This year I decided I would go against the tide and not write an Advent article for December. It was not in the spirit of Scrooge: Christmas! Bah, humbug!” Rather I felt a need to help our Newsletter readers perceive something I do not see anyone telling the Church. The unrecognized fact is that, according to Scripture, the Church, the Body of Christ, is a counterculture. Referring to our world system that is outside of, and often opposed to, God and His ways, Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world.”
God wants His people to be different, not always doing what everyone else is doing, not always talking about what everyone else is discussing. Our world system is ungodly, and we believers in Yeshua generally need to learn to swim against the tides of popular opinion and behavior when necessary.
On a personal level, I feel that once in a while God would have me go against the tide of godly discussion as well. I think He does not necessarily want me to be adding my teaching to the Church’s magazines of the day. For example, there are enough good things written about the Incarnation, and my contribution would not add that much. I think I can make more of a contribution to the body of Christ by daring to be bold and outspoken about certain other truths that I think God is teaching me.
The concept I wanted to discuss—that of the Church as a counterculture—goes back to Jesus Himself. Yeshua prayed about His followers and those who would believe in Him in the future, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:16). We, the Body of Christ who have chosen God’s path, need to recognize that we few are the nonconformists. We also need to remember that we are right, and the unbelievers, though they are in the majority, are wrong.
Does it make you feel uncomfortable to be right while the majority is wrong? Consider this: What constitutes the greatest majority in this world? Romans 3:23 teaches that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All means everyone. How much more of a majority can there be?
Then consider the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13. Referring to salvation and judgment, He said, “Enter by the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” The broad way has room for all who are forging their own paths and following their own direction. It contains many lanes, but eventually they all lead to death. The narrow way that leads to salvation, the “Jesus Way,” has far fewer travelers because it is only one lane and is headed only one way. In the end, neither ancestry, nor community, nor church membership, nor religious knowledge will count. Only an individual’s commitment to follow Yeshua will matter.
Does it disturb you to know from Scripture that the majority, that is, most of humanity, are not inheritors of eternal life? I hope it does, because it disturbs me! Whenever I meet someone for the first time, questions arise in my heart and mind that I cannot immediately ask. I think, “Do you love Jesus? Is He real to you? Are you saved?” Etiquette based on the dictates of modern society will not allow me to voice these questions immediately upon introduction. Yet they are always at the back of my mind, and sooner or later I must get to them.
If anyone introduces a “Christian friend” to me, I must ascertain at the outset when, where and how that person gave his or her heart to Christ and was saved. I feel that such questioning is necessary because most Gentiles I meet identify themselves as “Christians” to indicate that they are not Jews. Others think their salvation is a matter of pedigree. If they had Christian parents, they assume that they are genetically directed toward salvation or that somehow salvation is part of their heritage. Yet Scripture indicates that no one inherits salvation because of family nobility or privilege. Even we Jews cannot be saved by who our ancestors were.
It won’t hurt my feelings if you call me a zealot, a religious fanatic or narrow-minded for taking such a stance. I dare not be any more liberal than God, and I merely base my statements on what He has said in His Word: “He who believes in the Son [Yeshua] has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
When God looks at an individual, He sees either that person’s lack of righteousness or the righteousness of Yeshua. If that individual has been justified by faith in Yeshua, God sees him or her as being as righteous as Yeshua because His righteousness has been imputed to that person. It’s like being bankrupt and having enough money deposited in our account so that we are wealthy. When we are in Christ, God puts His righteousness into our account. That is imputation. By wishful thinking, however, some would attribute to others a quality of “convertedness”* that would merit God’s salvation. Such attribution is based on desire rather than fact. It is an attempt to regard people as something they are not. It is society’s soothing balm for the festering wound of sin.
Whenever our Bible-based standards clash with those of society, we who belong to Christ need to define ourselves as a counterculture. At such times we must face the harsh reality that we are not friends with the world.
It is only normal to want people to be our friends, not our enemies. It is only human to want everyone to like us and to want to belong. Yet we who commit ourselves to Christ must recognize that He chose us to be apart from this world. Jesus predicted that if we followed Him, we would be hated by the world (the majority) because the world hated Him (John 15:18, 19). Though we love Yeshua, we need to recognize that the world hates Him; and when it identifies us with Him, it will despise and reject us as well. The servant is certainly not greater than the master. As we come to resemble Christ more and serve Him better, inevitably those who do not love and serve Him will reject us and our ways. Yet we believers sometimes act as though we can expect something from the unregenerate that they cannot possibly achieve.
At this point I want to say something that pertains to Advent season after all! Some Christians have coined the slogan, “Put Christ back into Christmas.” But for whom should we do that? The world? This world system is pagan. Therefore the majority will regard Christ as pagans do, and such a celebration of His birth can only be a pagan celebration.
A pagan is not necessarily a head-hunting savage. A pagan celebrates nature and venerates the gods of nature. A pagan worships the creation instead of the Creator. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Vikings were all pagans. Though some of those civilizations were quite sophisticated, they all worshiped gods of their own imagining who supposedly controlled nature.
Modern “pagans” are not much different. They set their standards by current world trends. They “go with the flow.” Our modern pagans know only what they have been shown. They love the creation more than the Creator. Whatever god they name, if they are in this world and hold to this world’s values, they are pagans. They may be nice pagans, but they are pagans, nonetheless.
A pagan outlook can only trivialize a Christian ceremony and detract from its meaning. I am uncomfortable with prayer at non-Christian public events. I don’t care for Christmas decorations in public places or even manger scenes that are used as “traditional culture” displays. A Christian ritual or celebration performed for or by pagans does not make the participants Christians. Only conviction and conversion can do that.
Christmas celebrated in a faithless way by non-Christians is demeaning to the Savior. You cannot “put Christ back into Christmas” for those who never had Him. Yet a Christ-centered celebration for true believers who want to honor Jesus in this way has merit. Advent certainly does provide an occasion to proclaim to unbelievers who Jesus is and why He came.
At the birth of Yeshua, God’s emissary of good will, the world system responded to the angel call, “Peace on earth,” with the slaughter of the innocents. In His adulthood, though He came as gently as a lamb, He was taken by the sword and executed. When Yeshua returns, however, He will come ferociously as a lion, bearing the sword of judgment. It will be a time of dread for those who opposed Him, but it will usher in peace on earth for all those who responded to God’s good will when it was offered.
Yeshua’s first coming and His rejection by some did not constitute failure on His part but failure of the world system. Rather that first coming was God’s success because it initiated the process of our salvation and rescue from the pagan world system that enslaves us.
Yeshua’s second advent will further the success that began at the manger in Bethlehem. Then the world, the flesh and the devil will be vanquished, and all humanity will be victorious.
So, believers, celebrate Advent in a way that honors the One who became flesh and dwelt among us. But whatever you do, however you commemorate the Incarnation, keep looking up. The best part of the celebration is yet to be!
* J. I. Packer coined the word convertedness in 1987 at a conference on conversion in Hong Kong.