Santa Clause is a Legalist

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 You may not know who Haven Gillespie is but you do know the song that he published in 1932:

                                    You better watch out, You better not cry

                                    Better not pout, I’m telling you why

                                    Santa Claus is coming to town

                                    He’s making a list and checking it twice

                                    Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice

                                    Santa Claus is coming to town

We grew up hearing those words but have you ever paused long enough to contemplate the doctrine that is taught?  “Don’t cry, don’t pout!  Santa has a nice list and a naughty list.” The subtle implication is if you’re on the nice list you get presents.  If you’re on the naughty list you get a lump of coal.

But this raises two questions:  How does Santa know so much about me and how can I get on the nice list and receive presents?

He sees you when you’re sleeping

He knows when you’re awake

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

So be good for goodness sake!

Oh!  You better watch out, You better not cry

Better not pout, I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town

These words sound innocent perhaps because of the tune that accompanies the lyrics. The song has a light-hearted, bouncy melody that is typically sung with a cheerful voice supported by the high octaves of young girls and boys.  Or perhaps the song presents itself as innocent because of the image that is associated with it.  I mean, what is there to be alarmed about when you see a jolly, well-rounded, red-cheeked old man who laughs and plays with children.  But if we will slow down enough to hear the message, turn the music off and ignore the jolly old man, I believe we will find that the message is not so innocent: “If you want presents, you have to do enough good things to stay on the nice list”

We’ve heard this before from so-called-preachers: “If you want to receive the inheritance, the blessings, – the presents, you have to perform nice things.  And here is a list of the nice things – now, don’t pout, don’t cry – just do the right things.” That’s legalism!  The message that you can present yourself acceptable to God based on the merits of your good works is a message that is found in religions, songs, books, cultures, and just about anywhere where man thinks about God apart from grace. But Santa is not the real problem – the real problem is the heart of man that wants to get on God’s nice list by doing enough good things so that he may boast not in the cross of Christ but in his own self-reformation.  Men are legalists because they think God is a legalist.  Mankind loves to make a list of do’s and don’ts outside of the Bible, making some things legal and some things illegal. Then, based upon the track-record of living a “legal” life, you get the goodies and the illegal person gets the shaft.

The true Christmas message is that Jesus Christ loved you, knowing all your badness.  And by faith in his work, not mine, I receive his forgiveness of my sins. And if that is how I came to be in a right relationship with God, because of the grace of His free love, then how could I ever think that God would now deal with me on the basis of my performance in the flesh.

Jesus loved you when you were naughty and not nice.  This truth ought to motivate you to renounce any misrepresentations of God that you have begun to believe.  Your heavenly Father loves you with a love that was not dependent upon any good thing in you or that you would ever do.  Your heavenly Father loved you so that you would be holy and blameless in his sight.

Look at Galatians 1:15b “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace . . .”

Paul states that God separated him for a holy purpose when he was born. All the naughtiness of Paul’s life came after God set him apart and before God saved him, and called him by grace to display Christ in his life.  For Paul it must have been a wonderful thing to say in Gal. 2:20 that “He loved me and gave Himself for me”.  He loved me – the blasphemer, he loved me – the murderer, he loved me – the persecutor, he loved me – the violently arrogant man, he loved me – the lawless, insubordinate, self-righteous man.

The good news for us is not that we were good enough to transfer ourselves from the naughty list to the nice list so that we could receive good things, but as Paul says in Colossians 1:12-14, we are “giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.  He has delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son of His love in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” 

If you are thinking to yourself, “I haven’t been good enough to come to Christ”, you are the one that Christ will receive.  Those who think that they are too good to come to Christ will not find Him.  But those who say,  “I have been so bad I can’t get off the naughty list no matter how hard I try,”  Jesus says to you,  “I know everything that you have ever done – come to me,  though your sins are many and your heart is stained with years of guilt I will make you white as fresh snow.”

Suggestion: Sing a New Song because Jesus is not a legalist but a Lover!

He knows that you should be sleeping (when you’re awake)

He knows that you should be awake (when you’re sleeping)

He knows how terribly bad you are

But he’s good to you for His own sake

Oh! You ought to cry out,

“Mercy for Me”

Shout it out loud

“Grace Set Me Free”

Jesus is not a legalist

But a lover