A surprising number of New Testament passages, from Paul
and others, arise out of the events of our Saviour's birth. They suggest many
valuable lessons. A look at several:
Man in his natural state is heir only to death; more
precisely, he earns death as his "wages" (Rom 6:23). There is only one
way of escape from death, and that is to die! This the believer does in
"Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus
Christ were baptized into his death?... For he that is dead is freed from sin"
But true baptism is more than a mechanical process. It is
validated only by belief, before baptism, and obedience, after
baptism. Otherwise it is a meaningless show.
But for those who have escaped death, even if only
prospectively, what a wonderful blessing!
"There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in
Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of
the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and
death" (Rom 8:1,2).
What exactly is this "law" of sin and death? This passage
refers back to Rom 7, where "law" means either the law of Moses (vv 1,2,6-9) or
our sin-prone natures. Moses revealed, in those who heard it and tried to keep
it, the "law" or principle within themselves that tended solely toward
How is it that God, through Christ, has made us free from this
two-faceted law of sin and death?
"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through
the flesh, God sending his own Son in (the likeness of sinful flesh, and for
sin, condemned sin in (he flesh" (Rom 8:3).
God's first step in releasing man from this bondage was the
begettal of a Son in the likeness, or sameness, of our flesh.
Here was one who though "in the flesh" physically, did not
"walk after the flesh" (v 4). Instead, he walked "after the Spirit" by being
"spiritually minded" v 5) -- giving us an example to follow.
In following Christ's example, we are "born" again: Although
we remain physically "in the flesh" -- and nothing can change this in the
present age -- we must walk "in the Spirit of Christ (v 9). In other words,
Christ is "born" again in us (v 13), and we become new creatures. We are "led by
the Spirit" (v 14) -- not the Holy Spirit in its miracle-working manifestation
-- but rather the spirit, or teaching, or example, of Christ. In following this
path, we become the "Sons of God" -- patterned after His first Son born long
years ago in Bethlehem.
In the exalted language of the Spirit John describes the birth
of Jesus -- and our "rebirth":
"But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become
the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: which were born, not of
blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the
Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as
of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth" (John
Of course, Jesus here is unmistakably "the Word made flesh",
reflecting the glory of the Father. Not so obvious perhaps is the teaching in vv
12,13, that we may also become "the word made flesh" by a rebirth of our
"spirits". Which is just another way of saying that as we read and believe the
gospel of Christ, and as we put his principles into practice in our lives, then
God is impressing His word upon us, and we are in the process of becoming
individual "writings" of God.
John concludes his gospel with these words:
"And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the
which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself
could not contain the books that should be written" (John 21:25).
There is no limit to the works of Jesus. His work continues
even to this very day, in all those who believe. By receiving the written word
of God in their hearts and conforming to its impulses, those who believe become
at last the other "books" of which John spoke. The life story of each one is
another "gospel," another "book" telling of the works of Christ! So many are
they that the world will scarcely be able to contain them -- a multitude which
no man can number.
"Adoption" or "Sonship"?
Paul continues his theme in Rom 8:15:
"For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;
but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba,
The RSV more correctly renders "adoption" as "sonship," which
is quite proper -- the root word being "son." "Adoption" gives the unfortunate
idea, to modern minds at least, of a distinctly second-class relationship. It is
a word that in no way does justice to the blessed state to which God has
elevated us. In one sense there is, of course, just one "only-begotten"
Son. But in a broader sense we are all "begotten" by the Word of God to
be His sons, and no son of God is "second-class"! But then again, in the
very fullest sense, there is only one Son of God, for we are all sons
only in that we have become "the body of Christ"!
Paul next pictures the whole creation in birth-pangs, groaning
to be "delivered". It is the universal longing, almost inexpressible, for the
fulfillment of God's purpose in the "birth" of sons (vv 19,22). These "sons"
will be born as the dew from the womb of the morning (Psa 110:3, RSV). They who
have been "dwellers in dust," and God's dead men, will awake and sing for joy,
as dew of light upon the earth (Isa 26:17-19, RSV).
"And we know that all things work together for good to them
that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he
did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brethren" (Rom 8:28-29).
All things, even trials and suffering, have a place in
God's overall purpose for His children. This purpose calls for their spiritual
development in conformity with His Son "the firstborn", whose character was
formed and tested in the things which he suffered (Heb 5:7-9). In
learning of Christ and emulating his character, we "die" to our sins and
"live" again according to his righteousness (1Pe 2:19-25).
"What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who
can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us
all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things?... Who shall
separate us from the love of Christ?" (Rom
After concluding in Gal 3 that we may become the children of
Abraham by faith in Christ, and therefore heirs according to the promise, Paul
proceeds in Gal 4 to consider the preeminent "heir," the "one seed" of Gal
"Now I say, that the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth
nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all" (Gal 4:1).
"The heir" is singular; Paul is speaking of Christ -- although
the principles may have application to those in Christ as well. He refers to (he
standard wisdom of his day, that even the heir of a great estate must be
subjected to discipline in his early years, as a preparation for the great work
of rulership that awaits him. In such a preparatory stage, then, the heir is
essentially no different than the lowliest of servants, and is placed under
"tutors and governors" (v 2) who later will be his servants! This is
precisely the situation in which God placed His Son; even after Jesus had begun
to recognize his divine mission, he was still for some years "subject unto"
Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:51).
Paul argues further, to those who were once in bondage to the
law of Moses, that Christ has come to lift them from a lower state, servitude,
to a higher one, sonship.
"But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son,
born of woman, horn under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so
that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent
the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So through God
you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir" (Gal 4:4-7,
Though the elevation to sonship necessitates a further
discipline of servitude, it is now a servitude (as was Christ's) in full
awareness of the potential heirship of all things. How could "sons" of God, once
delivered to this higher tutelage, with the wonderful vistas it provides, how
could they ever desire to return to a degrading bondage which offered no release
but death? But this is precisely what the Galatian believers were
"My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until
Christ be formed in you" (v 19).
"Listen to the law," says Paul, and he illustrated the two
states by reference to the two sons of Abraham. One (Ishmael) was never more
than a slave and the son of a slave because of his foolish reliance on the
flesh. The other (Isaac), though younger, was the son of the freewoman, and
himself the child of promise and heir of all things -- although he was first
subjected to persecution. Paul concludes for us all:
"Even so it is now ... So then, brethren we are... children...
of the free (woman)" (vv 29,31).
1 Peter 1,2
Peter also takes up this theme of the believer's new birth, in
language patterned upon the birth of Christ:
"Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth
through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one
another with a pure heart fervently: Being born again, not of corruptible seed,
but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever"
Christ was "begotten" by the special procreative power of the
Holy Spirit. We too become "sons of God" when His Holy Spirit-word acts upon our
minds. The incorruptible seed is planted in our minds and takes root in a
"plant" that is radically different than the natural growth of "grass" and
"flower" (v 24), because it has the potential to endure forever (v 25). This is
the only sense of course, in which believers have eternal life now (1Jo
So, Peter continues, Christ is "born" in you, although at
first he is only a "baby". As newborn babes then, he says, you must earnestly
desire the "milk" (1Pe 2:2) -- as did the babe in Bethlehem. Do not seek high
things, but bide your time, trusting in the Lord, resting upon His gracious care
-- as did Jesus before you. Then grow up in the Lord, again as did Jesus, to a
full maturity of sonship.
Christ appears to us first as a newborn babe in a manger. And
so are we, "newborns", when first called by the glorious gospel. Yet, as with
that babe, there is a wonderful hope for the future, in the flowering of youth
and strength, and fin -- ally in supreme manhood. Our faith and character must
grow and will grow, until we approach to "the knowledge of the Son of God, unto
a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph
It can be done! If we stand at the beginning of our probations
and look right to the end, seeing Christ in his perfection, it may seem an
impossible task! But even a "marathon" is the sum total of so many single steps,
and God has told us that He will give us strength to run that race! He has
commanded us to follow His Son, and to grow up -- as he did, step by step,
learning obedience through trials. And to those who obey, whether they be wise
or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, and the
sufferings through which they pass in the "fellowship." of His Son. More and
more, step by step, they will learn who Christ truly is, and become more
conformed to that image.
The baby in the manger uttered his first cry, and thereby his
Father slaked a claim upon our lives. Thereby the Mighty God of all creation
became also "Abba" -- the tender Father of a little child; and our Father
as well! The God of remote abstractions and technical theories. He is a God who
loves people, a Father who holds back no blessing from His "children",
who searches out and loves even the least worthy and most neglected.
A tiny cry in a manger. It was truly a miracle. It was the
greatest of all miracles -the birth of God's own Son! But isn't every
birth a "miracle," and a mystery? Isn't every child a "holy child,"
because he or she receives life from the God of holiness? Isn't every
child a "gift" from God, showing His continuing love for man, showing that even
yet He has not "given up" on us? And isn't every child a special child --
like Samuel or John or even Jesus -- to be dedicated by righteous parents to the
service of God? Like Mary and Joseph, many of us have been entrusted by God with
future kings and queens -- who will one day, by God's grace, sit upon
thrones and apply to the nations the lessons learned in their parents'
And, in fact, aren't we all "children of God," begotten
by His love, who manifest our "sonship" in our love for one another? If there is
a lesson in the "nativity," it is this: the preeminence of love. We love Him,
because He first loved us. For, after all, "sonship" is not what we do, but what
we receive. Not what we earn, but a gift.
"Behold the amazing gift of love
The Father hath bestowed,
On us, the sinful sons of men,
To call us sons of God."