Sunday, December 21, 2014

On the ninth day of Christmas: the “believes in him” that opens the gift

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever BELIEVES IN HIM should not perish but have eternal life.”[1]

          By now, we know that the gift in God’s hands is “his only Son.” Jesus is in God’s hands, the fulfillment of all God’s plans and purposes to have a people in his own image and likeness. The promise of full conformity to the likeness of Jesus Christ is guaranteed for all who receive the gift.
          The way that we receive God’s time-bound Christmas gift is identified as, “whoever believes in him.” While we still have more to see about this gift, the thing we are called to interact with is that there is only one way to receive this very first Christmas gift. We must believe in Jesus Christ.
          To be sure that Jesus said what he really meant to say, and truly meant what he said, here are some other ways God has advertised his gift. As Christmas retailers use a whole variety of signs to convince us that they have the best merchandise at the optimal prices, so God repeatedly clarifies that the supremacy of his gift is experienced in only one way, through faith in his Son. No matter how God says it, the meaning is the same.
          One way that God speaks through his book is by showing how things work in real-life experience. On one occasion, a man was so overwhelmed with the power of God at work through God’s servants, that he cried out desperate to know what he was supposed to do in response to all he had heard. Jesus’ friends replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”[2]
          As Jesus himself said in John 3:16, his followers continued to declare as a central part of the good news. If people believe in Jesus, they will be saved. Because this gift was an expression of love to the whole world, they could clarify that the offer was for the man who was asking, as well as all the members of his household. Jesus said that “whoever” would believe in him would have eternal life, and so his disciples told every Whoever they met that they could believe and be saved, just as Jesus had promised.
          One thing we must clarify when we talk about believing in Jesus is that there is a difference between believing “in” and believing “about." There are many things we believe about people without believing in them. I believe that Gordie Howe was a great hockey player, that Queen Elizabeth is the long-time Monarch of the British Commonwealth, and that Richard Dawkins is a devout follower of the Evolutionary Religion. I don’t believe "in" any of these people, even though I believe what history tells of each one.
          In the same way, many people want belief in Jesus to be belief about Jesus. They are okay if they can just believe the warm-fuzzy Christmas stories about Jesus, as long as they are not expected to believe in him. However, as desirable as some think this to be, it is not one of the options that God offers (neither is it really desirable if we understand what God is offering us).
          God’s book describes the fuller nature of belief like this: “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. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”[3]To believe in Jesus means to believe in your heart that Jesus Christ died for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead. This is not mere believing facts, but having a heart-changing experience of belief where we know that Jesus laid down his life for his friends, and was raised from the dead in eternal victory over sin, death, hell, and Satan.         
          Along with a heart belief in Jesus that transforms us from the inside out, there is an outer expression of belief that shows in our open confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. When we have such a heart-belief in Jesus that we will openly confess him as Lord, we have experienced the kind of belief Jesus was talking about in his late-night  conversation with Nicodemus.
          One of the rallying cries of God’s book is when one of Jesus’ apostles presented this confident testimony: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”[4]The “everyone” in this verse is synonymous with the “whoever” of John 3:16. “Whoever” believes in Jesus, in fact, “everyone” who believes in Jesus, experiences the power of God for their salvation.
          To clarify that belief “in” Jesus is more than believing “about” Jesus, God’s book interchanges the word “faith” with the word “belief." When we are told that we must believe in Jesus in order to receive God’s gift, it means we believe in him in that way that puts our faith in him. The belief Jesus is talking about, that God’s whole book is talking about, is the kind that trusts Jesus in every way the word of God reveals.
          It is like a man believing in a particular young lady so much that he has the faith to ask her to marry him. And it is like a young lady believing in a young man so much that she has the faith to say yes to his marriage proposal. The young couple both loves each other and trusts each other in such a way that they want to be together for as long as they both shall live. That is how believing in someone and having faith in that someone is actually the same thing.
          Using the synonym “faith," God’s book writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[5]The grace that God’s book speaks about is identical to the message of John 3:16. Jesus said that God so loved the world that he graciously gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God’s servant, Paul, wrote that the grace God showed us in giving his Son for our salvation saves everyone who has faith. God’s grace gives the gift; our faith receives the gift.
          One more passage should leave the point well taken, that believing in Jesus means putting our faith in him. When the apostle Paul was writing a young man named Timothy, who was like a son to him, he said, “you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”[6]This was Paul’s reminder that Timothy had already been acquainted with the sacred writings of God’s book, and that these sacred writings were able to give Timothy the wisdom for salvation that came “through faith in Christ Jesus.”
          We all know what it looks like for people to open their Christmas presents. Whether it is pulling tissues out of a gift bag to uncover what it contains, or tearing the wrapping paper off to expose the gift, or even to follow the clues to find where some unusually shaped gift is hidden, gifts are given, received, and opened in whatever way is required to enjoy and experience the gift.
          God himself has given us a gift, the gift that gives the whole meaning to Christmas, and to life itself, leaving us with the options of receiving or rejecting the gift. No matter what else we choose to do, there must be no mistaking that the way to open the gift God has given is by the kind of believing in Jesus Christ that is true and genuine faith in his name.
          We must remember that his is all about how people can know God in that born-again kind of way Jesus was teaching. It is only through faith in the Son of God, God’s gift to the world, that we can know God and his love for the world. Now that you know how to open the gift, I trust you will take whatever steps necessary to put your faith in God’s Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
          And, with such a hope as this, don’t forget to have a blessed “About Christ” Day!

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] John 3:16
[2] Acts 16:31
[3] Romans 10:9-10
[4] Romans 1:16
[5] Ephesians 2:8-9
[6] II Timothy 3:15

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