Christmas turns our attention to gifts like no other season. We think about giving just the right gift to the people we love; we savor the thrill of receiving gifts from family and friends. And in the midst of all the activity, we try to stop long enough to remind ourselves of why we're celebrating with gifts in the first place: it's Jesus' birthday. This time of year just sings with reminder after reminder of the time when God Himself came down to our planet in the flesh.

The birth of Christ, as humble and great as it was, made even greater gifts possible -- spiritual gifts such as grace, mercy, forgiveness, salvation, transformation, freedom, peace, and joy. Yet even these spiritual gifts pale in comparison to the ultimate gift -- God Himself.

Here's how we find the greatest gift of all in the Gospel:

Understand that nothing is truly good unless it leads to God. Realize that God is the source of all goodness, and all the good gifts He gives must help you connect to Him if they are to bring true goodness to your life. Remember that only God makes the good news good.

Take the focus off yourself and place it on God. Honestly examine what makes you feel happy. Is it the affirmation of God lavishing gifts on you? Is it a sense of satisfaction that comes from knowing you're worth God's attention? Know that your good feelings should be rooted in God's worth, not your own. Recognize that true joy can only come in the way that God designed it - from knowing and celebrating Him. Understand that the point of the Gospel isn't just to give you a variety of powerful gifts. It's to help you see and savor God's glory. He is the true treasure.

Communicate what salvation really means. Think about whether or not you'd be truly fulfilled in heaven if God weren't there with you. Realize that no amount of pleasurable experiences can make up for the lack of His presence. Whenever you present the Gospel message to others, don't focus on its power to help them avoid the pain of hell or to get into a heaven full of privileges. Instead, emphasize what's most important about salvation. Let people know that salvation enables them to live with their Creator and enjoy His presence forever. Don't say, "Salvation is great!" Say, "God is great!" because His saving love is the gift of Himself. He is the Gospel. Understand that the Gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it's a way to get people to God. Know that if you don't desire God above all other things, than you haven't yet truly believed or obeyed the Gospel.

Let the Gospel help you see God's image. Rejoice that, although you don't have any video recordings of Jesus from when He walked the earth as God incarnate, you can see Him when you let the Gospel message and the Holy Spirit's affirmation of that message draw you closer to Him. As you learn more about Jesus in the Gospel, pray to see His face more clearly and understand the image of His glory more fully.

Ask the Holy Spirit to awaken you. Understand that the Holy Spirit authenticates the Gospel as God's own word. Ask the Spirit to awaken your soul to see God's manifest presence in the Gospel. Rely on the Spirit's power to help you confirm that the Gospel is both reasonable and spiritual. Remember that God's glory is what the Gospel events and promises are meant to show.

Realize that seeing God's glory is the key to becoming more holy yourself. Understand that you are transformed more into Jesus' image by means of focusing your attention on His glory. As you admire Jesus' purity and holiness, your sinful habits will begin to feel foreign and distasteful. His worldview will gradually shape your values, thinking, and decisions. His wisdom, power, and promises will give you greater confidence to choose faith over fear. His glory will inspire you to delight in His fellowship and yearn to see Him face-to-face in heaven. His love will empower you to love others more.

Join God in His joy. As you see how glad God is to have His Son, Jesus, rejoice with Him that He thought of the perfect plan to extend His love to all people through Jesus. Don't be somber when pondering the Gospel. Realize that it's a message of great joy.

Let your love for God lead you to repentance. Know that you can't appreciate how the Gospel makes forgiveness possible for you if you don't first feel genuine remorse for your sins. Recognize that the only way to truly experience that remorse is to ponder how glorious God is, and to let your love for Him motivate you to repent because you want to please Him.

Appreciate how God's gift of pain leads you to Himself. Understand that when you're willing to suffer for the sake of the Gospel message, you're choosing the beauty of God's truth over the ugliness of Satan's lies, and you'll be able to see God's beauty more clearly. Remember that you can trust God to meet every genuine need you have, no matter what your circumstances, but true needs are only those that are necessary for you to do God's will and bring glory to Him. Know that the Gospel's aim is not an easy life. Rather, it is deeper knowledge of, and trust in, God.

Don't let miracles distract you from the One who performs them. Remind yourself that the material world God has created, the spiritual power He gives believers, and the signs and wonders He sometimes unleashes in answer to prayer are meant only to draw you closer to God. Make sure you're not focusing on God's miracles at the expense of God Himself.

Consider why you truly want to grow to be more like Jesus. Ask yourself: "Do I want to be strong like Christ, so I will be admired as strong, or so that I can defeat every adversary that would entice me to settle for any pleasure less than admiring the strongest person in the universe, Christ?", "Do I want to be wise like Christ, so I will be admired as wise and intelligent, or so that I can discern and admire the One who is most truly wise?", "Do I want to be holy like Christ, so that I can be admired as holy, or so that I can be free from all unholy inhibitions that keep me from seeing and savoring the holiness of Christ?", and "Do I want to be loving like Christ, so I will be admired as a loving person, or so that I will enjoy extending to others, even in sufferings, the all-satisfying love of Christ?" Make sure that your goal to become like Jesus is rooted in a passion to see and savor Him in the Gospel message.


Adapted from God is the Gospel by John Piper, copyright 2005 by Desiring God Foundation. Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Ill., www.crossway.com.   

John Piper has preached the supremacy of Christ in all things from the pulpit of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis since 1980. His books include Desiring God and Crossway's The Passion of Jesus Christ, Don't Waste Your Life, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, and the ECPA Gold Medallion winner God's Passion for His Glory.