The Gospel Truths of CHRISTMAS
Iâ€™m not a big fan of such things as books addressed to â€œdummiesâ€, nor theology that has to be proven relevant before being heard, nor am I a fan of education for the sake of merely getting a job, nor of little cutesy figurines with scripture slapped on them, nor of plastic lit up baby Jesus in someoneâ€™s front yard, nor of reality TV, and neither am I a fan of acrostics in order to communicate biblical truths.
With that said, I must say that sometimes one perhaps will look inside a book addressed to dummies for some quick info, try to work hard and make theology relevant to the theologically skeptical, go to some classes for a raise or a new position, receive and proudly display a cutesy figurine with a scripture from someone who loves us, reflect upon the meaning of the incarnation upon seeing a lit up baby Jesus, watch a reality show to see what all the hype is about, and someone may even use an acrostic to communicate some gospel truths.
I am about to be guilty of the last one of those things of which Iâ€™m not a big fan.
With that warning, and with the reminder that acrostics have limits, and can be simplistic if that is all that is all the understanding we have, I want to send your family an acrostic to reflect upon the gospel truths we learned together and summarizes the preaching and teaching this year at Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church (www.aplacefortruth.org/ketoctin).
Using the letters from the word 'Christmas', we can reflect and be reminded of Christ's birth during the Advent Season, but let us also be constantly reminded of Christâ€™s accomplished work that he merited on our behalf.
We rejoice that the "LORD is come" at Christmas, but we should also rejoice and be reminded of what the "LORD has done" for those who love him!
The first letter of the word 'Christmas' is C...
C: CHOSEN IN CHRIST- Ephesians 1:11-14:
Ephesians 1:11-14: "In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession-- to the praise of his glory."
What great news for those who love Christ: "Chosen according to God's plan, because of the purpose of his will, for the praise of his glory!" God is so gracious and good to his people! What we could never have done in choosing the Lord Jesus as Savior because of the weakness, disinterestedness, and pathetic sinfulness of our hearts, God did - -for us! God loved us long before we loved him and chose us in Christ, so that we might be given the righteousness that Jesus earned in his perfect obedience to the Father.
Christ came to earn our salvation, to obey where Adam failed as our representative. Because we are chosen in Christ, we are privileged to be called the children of the Living God and receive all of the benefits of Christ's blessed work as our inheritance. When we believe, we receive Christ's righteousness to cover our unrighteousness, so that his righteousness is truly "alien", yet God views it as our own for Christ's sake! Remember to rejoice this season in Christ's birth, but remember also to rejoice this season in his atoning death for sinners, his resurrection on our behalf, and his ascension to the right hand of the Father where he ever lives to make intercession for his justified people!
The second letter of the word 'Christmas' is H...
H- HE IS OUR HOLINESS- I Corinthians 1:30:
"It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-- that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption."
All the benefits of Christ's perfect life: living in perfect conformity to God's Law, loving God with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength are given to the believer. All the benefits of Christ's perfect death: dying on behalf of sinners as a ransom, taking the wrath of God as punishment. God credits this "active" and "passive" obedience of Christ to his people!
1 Corinthians 1:2,10 says that we are "sanctified in Christ Jesus". That is, we are holy in Christ because we have been united to him and receive his holiness which is part of the revealed wisdom of God in sending Jesus to save his people. There should always be a distinction between our justification, or being declared righteous based on Christ's perfect merits, and our sanctification, or being conformed and made holy like him. However, we should never separate these two.
Both justification and sanctification are benefits of being united to Jesus Christ by faith. This means that all who are united to Jesus by faith partake of all his benefits, including righteousness and holiness. While justification is an act of God that is once and for all, sanctification is a process or work that begins when we are justified. Rejoice today that when you see your many sins and how far you fall short of the glory of God, you know that if you have believed in the Lord Jesus, that God is at work in you to conform you to Christ's image and make you holy as he his holy. When we confess our sins and are obedient to his gracious commands by the power of the Spirit, he forgives us and strengthens us to grow in more holiness!
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is R...
R-RIGHTEOUSNESS OF CHRIST IMPUTED- Romans 4:5-8-
"However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him'."
Justification is forensic (that is, it is "courtroom language"). We are declared, counted or reckoned to be righteous when God imputes the righteousness of Christ (an "alien righteousness") to our account. In other words, the Judge of all the earth declares us "not guilty" when we believe because Christ was pronounced "guilty" for us on the cross.
We are NOT first made righteous, then declared righteous; we are declared righteous by grace through faith in Christ, then made righteous through sanctification!
When we believe, God imputes Christ's righteousness to us 'as if' it were our own. However, it is HIS righteousness, that is why Paul says in Romans 1:17 that there is a righteousness that has been revealed from God, a righteousness not of our own, but a righteousness revealed from God and freely given to those who do not work, but to those who believe.
In light of the goodness and graciousness of God who was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, we should daily repent of our own self-righteousness (our works), and constantly be trusting in the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has been given to us!
Remember the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18 who go up to the temple to pray and seek God's forgiveness? The story begins with these words: "To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable..." The Pharisee in the story basically thanked God he was not unrighteous, thinking that he was a righteous, God-fearing man. While the tax collector could not even look up to God but said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Jesus said the tax collector went home justified. The tax collector was justified because he asked God for mercy and trusted the Living God who justifies the wicked and credits righteousness apart from works! Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is I...
I-INCARNATION- Hebrews 2:14-18:
"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-- that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."
Great news for those who are united by faith to the Son of God and thus become sons of God! God became man, "enfleshed" himself, took upon our flesh so as to destroy the devil who holds the power of death.
The Son of God became a son of Adam to represent those whom he loved and to be obedient to God in the face of the greatest temptation presented to him by the devil. Jesus knew when tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Mt. 4), that his provision, power, and promotion were going to be given to him by God his Father upon perfect obedience to his will, going to the cross to die for sinners, taking God's wrath upon himself, and being justified and raised from the dead, so that those who believe will never die but inherit eternal life!
However, the devil offered him provision, power and promotion if he would believe his words and be prevented from going to the cross to offer himself as a substitute for sinners.
He was made like his brothers in every way to represent us before the Living God as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins and to be a perfect mediator representing those he loved before the Father, ever living to make intercession for them. When we are tempted, we know that Jesus can help us because he knows our weakness, our trials, the deceit and subtlety of the devil, and by his Spirit can help us to overcome in the power of His Name.
The next time you are tempted to submit yourself to the devil's teaching and to resist God's commands (rather than to submit yourself to God and to resist the devil as James teaches), remember Jesus who was made like you, who has overcome, defeating death, hell, and the devil on your part, so that you might overcome! He understands because he was made like you and he can indeed help those who are being tempted!
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is S...
S: Sola Fide- "Faith Alone"
Ephesians 2:8-10- "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
Another important truth about justification is that it is "by faith alone" (sola fide). Faith is the instrumental cause of justification, in that faith is the means by which the merits of Christ are appropriated or given to us.
We are not justified because of our faith because then it would be "by works" (although some would argue it is a very small work). Paul clearly says in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are saved by the grace of God through the instrument of faith, which is a gift from God, not "because of" our faith, but simply because of the grace and mercy of God while were were dead in trespasses and sins as he says early in chapter 2.
This means that faith is the empty open hands by which we grab hold of the grace of God in Christ that is held out to us in God's Word. As we sing in the great hymn: "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." That is why Paul says that we cannot boast!
Faith alone also means that faith is a faith in Christ's saving work without anything else added to it. Our salvation is never to be understood as "faith plus something" ("it is not from ourselves"). It is simply by grace through faith - -alone. According to Ephesians 2:9, though we are saved by faith alone, we are not saved by a faith that is alone. That means, that God has created us in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do, but that these works follow our justification in that we bear good fruit and show forth our being united to Jesus Christ by producing fruits of the Spirit.
Philippians 2:13 reminds us that our works that follow our justification are works because the Father is committed to working in us that which is good and pleasing according to his will. God is committed to making his people look like the LORD Jesus. Rejoice today that the faith God has given us is not a dead faith, but a working faith! A faith that desires to serve the Lord Jesus, and out of gratitude for what he has done, live according to his gracious word!
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is T...
T- "THEOLOGICAL ARTICLE UPON WHICH THE CHURCH OR INDIVIDUAL STANDS OR FALLS"- MARTIN LUTHER
Galatians 1:6-12: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed....For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."
During the Reformation of the 16th century, the doctrine of justification was called the "theological article upon which the church or individual stands or falls". The revelation of justification by faith alone is the one and only gospel. As Paul says in Galatians 1:6-12, there are indeed counterfeits and other "gospels" but they are in reality no gospels at all, because they do not in reality bring good news!
In Galatians 3:6ff, Paul teaches us about the one and only gospel according to Jesus. He says: "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned (credited) to him as righteousness. Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham....Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, 'The righteous man shall live by faith'."
The reason why justification is the theological article upon which the church or individual stands or falls is because it is the gospel as revealed in Scripture. As Paul says in Galatians 1, even if he had gone back to the Galatian church and preached another gospel, or an angel from heaven preached another gospel, they should be accursed (he repeats this twice to emphasize the great importance of holding to the true gospel).
The reason why they should be accursed is because Paul received the gospel of justification by faith alone from Jesus Christ himself. His good news was revealed to him from the Living God; it was not something he dreamed up in his own theological mind. And because it is the revealed gospel of Jesus Christ, it is the only gospel, the only good news of Jesus Christ!
The good news is that we are justified, or declared righteous by grace through faith alone in Christ alone. The extremely good news is that what we could not do in living a perfect life of upholding God's Law in thought, word, and deed - -Jesus did- -all for those who believe in him! This is a salvation that is revealed apart from our works, because the focus is on Christ's work for those whom he loves!
If a church, or an individual denies the truth of the one and only gospel of the Lord Jesus revealed in Scripture, that church or that person will not stand on the Day of Judgment, but will be condemned to eternal wrath and punishment for their sins from the hands of the Living God. However, for those who turn from their sins in daily repentance, believing by faith that Jesus took their wrath and punishment for them on the cross, they will receive his righteousness so that they might humbly, yet confidently stand in Christ's righteousness alone! If Jesus were to return this moment to judge the world would you stand or fall?
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is M...
M- MESSIAH-THE LAMB OF GOD-
John 1:29: "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"
The Substitutionary atonement of Christ- Romans 3:23-26: "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished-- he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
Jesus was 'Messiah' or the Anointed One of God that Israel had expected for many years, but when he came, he came quite unexpectedly. He came as the long expected King that Isaiah 40 spoke of in "Preparing the way of the LORD." But he also came as Isaiah 52-53 prophesied: as the Suffering Servant of the LORD.
The Israelites expected the 'Messiah', or 'Anointed One', or 'Christ' to overthrow the temporal and provisional Roman government and to set up his throne over all the rulers and nations. Jesus was to rule over all the nations as the Son of Man (Daniel 7:14)- - but not yet! He was first to suffer as Messiah, the Lamb of God on behalf of his people.
The great King, or Anointed One was to take the sufferings for sin and the wrath of God upon himself as the pure and unblemished Lamb of God for the sins of those who would believe in his work on their behalf.
When John the Baptist prophesied about the Messiah, the Lamb of God to come, he said that he was one to bring salvation, but also judgment (Mt. 3: "His winnowing fork is in his hand...and he will burn up the chaff"). Later, John himself would be confused over whether Jesus was the one they were to expect (Mt. 11). The problem was that John did not understand that when Messiah came, he would suffer, then a time period of patience would pass as Jesus ruled at God's right hand until all of his people were saved, then he would return in judgment. Jesus the Christ ("Messiah", or "Anointed One") was to complete the work of God out of love for his sheep, but then there was to be a undetermined period before his final judgment upon the world.
The reason Jesus laid down his life as the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, was so that God could be just and the justifier of those who believe in Christ Jesus as Romans 3:23-26 teaches.
God is loving as well as just and cannot allow sin against his holy character to go unpunished. Therefore, God the Father offered his own Son as a sacrifice without blemish, a sacrifice of atonement to himself so that he would be just in punishing sin, but also the justifier who believed in his only begotten Son. God cannot overlook sin, so he placed all the sin of his people upon Jesus's precious, unblemished back, and poured out his terrible wrath upon his Son, so that those who believed in him, would be justified by faith alone! The great news at Christmastime is that God himself saved us from God! He remains just and and still justifies those who believe in Jesus the Messiah!
The next letter of the word 'Christmas' is A...
A- ACCOMPLISHMENT OF CHRIST IN ETERNITY AND THE APPLICATION OF HIS WORK BY THE SPIRIT-
Ephesians 1:4: "...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love..." Titus 3:4-7: "But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life."
Christ's accomplishment of his work on behalf of those he loved was a reality even before he put on human flesh and stepped into time and history to accomplish this work. From the foundation of the world, we were chosen in Christ based on the work he would perfectly perform on behalf of those who believe (cf. Matthew 25:34).
However, the work of Christ was accomplished in time and history in his substitutionary life, death, resurrection, and ascension for those who believe (Hebrews 9:26-28). On the cross, Jesus said: "It is finished" indicating the finality of his substitutionary death for sinners and atonement for sin. The Father vindicated, or justified Jesus in his resurrection, and Jesus accomplished his work on earth when he sat down at the right hand of the Father in heavenly places (1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 10:12; Col. 3:1).
His work "continues" still today in the sense that he prays for and ever intercedes for those he loves at God's right hand, as well as keeps believers safe in his grip, but his once and for all work for sinners has been accomplished on earth (Heb. 7:25; cf. Heb. 9:28). Now all men living and dead await His Judgment.
When he sat down at God's right hand in his ascension he sent the promised Holy Spirit to be with his people and apply the salvation which he secured for his own people (Acts 1:8ff). The Spirit's primary ministry is to make known Christ's salvation to his people and to glorify Christ in his perfect work by applying this work to believers by grace, through faith in real time and history when the Spirit unites them to Jesus Christ to partake in all of the benefits of his salvation accomplished from the foundation of the world (John 14:15-21; 25-31; 15:1-17).
When we believe and the Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ, we receive all the benefits of his work on our behalf: justification, adoption, sanctification, and eventually our glorification with him! (Romans 8:28-31).
Once we are united to Christ by faith, the application of his work continues by him making us holy and without blemish as Ephesians 1:4 teaches. According to Titus 3:7, we also become heirs of God having the hope of eternal life! (cf. Romans 8:15-17). Once we are justified by his grace, we are sanctified by his grace of working in us that which is good and pleasing according to his will (Phil. 2:13), while we work out our salvation with fear and trembling by his grace, and because he is working in us (Phil. 2:12).
The Spirit uses the Word of God, primarily through the preaching of the Word and the sacraments of the Lord's Supper to help us to be spiritually strengthened and nourished, so that we might be ever more conformed to Christ's glorious image, and that we might persevere in faith to the end! As John says: "What great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God and that is what we are (present tense)....and when he appears (future tense) we shall be like him!" (1 John 3:1-2 paraphrased).
Give thanks to God this Christmas season that because of God's great love for you, you are now receiving the benefits and gifts Christ secured for you! And our contentment in these benefits and gifts cause us to realize that there is absolutely nothing here on this earth that could be given to us at Christmas that could bring us greater joy as we serve God wholeheartedly out of gratitude for what he has given to us!
The last letter of the word 'Christmas' is S...
S- SIMUL IUSTUS ET PECCATOR- "JUSTIFIED, AND AT THE SAME TIME SINFUL"
Eternal life is Christ dwelling in His righteousness in the soul of the justified person. So eternal life can be easily understood as union with Jesus Christ.
And the word for that union with him is faith. The sinner comes to him, rests in him, trusts in him, is one with him, abides with him; and this is life because it never ends. The united soul abides in the Vine eternally. Weakness, sin, proneness to sin never brings separation, but only the Father's pruning, which cements the union even and ever tighter (John 15:1-8).
Our great hope in our union with Christ is that we know that we are truly forgiven of all our sins. Christ died for all of our sins, not merely a few of them, but all of them.
As justified sinners, we will still struggle with sin and temptation, in fact a Christian ought to be described as a "struggling sinner", or better "one who struggles with sin". In John's first epistle, he writes that if we say we have no sin we lie and we call God a liar (1 John 1:8-10). In fact, John says if we claim to be without sin "his word has no place in our lives" (primarily because the Word became flesh "to save his people from their sins").
However, those covered with Christ's righteousness given to them, those who have Christ as their Advocate with the Father, can go to Christ confessing their sins and he is faithful and just and will forgive as well as purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8,9). We have this great benefit because we are united to Christ and because he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 2:2).
To be justified and at the same time sinful ("simul iustus et peccator") is to be one who is united with Jesus Christ while truly struggling against our sinful nature, or "old man" as Paul describes our former way of sinful life in this world. We are truly at war with our sinful nature as justified sinners!
The difficulty with the war is that we know our sinful inclinations are not good, yet we still are very much attracted to our sins. We hate our sins, while we love them; we love certain sins, while we at the same time hate them! It is like in the 'Fellowship of the Rings' when Bilbo desires to get rid of the great ring he has obtained from Gollum. He knows it is evil and too powerful for him to control, yet he tells Gandalf the Wizard "it is precious" to him. While we struggle to kill our "old man", our sinful nature and the sins that so easily beset us, we at the same time think they are "precious" to us. Notice how Paul describes this life-long battle with sin in Romans 7.
Paul describes the conflict in this way: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do...As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me...For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - -this I keep on doing" (Romans 7:15-20).
In our conflict with our sin, this is exactly how we feel as well! We want to do good, we desire to obey God's law because it is our delight, but at the same time our sins are still "precious" to us. Where can we go? What can we do? We must run to the Lord Jesus Christ daily confessing our sins and transgressions, knowing confidently that he will forgive us and purify us. This is exactly what Paul does: "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God --through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom. 7:24,25).
There is a daily struggle and battle going on in the heart's of justified sinners! We are at the same time justified and yet still tainted with sin. Our hope is that he will cleanse us, he will purify us and one day will present those who are united to Jesus Christ as a Bride without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. I
n other words, we shall be perfect as he is perfect when we are glorified on that Great Day when Christ shall return for his bride! This is our hope today! God, who began a good work our uniting us to His Son, shall complete it on the Day of His return! Glory be to God! May God grant us more grace and strength to overcome our sins, to despise and hate the sins that so easily beset us, causing us to see Jesus as more "precious" in our sight, and our sins as truly heinous in His sight!
Remember that God has granted us means of grace to help us in our battle: the Word of God and the Lord's Supper! May His Spirit help us today to hate the sins that are so "precious" to us and may we be more conformed to his image this Christmas season! Amen.
In the Name of the LORD of the Word and in the fellowship of His service,