Can a gift be earned?

Do the messages of Santa and Jesus have anything in common? Why do you give gifts to people you love?

A popular song about Santa Claus warns kids not to pout or cry because:

He’s making a list,
And checking it twice.
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

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!

I’ve even heard parents tease that they would wrap empty boxes and throw them into the fireplace in the days leading up to Christmas when their children misbehaved. I suppose that’s one way to strike fear into the hearts of their kids.

Consider the results of this message, though. If a child does something wrong, they would be inclined to sweep it under the rug or downplay it rather than be truthful and come clean. They would try to highlight any possible good they’ve done in a desperate attempt to earn gifts. Since very few children actually receive coal in their stocking, they would eventually assume that everyone must be good enough to deserve gifts.

Has this corrupt mindset impacted the way people view God and his gifts?

Scripture Paints a Different Picture

The Bible says we’re all on God’s ‘naughty’ list (Romans 3:23). Try as we might, our best efforts are still tainted with sin (Isaiah 64:6). This results in something far, far worse than a lump of coal (Romans 6:23).

That’s why we needed Jesus. He came as our substitute. He wasn’t just good, he was perfect! And he lived that perfect life for you. His righteousness is credited to you (Romans 4:3f). This doesn’t just put you on a ‘nice’ list; through faith in Jesus, you’re on God’s ‘perfect’ list! You can know with confidence that you will live with Heavenly Father.

It gives God great pleasure to give you this gift without any conditions (Ephesians 1:5b-6). One of the greatest joys of being a parent comes from what you do for your child. That little baby can’t earn your love and they don’t have to because they already have it. In fact, trying to earn it would be an insult to the giver.

Imagine your parents gave you an all-expense paid trip to your favorite destination. They did it because they love you and wanted to spend time together. If you quickly re-gifted an old fruitcake under compulsion it not only wouldn’t compare, it would actually diminish the beauty of their gift.

Add Anything to Grace and You End Up with Nothing

Listen to the way the Bible describes the gift of God’s undeserved love:

“If by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace”

Romans 11:6

Either it’s truly a gift without any strings attached or you’ll spend your whole life enslaved trying to earn it and then still fall far short. Either Jesus did it all when he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) or we insist he didn’t do enough, toss away his gift, and try to earn God’s favor on our own. Add anything to grace and you end up with nothing.

Friends, the messages of Santa and Jesus couldn’t be more different. Santa claims to be a jolly ol’ fellow, yet a closer look reveals that he’s always looking over your shoulder. His message makes you a slave, trying to earn favor and yet you can never be sure if you’ve done enough good.

By contrast, Jesus knows us broken as we are, yet it was his joy to be our substitute (Hebrews 12:2). We could never earn his love and we don’t have to because we already have it. His gift is all that we need.


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Additional Questions You Might Have


Did Jesus say that we must be or become perfect?

What is Jesus really saying in Matthew 5:48?


Does God punish people for not keeping his commands?

It’s true that Scripture talks about God punishing people for not keeping his commands. But this is not his default position!


Why should I read the Old Testament?

After all, hasn’t the Old Testament been surpassed by the New? Isn’t it just full of stories from long ago?