During the Christmas season, a lot of attention is focused on Jesus. And rightly so. Christmas belongs to Jesus; it’s the anniversary of His earthly appearance, and it should be all about Him. It would be rude of me to come to your birthday party and ignore you, eat all your party food and play your games, but never congratulate you or bring you a present, or tell you thanks for inviting me! (Sadly, that pretty much sums up the world’s attitude toward Christmas.)
But besides Jesus, there are a couple of other characters in the Christmas story that caught my attention as I was reading the first couple of chapters of Luke. They are Mary and Joseph (key players in this story), and Mary’s relatives, Zacharias, and Elizabeth (supporting roles).
Each of these four individuals were chosen by God to carry out a special task in His redemption plan. They all had a job to do and this job was assigned directly by God. This intrigues me because as a Christ-follower, I have a great desire to be used by God. I want my life to count; I want it to have purpose in His kingdom. I want to experience supernatural power and know that when I die, my days have been pleasing to Him. And if you belong to God, I would probably guess that you have those same desires too.
Ultimately, God chooses to use who He wants, for what He wants. We have no power to manipulate or demand or insist that we are the “best man for the job!” There are no applications to fill out, and it doesn’t really matter if we’re related to someone special or have a stack of references from our friends and family. But I believe we can look at what scripture says about these four people and gain some insight about what we are able to do to position ourselves to be used by God.
First, a few verses that give us clues to their character.
Luke 1:6 – But they were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
Luke 2:26-30 – Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.”
Matthew 1:18-19 – Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows; when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.
Righteous and blameless.
Wow. Those are big words. Does God really expect us to be righteous and blameless? What does that even mean?
Blameless comes from the Greek word amemptos, and means irreproachable, without fault, deserving no censure, free from fault or defect.* It means that no matter what charge is brought against you, it doesn’t stick; it can’t be maintained.
We know that only Jesus is truly blameless because He is the only one without fault. We all have sin, and even as saved, redeemed believers who are fully forgiven and washed in the blood of Christ, we still sin daily. So, how can we be blameless?
First, we are blameless in a spiritual sense. Colossians 3:3 tells us that we have died with Christ, and our life is hidden with Christ in God. Because we are in Christ, we are acceptable to God, counted as holy. Second, when we do sin and break our fellowship with God, we quickly confess it. We maintain a blameless relationship.
The second word, righteous, helps us understand how we can remain blameless.
Righteous comes from the Greek word dikaios. It speaks of observing divine laws; in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God; used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life.*
A righteous person is one who cares about what God says and adjusts his or her life to obey. Righteous living leads to the blameless relationship. We take God’s Word as the authority over our life, and we adjust. We change. We obey. We give in. We follow. As we learn to do this, we recognize our own sinfulness more easily and are quicker to confess and repent.
Does this mean we have to be perfectly righteous and perfectly blameless before God can use us?
If that were true, then He wouldn’t use any of us, because we will never be perfect in our words, actions, thoughts, and motivations, until we get to heaven. Our spiritual state is taken care of, but our physical walk is a work in progress!
But it does mean that we should be striving to live righteously and blamelessly, and when we do this, we are giving God every opportunity to use us as He chooses. We make ourselves available, fit for His use, when we are consciously walking in a way that pleases Him.
And just so I’m clear, I don’t think this is “optional” for a believer. Consider Paul’s words to the Philippians:
Philippians 2:12-15 – So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.
Proving ourselves to be blameless and innocent, and above reproach, so that we can be a light to the world is a journey, but here are four life-choices that show we are pursuing this goal, as seen in the life of those four people we mentioned earlier.
1. Make worship a priority.
Zacharias’ story teaches us that God can easily find us when we are worshipping. He was doing what he did on a regular basis – leading the Jewish people in worship. He was in the temple burning incense when the angel appeared to him with the good news that he and Elizabeth would soon have a child. This child would be Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, who would fulfill prophecy and be “the voice crying in the wilderness” to “make way for the Lord.”
Is worship a priority for us? While our lives should be lived in worship, I’m specifically talking about corporate worship with our Christian brothers and sisters. If God comes to church looking for someone to use in His kingdom work, would we be available?
2. Keep yourself morally pure.
Mary was a virgin. She lived according to the moral laws of God. She found “favor” with God, I believe, because she chose to live as a morally pure young woman. Her physical body was a vessel that He could use.
How many of us would be disqualified by our moral choices? And I’m not talking about our past; if we confess and repent, then God sees us as morally pure. But how about our “today?” Are we following God’s commands about sexual purity? Are we above reproach in what we do, what we read, what we see? Are we obeying God’s laws about marriage, that it’s between a man and a woman, that adultery is wrong, that homosexuality offends Him? Are we willing to live morally pure lives?
3. Obey when God gives you a clear directive.
While Zacharias doubted at first (and was stricken speechless for nine months until the baby was born), he learned his lesson. When the baby arrived, his family and friends said he should be named after his father. But Zacharias obeyed God, and wrote down on a tablet, “His name is John,” just as the angel had told him. In that moment, his tongue was loosened, and he lifted his voice in a beautiful prophesy about the coming Savior. Likewise, Joseph immediately obeyed God’s angel messenger and took Mary to be his wife. He did not question God’s command, despite the negative consequences that would come from marrying a woman who had apparently been unfaithful to him.
How about us? When God tells us to do something, do we do it? If we want to be used for “great” things, then we have to be faithful in the small ones! Immediate obedience shows God that we are willing to do as He asks and that He can trust us with His kingdom work.
4. Be willing to set aside your own needs.
There’s a little phrase in Matthew 1:25 that shows so much of Joseph’s character. He took Mary as his wife but kept her a virgin until she gave birth. Let’s be real. Joseph was an ordinary man, with ordinary needs. He had every right to have a physical relationship with his wife, but because he wanted to honor God and make sure there were no questions about Jesus’ lineage, he set aside his own needs and desires.
How about us? Are we willing to give up what we want? Are we willing to wait? Are we willing to set aside our rights so that we are perfectly positioned to be used by God for His purposes, His rights, His desires?
I’m challenged by Mary and Joseph and Zacharias and Elizabeth. While I have no aspirations to be famous or change the world, I do long to hear my Savior say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And to that end, I want to strive to be righteous and blameless in practical ways every day. I’m thankful that I am perfectly righteous in God’s eyes because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, and the least that I can do is work out my salvation with fear and trembling as He asks us to do.
* Greek word definitions are taken from http://www.blueletterbible.org.
How about you? Do you think a righteous and blameless life is necessary for a believer to be used by God? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!