Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Peter 2:11)
Around the holidays, something happens that gets us straight-laced church folks all bent out of shape. We Christians have been known to sniff out, with the hypersensitivity of a bloodhound, anything that even hints at the idea of “taking Christ out of Christmas.” Many a retail worker has been chewed out by curmudgeons with flawless church attendance. Their crime? Saying Happy Holidays rather than Merry Christmas when handing them a gift receipt. Oh, and if you think I’m exaggerating, you’ve probably forgotten that ridiculous squabble about red Starbucks cups that irritated so many just a few weeks ago.
Over time, this perceived cultural snubbing of our cherished holiday has come to be known as “the war on Christmas.” And it is quite controversial. In fact, most Christians probably have strong opinions about it.
Some believe that the culture-war mentality is justified. These are the Christmas crusaders. From their view, society is attempting to marginalize Christian values at every turn. They see themselves as doing God’s work by reminding everyone that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
However, others in the church are disturbed by this mentality. From their view, “those Christians” are sacrificing cultural influence for the sake of a cause that won’t amount to much. These folks are anti-crusading, and yet they can often be as ironically self-righteous as Christmas crusaders they criticize.
Both of these perspectives may have important aspects of truth to them. And both are expressions of a much larger cultural outlook—one that isn’t necessarily limited to the Christmas season. Yet, in a much greater sense, our constant evaluation of other people can take its spiritual toll. If we aren’t careful, our bickering about the war on Christmas (or any other cultural issue, for that matter) can become a major distraction from the type of self-evaluation the Bible prescribes for the Christian life.
While we’ve been busy trying to straighten everyone else out, there may be something to which we’ve paid too little attention; and that is the war going on in our own souls.
You Are Your Biggest Problem
In 1 Peter 2:11 (quoted above), the apostle reminds us that there is a war being waged inside each one of us. And the passions of our flesh are at the root of the conflict.
You see, God has given us new life in Christ. We are a new creation (2 Co. 5:17). And yet, although we are made genuinely new, we are not yet completely new. Our sinful nature still holds sway in our daily lives (i.e. “the passions of the flesh”).
In other words, you are your own biggest problem—not the culture’s lack of regard for Christian beliefs and values; and not what bothers us about other Christians. No, if we want a war, we need not look any further than ourselves.
Therefore, it seems that the Christmas season, with all its cultural baggage, is the perfect time for some wholesome, Gospel-centered self-evaluation: How are we doing in the fight to abstain from the passions of the flesh? How faithfully have we been representing Jesus and His Kingdom to those around us? Are there any habits or patterns in our lives that grieve the Holy Spirit and contradict our belief in the Word of God?
As we begin to ask the right questions about ourselves, answering them honestly in front of an open Bible, we may well begin to see that our culture wars ought to concern us far less than the high-stakes war going on in our own souls. The fight within is a matter of life and death, holiness and defilement, true worship and idolatry.
So as we gather this Sunday, let’s come, not as Christmas crusaders, but as sojourners and exiles, knowing that we don’t belong to this world. And our enjoyment of this season will not be determined by whether or not our culture snubs Christmas. No, our enjoyment stems from the Good News that God made Man has delivered us from our devotion to our man-made gods. And therefore, we can faithfully evaluate ourselves in light of this glorious Gospel. Together we fight to repent of sin, rejoice in worship, and grow in holiness. That’s the only war that will matter for eternity. So let’s set aside our distractions to fight it with all we’ve got.
Liturgy for Sunday, December 06, 2015:
Call to Worship: Psalm 118:22-24
Confession & Assurance: John 1:10-14
Benediction: Hebrews 13:20-21