- Wednesday, December 13, 2023

During a visit to the dry cleaners one early December day, a festive banner caught my eye. Displayed prominently in the front window, it proclaimed in bright red and green letters: “Jesus Is the Reason for the Season!”

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While I understand the motive behind such a statement and commend the shop owner’s desire to challenge the commercialization of the season, if we apply a bit of biblical theology, we’ll see that Jesus isn’t the reason for the season.

Yes, Jesus is the focus of the season. But He isn’t the reason for the season. You see, if we had not been sinners in need of rescue, Jesus would not have had to be born. Unexpectedly, we discover that we are the reason for the season.

O Come, All Ye ’Unfaithful’

One of the most celebrated hymns during Advent tempts us to assume Christmas is for the faithful. You know the lyrics:

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O come, all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

What do you think of when you hear the word faithful? One definition is “full of integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty.”

If that is what we mean by “O come all ye faithful,” there is none qualified to draw near to the manger of the Christ child in Bethlehem. The Scriptures are clear, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NIV).

Incarnational Intent

At this point, we’d be left to despair were it not for the purpose for which Jesus was born. Just as the Scriptures clearly reveal the bad news, they also broadcast the greatest news a sinner could receive:

  • [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 NIV)
  • Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV)
  • This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10 NIV)
  • For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 NIV)
  • Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13 NIV)

To put it simply, the invitation of the gospel, the song of the angels, and the welcome of God is extended not to those who think of themselves as faithful but to those who confess their unfaithfulness.

The cross of Christ tells us that the reason for Christmas is to reconcile us sinners to God as fully forgiven, perfectly accepted, and dearly loved sons and daughters, not because of our own faithfulness, but through faith in the perfect faithfulness of Jesus on our behalf.

Redefining Faithful

This means when we sing hymns like “O Come All Ye Faithful,” the “faithful” are not those who boast in their own integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for faithfulness is pistos, which comes from the verb pisteuō, meaning “to be persuaded.” At its core, pistos implies being persuaded to believe something is true. The “faithful” we sing about then are those who are persuaded that the gospel is true.

Jesus died as a propitiation for the ungodly, satisfying the demands of justice by serving the sentence of death sinners deserved. This is not something to accept on merely an intellectual level. This is a reality to embrace personally and existentially, where we freely proclaim, “I’m the sinner for whom Jesus was born. His blood has cleansed me from all unrighteousness!”

This reality enables us to rethink what it means to be faithful. Rather than viewing faithfulness as an affirmation of our own integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty, we understand faithfulness as meaning full of faith — having complete trust in God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. To be faithful is to fully rely on and believe in Jesus as the Savior-King who frees us from fear, ushering us into the realm of the Father’s perfect love.

Then something unexpected happens

When this staggering gospel reality comes home to the heart, something happens. We begin to crave the kind of faithfulness to Jesus that eluded us in the flesh. The motivation for this faithfulness is not guilt or fear, it is Jesus’s faithfulness to us. And the power for faithfulness to Jesus is not personal resolve but the indwelling enabling grace of the Holy Spirit.

This is the dynamic of spiritual change. As we abide by faith in the gift-righteousness of Jesus, the Spirit fills us like sap in a branch. Eventually, like buds in spring, we begin to see integrity, moral virtue, and unwavering loyalty flower. Amazingly — supernaturally — Jesus makes the unfaithful, faithful.

Yes, our need for grace is the reason for the season. But Jesus is the unrivaled focus! Therefore, with our eyes fixed on Him this Advent, let’s respond to the invitation for the unfaithful to behold, embrace, and savor the faithfulness of the King who forgives, restores, and transforms.

Dr. McKay Caston is professor of theology and homiletics, dean of the DMin program, and church planting residency director for Metro Atlanta Seminary. He and his wife, Kristy, have three adult children. He is the author of Galatians: Navigating Life in View of the Cross. For more, visit www.mckaycaston.com.

This article originally appeared in The New Growth Press on December 7, 2023.

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