The Gift Born in Us

When she was three years old, my niece played the role of a sheep in the annual church Christmas play. So, when assigned the same bleating role again at age four, Lori sighed, “Every year, it’s the same thing!” We laughed (and still do) at the thought of one so young tiring of routine after just two occasions spaced an entire year apart. Yet this little humorous episode in our family lore raises the weightier question: What is Christmas, really? If Christmas were merely a festive time of year—even a season of sharing and celebrating together—then “Every year, it’s the same thing” might well describe it. We would decorate our living space, prepare a special meal, and give a gift or two to those we love. We might go to church to hear the familiar story and sing familiar songs, and when the season ended, we would pack all of our red, green, gold and glitter away until another year of “the same thing.”

But Christmas is much more than a seasonal celebration: it is for us life itself. For God our Father sent His Son in human form to be with us, to live among us, and to remain in us. This Son took on the name, Jesus, which means to save, rescue or deliver, for this is what He came to do: to save us from the penalty of our sin and to raise us to life that never ends. Though He ascended to heaven at the end of His natural life, His Spirit continues to live in all who believe in Him, uniting us with Him for an eternity of fresh todays. “Do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?”1 wrote the apostle Paul to early-church believers. The same is true of us today because of Jesus, the generous, everlasting Christmas gift of God.

So, let’s celebrate! Let’s adorn our homes, give of ourselves and our possessions, share from our table, and savor precious time with those we love. Let’s sing the songs of Christmas and read the story of that first Noel. And though we put away the decorations and finish off the leftovers, and though the world puts Christmas behind until “the same thing” next year, let us remember that Jesus is here each and every today. He came in the flesh, and His Spirit remains in us. He was born for this, and we were born for Him. He loves us that much.

But to all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12, 13)

Merry Christmas to you, today and every day of the year.

1 2 Corinthians 13:5

Three Steps Forward

As a young man newly promoted into a field representative position for my employer, I traveled with my manager as he introduced me to the insurance agents who sold for our company throughout north central Ohio. We had plenty of “windshield time” over a several-week period, so I was privileged to learn from his time-tested cache of workplace wisdom, including this valuable insight: “Some people gain 20 years of experience one time, and others gain one year’s experience 20 times.” It was his way of setting the vision of constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity. In a similar vein, Peter counseled believers that life in Christ is more than a one-time moment of salvation—it begins at our spiritual birth into Him and grows steadily through a lifelong maturity process. “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … has caused us to be born again into a living hope … to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for [us].”1 God’s Spirit births our spirit2 to a purposeful existence of learning and serving, all toward the vision that we “grow up into [our] salvation”3 and “bear much fruit.”4

Yet amid the three-steps-forward adventures along the way, there arise one-step-back moments of frustration. They happen to all of us; they happened to Peter. He had come to terms with the spiritual weakness in his natural self, he had experienced the relief of restoration, and he had availed himself to the Holy Spirit, who had done much through this bold apostle. Yet when influentials began to argue the need to attain righteousness by keeping Jewish law, even Peter was intimidated and “began to draw back and separate himself”5 from Gentile believers. It took a public rebuke from Paul6 to disabuse Peter of his misstep into doubt and to realign him with the truth of salvation by faith in Christ alone. (Good friends do this.)

Shortly before his martyr’s death, Peter penned final thoughts “to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours.”7 “Make every effort,” he wrote, “to add to your faith goodness … knowledge … self-control … perseverance … godliness … mutual affection … and love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure,” Peter continued, “they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”8 By now, we know we cannot bear such spiritual fruit in our natural strength, but only as we offer ourselves entirely to the Spirit of God, knowing this: He will lead us in constant learning, continual improvement, and increasing productivity—to a lifetime of experience one time.

We pray with Paul that we “may be filled with the knowledge of [God’s] will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [us] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”9 Amen.

1 1 Peter 1:3, 4 ESV
2 John 3:6
3 1 Peter 2:2 NIV
4 John 15:5 NIV
5 Galatians 2:12 ESV
6 Galatians 2:14-21
7 2 Peter 1:1 NIV
8 2 Peter 1:5-8 NIV
9 Colossians 1:9-12 ESV

You Will Receive Power

The impulsive disciple—decisive without restraint—had at every turn suffered the crushing failure of self-reliance and human wisdom the night it mattered most, when his Lord was betrayed. Sometimes transformation entails personal failure. The once-boastful one, now humbled before his risen Messiah, had experienced the freedom of forgiveness and the relief of restoration. Transformation includes liberation, as well. Yet when commissioned to spread the good news of life in Christ, Peter still lacked one crucial thing, as did his friends—the spiritual power to do so. This, too, would change. It had to change, for without the presence of the Spirit, there is no change in us.

Before ascending to His Father, Jesus told His disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”1 Not long afterward, as the apostles were gathered, “there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind… And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.”2 It was the promised power from on-high, and the change in Peter from that point on was clear. For this frightened man who had denied knowing Jesus to “one of the servant girls of the high priest”3 now spoke boldly of the resurrected Christ to the high priest himself.4 This disciple who in Gethsemane had failed to stay awake and “pray that [he] may not enter into temptation”5 now wisely cautioned others regarding spiritual warfare: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”6 He who had proudly pledged unparalleled loyalty7 finally understood where godly greatness lies: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”8

Just as salvation is the gift of God—His Spirit giving birth to our spirit—so also is our transformation into the likeness of Christ. We can no more sanctify ourselves than we can save ourselves. Writes Peter: “[Jesus’] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him… He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”9 As we turn from the ways of our sinful nature, having seen them exposed in the light of Christ, God grows us in His own nature. This is the work of the Spirit; this is change in us.

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)

Father, open our heart to your Holy Spirit, that we would know and share your love, understand and apply your wisdom, and serve others in your power. Grace us to leave behind the things of our nature and to live increasingly in yours. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

1 Acts 1:8 ESV
2 Acts 2:2-4 ESV
3 Mark 14:66 ESV
4 Acts 4:5-12 ESV
5 Luke 22:40 ESV
6 1 Peter 5:8 ESV
7 Luke 22:33 ESV
8 1 Peter 5:6 ESV
9 2 Peter 1:3, 4 NIV