The Santa Gospel and the True Gospel

Several years ago my wife purchased a book for our family titled When Santa Learned the Gospel. It is a fun little children’s book that was written by an Australian author named Simon Camilleri. In an interview Camilleri explained his inspiration to write the book.   

 Back in 2013 I witnessed something very funny at a local community carols event. As expected, at the end of the evening, Santa came out on stage and asked the kids “So, who’s been a good boy or girl this year?” All the kids raised their hands and said “Meeee!!” The funny thing was, when he asked them, “And who’s been a naughty boy or girl?” they all said “Meeee!!” just as enthusiastically. After an awkward moment, Santa shrugged and said, “Oh well . . . I guess you’ve tried to be good.” I left that event pondering what message about life those kids had just received. I reflected on how the whole “morality equals reward” system that the Santa story promotes was kind of like the “good people go to heaven” message that many think Christianity teaches. I sat down inspired to write something that would give some commentary to what I had witnessed and at the same time communicate the true gospel to both kids and adults. What resulted was a funny little poem called, “When Santa Learned the Gospel”.

In an amusing way, Camilleri describes the Santa message as being encapsulated in the Christmas song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” We’ve all heard it before where it says, “He’s making a list, checking it twice….gonna find out whose naughty or nice…..Santa Claus is coming to town!” Essentially, the Santa message is that the good (nice) kids are rewarded with presents, while the bad(naughty) kids are rewarded with nothing, or a lump of coal. As Camilleri noted above, this is very similar to what many think Christianity is all about. It is a system of works righteousness where good people are rewarded with heaven and bad people are rewarded with hell.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace have you been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.”

Salvation doesn’t boil down to what we do or don’t do. Salvation is not a matter of earning God’s favor. Salvation is not about keeping the rules (whatever they may be) and making sure that your good works outweigh your bad. Salvation, in the final analysis, is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

The gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that no one is “good” but God alone (Luke 18:18). The gospel reminds us that all our righteousness is like a dirty, stinky, grimy, polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6). Even our best works are tainted with sin.

The wonder of the gospel is that it is not about what I do for God. Just the opposite. It is all about what God in Christ has done for me. The bible says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is good news. Better yet. This is glorious news! Jesus died, so that we don’t have to.

What message are you hearing this Christmas season?

The “morality equals reward” Santa message seems to be the dominant message of our day, yet it could not be more antithetical to the “not by works” gospel message that we find in Scripture. As a pastor, I have found that many regular church-goers don’t understand or comprehend the gospel. This is why the “good news” of the gospel must be told again and again and again.

As Jesus declared near the start of his ministry, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). In order to come to God, that is all that is needed – repent of your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus, and rest in the promises of the gospel. 

The worst thing we could do as Christians is to assume gospel literacy. Even though many people think they know the message, in all reality they are gospel ignorant. The gospel message will always clash against the Santa message and other messages that are in the mold of “works righteousness.” Our job as ambassadors for Jesus is to clarify and articulate the “by grace through faith” gospel to everyone we can, and most importantly, to believe it ourselves.

Merry Christmas!

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).  

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