James Boice

Christmas & the Cross

Boice WHTGGChristmas and the cross must go together. Without the cross, the manger is essentially meaningless.

In his book, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace?, James Montgomery Boice writes,

Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection by itself is no gospel. The Good News is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken in Christ to reveal a proper way of life for us, nor even that death, our great enemy, has been conquered. The Good News is that sin has been dealt with, that Jesus suffered its penalty for us as our representative, and that all who believe in him can look forward confidently to heaven” (p.105).

The story of the incarnation of Christ that we rightly focus on every year at Christmas, as wonderful as it is, saves no one apart from the cross. The life of Christ, as important as it is, saves no one apart from the cross. Christ certainly calls His people to follow Him (Mark 1:17; 8:34), and so to obey His commands and to emulate His example, but without the cross, the “right way of living” saves no one – it would still just lead to death.

The purpose of Christ’s incarnation was so that He would save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), and that means, first and foremost, that He was born so that He might die in the place of sinners.

The Most Important Sentences In All of Literature

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In his commentary on the book of Romans, James Boice makes the following observation on Romans 1:16-17:

In the sixteenth and seventeenth verses of Romans 1, we come to sentences that are most important in the letter and perhaps in all literature. They are the theme of this epistle and the essence of Christianity. They are the heart of biblical religion. (Romans Vol.1, p.103)

What are these sentences that are the most important in the book of Romans (arguably the most important book of the Bible) and perhaps all of literature?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV)

Why are these simple sentences in the opening chapter of Romans so vitally important? Boice explains:

The reason this is so is that they tell how a man or woman may become right with God. (ibid)

Could there be anything more important (or relevant) than that? 

That is why the gospel is the theme of Romans.

That is why the gospel is the essence of Christianity.

That is why the gospel is the heart of biblical religion.

We are all in desperate need of righteousness – perfect righteousness – but on our own we are anything but righteous.  And it is only through faith in Christ Jesus as he is offered to us in the gospel that God imputes or accounts to us the perfect, spotless righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.

Not only are our sins fully and forever forgiven because of the death of Jesus Christ in our place, but His perfect righteousness is also accounted to us by faith!   We don’t just have a clean slate – we have a perfectly righteous slate – the slate of Jesus Christ himself! (No wonder they call it the good news!)

That is why God can accept sinful men and women like us as righteous in His sight, “only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.33).  God Himself provides us with the very righteousness that He requires of us!

Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation?  If so, you can know that even though you are a sinner who deserves the wrath of a holy God, you are fully and forever accepted by God on the merits of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, accounted to you by faith.  What could be more important than that!

Making Disciples or Merely Decisions?

In our evangelistic efforts, are we making disciples of Jesus Christ, or are we merely seeking to get sinners to “make a decision for Christ”?

Judging by the results, it seems obvious that the latter is the case.

In his book, Christ’s Call to Discipleship, James Boice writes,

There is a fatal defect in the life of Christ’s church in the twentieth century: a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means in some circles there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him “Lord, Lord” are not Christians (Matthew 7:21). (p.13)

That is a sobering observation.  And, sadly,  it still seems to hold true for the church in the 21st century.

We must remember that the Lord Jesus commanded His church to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19).  And if that were not clear enough, He tells us that the way we are to do so involves not just baptizing them (v.19), and teaching them in general, but rather “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (v.20).

While we must never settle for mere moralism (i.e. just telling us what we need to do), in our preaching and teaching, neither may we settle for a type of preaching or teaching that does not lead to discipleship – to following the commands of Christ as well as believing on Him for eternal life.

Do the ministries of our churches tend toward the making of disciples? (Perhaps that should be one of the questions asked when considering any new ministry or activity in our churches.)

Does our teaching and preaching tend toward making disciples, teaching believers to observe all of the commands of Christ?  (If not, why not?)

May we in the church in the 21st century never settle for “much talk about Christ and even much furious activity” with “very little following of Christ Himself.”