By Johnnie Godwin
Contributing Columnist, B&R
Christmas is coming! But it first came long ago when the divine Christ also became a human being. I prefer to think of “Christmas” as the whole Christ Event: the birth, life, atoning death, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus Christ to earth. Christ is eternal. Jesus entered history at a point in time to pay for the sin of the world for all time. I’ve given my life committed to this truth.
Before the first Christmas. Before that first Christmas, anyone who got saved also got saved the same way everyone has to get saved today: namely, by grace through faith. Christmas gave us Jesus in time, but God had already graced the world before the atoning Christ Event — before Jesus died for the world on the cross. Crossing all time considerations, God sent Jesus to pay for the world’s sin for all time in Jesus’ atoning death (John 3; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:11).
Who got saved before Jesus came? I don’t know. God knows. If Adam didn’t get saved, only Adam went to hell for Adam’s sin. All other unsaved ones who go to hell go because of their own sin — not because of Adam’s (Isaiah 53:6; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 10:9-10). No one ever got saved by keeping the Law. Abraham lived 400 years before the Law. No one ever got saved by animal sacrifices. In God’s unfolding revelation, the actual provision for salvation waited on a moment in time to divide all eternity. That moment we call Christmas (Galatians 4:4-5; Philippians 2:5-11).
If salvation comes only by grace through faith, then the Bible seems to identify a larger number of saved believers. God’s grace is the source of all salvation. Faith is the means to that grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). Grace refers to God’s favor and gift of salvation. Faith refers to man’s trusting belief and commitment to God. Given these truths, we see people saved all the way from Genesis through Revelation—before, during, and since Christmas came. Pause to read all of Hebrews 11—12:2. That should do.
But Christmas came as the pivotal point of all salvation. God’s grace was active before Christmas, but the saving provision for it was not yet enacted in Jesus’ atoning death for all sin for all ages (Hebrews 11:39—12:2). Now, capsulate all you know about the New Testament. Focus on the Great Commission, given in all four Gospels and Acts (and is implicit in all God’s Word). Acts 4:12 really states the crux of the cross! Peter really put it to the Jewish leaders in stating that only in the atoning death of Christ on the cross was salvation a possibility for any and all. Peter effectively bridged the Old Covenant with the New Covenant to show that God’s plan of salvation had never changed. God had never changed. But now all the world could know and would have to know Christ is the provision for salvation.
What others could only know by faith, we now know explicitly and historically, and are commanded to share with all the world. Salvation is the good news in Christ of deliverance from sin, eternal death, and separation from God. Salvation is eternal life that is holistic from the moment of receiving Christ as Lord and Savior and forevermore to deliver us and give us purpose.
Christmas in 2014. Christmas has come and keeps on coming each year. So what? I don’t have an axe to grind about commercialism or anything else connected with Christmas. I do have a calling to continue and a conviction to share with you.
On a personal level, let me share for a moment about Christmas in my earliest years of calling. Phyllis and I felt called to prepare for foreign missions. We prepared, but we never made it in the formal sense. Our mission board gave us a medical rejection as the reason for not appointing us. In preparation, I had just about killed the horse that needed to carry the gospel mail. Of course, the apostle Paul wouldn’t have passed the physical either. Never mind.
With wife Phyllis and young sons, we prepared: eight-and-one-half years of schooling, seminary commuting 225 miles a day, pastoring a small East Texas oil field church, and trying to keep finances under the $500 maximum indebtedness (at that time). As Christmas approached, I tried to lead our church to give a worthy and sacrificial Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. In fact, I felt so strongly about the Great Commission and supporting foreign missionaries that I told my church we were going to borrow from the bank to be able to give more. The church was a loving and good one, but they must have thought I was crazy. Perhaps so.
Finally, I graduated from seminary; then it took another year or so to get through testing and get a medical rejection. I didn’t lose faith, but I did wonder about God and me and our missionary calling. I soon became pastor of a fine church and kept fire in my bones about missions. God began unfolding His amazing maze for us. I could enthrall you with my own Forrest-Gump-like super moments of worldwide missions. But I won’t. I’ll just say that it’s now 60 years later; and I still believe just as strongly in God’s calling and in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering — not a cent going for home costs/all foreign.
Why has God done things the way He has done in my life, in history, and now? I don’t know. God is All-Everything! He knows; He is God. His calling and command make up the Great Commission. Ours is to receive His grace, trust Him with faith, and obey Him with our lives. God is unchanging, hasn’t changed His plan of salvation, and still saves folks by grace through faith. Whatever you call Christmas at your church, I call it “The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.” Be sure to observe it worthy of your calling from God in Christ (Ephesians 4:1-3).
— © 2014 by Johnnie C. Godwin. Write the author: firstname.lastname@example.org.