We’ve been subconsciously taught that Santa gives us gifts accordingly–whether we’ve been naughty or nice. If there was such a list, our gift wouldn’t actually be a free gift but something we earn for doing good things for others.
During Christmastime, when we make donations to charities (e.g., Salvation Army bell-ringers, pack Christmas shoeboxes, etc.), we give with the intention that it’s a free gift–no strings attached. We might feel like a saint after doing a good-deed-for-the-day but it doesn’t give us joy.
A letter to Titus speaks of righteous things we do. In Titus 3:4-5, Paul said,
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (NIV)
Some of us might like to think of our salvation like a naughty and nice list: “If I can do just enough good in the world like helping the poor and disadvantaged, maybe God will overlook all the shameful and wicked things I’ve done.” Let’s be honest, many of us may have had thoughts that God works on such a spreadsheet, maybe even some of us long-time church people. Why? Because we want our good deeds to count for at least something. Otherwise our efforts doing good deeds would be wasted.
If God were to really keep a running list of all the naughty things and nice things I have ever done throughout my life, I might be ashamed of the imbalanced tally of certain unnamed things. The truth is that following the law is incapable of making us righteous–only the gospel can do this.
Following such a list can steal the joy that Christ gives because we have to work too hard to earn God’s approval. Christmastime is all about the joy that Christ came to give us free, un-earned acceptance from God. Unlike happiness, joy doesn’t depend on good things that affect us externally. For Christians, our joy comes from knowing that God’s righteousness and mercy has made us righteous in God’s sight.
God’s gift of making us righteous was always intended to be a free gift for every human being. God doesn’t care where we are from, where we were born. Whether we are a person living in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe, etc., God’s gift of unconditional love and forgiveness is free. When we understand that “free” really means FREE, then we are truly free to do good and nice things for others.
Paul encourages all of us to do good in Titus 3:8,
“And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”
May we never stop doing good. I’ve discovered the freedom of doing good works. Now I do it because I’m not compelled to do it to get on God’s “nice” list. I am now free to do it! So spread the joy! Donate to your favorite charities. Serve in church. Give of your service all year-long to your non-profit organizations. Freely give of your time and energy to help others in society.