The birth of Christ has one great purpose – to bring about the ‘birth’ of faith. The God who bridged the gap between the divine and the human when he gave Christ to the world, is the same God who bridges the gap between unbelief and faith in our hearts’ experience.
The Christmas hymn makes these things clear:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in;
Be born in us today.
Christ lives in me
The core of the Christian message is that Jesus Christ, who came into the world two thousand years ago, can also dwell in our hearts by faith.
This is a much deeper thing than mere intellectual knowledge or moral conformity. It is a radical change of nature, a new outlook, a faith style of living. As Paul put it: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20).
True faith, therefore, involves a deeply personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is literally life-transforming.
Now, this is the rub. It is at this very point that people resist the Christian message. Why? Because if we really grasp this fact, it makes a revolutionary demand upon us – our lives will have to change.
The real difficulty is not that we do not know the truth, but that we do nothing about it when we do. Instead of coming to the light, we close our eyes and turn away.
Need to be changed
The reason for this is that we do not really believe we need to be changed. We refuse to accept the Bible’s description of the human heart as ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’.
A heckler shouted at an open-air preacher: ‘How dare you call me a sinner!’ But Peter said to Christ, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.
When God’s glorious holiness searched Isaiah’s soul, he cried out, ‘Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips’. And the great apostle Paul called himself ‘the chief of sinners’.
Their deep sense of unworthiness stands in stark contrast to the superficial self-congratulation of the world. Sadly, today, we have little awareness of who God is and what he is really like.
It is like being in a room full of dust particles which remain invisible until beams of sunlight strike into the gloom. Only then do we see what was there all the time. In the same way, when God shows us our radical sinfulness, we too will be ready to acknowledge our need of a radical new birth.
Known by our fruits
New birth – the birth of faith – does not always occur suddenly or dramatically. Nor can we necessarily remember the place or date when it occurred. Those things are secondary.
The critical factor is what we now believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths.
Jesus said, ‘By their fruits you shall know them’; that is, true Christians prove their genuineness, and do so in three ways.
Firstly, they love Jesus Christ – the Son of God who first loved them and gave himself for them.
Secondly, they love his commandments, which are a delight, not a burden.
Thirdly, they love his people, who share with them the ‘family’ identity and likeness.
Like the historical birth of Christ, the spiritual ‘birth of faith’ is a wonderful gift from God. It comes like the wind, said Jesus – you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. But it leaves behind a life-change that lasts for ever.
Hear, repent and trust
There are three stages in this new birth.
The firstishearing. In order to believe we must stop talking. We must learn to listen. God has spoken to us in our own language. His word is recorded in the Bible. And what we hear from God is both painful and wonderful.
The pain comes from being told that we are estranged from God – lost rebels deserving death. The wonder is that God has loved us, sinners though we are, and that through the death of Jesus Christ we may be reconciled to God and belong to him for ever.
The second stage isrepenting. To repent is much more than to admit specific mistakes. It is to confess that we ourselves are in a fundamentally wrong relationship with God. Therefore, we must turn around, change direction, and come to God for mercy and forgiveness.
That is a difficult thing to do, and none of us would ever do it if God himself did not grant what the Bible calls ‘repentance unto life’. But it is vital to our eternal well-being that we should repent.
The third and final step istrusting. This is just as revolutionary as listening and repenting.
It means looking away from ourselves to God – coming out of ourselves into Jesus Christ; out of our guilt into his righteousness; out of our uncleanness into his holiness; and out of our death into his life.
Only God himself has the power to bring about such changes in us; but they will not occur without our trusting Christ.
I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus,
Trusting only thee;
Trusting thee for full salvation
Great and free.
The only authentic way to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ is through the birth of faith. In the Christian faith, Jesus Christ is everything.
Listen to him! Repent! Trust in him! If you do, it will indeed be a happy Christmas.