Reflecting on the Christmas Season: Discipleship

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Advent came (and went), bringing with it the opportunity to prepare oneself to a renewed relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christmas season is still here with us until the Sunday after Epiphany, reminding us of the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us.

St. John the Evangelist writes that in this Word was life, and this life was the light of humanity. He adds that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (cf. John 1:4-5). He explains that the true light, which enlightens every one, came and was in the world which was made through him; yet this very world did not know him (cf. John 1:9-10). It is sad that God (cf. John 1:1) came to His own people, but they did not receive him (cf. John 1:11).

Christmas comes as a reminder to us that all who do receive him, and believe in his Name, are given the right to become children of God; born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but born of God (cf. John 1:12). We have this claim to “Child-ship”, which ought to be lived in authentic discipleship to Christ because those who are with Him are called, chosen and faithful (cf. Revelation 17:14). Yet the Lord Jesus warns that not everyone who calls Him, “Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only the one who does the will of the Father in Heaven (cf. Matthew 7:21). This warning surely calls for careful consideration of what our religious beliefs and assumptions are. I may claim to be His follower, and claim to do great deeds in His name; and yet risk to be rejected by Him (cf. Matthew 7:23)? Can I tell from my living that I am doing the will of the Father, and not merely calling Jesus “Lord” but neglecting/refusing to do God’s will? Have I represented myself as one who has a calling, or even as the divinely chosen one?

If Jesus is born into our inner worlds, each should now bear Him within. And His light must surely shine in us and through us, into the outer world. Then we too, should become a light in the world, which enlightens everyone. But, there is always the danger of lurking deception. We cannot simply ignore the words of the Lord Jesus when we think they do not agree with the present situation. If we wish to be His true disciples, we must enter through the narrow gate because many enter through the wide gate and the broad road that only leads to destruction (cf. Matthew 7:13). 

Discipleship

Becoming a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ does not shield one from being swept back into the clutches of Satan. St. Paul expresses concern for ‘new’ converts, that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, the Christian’s thoughts may be corrupted from a sincere and pure commitment to Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3). How so? Christmas comes, and suddenly we preach another Jesus than the one who came and dwelt amongst us. Or, we receive a different spirit from the one who was poured out upon the disciples. Or, we receive a different gospel from the one we accepted at Baptism. And yes, we put up with it well enough and easily make it our lifestyle, believing a fraudulent gospel, embracing a deceptive spirit and accepting a counterfeit conversion. 

Many people are easy prey even after they have embraced God’s truth. It is easy to be enticed by persuasive teachers who hawk a counterfeit righteousness, while forgetting that Satan does masquerade as an angel of light (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:13-14). We have been fairly warned of the likelihood of this happening. At Christmas time, so many varieties of beliefs and practices are falsely labeled “Christian” and are taught under the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. This name is used to mask religious philosophies and doctrines that did not originate with Him or His apostles. But we practice them anyhow in our homes, our workplaces, or prayer groups, and our churches. Will we then be shocked when He declares solemnly, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers” (cf. Matthew 7:22-23)?

Walking the Way of Disobedience

The Christmas season has a way of bringing out the mind-set of the flesh, which St Paul teaches is hostile to God because it does not submit itself to God’s law for simply being unable to do so (cf. Romans 8:7). Some of the things we do in the name of celebrating Christmas are really within the control of the flesh, and cannot please God no matter what we think or do (cf. Romans 8:8). The normal human inclination is not to obey God; but to resist Him and His way of life. This is why alternatives to the true message of Christmas have been devised to accommodate the human unwillingness to live by God’s commandments. Most sincere people have accepted these lawless precepts because they have been pawned off on humanity for so long, that they are now called, “tradition”.

St. Paul warned of the incredible power of delusion in the letter to the Church at Thessalonica (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11). Yet, under the influence of Satan (the god of this age) the minds of unbelievers (and some ‘believers’ too) have been thoroughly blinded, so that they may not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4). During the Christmas season, the devil’s unseen power so dominates humanity that we might know we belong to God, but the whole world really is under the power of the evil one (cf. 1 John 5:19). Many people have accepted a counterfeit gospel and a corrupted idea of what the celebration of Christmas is all about. What therefore, sets apart the authentic disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ from those who think they are His true followers but in reality have fallen victim to Satan’s deceptions?

‘Called and Chosen’

It was the Lord Jesus Himself who originated the idea that one must be “called” and “chosen”. These concepts are both biblically legitimate, but are rarely understood and in fact, are quite routinely misused. The Lord said, “Many are called, but few are chosen” (cf. Matthew 22:14). We know it is God’s desire to give salvation (eternal life) to all mankind (cf. John 3:17). However, not all are being saved at this time, nor in this age. According to St. Paul, there are only two possibilities. Either one is chosen by God to hear, understand, and believe the gospel so that they are saved, or they will be hardened and one day come under His judgment (cf. Romans 11:7-8). With regards to our Christmas activities, either we are convicted of their worldly, unbiblical natures and come to repentance and faith; or we reject the truth we hear and are hardened in our unbelief. Nonetheless, a day will come when each will face God’s judgment. 

We must seek righteousness before God on the basis of faith, not on the basis of our works (e.g. Christmas charities, Christmas Balls, Christmas Sale, Christmas…). Otherwise we shall not obtain that which we are seeking. Seeking righteousness on the basis of our works points to a failure to bring to judgement our pride which is the root sin. This Christmas, we must come to God for grace; coming as sinners who do not in any way deserve to be saved, but to face God’s judgment. When we come to God by our ‘Christmas works’, we come claiming passage into heaven on our own, or in the least with just a little help from God. There is also the risk that God will harden those who turn away from the light that He has given us, and bring us to ultimate judgment (cf. Romans 11:8). So, we may want to establish our own righteousness by way of our Christmas practices, but this would make us to be consigned to a futile pursuit that can never obtain the righteousness that comes by grace through faith.

Once you are chosen by God, you must hear, understand, and believe the gospel so that you are righteous before God through faith in Christ alone. We realize that the source of our right standing before God does not come from us, but from God’s sovereign choice of us. It is God’s choosing us which enables us to hear, understand, and believe the Gospel, and which then provides us with right standing with God, as His undeserved gift. God chooses us to experience the true birth of His only begotten Son (in our hearts), even when we are as yet sinners. God reveals this truth to us through His Word (cf. John 1:14). And God consecrates us in this truth, because we do not belong to the world any more, and His word is truth (cf. John 17:16-17). 

God’s Grace Enables Our Salvation

It is God’s desire that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1-4). God’s grace revealed to us at Christmas causes our blind eyes and deaf ears to be opened, so that we understand the gospel (cf. Ephesians 1:7), and are able to distinguish truth from error. It is God who opens our hearts to respond, so that we believe it. It is God who gives us right standing with Him through the gift of the blood of Jesus. 

At Christmas, in spite of Satan’s influence, our flawed human nature and the pulls of this present evil world, the mighty power of God can still reach us. No matter what we do, no one can come to the Lord Jesus unless the Father who sent the Son draws him (cf. John 6:44). The Lord Jesus asserts that no one will come to Him, unless it is granted by the Father (cf. John 6:65). The good news is that God invites us time and again, and draws our hearts towards Him. And God grants us the desire to learn His ways and to submit our wills to Him. Our human inclination is to resist submitting to His laws (cf. Romans 8:7). But we must yield our will to God; for it is Him, who for his good purpose, works in us, both to desire and to work (cf. Philippians 2:13).

Remain Faithful

Christmas comes with yet another opportunity to serve God; but the choice to do so is ours. St. Augustine teaches that He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent. We must commit to this choice and persevere to the end in order to be saved (cf. Matthew 24:13). If we are with Christ, we are not just called and chosen; we must also remain faithful to our calling to be saved (cf. Revelation 17:14). Times such as the Christmas season call upon us to prove our faithfulness. We must endure trials and overcome obstacles to our faith as evidence of our continued commitment to serving the living God. We must be truly converted people, designated as the Body of Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27) and the Church of the living God (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15). We are the light of the world, which cannot be hidden. We have been lit by the Lord Jesus, to give His light to everyone. We must let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good deeds and glorify the Father in heaven (cf. Matthew 5:14-15), who makes the true Christmas possible. 

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