Naughty or Nice?

Monday, December 24, 2007 

It has happened several times now: When we are out and about, usually older people have bent down to ask my almost-five-year-old son the all-important question this time of year: “Is Santa Claus coming to your house?”  And although we don’t emphasize the Santa thing very much (we play up the Jesus aspect with our kids), we have tolerated it as a way to stay engaged with the world.  Usually our son smiles and nods affirmatively that Santa is coming.  Then comes the next (loaded) question that people ask him: “Have you been good?”  And every time that question is asked, I immediately think to myself “NO,” while our son shakes his head affirmatively. 

My next thought is usually, “Well, it depends…’good’ compared to what?  ‘Good enough,’ or just plain ‘good’?”  That’s the way the world usually defines “good”: it’s grading on a curve.  We may not be “good” to the core of our beings, but we are at least better than most people.  Most of the time we imagine being good like balance scales.  On the one side, we have our bad deeds, and on the other we have our good deeds.  And as long as the good outweighs the bad, we’re okay.  That’s the criteria for whether Santa visits our houses with nice presents or not.

But thankfully that’s not the criteria for whether God accepts us into his family.  Unfortunately, if we had to be “good” in order to be saved–even if we only had to be “good enough”–then I’m afraid none of us would measure up.  God doesn’t measure good on a balance; it’s either-or, and the bad news is that none of us can tip the balance in our favor.

Scripture reminds us that our attempts to gain God’s favor by our own goodness are futile: “‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'” (Romans 3:10-12 ESV)  This is the common ground that every one of us shares–and I mean everyone.  But thankfully, it’s not the last word.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:23-24 ESV)  The good news is that we are not saved by our “goodness,” because if that was the case, heaven would be a very empty place.  But the good news is that we are accepted based on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and rose again.  “For by grace your have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Since Christmas is tomorrow, I guess I’ll have another year to think of a good response for the inevitable questions about whether our kids have been “good enough” to get good stuff from Santa.  When they ask if our kids have been “good,” maybe I’ll say something like, “No, they haven’t been good–none of us have.  But thanks to Jesus we can be saved anyway!”

Merry Christmas.

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