1 John 3:7–8 – Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
Ponder this remarkable situation with me. If the Son of God came to help you stop sinning—to destroy the works of the devil—and if he also came to die so that, when you do sin, there is a propitiation, a removal of God’s wrath, then what does this imply for living your life?
Three things. And they are wonderful to have. I give them to you briefly as Christmas presents.
A Clear Purpose for Living
It implies that you have a clear purpose for living. Negatively, it is simply this: don’t sin. “I write these things to you so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). “The Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).
If you ask, “Can you give us that positively, instead of negatively?” the answer is: Yes, it’s all summed up in 1 John 3:23. It’s a great summary of what John’s whole letter requires. Notice the singular “commandment”—“This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”
These two things are so closely connected for John he calls them one commandment: believe Jesus and love others. That is your purpose. That is the sum of the Christian life. Trusting Jesus, loving people. Trust Jesus, love people. There’s the first gift: a purpose to live.
Hope That Our Failures Will Be Forgiven
Now consider the second implication of the twofold truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins. It’s this: We make progress in overcoming our sin when we have hope that our failures will be forgiven. If you don’t have hope that God will forgive your failures, when you start fighting sin, you give up. Many of you are pondering some changes in the new year, because you have fallen into sinful patterns and want out. You want some new patterns of eating. New patterns for entertainment. New patterns of giving. New patterns of relating to your spouse. New patterns of family devotions. New patterns of sleep and exercise. New patterns of courage in witness. But you are struggling, wondering whether it’s any use.
Well here’s your second Christmas present: Christ not only came to destroy the works of the devil—our sinning— he also came to be an advocate for us when we fail in our fight. So I plead with you, let the freedom to fail give you the hope to fight. But beware! If you turn the grace of God into license, and say, “Well, if I can fail, and it doesn’t matter, then why bother fighting?”—if you say that, and mean it, and go on acting on it, you are probably not born again and should tremble. But that is not where most of you are. Most of you want to fight sinful patterns in your life. And what God is saying to you is this: Let the freedom to fail give you hope to fight. I write this to you that you might not sin, but if you sin you have an advocate, Jesus Christ.
Christ Will Help Us
Finally, the third implication of the double truth that Christ came to destroy our sinning and to forgive our sins, is this: Christ will really help us in our fight. He really will help you. He is on your side. He didn’t come to destroy sin because sin is fun. He came to destroy sin because it is fatal. It is a deceptive work of the devil and will destroy us if we don’t fight it. He came to help us, not hurt us. So here’s your third Christmas gift: Christ will help overcome sin in you. 1 John 4:4 says, “He who is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” Jesus is alive, Jesus is almighty, Jesus lives in us by faith. And Jesus is for us, not against us. He will help you. Trust him.
MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS TEXT
My favorite Christmas text puts humility at the heart of Christmas. So this Christmas I am marveling at Jesus’s humility and wanting more of it myself. I’ll quote the text in a moment. But first there are two problems. Tim Keller helps us to see one of them when he says,
“Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves.”
So a meditation on humility (like this one) is self-defeating, it seems. But even shy people peek out sometimes if they are treated well. The other problem is that Jesus wasn’t humble for the same reasons we are (or should be). So how can looking at Jesus’s Christmas humility help us? Our humility, if there is any at all, is based on our finiteness, our fallibility, and our sinfulness. But the eternal Son of God was not finite. He was not fallible. And he was not sinful. So, unlike our humility, Jesus’ humility originated some other way. Here is my favorite Christmas text. Look for Jesus’s humility.
Conclusion: Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6–8)
What defines Jesus’s humility is the fact that it is mainly a conscious act of putting himself in a lowly, servant role for the good of others. His humility is defined by phrases like, “he emptied himself [of his divine rights to be free from abuse and suffering]”, “he took the form of a servant”, “He became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
So Jesus’s humility was not a heart disposition of being finite or fallible or sinful. It was a heart of infinite perfection and infallible truthfulness and freedom from all sin, which for that very reason did not need to be served. He was free and full to overflow in serving.
Another Christmas text that says this would be Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus’s humility was not a sense of defect in himself, but a sense of fullness in himself put at the disposal of others for their good. It was a voluntary lowering of himself to make the height of his glory available for sinners to enjoy. Jesus makes the connection between his Christmas lowliness and the good news for us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
His lowliness makes our relief from burdens possible. If he were not lowly, he would not have been “obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” And if he had not been obedient to die for us, we would be crushed under the weight of our sins. He lowers himself to take our condemnation (Romans 8:3).
Now we have more reason to be humble than before. We are finite, fallible, sinful, and therefore have no ground for boasting at all. But now we see other humbling things: Our salvation is not owing to our work, but his grace. So boasting is excluded (Ephesians 2:8–9). And the way he accomplished that gracious salvation was through voluntary, conscious self-lowering in servant-like obedience to the point of death. So in addition to finiteness, fallibility, and sinfulness, we now have two other huge impulses at work to humble us: free and undeserved grace underneath all our blessings and a model of self-denying, sacrificial, servanthood that willingly takes the form of a servant. So we are called to join Jesus in this conscious self-humbling and servanthood.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5). Let’s pray that this “shy virtue”—this massive ground of our salvation and our servanthood—would peek out from her quiet place and grant us the garments of lowliness this Advent. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).
OLD TESTAMENT SHADOWS AND THE COMING OF CHRIST
One of the main points of the book of Hebrews is that the Old Covenant system of worship is a shadow replaced by Christ. So Christmas is the replacement of shadows with reality. (You can see this in Hebrews 8:5 where it says that the priests “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.”)
Consider six such shadows that the coming of Christ replaces with reality:
1. The shadow of the Old Covenant priesthood. “And the former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers, because they were prevented by death from continuing, but he, on the other hand, because he abides forever, holds his priesthood permanently” (Hebrews 7:23–24).
2. The shadow of the Passover sacrifice. “Clean out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7).
3. The shadow of the tabernacle and temple. “Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man” (Hebrews 8:1–2). “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews therefore said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body” (John 2:19–21).
4. The shadow of circumcision. “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19).
5. The shadow of dietary laws. “And he said to them, ‘Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated?’ (Thus he declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:18–19).
6. The shadow of feast days. “Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16–17).
The meaning of Christmas is that the substance belongs to Christ. That is, religious ritual is like a shadow of a great and glorious Person. Let us turn from the shadow and look the Person in the face (2 Corinthians 4:6). My little children, keep yourselves from (religious) idols (1 John 5:21).
Thank you for sharing this Advent Journey with us. May God richly bless you and yours as you travel into 2018. Our prayer is that God would use these readings to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus this December and keep him as the center and greatest treasure of your Christmas season. The candles and candies have their place, but we want to make sure that in all the Christmas rush and hubbub we adore Jesus above all. May God be the source of great joy.
A special Thank You to Christine Aley for putting this devotional together without her this devotional would not be possible.
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