Since I was a little child, I can remember parents, teachers, and other elders that I respected in my life urging me to behave well throughout the year (oddly, it enhanced after Thanksgiving) so that I would not end up on Santa’s naughty list come Christmas Day. I do not think I realized what this teaching was doing in my young heart and mind, but I took it seriously and wanted to be on my best behavior so that Santa would deem me worthy of gifts rather than a lump of coal, as I was told. In a way that I did not understand, I believed that Santa was sovereignly watching over my life and observing my thoughts, words, and deeds.
As I have grown older and come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the God of the Scriptures, I look back on that time in my life during the Christmas season and ponder the ramifications of what I was told as a young child, by well-meaning people. As I think of this common teaching to young children, “Santa is watching. Behave or you will be on Santa’s naughty list and will not get any gifts!”, I a reminded of the 3 important gospel truths.
1. There is One who is far more Sovereign than Santa
As I mentioned above, teaching children that “Santa is watching” their every move is not only false as Santa is a fictional character, but it poorly attempts to imitate the biblical reality that there is a God who does watch our every thought, word, and deed.
“For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths.”Proverbs 5:21
Children do need to be taught that even when no one is around, there is One who is sovereignly watching. However, this One is not Santa, but the sovereign and Almighty God of the universe. There is no where we can run out of His sight, and He sees all things. Our awareness of His watchfulness over us should cause us to have a godly fear that leads to repentance and faith.
2. There is no “Good List”, only a Naughty List
As I think back on this statement, I think the most damaging lesson that is taught to young children is that there is a “good list” by default of striving to avoid the naughty list. We are teaching children that Christmas, and by extension Christianity, is not really about a new birth (John 3) or becoming an entirely new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), but simply becoming a more moralistic person. The purpose of Christmas therefore has becomes less about coming to know the Person of Christ and celebrating His incarnation, God becoming man to save man from God, and more about adding behavioral modification to our lifestyle so that we might be rewarded by our works and earning the favor of Santa.
The Bible is clear, no “good list” exists, rather we all fall under the list of those who are naughty:
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, and there is non who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”Romans 3:10-12
Teaching our children to simply behave better and you will go from the naughty list to the good list dramatically lowers the Bible’s view on sin and that it can be dealt with by mere human will and effort and not the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, if we could deal with our sin (naughtiness) on our own, then Christ would have never come (Galatians 2:21).
Sin is more than just bad decisions we make. Sin permeates our very nature to the core, and nothing we can do can remove the stain it leaves in our lives except faith in the One who knew no sin but bore our sin upon Himself on the cross, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Christmas Favor is a Gift, not Earned
Lastly, in teaching our children to behave so that Santa will give them nice gifts on Christmas Day, we are teaching our children that grace and mercy are earned rather than given. The Bible teaches us that because no one is good and that we have all fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23), we are unable to improve our condition before God on our own (John 15:5). If we are going to be saved and transformed, it must be an act of God in divine mercy and grace.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9
What makes grace actually grace is that grace is receiving what you do not deserve. When we come to know Christ as Lord and Savior, the Bible teaches us that the faith we receive is given as a gift, and not something we have earned by our works, otherwise we would be able to boast in our salvation. What makes Christmas so radically scandalous in grace is that God places an unconditional and electing love on individuals who do not deserve His mercy. He looks upon the naughty with grace and chooses to redeem out of His own abundance of love (Romans 9:16).
Santa is a cheap substitute for Christmas because Santa requires what he is unable to provide – righteousness. However, the God of the Bible who sovereignly watches over all people requires what He is able to freely provide by grace to those who are undeserving and naughty. The gift of Christ can only be received by grace through faith, and it can never be earned by our works or merit (Isaiah 64:6).
The gospel is why Christmas is good news. Salvation, transformation, and new life have come to the naughty and it is to be received by grace alone. Jesus has not come to redeem the “good list”, because that list does not exist. He has come for the “naughty list” (Romans 5:6-8) of which you and I are among.