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”

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

FAQ: Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven. Doesn’t this contradict grace?

Tresaure chestThe Bible clearly teaches that Christians will be rewarded in heaven for the good works they do on earth. While this seems to make sense to some, others of us find this confusing.

HERE’S THE CONCERN…
When someone finally gets hold of the fact that God accepts them because of His grace and not their good works, they find themselves doing good works because they have already been given something, not because they want to get something. 

> They do not love in order to get God to love them. They love because God first loved them.
> They do not serve in order to get God to serve them. They serve because God first served them.
> They do not forgive in order to get God to forgive them. They forgive because God first forgave them.

So when Jesus teaches that there will be rewards in heaven for doing good works on earth, many of us are confused.

Are we meant to love others because God first loved us, or because we want to get rewards in heaven? Or is there more than one reason to love? How does this all work?

Here’s some things to consider…

#1. THE BIBLE TEACHES THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE BUT WE WILL BE REWARDED BECAUSE OF OUR WORKS

The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

Bruce Wilkinson summarized it like this: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”.

#2. THE BIBLE SEEMS TO INDICATE THAT THE REWARDS WE RECEIVE ARE NOT ABOUT GETTING SOMETHING, BUT ABOUT BEING ENTRUSTED WITH SOMETHING

Although the Bible is not clear in spelling out exactly what eternal rewards look like, it gives a strong indication that they are not what we might expect. Consider the following…

A) The greatest reward is an opportunity to serve Jesus
When a person becomes a Christian, their desires begin to change. Although they still have a sinful nature which loves sin and craves sin, they also have the Holy Spirit who gives them a desire to serve God. With this in mind, what would be the greatest reward God could give a Christian? Surely the greatest reward would be to fulfil the Christian’s greatest desire, and the Christian’s greatest desire is to be with Jesus and serve Him.

B) If we are faithful with little, we will be entrusted with more
In the “Parable of the Talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) and the “Parable of the 10 Minas” (Luke 19:11-27), Jesus makes is clear that if we are faithful with the small opportunities we’re given to serve Him, then He will entrust us with greater opportunities to serve Him. It isn’t entirely clear whether those greater opportunities will come in this life, the life to come, or both. But given that Christians will be serving God in heaven, it it certainly seems reasonable to assume that those who were trustworthy on earth will be given greater responsibility in heaven.

C) Some will be rewarded with an opportunity to rule
Bruce Wilkinson explains: “Exactly how much opportunity will faithful stewards receive in heaven? So much that in the upside-down kingdom of heaven, the highest word for serving is ruling. We can trace this surprising reversal to the Garden of Eden. Remember that at Creation God made both woman and man for a particular task— to serve Him on earth by stewarding His creation. Jesus confirmed this purpose when He told His disciples that their reward in heaven for serving Him here would be to sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel (Matthew 19: 28)… Ruling is also the reward for serving we see in Jesus’ parables of faithful stewards. Did you notice? In the mina parable, the highest reward for service was to “have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19: 17). And in the Parable of the Talents, the reward is similar—“ I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25: 21, 23)”.[1]

Therefore the eternal rewards we receive may have nothing to do with getting something for ourselves, and all to do with what we can do for God and others. 

[1] Wilkinson, Bruce (2012-04-04). A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever (Breakthrough Series) (p. 74). The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

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.

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

FAQ: Why avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where we spend eternity?

sincity3

Christianity teaches that a person gets to heaven not by avoiding sin or doing good works, but by trusting solely in Jesus to save them.

And although the Bible describes this as ‘good news’, many fear that this message is far too risky. Why would anyone want to avoid sin and do good works if it doesn’t affect where they spend eternity?

But just because eternity is not on the line, doesn’t mean there’s no good reasons to avoid sin and do good works.

CONSIDER WHAT ALL GOOD PARENTS DO

Suppose a couple decided that the best way to get their children to behave is to threaten to kick them out of the family if they don’t perform. No one would think that this is a good idea. No one would argue that this is the best way to help their children become all that they want them to be. And yet, when it comes to viewing how our Heavenly Father works, some find it difficult to comprehend how He can get us to ‘behave’ if the threat of being kicked out of the family of God isn’t hanging over our heads.

Just as a loving mother and father use many different means to motivate, equip and help their children become all that they want them to be, our Heavenly Father also uses many different means to motivate, equip and help us become all that He wants us to be. It’s just that none of them include threatening to send us to hell.

10 REASONS WHY CHRISTIANS FIND THEMSELVES WANTING TO AVOID SIN AND DO GOOD WORKS
(in no particular order) 

1. GRATITUDE
Martin Luther said: “Faith is a living, bold trust in God’s grace, so certain of God’s favor that it would risk death a thousand times trusting in it. Such confidence and knowledge of God’s grace makes you happy, joyful and bold in your relationship to God and all creatures. The Holy Spirit makes this happen through faith. Because of it, you freely, willingly and joyfully do good to everyone, serve everyone, suffer all kinds of things, love and praise the God who has shown you such grace”.

2. INTIMACY
Because we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father, we find ourselves wanting to please Him, in the same way a child wants to please their earthly parents. And although our Heavenly Father will never kick us out of the family for doing the wrong thing or being rebellious, our unwillingness to submit to Him certainly affects the level of intimacy that we might experience.

3. DISCIPLINE
Hebrews 12:5-11 says: “‘The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son’. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness“.

4. REWARDS
Bruce Wilkinson says: “Our eternal destination is the consequence of what we believe on earth. Our eternal compensation is the consequence of how we behave on earth”. The Apostle Paul spoke about believers who will be in heaven because of their faith in Jesus, but will miss out on rewards in heaven because they did not give their life to doing good works: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).

5. EVANGELISM
Loving each other and doing good works won’t lead people to Jesus, but it can lead people towards Jesus. Jesus said: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). He said: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”.

6. PURPOSE
Jesus longs for us to experience the joy of being part of something bigger than ourselves. The Apostle Paul says that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). Jesus’ vision for our lives is so much greater than anything humanly possible. He wants us to “produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown” (Mark 4:20).

7. REPENTANCE
Part of becoming a Christian involves ‘repenting’. To ‘repent’ simply means ‘to change one’s mind’. So a Christian is someone who has changed their mind about sin. Rather than see sin as something to be celebrated and embraced, the Christian agrees with God that it’s destructive and hurtful. It damages our relationship with God and others.

8. OWNERSHIP
Over and over again the Bible tell us that Christians belong to God. The Apostle Paul said: You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). When we become a Christian, God takes full responsibility for our lives. And part of taking on that responsibility means leading and empowering us to become all that He wants us to be. We submit to God. Not just because He loves us and cares for us. But because He is our God and He has a right to us.

9. FREEDOM
The Bible teaches that Jesus wants us to be free of our addiction to sin. The Apostle Paul said: “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18).

10. HOLY SPIRIT
Even if every other attempt to get Christians to avoid sin and do good works failed, they would still be inclined to become the kind of person God wants them to be. This is because God has given them the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wages war against a Christian’s sinful nature (which loves sin and craves sin), while at the same time motivating them and empowering them to do good works. These works are called fruit of the Spirit. It’s impossible for the God of the universe to come and live inside someone and have them stay the same. Something is going to change.

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK 

MISUNDERSTANDING: The relationship between faith and good works

One way to consider the relationship between faith and good works is to try and construct a maths equation.

SUPPOSE YOU ARE GIVEN THE FOLLOWING NINE CARDS TO USE…

Picture1

Each card can be used to construct the formula.
S stands for Salvation
F stands for Faith
GW stands for Good Works

MANY OF US WOULD NATURALLY CONSTRUCT THE FORMULA LIKE THIS…

FAITH plus GOOD WORKS leads to SALVATION.

Picture2

The problem with this equation is that the Bible explicitly states that we are saved by faith alone: “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” (Eph 2:8-9).

AS A RESULT, WE NEED TO ELIMINATE ‘GOOD WORKS’ FROM OUR EQUATION, AND BE LEFT WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION

Picture3

Although this is correct, it doesn’t really give the full story. The Bible goes onto say that once we are saved, we will find that we have a desire to do good works: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

SO PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER, WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS, BUT ONCE WE ARE SAVED, WE WILL HAVE A DESIRE TO DO GOOD WORKS. OUR EQUATION SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION which leads to GOOD WORKS

Picture4

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

ILLUSTRATION: Dog carrying a piece of meat

preview.aesops_dogSuppose there’s a dog carrying a piece of meat in his mouth as he walks alongside a lake. He turns to look at the lake’s surface, and he sees the reflection of the meat in the water. He opens his mouth and snaps at the reflection of the meat, losing both the meat and the reflection in the process.

In order to become a Christian, one needs to cling to ‘what Jesus has done’, just as the dog clings to the meat. And if they do, it will be reflected in their life, just as the meat was reflected in the lake.

However many misunderstand the message of Christianity, and rather than cling only to ‘what Jesus has done’ (the meat), they feel the need to cling also to their ‘good works’ (the reflection). And by trying to place their faith in ‘what Jesus had done’ as well as their ‘good works’, they lose both ‘what Jesus has done’ and their ‘good works’.

The key to becoming a Christian is to cling only to ‘what Jesus has done’ on our behalf. If we do, the Holy Spirit will come into our life and transform us from the inside out. So that when others see us they will see a reflection of Jesus.

(Based on an explanation by Martin Luther in his book ‘The Freedom of a Christian’. The story of the dog is one of Aesop’s Fables and is numbered 133 in the Perry Index)

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK

ILLUSTRATION: Woman who can’t stop having an affair

affair2There was once a woman who realized that there was something missing in her life. So she decided to go to the local church and find out more about Christianity. Upon arriving she met the pastor and began asking questions. For the next six weeks, the woman and the pastor met to discuss the Christian faith. At the end of the six weeks, the pastor asked the woman if she would like to become a Christian. The woman said that she would love to, but there was one major problem. The woman had been cheating on her husband for last two years and had not been able to stop.

The pastor’s initial reaction was to tell the woman that she would need to give up the affair before she could become a Christian. But just before the words came out of his mouth, he realized how terribly wrong he was. The woman did not have to give up her sin before coming to faith. For one thing, she was not able to. She had tried and tried and tried but continued to fail. Secondly, if it was a requirement for her to give up this particular sin, how many more sins would she have to give up before she qualified for Christianity.

So the pastor rightly said to her: “You don’t need to stop sinning before becoming a Christian. Jesus came for sinners. He came for people stuck in adultery. He came for people who are addicted to sin. Jesus can save you just as you are. He will give you the Holy Spirit who can empower you to overcome your sin”.

So in that moment, the woman simply confessed that she was a sinner, unable to save herself, and unable to change herself. She asked Jesus to pay for the consequences of her sin, and asked the Holy Spirit to give her the power to overcome her sin.

SHARE THIS ON FACEBOOK