God isn’t honored by Christians becoming “scrooges” who criticize everything about the Christmas season in an effort to “purify” Christmas. At the same time, don’t allow yourself to lose Jesus under the Christmas tree. Unfortunately, I know quite a few Christians who fall into both of those extremes. Recovering the Advent Season is our best way to be joyfully focused on God during this Christmas season.
Advent is more than a calendar with cheap chocolate leading up to December 25th. It is a season of “expectant waiting.” Does that describe your attitude today, or are you so bogged down by busyness and shopping that you don’t have time to expect anything but stress? The article below summarizes the message and meaning of Advent for the everyday Christian.
This season, create space to slow down. Watch less TV. Delete social media apps from your phone. Wake up earlier. Do what you need to do to spend time in Scripture each day, meditating on God’s work of salvation and his glorious promises to his children.
When you think about “heaven,” what comes to mind?
Many people think about about clouds, white light, pearly gates, and eternal happiness. My mind was completely blown when I discovered that Scripture teaches about eternity as a physical life. I had always imagined that heaven would be some disembodied life, floating around as spirits who are worshipping before God’s throne.
But the Bible consistently teaches about an eternal, earthly kingdom where God’s people will live. The New Testament calls this the “New Heavens and New Earth.” Here just a few places in Scripture that point to our future eternal-bodily life.
The Bible is full of references to grace and mercy, and yet many Christians can attend church for years without being able to give a clear and simple explanation of the difference.
To put it simply, the difference is this: Mercy is “not receiving something you deserve” while Grace is “receiving something you don’t deserve.” We see mercy in action when we get pulled over for driving too fast but receive a verbal warning instead of a hefty fine. Similarly, grace is at work and on display when a victim’s family forgives the man who murdered their son or daughter.
Mercy is an expression of grace, but they are not the same thing. Here are a few examples from Scripture and what they have to do with the gospel.
I used to know someone, we’ll call him Fred, who boasted about his Christian faith while talking about his party lifestyle. He would do whatever he wanted all week long and party hard on the weekends. But he always made time to go to confession on Saturday to make sure he was “all set” before God. But my question is this: does that work?
Is it enough to believe in your mind certain truths about the gospel and lay hold of the promise, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:1)?
Here’s the short answer: Saving faith in the gospel moves us past confession into repentance.
The Difference Between Confession & Repentance
The heart of confession is telling the truth. Telling the truth about God, and telling the truth about yourself. There are two kinds of “confessions” necessary:
- Confessing the truth about God. If we don’t know the truth about who God is and what he’s done, then we cannot place our faith in the good news of Jesus Christ. At minimum, we need to understand who Jesus is, what happened on the cross, why it was necessary, and what God expects of those who confess faith in him.
- Confessing the truth about yourself. We need to admit to God and to others that we realize our complete inability to save ourselves. When we come to recognize the severity of our sin, and the wrath that is rightfully ours, then we confess our great need and God’s greater provision.
Meanwhile, repentance is a change in behavior. Where confession has to do with the mouth, repentance addresses the hands and feet.
- Repentance is a change in direction. It’s an about-face: whereas before you were walking in one direction you have stopped, confessed “I’m going in the wrong direction!,” turned around, and begun walking in the correct direction.
It was “cry night” at camp and I was the only kid in my cabin who wasn’t crying and who didn’t go forward for the altar call. Upon returning to our cabin for discussions and prayer all eyes turned to me, as if they were asking, “Mike, what’s wrong with you? Why didn’t you go up? Should we be concerned about you?” I simply explained that I’m already a Christian and didn’t feel the need to go forward and recommit my life to Christ since I’m already trying to live for him. I didn’t understand why my friends kept going forward every summer.
Since that time, I’ve realized that many struggle with security of their salvation. They question whether or not they have saving faith, or if they’ll be one of those to whom Jesus says, “depart from me, for I never knew you.”
Here are a few questions to consider if you (or someone you care about) struggle to have security of your salvation. Continue reading
Imagine a man who gets married but continues to live with bachelor-priorities. He may be in love, but he’s not ready to become a husband. Marriage requires a change in priorities and in lifestyle for both husband and wife. Decisions will be made differently, money will be shared, and each person’s actions affects the other.
In the same way, no one becomes a Christian without repentance. It is not enough to hear the gospel and intellectually believe it. Faith in Christ leads to confession of sin and repentance. Sin must be confessed and repented of, or Christ will merely be viewed as the safety net to protect us from hell.
The gospel is the heart of Christianity. Without the gospel, Christianity is Judaism.
In all the talk about the gospel, it can be really helpful to slow down enough to ask ourselves, “What IS the gospel?” It’s both simpler and broader than you may realize.
The Simple Gospel
The gospel is the proclamation of forgiveness and redemption through faith in Jesus Christ – his sinless life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
John 3:16-17, ESV
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9, ESV
Gospel means “good news.” It’s an announcement. Like an ambassador who brings a message on behalf of the people he represents, the Christian announces the gospel, “Salvation is possible because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Confess your sin. Admit that you can’t earn it. Believe that forgiveness and redemption only comes through the work of Jesus, not through your own work. It is a gift of faith if you trust in his work instead of your own. This is great news!”