosenberg’s belief in Yeshua of Nazareth being the Messiah but recognized the common obligation of biblical Jews and Christians. Followers of the one true God must be driven not only by their convictions but also by a constant desire for human decency and justice.
Rabbi Riskin and Joel Rosenberg see the need for Jews and Christian Zionist (a disappearing breed) to unite, and I join them in their honorable effort. Christians failed the test of unconditional love in the 1930’s and 40s. The day might be coming when there will be a retake. Will they fail again? I pray that they don’t.
Christians and Jews are UNITED by the Jewish Scriptures!
Christians and Jews should be UNITED by their love for Israel!
Christians and Jews can be UNITED by Yeshua the Jewish Messiah!
Olivier Melnick is the Northwest Regional Director of Chosen People Ministries. He and his wife Ellen serve in Seattle, Washington.
30 responses to “Focusing on what Unites Jews and Evangelicals”
Reblogged this on D's Blog.
How true, Is far as i see it, both sides need to recover from long history of fear, disbelief and misunderstanding. And the first step is to focus on the common ground shared by both.
Perhaps Christians (as well as others) would do well to spend some prayerful time carefully reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, Chapters 9, 10, and 11. As a Bible teacher for almost 15 years now, I continue to be surprised at just how many Christians seem to have never read these passages. Getting a little glimpse of God’s perspective on the people He loves (Jews and Gentiles) is always a good thing. Maranatha & Shalom!
The best thing they can do in these days both Jews and Evangelical Christians is to identify properly who is Mystery Babylon and who is the church with poor,naked and blind believers.
The main difficulty for me as a Jew is the deification of Jesus. I attend an Evangelical Christian church with my Christian wife and see that by different means and emphasis Jews and Christians are aiming at the same thing. I am truly impressed by the Christian love of the Hebrew scriptures. And I can see Jesus as a universal Zaddik to the nations, one by whom the Christians see “the Face of G-d,” as Jacob saw the Face–Peniel–in the angel with whom he wrestled. And a Zaddik bears the sins of his disciples. I can go that far. But all the Greek theologizing that followed with the Church Fathers and continues in Christianity today (ie, the Trinity, etc) is foreign to the Jewish mind. Also, that the Law (Torah) is somehow inferior, only a “preparatory gospel.” The humane slaughter of animals for food, the remembrance of the appointed times, Sabbath observance, the covenant of circumcision, the four-cornered tzitzit, unclean and unclean flesh for food, etc–they are not just preparatory. They are standards and ideals to be realized. The Torah makes that very clear as well as G-d is one–Echad–and that there is no god besides Avinu Malkheinu. I slightly cringe in Evangelical worship when Jesus is exalted as G-d. I say a little prayer with bowed head: “Thou knowest they mean well. As Thou didst make Moses like a god to Pharoah, Thou hast made Jesus like a god to Ceasar.” I respect this. I see it as how Japheth has entered the tents of Shem, as prophesied by Noah. I don’t mean to belittle a Christian’s faith in the Holy One in any way. But for total rapproachment, there is this obstacle. 7th Day Adventists try to retore the appointed times, and Jehovah Witnesses the Oneness of Deity. Is that something to consider?
Hi Dean, I think you have a good point that the deity of Jesus is a major point of contention between Jews and Christians. However, something that has been lost in the debate is how “Jewish” of an idea it is to believe that the Messiah is divine. I can see that you have some issues with the “Greek” developments in the church, as you see it, but it really IS true that the idea of the divine Messiah began in the synagogue, and not in the church. This is something that modern Jewish scholarship is starting to acknowledge. Two recent (non-Christian) Jewish voices to point this out have been Alan Segal and Daniel Boyarin. On the Christian side of the fence, Larry Hurtado has been doing work in this field. They look at Jewish texts from apocryphal, pseudepigraphal, and rabbinic sources, tracing how Judaism once believed in a divine Messiah, but the rabbis changed their tune once Jewish Christians started saying that Jesus was the one.
I serve with CPM under Dr. Glaser and run a forum at Isaiah53.com. I have been heavily interacting with other forum users about these very things, like the identity of the one whom Jacob wrestled with. Was it really an angel? I would encourage you to check out the “Trinity” subforum here: http://www.isaiah53.com/forums/22. Come on over and say hi.
Thank you for the invitation. I will come over and say “hi.” As for your point about a divine Messiah, there as been a rabbinic over emphasis on Messiah’s humanity, but divinity does not mean godhood or deification. Jacob calls the angel Peniel (face of G-d) and later, in blessing the sons of Joseph, says this angel “who redeemed me from all evil,” (Gen 48:16) is yet an angel. The Hebrew word “malach” means “messenger.” Rabbi Ishmael, last high priest of the 2nd Temple, had a vision of the angel Akteriel-Jah. He says, “I saw Akteriel-JAH, the Lord of hosts.” The rabbis ask, “How could an angel be “the L-rd of hosts?” Their answer: He serves as a mirror (ispaklaria) reflecting the Divine Presence. By the same token, Messiah could serve as such a mirror. Metaphor in Hebrew, especially violent metaphor, was not understood in Classical civilization (Greek & Latin) and became metamorphosis, i.e., “this is my body; this is my blood,” was taken literally leading to the doctrine of transubstantiation. “The Word was G-d” and “the Word became flesh” is another example of metaphor becoming metamorphosis.
Dean, these are great thoughts. I’m really enjoying what you’ve written here and in your response to Rhonda below. I hope you can contribute a discussion on the forum about the experience of Rabbi Ishmael, or about Jesus as an atoning Tzaddik. Shalom.
Hello, Dean M.
I finished reading a book last week titled The Jewish Gospels (The Story of the Jewish Christ) by Daniel Boyarin. I found it unsettling initially–for reasons I won’t go into here–but ultimately, what I understood the author to say is that Christianity, especially early Christianity, is a continuum of one sect (if that’s the correct term) of the Jewish religion. He also claimed and offered support that Jesus was a conservative Jew, who defended the Torah against the Pharisees, who were creating their own traditions influenced by the Babylonian culture during captivity and were often contrary to the Torah. Mr. Boyarin also suggests the idea of a triune God is not totally alien to Jewish tradition and refers to Daniel 7 with regard to a dualism.
He said Jesus practiced traditional Judaism, as well as early Christians, and neither were about establishing a new religion. As he states several times, the early Christians were Jewish and maintained their Jewish traditions, even into the 1st Century.
That Christianity as a continuum of Judaism appeals to me. I’m more interested in learning about Judaism.
Still, a question I have is this. If Jesus is not the looked for Messiah, who lived as a man, was crucified as a sacrifice for mankind’s sins, and resurrected to demonstrate His victory over death (evil), how is mankind reconciled to God?
Thank you Rhonda for your comments. I haven’t read Mr. Boyarin. From what you describe, I would be of very similar views. In Jewish tradition there are two Messiahs. The first one who comes is called “Messiah ben Joseph.” In the Talmud (Suk. 52a), “They shall look unto me whom they have pierced; and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son (Zech 11:10).” The issues of sin and of sacrifice get mixed together but from a Jewish perspective are really separate. God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he repent (turn from sin) (Ezek 33:11). Repentance is what brings forgiveness. Sacrifce gets into a heavy subject that has to do with the demand of the fallen angels. This gets into Midrashic literature and traditional teaching called Kabbalah. But it is alluded to in the Torah concerning Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement. Two goats are sacrificed. One is for Azazel, the first of the rebellious angels to fall (who thus represents all the Shedim–demons) who demand blood for our sins. The other is as a sign of obedience. Through obedience we overcome sin. A Zaddik, such as Jesus, bears the sins of his disciples. He said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” A true Zaddik teaches us obedience and repentance. The Holy One respects the demand of the fallen ones (for blood) against mankind because they were cast out because of their sin (of rebellion). I believe Jesus, as Messiah ben Joseph, a true Zaddik, fulfilled this demand by sanctifying the Divine Name–giving his up his life to G-d in obedience. Because of this act (prefigured in the Akedah–the binding of Isaac) blood sacrifices (to placate the demons) are no longer needed. That is where we Jews went off track, in not seeing in Jesus the Messiah who would be slain (Messiah ben Jospeh). But consider this. If G-d desired the death of a sinner as punishment, Jesus could not have been resurrected. If he became sin for us, as I’ve heard preached in Evangelical churches, yet G-d raised him from the dead, does that not demonstrate G-d does not demand our death or our blood? If He did, wouldn’t Jesus have to remain dead as the final price for sin? This is where Christian math (or logic) does not add up for me. Long, tough subject. Hope this is helpful.
As an evangelical Christian I so appreciate your honest and kind discussion, I feel it is an unfortunate rarity. Thanks.
Thank you, Jhavis, as well. I feel blessed to be in a unique place as a Jew due to family connections with Christians and my natural interest in religion. I am really impressed with Evangelicals and other Christians who demonstrate such love of Israel, the scriptures and of G-d. Barukh Hashem! G-d be praised!
Hi Dean…good to hear from you and your thinking about the issue of Jesus’ divinity. A tough pill to swallow for most Jewish people. The way I come to it is not through church doctrine or historical theology…I grew up in a modern Orthodox Jewish home and of course was unfamiliar with all of this. I read the Bible and tried to look at the Scriptures without other influences – which was easier for me to do on the Christian side since I did not have many influences at the time I came to the conclusion that the Bible presented Yeshua as both Messiah and God in the flesh. Attached is a really well done Bible study by Arnold Fruchtenbaum that you might take a look at – it is so purely biblical that it might be engaging.
You can find it by simply going to Ariel Ministries and look for the free e book entitled The Deity of the Messiah – study # MBS063. Let me know what you think and say hi to Greg!
Hi Dr Glaser. Read your commentary of recent date – found it interesting.
You mentioned access to e-book. How could I gain access to this information. Would appreciate your reply. Thanks
Look for http://www.chosenpeople.com/main/holidays-and-festivals/683-free-passover-e-book
Thanks, Mitch, I really appreciate that. I will check that out and I see Greg every week. He’s gotten into the habit of calling me “rebbe.” I am no rebbe by an stretch of the imagination. He’s planning a trip to Israel in December. I’ve signed up to go, but it is quite uncertain as of yet. I’ll tell him you said “hi.” Maybe he reads this blog? Mitch, you are a wonderful example of faith and devotion. (So is Pastor Greg). If it were just a matter of the people and their demonstration of faith, I could easily accept the Trinity, the G-dhood of Jesus, the Catholic Mass, the Five points of Calvinism–whatever. (I have Hebrew Catholic friends). What unites us is more important than what divides us. But the differences need to be addressed, it seems, and at least we can have constructive, informative, respectful discussion. Shalom & G-d bless
The real issue that most Evangelicals and Jews fail to see is the issue of SIN! Man is separated from God because of his sin, and he remains separated from God until He repents and BELIEVES the Gospel. God spoke to the people through His holy prophets and has NOW spoken to us through His Son. He exposed the sins in the hearts of man and He then became the Passsover Lamb of God. He PROVED His Divinity through the Works that He did and also through the Resurrection from the dead, for God did not allow the Holy One to suffer corruption in death!
But who has believes our report and to whom has the Arm of the Lord been revealed, says the Prophet (Isaiah 53:1) . ONLY to those who are TRULY repentant of their sins and WANT to live holy and pure lives unto God their Creator! And that can ONLY come from ABIDING in Christ for without Him, we can do NOTHING!!(John 15:5). We are only helpless infants, despite all the ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’ we may have attained through our PhD programs and the like!
May MANY wake up out of their sleep. Christ did NOT come to give us a one-way ticket to heaven!!. No, He came that we may be set free from sin through HIS power and grace. Let us stop those endless discussions as to which religion is ‘right’ and focus on our REAL need to be DELIVERED from the sins which so easily beset us and that can ONLY come through the Son of God!
He says: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and NO ONE can come to the Father but through Me’! (John 14:5)
Praise and Honor be His Name! He truly has become MY Savior and Deliverer!
Henk, to your comments may I add, Amen! and Amen!
Maranatha, then Shalom!
Yes!! Maranatha: ‘Come Quickly Lord’, and make an end to all the suffering, even though we know that many will not be ready for Your Coming.
To those of us who think we are ‘abiding in Christ’ because we once prayed a prayer of repentance, we are reminded what God tells us in 1 John 2:6 ‘He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk JUST as He walked.’
Let us remind one another of these things and work out our OWN salvation with FEAR and TREMBLING!(Philippians 2:12-13)
The final authority for “Faith” (what I believe) and “practice,” (how I behave) is Scripture.
All Scripture is fully and verbally inspired. Scripture clearly teaches the deity of The Lord Jesus Christ, and the Triunity of the Godhead.
Gen 1:1 showes the plurality of God. Gen 1:2 showes the Holy Spirit as a Second person in the Godhead.Gen 1:3-31 showes several discussions within the Trinity each followed by The Executive of The Trinity (the Holy Spirit) carrying out the decision of The Trinity. e.g.Gen 1;26 followed by 1:27
John !:1-3 showes The Lord Jesus Christ as the Third Person in the Trinity
present at Creation.
One of the deep divides between Jewish and Christian theology is that we affirm the triune nature of God and the deity of Yeshua…and we also say you can be Jewish and believe this…but, we also understand that this is a break in traditional Jewish thinking. We believe this because it is in the Bible, the Old and the New Testaments.
I have a question. How do devout Jews atone for their sins? They cannot offer animal sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem, as commanded by God in the Torah.
How then do they get forgiveness for their sins, if it is not through Christ’s Blood? But even Evangelicals can be on the wrong track. If there is no REAL repentance and hatred against the sins we commit, a prayer for forgiveness will not help because God searches our hearts. And He sees whether we really MEAN our confessed ‘hatred’ for sin. That is why both Jews and Evangelicals must FIRST CIRCUMCISE their hearts (Deut 10:16) which means TOTAL abandonment of this world and its attractions and lusts, and live only for God!. And only God can show us which idols are hiding in our heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10) So we must ask God to show us the idols in our hearts! (Ezekiel 14:3)
Unless we can truthfully say with Paul: ‘I am crucified to this world and the world to me’ (Ga 6:14), we are STILL walking on the Broad Way, which leads to destruction.
Jewish people traditionally do not believe in original sin or a fallen nature. Therefore, repentance is always an ever present entrée into God’s presence and favor. Jewish people also understand that repentance needs to be true to be accepted by God. This is the message of Psalm 51 etc. This makes it challenging to explain why sacrifice is necessary…even though this is part of the Jewish biblical heritage and an important part of our tradition. Personal salvation, which is not a “big deal” in jewish thought and life, boils down to Jewish people doing good, repenting of evil and trusting in God’s mercy.
We need to recognize that as Evangelicals – both Jews and Gentiles, we view these matters through the lens of Scripture and we do believe humanity is fallen, incapable of pleasing God without His intervention and that sacrifice is necessary for atonement ( Lev. 17:11). We accept the authority of the Old and New Testaments and though we respect the wisdom of the Jewish sages, these writings are not authoritative when it comes to our beliefs. So, the issues are not simply what we believe but why we believe! As a Messianic Jew I believe that traditional Jewish beliefs are trumped by a more literal understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures and the fulfillment found in the new Testament.
Thank you so much for explaining the traditional Jewish teachings and
1- their lack of recognizing fallen human nature and thus complete separation from God,
2- their inability to see their need for atonement through the blood.
Thank you so much Dr. Glaser and Olivier for your thoughts on this topic. I watched the dialogue between Rabbi Riskin and Joel Rosenberg online. It was interesting and informative and I learned a lot.
I am an “evangelical” follower of Yeshua, not from a Jewish background. As I have watched the dialogue and read this post, here are some things which have come to mind:
(1) Jews and Christians (true believers and followers of Yeshua haMoshiach) worship the same Eternal, True, Living, Creator God who is our Savior and Redeemer. See Exodus 3:13-15, 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Psalm 24:3-10, 27:1 & 9, 29:1-2; Isaiah 49:26 and many other passages.
(2) Both groups have their foundation in the Tanakh/Old Testament. However, even among “evangelical” Christians there has begun to be less focus on the word of God. This lack of knowledge of the word of God is, I believe, dangerous for Jewish people as well as Christians. I think this was one of the factors with those who were cultural Christians in Europe during WW II. They had learned set passages and knew enough to pass confirmation, but had no real heart belief or faith and no foundation in Truth. So when the lies of the Nazis were propagated through the so-called Christian churches, people didn’t react. We all need to be reading daily His word—all of it, not just set parts. We need to read the Book itself, not what others are saying about it. See Psalm 119, Nehemiah 8:1-12, and 2 Kings 22:1-23:3.
(3) Followers of Yeshua haMoshiach have overlooked His clear command in Acts 1:8 to witness in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” I believe He meant exactly what He said—to the Jewish people first, then to others. In our modern day thinking, even most Bible believing churches and pastors don’t teach this. We, as followers of Yeshua, have failed to open those lines of communication, friendship, and joint work in our communities. And this we must begin to do.
Thank you again for this post and for this discussion.
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Henk, What do we really MEAN? G-d loved us first! Someone once said . P.S. That open minded Dean was very refreshing even
though I really believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus.
I don’t really know what your question is. We KNOW that God loved us FIRST. He PROVED it by becoming a man, and MORE than that: a SERVANT of man, and then He DIED for man’s sins! ‘Believing’ in the deity of Christ is not enough! The devils believe that also! If we believe that Christ is indeed the Son of God, it BEHOOVES us to learn and obey EVERYTHING He taught us in, and through, the Scriptures. Many so-called believers will be SHOCKED when they stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, because they either did not KNOW (hear) the Words of Christ, or even worse, did NOT OBEY them! Such are building their house on sand and GREAT will be their fall (Matt 7:26) . The atonement , a TRUE believer-in-Christ receives for his sins, comes THROUGH the Blood of Christ, AFTER he has confessed his sin and TURNS AWAY from his sin. (1 John 1:9). In the Books of Moses, ‘atonement for sins’ came through the blood of innocent animals.
Many ‘applaud’ Dean’s ‘openness’, but the REALITY of it all is, that he is treasuring for himself God’s WRATH in the day of wrath, (Ro 5:2) There is no question that God has spoken to him through his wife and other true believing Christians, or Messianic Jews. Professing to be ‘wise’ he has become a fool because of his impenitent heart (Ro 1:22). NO! We should not ‘applaud’ him, but rather PITY him! I don’t even know if we can PRAY for him at his continual hardness against the Holy Spirit.
Henk, Most of my earlier comment was missing due to an accidental delete. Your statement: “And he see’s whether we really mean our confessed hatred of sin” did not resonate with me. Think of Paul. He may have been more versed in scripture than anyone in his day and yet the Author of scripture intervened to bring his sin (attacking to kill the Body of Christ) into the Light. The bible does not tell us, but maybe someone was praying for
Paul. I’m glad G-d took the initiative. (P.S. I’m not comparing anyone here to Paul. Lol)
I don’t know what you are getting at regarding OUR ‘confession of sin’ (1 John 1:9) vs ‘Paul’s life BEFORE his conversion’. I was referring to those who are BORN AGAIN and in the New Covenant with Christ, through the Blood of Christ. Obviously, Paul did not fall in that category!. So, what I wrote, did NOT apply to Paul! It only applies to born-again believers in Christ!