Advent Devotional Day 26: “Those with Whom God Is Pleased”

During the month of December, I’ve prepared a series of daily devotionals to help my church get ready for and celebrate Christmas. I created a booklet (if you’d like a copy, let me know), but I’ll also post devotionals each day on my blog.

Devotional Text: Luke 2:13-14

Linus, in A Charlie Brown Christmas, understood that when we hear the Christmas story in the Bible, it just sounds better in the classic King James translation: 

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

The shepherds weren’t “terrified” (NIV) or “filled with great fear” (ESV), they were  “sore afraid.” Outside of this scripture, I’ve never used “sore” as an adverb. But in the Christmas story it just sounds right.

Unfortunately, the classic King James rendering of the second half of verse 14 is misleading, if not wrong: “on earth peace, good will toward men.”

This translation makes it seem as if the angels are pronouncing God’s favor toward everyone without condition. Granted, in a culture that values “inclusion” above all other values, this idea fits nicely. But Bible scholars believe that this isn’t what the angels meant.

Modern translations have it right: “on earth peace among those whom he favors” (NRSV), or “those with whom he is pleased” (ESV).

Among “those with whom he is pleased”? If that’s the case, we better find out who these people are with whom God is pleased—and why!

Theologian Joseph Ratzinger, better known as the former Pope Benedict XVI, provides this helpful answer:

Now, with regard to this question the New Testament itself provides an aid to understanding. In the account of Jesus’ baptism, Luke tells us that as Jesus was praying, the heavens opened and a voice came from heaven, saying: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased…” (3:22). The man “with whom he is pleased” is Jesus. And the reason for this is that Jesus lives completely oriented toward the Father, focused upon him and in communion of will with him. So men “with whom he is pleased” are those who share the attitude of the Son—those who are conformed to Christ.[1]

Here’s the good news: If we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, God is “well pleased” with us, not because of who we are and what we’ve done, but who Christ is and what he’s done for us. As Paul says of himself in Philippians 3:9, he no longer has a “righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

Do you agree with the following statement: “God is well-pleased with me, not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but who Christ is and what he’s done for me”? Why or why not? Do you believe that any part of salvation depends on your “earning” it?

1. Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives (New York: Image, 2012), 75.

6 thoughts on “Advent Devotional Day 26: “Those with Whom God Is Pleased””

  1. You ask: “Do you believe that any part of salvation depends on your ‘earning’ it?” Certainly not. But do I believe that there is something that I must “do” to receive it? Quite possibly. Note that Paul says, “through FAITH in Christ.” So we definitely need faith, if nothing else. Jesus said to the “sinful” woman who was willing to expose herself to ridicule (which she in fact received from the Pharisee) to come and anoint him, “Your faith has saved you.” But what is involved in “faith”? Hebrews 11 certainly gives some hint. Those referenced were willing to take definite actions based on their belief. “For without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is rewards them who diligently seek him.” Hebrews 11:6. Perhaps we can see this as a proverbial “act of faith.” This is no “work of the law” that “earns” salvation, but an act of obedience based on the belief.

    1. Without “acts of obedience based on the belief,” we won’t be saved. I agree with that. But these acts, I would say, follow as a consequence of saving faith; they do not, in themselves, save us.

      1. It is a pretty tricky point. So long as we agree that it is necessary “at some point,” I can probably go with that. I do think Jesus very frequently said, “Your faith has saved you,” or the like, AFTER some action by the person occurred.

      2. But I would say that the action—like Zacchaeus’s decision to repay the people he exploited and give away so much of his wealth—was evidence of a faith that already saved him. It is a tricky point, almost academic since we agree you can’t have one without the other.

      3. I basically agree. What seems important to me about this, however, is that I want to make certain to someone considering “signing up” that they realize “some change is necessary”–whether that be an “after-effect” or a “completion of the deal.” Jesus said to “count the cost.” (Perhaps sort of like, “Let’s shake on it,” as “closing” an agreement?)

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