The Christmas story is ridiculous. It’s three days until Christmas, and during this season, I constantly wonder how much I can or should say about what Christmas means to me. When I’m in mixed company, I may hesitate to mention the birth of Jesus. Shepherds, wise men, angels, stars, and virgins giving birth are all topics to be handled lightly. Or anything else that could lead to weird looks and questions like, “Do you really believe all that?” Who can have faith, let alone fathom, that God was once a tiny, helpless, stinky infant?
Sometimes I get embarrassed explaining my beliefs. It’s not that I’m ashamed, otherwise I would change my beliefs to something more socially acceptable. No, the problem is the Christian faith, if you really look into it, is offensive to modern culture. Actually, it’s been offensive in every culture since Jesus first began traveling Israel. It isn’t the good news we expected or even wanted.
Jesus was not a smooth-talking charmer selling snake oil. Jesus said the hard things that needed to be said, up to his condemnation at trial for asserting to be the Son of God, a direct claim to divinity in first-century Israel. His enemies accused him of blasphemy and said, “‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’” (Luke 22:71).
But when it’s my turn to say the things Jesus did, I get squeamish. I beat around the bush. I try to use the gentlest words possible, trying to sweeten the medicine. It’s uncomfortable to even relate the circumstances of his birth.
Jesus said once, “‘Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven’” (Matt. 10:33). He elaborates another time, “‘If any of you are ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man [referring to himself] will be ashamed of you when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels’” (Luke 9:26).
If I can’t bring myself to defend Jesus in front of others, how can I call myself his follower? What else could it mean to be a Christian? I must do what he did and say what he said. He led the way, and I must follow.
In a letter to a Christian church, the apostle John warned against misleading “spirits.” He wrote:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).
I’ve always read this in the sense of supernatural, spiritual forces, like the spirits Jesus commanded out of suffering people. But reading again, it struck me that every person embodies their own unique spirit, which could just as easily be what John meant. These are not “good” or “evil” spirits, but he does give us a rule to know whether someone’s spirit is of God or not. The rule is simply:
- Confession that Jesus Christ came in the flesh=spirit from God.
- No confession=spirit not from God.
So if John, a disciple of Jesus, is right, then I can test my spirit with the same rule. If I have the spirit of God in me, then I must own up to my beliefs and admit that Jesus was the Son of God born in human being as the Christ, meaning the long-awaited lord and savior of God’s people. If I don’t do this, then I do not have the mark of being in God’s family.
Jesus told his disciples that they could not be friends with the world and also one with him. They had to choose, because the world would never accept them as long as they followed Jesus. He said, “‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you’” (John 15:18-19).
Jesus chose me and every other Christian before we chose him. He called us out of the world. We do not belong to the world and therefore cannot be ruled by it. We are ruled by Christ. This is why, whatever my embarrassment in front of the world, I will confess my faith in Christ.