While Christmas shopping recently, I was reminded of a time-honored tradition: An experienced jeweler doesn’t casually lay a precious diamond on the counter for the customer to examine. No, he first places a piece of black velvet on the counter and smooths it out. He then carefully positions the glittering diamond on the dark cloth, so the gemstone’s sparkle and beauty are seen in contrast.

We need to see the Christmas story in contrast to the blackness of our sin. It’s the dark backdrop of despair that makes the birth of Christ so meaningful. The angel told Joseph to name the baby, “‘Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:21).

Max Lucado wrote, “We have to see the mess we are in before we can appreciate the God we have. Before presenting the grace of God, we must understand the wrath of God.”

Jesus didn’t come to earth to save us from low self-image, poverty or ignorance. He came to save us from the black hole of our horrid transgressions. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Jesus came to save us from the consequences of our sin. Sin condemns to hell. If Jesus hadn’t been born in Bethlehem, we would all be destined to eternal separation from God in a fiery pit.

Almost everyone knows John 3:16, but do you know the next paragraph? It reads, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17-18).

Sin had already separated the human race from God and condemned all mankind to hell. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price for our sin and provided a way for us to spend eternity with God in heaven where there is no pain, no sorrow and no tears. No wonder the angel told the shepherds, “‘I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).

Jesus came to save us from the guilt of sin. Satan deviously promises us pleasure, but when the temporary gratification fades, we live in the wake of a guilty conscience. We quickly regret our behavior and long for a redo.

However, we can’t erase and relive past mistakes. But the Bible promises the blood of Jesus Christ purifies us of all sin (see 1 John 1:7-9). And, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

After committing adultery with Bathsheba, David wrote, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).

Jesus came to save us from the enslavement of sin. Almost every sin is as addictive as cocaine. One hit does not satisfy very long. The law of increased appetite and diminishing return soon takes over until we are trapped in alcoholism, pornography, deception, affairs, shoplifting, gluttony, selfishness, pride, greed or hatred, and we can’t stop.

Recovery groups have a slogan, “One is too many, and a thousand is not enough.” The Apostle Paul warned. “Don’t you know that you … are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16).

But Jesus came to set the captive free and empower us by the Holy Spirit to experience the victory that overcomes the world.

It has been said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Sin is dreadful, dark and deadly. But Jesus came to save us completely from the consequences, the guilt and the enslavement of sin. He paid the exorbitant price of an excruciating death on a cross where “The Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

Jesus died so we can be forgiven. He arose from the dead to prove we, too, can be freed from the shackles of sin. We sing, “My chains are gone! I’ve been set free! For God, my Savior has ransomed me!”

So, the big question this Christmas is: Are you saved from your sin? Have you received the free gift offered to you through Jesus Christ, or are you still trapped in the black despair of your sin? If you’re not saved, here’s what the Bible instructs you to do.

Put your complete trust in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and not your own goodness. (See Ephesians 2:8-9.)

Humbly repent of your sins and make Jesus the Lord of your daily life. (See Luke 13:3.)

Boldly confess your faith in Jesus in the presence of others. (See Romans 10:10.)

Be immersed in baptism as a benchmark of your new life in Christ. (See Acts 2:38.)

Continue to trust in Christ’s love even when you stumble and fall. (See 1 John 3:1.)

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Merry Christmas! Rejoice! “‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:11 KJV).

Bob Russell is retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church and founder of Bob Russell Ministries.