“You’d better watch out. You’d better not pout.
You’d better not cry; I’m telling you why:
Santa Claus is coming to town!
He sees you when you’re sleeping.
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows when you’ve been bad or good,
so be good for goodness sake!”
So goes the famous Christmas song. Now, I’m not about to knock the song or the jolly ol’ elf that the song’s about. (I enjoy belting it out as hardily as anyone whenever they play it on the radio. Just ask my wife. In fact, here’s a link to the song on YouTube in case you’re in need of a quick Christmas fix.) I would, however, like to make a crystal clear distinction between Santa’s take on morality and God’s.
As the Christmas song so clearly spells out, to please Santa, all you’ve got to do is tip the scale slightly towards good, and he’s satisfied. Ensure you’ve told more truths than lies and that you’ve been nicer to your sister more times than you’ve been mean to her, and you’ve got it in the bag guaranteed. It does not work that way with God. It cannot.
To understand the reason for this, you’ve got to start to think in a way that, perhaps, you never have before. I beg you to at least hear me out. You see, Santa merely requires 51% good behavior for you to make it on his nice list. Your good must merely outweigh your bad. God has much higher requirements. To be accepted by God—that is, to make it on God’s good list—you’ve got have 100% good behavior 100% of the time.
“But that’s not fair!” you object. “No one is that good! What kind of God would condemn someone to the naughty list for 1% bad behavior?” Well, let’s examine for a moment the true extent of even 1% bad behavior. Any bad behavior is in its essence bad because it’s an affront to God. That is, when you or I do something wrong, the reason it’s wrong is because it is an act of rebellion against the King of the universe. Wrong is wrong because it violates what God has declared to be right. God is a good King. His laws are good. His decrees are perfect. To look him in the face and say that you’ll do whatever you darn well please regardless is an infinitely heinous crime because God is infinitely worthy of complete love and obedience. It only takes one act of rebellion to be a traitor and thus find yourself on the naughty list. So 1% bad behavior is not as light an offense as we often think. Any wrong deed—from fudging on your taxes to cold-blooded murder—is at its essence a flouting of God’s law. Any sin is tantamount to spitting in the very face of the very King of the universe. No sin, not even the smallest of them all, is to be taken lightly.
“But isn’t God a God of love and forgiveness?” Yes! To his very core! The way he accomplishes forgiveness, however, is not by merely sweeping your bad behavior under the rug of the universe and letting it go. He can’t—better said, he won’t—overlook such blatant rebellion against his good laws. The reason for this is that he’s just. If a judge looked into the eyes of a convicted killer and said, “I know you’re guilty, but you know what? I’m going to let you go. I’m going to forgive you regardless of what the law says,” that judge would not be a just judge and would immediately lose his seat on the bench. So it is with God. Crimes so atrocious demand retribution. Every moral fiber in our bodies confirms that.
So God provided another way. God made a way for him to be both just and merciful at the same time. Enters Jesus. Jesus, the perfect Son of God, came to this world and lived a perfect life—a life 100% pleasing to God. Then he died on a Roman cross. There God poured out upon him the just punishment that wrong deserves. The innocent died for the guilty so that the guilty might be made innocent. Think of it as a great exchange. Jesus takes your sins upon him and endures the punishment that they deserve, which is death (Romans 6:23), and in the place of your sins, he credits to you his perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). He offers you the 100% perfect life that God requires of you.
In Jesus’ death, God’s demands for justice were met and God made a way for amnesty to be held out to traitors. “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out,” Jesus said (John 6:37). “This is will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
What must you do to enjoy God’s favor? “Look on the Son and believe in him.” To believe in Jesus is to receive him (see John 1:12). It’s to embrace him like a hungry man embraces bread. Do you see what Jesus has done to pay for your bad behavior and do you believe in that Jesus?
You’ve really got no other options open to you. Every time you’re even slightly mean to your sister, you’re acting in open rebellion against the God who said to love others as you love yourself. But God has made a way for estranged traitors to find themselves again reconciled to God. And it’s not through 51% or 75% or even 99% good behavior like Santa requires. It’s through the 100% good behavior of the 100% good Son of God who died in your place and who credits his perfect life to your account in order that you might live before a holy God. Reach out and embrace him today.
To read more about the good news of God sending his Son into the world to save sinners, click here.