During December, many people who are otherwise irreligious or unconcerned about spiritual things will turn their thoughts to a Child born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. They will often read the story of the birth of Christ with their children, and maybe even teach them the words of some of the beautiful songs that speak of the birth of our Lord. They will pause in front of a nativity scene somewhere and maybe even whisper a fleeting prayer. Some will darken the door of a church building for the first time since last December.
I view such events as these with mixed emotions. While God has never commanded people today to observe a special day to commemorate the birth of His Son, I am glad these folks have at least some recognition of a God in heaven who demands their attention. However, I am saddened by the fact that most of these people will never come to know and appreciate the rest of the story! While the entrance of God's Son into the world was incredible, it is only the tip of the iceberg -- it is only one part, one chapter, of what God has done to redeem mankind.
Those who can only think of Jesus Christ as a Babe in Bethlehem are robbing themselves of the blessings that await them in Christ (Eph. 1:3). The entrance of God's Son into the world was a matter of planning and prophecy, not a matter of mere chance. The first glimpse of a Savior was given in Genesis 3:15, after Adam and Eve sinned and were about to be cast out of the Garden of Eden. Centuries later, God told Abraham that through his seed "all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3).
Centuries passed until God told David, a descendant of Abraham, that the Messiah would come through his lineage, and God "would raise up the Christ to sit on his throne" (Acts 2:30). Nearly another millennium passed until the time was just right, then "when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law..." (Gal. 4:4-5).
Matthew records the birth of Christ in the first chapter of his gospel, and informs us that "all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 'Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which is translated, 'God with us'" (Matt. 1:22-23; cf. Isa. 7:14).
As we have already mentioned, the birth of Christ is not the end of the story -- that Baby in Bethlehem grew up, and when He became a man wicked and ungodly people put Him to death (Acts 2:22-23). But He did not stay in His borrowed tomb, for God raised Him up and sat Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places (Acts 2:33).
I stand in awe when I consider the love, mercy and longsuffering of God! God has done so much for us in order for "us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light" (Col. 1:12). God's eternal desire is for "all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4). God does not want a single soul to be lost. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
And yet, God will not force anyone to obey His will -- we are creatures with free moral agency -- we can reject all that God has done for us and judge ourselves "unworthy of everlasting life" (Acts 13:46).
Most of the people reading this article believe in the existence of God, and of a home He has prepared for those who love Him and keep His commandments. However, how much do you treasure that home in heaven? What I am asking is this: What are you willing to let keep you out of heaven and a home with God?
In the final day of accounts many sincere individuals are going to be turned away from heaven's door. "Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (Matt. 7:22-23). Jesus said at that time there "will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28).
It is sad to see one fall away who has "tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb. 6:4-5). It is sad because they had once "escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 2:20). Now, with an unrepentant heart, they "crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame"(Heb. 6:6).
Let us notice three things that will keep people out of heaven -- even individuals who at one time took their place among those who would hunger and thirst after righteousness. "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world -- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life -- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15-17).
The things of the world may be desired and possessed for the uses and purposes which God intended -- they are to be used to His glory. The world draws the heart away from God, and the more the love of the world prevails, the more the love of God decays. The things of the world are classed according to the three major proclivities of fallen men.
The word translated "lust" in 1 John 2:16 is a morally neutral word -- it takes either a good or a bad connotation depending upon the context of the passage.
It is used in a good sense in three New Testament passages: "Then He said to them, 'With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; for I say to you, I will no longer eat of it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God'" (Luke 22:15-16). "For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better" (Phil. 1:23). "But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire" (1 Thes. 2:17).
Most of the time the word "lust" is used in a negative sense in New Testament passages like these: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Rom. 13:14). "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16). "For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error" (2 Pet. 2:18).
The "lust of the flesh" then is an evil desire for the things of the flesh. The first thing that usually comes to mind is adultery and fornication. "Adultery" is usually used in the Bible to describe all illicit sexual relations between one or more married individuals. "Fornication" is a rather broad term used to describe any illicit sexual conduct, including pre-marital sex or even homosexuality. Adultery and fornication are both "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5:19), and as such will keep those guilty out of heaven.
God designed marriage to keep people from sexual sins (1 Cor. 7:1-5). The marital bed is holy. The Hebrew writer tells us that "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb. 13:4). This marital union is so sacred that God has only allowed one reason for a person to divorce their spouse and marry another, i.e., sexual immorality. Jesus plainly said, "whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matt. 19:9).
The "lust of the eyes" speaks of eyes that are delighted with riches and rich possessions; this is the lust of covetousness.
Those men whom Moses appointed as "rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens" were to be "able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness" (Exo. 18:21).
The Ten Commandments included a warning against covetousness. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's" (Exo. 20:17).
The writer of Proverbs tells us "he who hates covetousness will prolong his days" (Prov. 28:16).
Jesus admonishes us to "take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses" (Luke 12:15). Paul instructs us to "put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5). The parable of the rich fool shows how dangerous a covetous attitude can be (Luke 12:16-20).
The "pride of life" is a vain craving for honor and applause, or the stubborn mind-set that will not allow one to repent of and confess their sins. King Saul is just one of many Bible characters who allowed pride to destroy them (1 Sam. 15:1-23).
Think of the story our Lord told about the Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9-14). The Pharisee despised others and should have thought of the words of Solomon in Proverbs 8:13, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate." The Pharisee prayed as one who needed no forgiveness, and got none. The tax collector prayed as one who needed God's forgiveness, and he received it.
Pride oftentimes keeps Christians from truly repenting of their sins, especially when their sin is public in nature. Sometimes Christians refuse to repent of their sins because they are not aware of them -- they do not think they are guilty. But let's be honest about the matter, most of the time an impenitent heart does not come from ignorance, but from foolish pride -- they know they are guilty but they won't fess up. They will not acknowledge their sin and then repent of it, and irrational pride is so often at the heart of the matter -- they cannot stand before the ones whom they sinned against and say, "I have sinned."
The book of Proverbs speaks at great length about selfish pride and destruction it brings. It reminds us that "when pride comes, then comes shame" (Prov. 11:2), and "by pride comes nothing but strife" (Prov. 13:10), and warns us that "pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18).
Those who fill their lives with "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" need to be advised and warned, for "the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:16-17).
Many years ago Matthew Henry wrote: "The things of the world quickly fade and die away; desire itself will ere long fail and cease, but holy affection is not like the lust that passes away. The love of God shall never fail. Many vain efforts have been made to evade the force of this passage by limitations, distinctions, or exceptions. Many have tried to show how far we may be carnally-minded, and love the world; but the plain meaning of these verses cannot easily be mistaken. Unless this victory over the world is begun in the heart, a man has no root in himself, but will fall away, or at most remain an unfruitful professor. Yet these vanities are so alluring to the corruption in our hearts, that without constant watching and prayer, we cannot escape the world, or obtain victory over the god and prince of it."
There is only one sin that God will not forgive -- and that is the sin you will not repent of!