We’ve made it through Christmas. All of the gifts have been opened. Over these past few weeks in churches around the world during Advent, a candle was lit celebrating the gifts of hope, love, joy, and peace that Jesus has brought to us. Now, the trees are coming down and the decorations are being put up. The new year is fast approaching and many of us are thinking about resolutions to improve our lives. It makes sense to connect the two holidays. Christmas and New Year’s is the obvious season to explore the many facets of God’s gift to the world in Jesus. To drill down further, it is a perfect time to ask what God’s gift in Jesus means to the world if Jesus lives in us?
To understand the gift of Jesus, we need to consider God’s promise to Abraham. In Genesis 12:1-3, God calls Abram out of his home country. He promises him descendants and a land. The end of the promise reads, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”1 How exactly are all the families in the world going to be blessed through Abraham? Abraham’s descendants eventually become a nation called Israel. God brings Israel out of slavery and calls on them to be a “holy nation” and a “kingdom of priests.”2 They are to be God’s representatives in the world, reflecting God to the nations around them. In the Christian Old Testament, the story of Israel plays out an uneven script. Sometimes, things were good, probably reaching their height under the rule of David. Other times, they were pretty bad. That story culminates in Jesus, a descendant of both Abraham and David. He is the true and representative Israel for the world. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has shown us what God looks like in the flesh. He is the image of the invisible God.3
Jesus universalizes the promises made to Abraham and Israel. With his last words in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus instructs his disciples to take his gospel to “all nations.”4 The salvation found in Jesus is available to everyone no matter your ethnicity, nationality, or race. There is freedom, forgiveness, healing, restoration, and rebirth in Jesus. Those are but a few of the many gifts of Jesus. As Paul teaches us in Galatians, there is also Jesus living in us and through us.5 We are Jesus to the world.
That Jesus lives through us should affect how we live in the world. It should inform our interactions. Too many people stop reading Galatians at 5:1 and only pick back up at the fruits of the Spirit in 5:22. That is unfortunate. In between, Paul tells us how the gospel of Jesus should change how we interact with each other. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”6 Jesus has set us free to truly love and serve one another.
Just as Jesus modeled God for us, we are to model his life to those around us. Jesus was a servant leader. Humility was his first instinct. He served those around him. He showed great compassion to the poor and marginalized and held the powerful accountable. With a heart set free by Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (another gift from God), all of the above are within our capabilities. We cannot be sinless like Jesus; however, we can live a life like his in these aspects.
As we come out of the Christmas season and begin to think about our new year, consider the following question: Are Christians God’s gift to the world? I realize that many Christians have behaved badly over the course of history and many will bristle at the question. I would offer up that those Christians lost the narrative. If we take the teachings of Jesus seriously, if we take the words of the Bible to heart, Christians should be a force for good in the world. The instructions are not hard to understand, but they will never be easy to live out. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Remember, Christians are freed to truly love our neighbor. We should be known as a ready source for help in our communities. We should be the first to stand up for the poor and marginalized in society. Unfortunately, Christians are more recognized for what they are against in many circles of our society. As the body of Christ, church steeples should be a beacon of hope rather than a symbol of a cloistered community bent on exclusion.
If you claim Christ, as you make your new year’s resolutions, consider how it should affect your actions if Christ lives in you. As we make those resolutions, maybe we should resolve to truly live in Jesus and through Jesus for our neighbors. What I am about to say could sound arrogant because of a popular idiom, but it is important to remember that our first instinct should be humility, just like Jesus. If we are truly “in Jesus,” we should live like we are God’s gift to the world.
1. All Scripture quotations will be from the English Standard Version↩
2. Exodus 19:6↩
3. Colossians 1:15↩
4. Matthew 28:19-20↩
5. Galatians 2:20↩
6. Galatians 5:13-14↩