What Jesus wants to give us this Christmas

This Christmas, Jesus wants to give us a gift. And it’s not just some cheap gift He picked up at the last minute. This is the ultimate gift. It was so expensive that it cost Him His life.

This Christmas, Jesus wants to give us…
> Eternal Life.
> Complete Forgiveness of all our past, present, future, accidental and deliberate sins.
> Freedom from Guilt & Shame.
> Adoption into His family.
> The Holy Spirit who will come into our lives and make us more like Jesus.
> Joy, Peace, & Purpose.

Now the question is, how do we get hold of this gift? What do we have to do to ensure that we don’t miss out?

SANTA

Everyone knows that when Santa gives out presents, he’s checking to see if we’ve been ‘naughty or nice’. In other words, he distributes presents based on our behaviour. Be good and we’ll get lots of presents. Be bad and we’ll miss out. It’s that simple.

Many of us assume that Jesus gives out presents the same way. If we can be good enough, holy enough, and religious enough, then He will give us eternal life.

However the good news is that Jesus is way better than Santa. Over and over again the Bible teaches that we don’t need to earn Jesus’ gift. That it’s not based upon our behaviour: “It is by grace you have been saved,through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

So there must be some other way…

FRIENDSChristmas presents piled underneath a christmas tree.

When it comes to giving presents to friends, nobody wants to go through that awkward situation where we receive a present, but have nothing to give in return. As a result, it’s not uncommon for us to ask: “Are we giving each other presents this year?” In other words, we exchange gifts based upon a mutual agreement. We’ll give to them if they give to us. Again, it’s that simple.

For those of us who’ve grown up in church, we may find some similarities between this and Christianity. It’s often explained like this: “If we make a commitment to live the Christian life, Jesus will make a commitment to give us eternal life”. 

The problem is, this is not actually what the Bible teaches. In what is probably the most well-known verse in all the Bible, Jesus says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

We don’t receive Jesus’ gift to us by committing to live for him. Eternal life is not granted to those who promise to obey. This whole idea of ‘We give to God, so that God can give to us’ has no place in Christianity.

So what’s the answer then?

JESUS

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church of Rome and said: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship (Romans 12:1)”.

Here we read that God does actually long for us to offer our whole lives to Him, but it’s certainly not like the gift exchange system that we have with our friends. Rather the Apostle Paul only even mentions the idea of giving to God once it’s firmly established in the readers own minds that God has already given a completely unconditional, no-strings-attached gift to them.

Let me explain…

Firstly, if God required that we promise to obey Him in order for us to receive eternal life, none of us would make it.
We’re way too messed up, too selfish and too sinful. Certainly we may be able to obey God here and there, but not perfectly, not consistently, and certainly not when you take into account all the good we ought to be doing (and not just the evil we ought not be doing).

Secondly, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God gives His gift to us before we give anything back to God.
Leading up to this passage in Romans, Paul has already mentioned that God has forgiven them, freed them from condemnation, given them the Holy Spirit, adopted them as His Children. They didn’t have to ‘offer their bodies as living sacrifices’ in order to receive eternal life. Rather they ‘offered their bodies as living sacrifices’ because they had already received eternal life.

Thirdly, It would be impossible for us to offer ourselves to God unless He has already given us His gift. 
The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology states that “only clean animals are offered in sacrifice…According to later restrictions, sacrifices are to be unblemished”. In other words, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice doesn’t make us clean. We are already declared ‘clean’ because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. And only then do we have the opportunity and privilege of offering ourselves back to God.

So yes, it’s true, in response to Jesus’ incredible gift to us, we are free to offer our lives as a gift to Him. But not because we have to. Not because our eternity hangs in the balance. But because we’re grateful for all that He has done for us.

SO HOW DO WE RECEIVE JESUS’ GIFT TO US THIS CHRISTMAS?

The Bible teaches that we receive this gift just like we receive any other gift. We simply take hold of it…
Do we want to spend eternity forever with Jesus?
> Do we want to complete forgiveness of all our past, present, future, accidental and deliberate sins?
> De we want to be set free from Guilt & Shame?
> Do we want God to Adopt us into His family?
> Do we want the Holy Spirit to 
come into our lives and make us more like Jesus?
> Do we want God to give us 
Joy and Peace and Purpose? 

If the answer is yes, all we need to do is let God know…

“Jesus, I need You. I believe that you are the Son of God who died on the cross to pay for my sins. I believe that you rose again. Right now, I ask that you forgive all my sins, adopt me as your child, and give me your Holy Spirit. Take control of my life and make me the kind of person you want me to be. Amen”

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ILLUSTRATION: Boy on a Plane

Little Boy Trying to Annoy Female PassengerIn his book “In the Grip of Grace”, Max Lucado tells the story of Billy Jack, a boy he met on a plane who needed extra care and attention.

According to Lucado, Billy Jack would often ask a question, only to get distracted before the listener had a chance to deliver an answer. He described Billy Jack as “a little boy in a big body”.

Billy Jack needed help, and he knew it…

Unashamed of his needs, he didn’t let a flight attendant pass without a reminder: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When they brought the food: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When they brought more drinks: “Don’t forget to look after me.” When any attendant would pass, Billy Jack would urge: “Don’t forget to look after me.” I honestly can’t think of one time Billy Jack didn’t remind the crew that he needed attention. The rest of us didn’t. We never asked for help. We were grown-ups. Sophisticated. Self-reliant. Seasoned travelers. Most of us didn’t even listen to the emergency landing instructions. (Billy Jack asked me to explain them to him).[i]

Lucado went on to explain that Billy Jack was the safest person on the plane. If something went wrong, the flight attendants would have helped him first. Not because he deserved the most help. Not because he was the best behaved passenger on the flight. Not because he had listened the most attentively during the emergency landing instructions. But because Billy Jack was willing to declare that he could not take care of himself. He fully acknowledged his helplessness.

The same is true when it comes to Christianity…

Jesus made it clear that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).

A person becomes a Christian not by making a commitment to obey, or by promising to be faithful, but by declaring that they are helpless to obey and unable to be faithful.

Like a child, they declare their needs freely and unashamedly. They recognize that they can’t make it on their own, and cry out for Jesus to save them.

[i] Lucado, Max (2009-07-07). In the Grip of Grace: Your Father Always Caught You. He Still Does. (Kindle Locations 2734-2742). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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ILLUSTRATION: Toothpaste

Toothpaste_and_brushSuppose Jack and Jill are work colleagues. They have very little in common other than the fact that neither of them have grown up using toothpaste to brush their teeth.

One day, Jack becomes convinced that he has a problem with his teeth, so he decides to give toothpaste a try. For the next 12 months he brushes morning, noon and night, never missing a day.

Now we would expect that if we were to compare Jack’s teeth to Jill’s teeth that Jack’s teeth would be much nicer.

But what if Jack comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally bad teeth, while Jill comes from a family with a genetic disposition to having naturally good teeth? What if Jack lost a tooth after being hit while playing hockey when he was young, while Jill never even played sport? What if Jack had grown up drinking heaps of sugary drinks, while Jill had mostly drunk water?

It might very well be that Jack’s teeth are actually far worse than Jill’s teeth.

But just because Jack’s teeth are not better, doesn’t mean he hasn’t been using toothpaste, or that the toothpaste doesn’t work. Comparing Jack’s teeth with Jill’s teeth is pointless.

Rather a far better way to check if Jack has been using toothpaste is to compare Jack’s teeth at the start of the 12 months with his teeth at the end of the 12 months.

The same is true when it comes to Christianity… 

The best way to determine whether or not someone has received the Holy Spirit is not to compare them to others. Rather a far better way to check if the Holy Spirit is at work in someone’s life is to compare what they were like before becoming a Christian to what they are like now.

It might be that someone was born with a genetic disposition to alcoholism. Perhaps they grew up in a family full of alcoholics. Maybe they became addicted to alcohol from a young age. Unless God performs a miracle, it’s highly unlikely that they will ever be completely free of the desire to drink alcohol. It may not even be that likely that can stop getting drunk every day. But this doesn’t mean that God is not at work in their life. In fact, it might be that the activity of the Holy Spirit is stronger in the alcoholic’s life than it is in the life of the person who has never had a desire to get drunk in their life.

(Based on an illustration by C.S. Lewis from his book ‘Mere Christianity’)

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ILLUSTRATION: ABC

simpleWE CAN BE SURE THAT WE’RE GOING TO HEAVEN BEFORE WE DIE

One of the best things about Christianity is that it teaches us that we can be sure we’re going to heaven before we die.

At the crucifixion, Jesus was placed on a cross between two criminals. One of these criminals became a Christian just before he died. Here’s what happened…

LUKE 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

HOW TO BE SURE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HEAVEN

The criminal was assured a place in heaven because he placed his faith in Jesus to save him. Here are the three things he did…

(A) ACKNOWLEDGE: He acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved punishment.
> He did not promise to make up for his past sin. He certainly would not have been able to.
> He did not promise to never sin again. It was irrelevant. He was about to die. He could offer God nothing.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved judgement.

(B) BELIEVE: He believed that Jesus was able to save him.
> He did not believe the whole Bible. It hadn’t even been completed yet.
> He did not necessarily understand a lot of theology.
> He did not even understand how Jesus could save him. He just believed that he could.

(C) CAST: He cast his entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands.
> He did not promise to live for Jesus. He was about to die.
> He did not promise to obey. Again, he was about to die.
> He simply bet his life and eternity on Jesus. He had no other option. Everything rested on Jesus.

So just like the criminal, we too can be sure that we’re going to heaven. All we need to do is ‘ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who deserve judgement’, ‘BELIEVE that Jesus is able to save us’ & ‘CAST our entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands’.

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ILLUSTRATION: Swimming Underwater

woman-swimming-underwaterSuppose you’re swimming with some friends, and one of them challenges you to a competition to see who can swim the longest distance underwater. You’re up for the challenge, and you decide that no matter what you’re going to win.

About 45 seconds into the race, you begin to find things extremely difficult. You’ve told yourself that you’re going to be committed. You’ve told yourself that you won’t fail. Out of all your friends, you’re easily the most determined to win. But now you’re finding that your commitment to win isn’t enough. And before you’ve even realized what you’re doing, you’ve come up for air.

Why did this happen? How can it be that your commitment failed you? Why did you give up so easily?

Well the fact is, it didn’t matter how determined you were. Eventually your commitment to win was overpowered by your desperate need for oxygen.

COMMITMENT VS DESPERATION

Unfortunately, many people see becoming a Christian in a similar way.

We often hear people describe their conversion experience as the moment they ‘made a commitment’. When church leaders explain how a person can have their sins forgiven and go to heaven, they often tell people that they need to ‘commit to living the Christian life’.

But there eventually comes a time when we’re unable to keep our commitment. No amount of determination and effort and self-discipline can keep us from failing at some point along the journey.

The good news is that we are not saved by our commitment.

Just as our desperate need for oxygen is far more powerful than our commitment to stay underwater, our desperate need for Jesus is far more powerful than any commitment we might make to live the Christian life.

Becoming a Christian is not about committing to live the Christian life. Rather it’s about realizing that we are unable to commit to anything, that we are completely helpless to save ourselves, and that we lie naked before God in desperate need of a Saviour.

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ILLUSTRATION: Buying a House vs Being Rescued from a Fire

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO BUY A HOUSE

When a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to buy a house, they rarely sign on the dotted line until they’ve made a thorough assessment. They walk up and down the hallways. They map out where they would place their furniture. They try and picture how they might use their house for entertaining guests. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life in the house.

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

In a similar way, when a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to become a Christian, they don’t just walk into a church a pray a prayer. Rather they often want to assess how their life would be different. They talk with other Christians. They try and determine if the benefits of following Jesus outweigh the costs. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life as a Christian.

As much as all this may sound right, and there may even be a hint of truth to it, there is one very significant problem with this whole approach…

WE’RE NOT WEIGHING UP WHETHER OR NOT WE WANT TO BUY A HOUSE. RATHER WE DESPERATELY NEED TO BE RESCUED FROM A FIRE!!!

firefighterWhen Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t so that you and I could find meaning and purpose in life. When He was tortured, it wasn’t so that we could sort out our finances. When He was forsaken by His Father in Heaven, it wasn’t so that we could have a more intimate relationship with our spouse.

Although God does want us to have these things, they’re not the reason that Jesus was crucified. No, Jesus died on the cross so that we could escape the coming wrath…

ROMANS 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

ISAIAH 53:4-5
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed”

Becoming a Christian isn’t about deciding if you’d like to live the Christian life, it’s about recognizing that we need someone to save us from eternal death. 

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A Baby Born with Two Names

Nativity-VectorWhen Joseph found out that his fiancé Mary was pregnant, he assumed that she had cheated on him. So an angel came to Joseph and explained that Mary had become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. The angel went on to tell Joseph that this child would have two names: ‘Jesus’, which means ‘God saves’, and ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.

If we are to understand Christianity, then we need to understand Jesus. And if we want to understand Jesus, then we need to understand these two names…

1. ‘JESUS’ means ‘GOD SAVES’.

Many people wrongly assume that a Christian is someone who is trying to save themselves. But actually a Christian is someone who has simply allowed God to save them.

2. ‘IMMANUEL’ means ‘GOD WITH US’.

Not only does Jesus want to save us, He also wants to be with us. As a result, when a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes into their life and begins to transform them from the inside-out.

What is a Christian?

So a Christian is someone who let’s Jesus do what He came to do. He came to save us by dying on the cross to pay for our sin. And He came to be with us through His Spirit who wants to live in us and transform us.

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