One of my all-time favorite comic strips is Calvin & Hobbes, following the adventures of a bright but mischievous six year-old boy named Calvin and his stuffed tiger, a.k.a. imaginary friend, Hobbes.
Every Christmas, poor Calvin is a tortured soul, torn between his desire to be “good” so that Santa will bring him lots of presents – and the (at least for a little boy) overwhelming temptation to smack the little girl next door with a perfectly formed snowball.
Often the strip shows Calvin weighing the pros and cons – the “pleasure of sin for a short time” against the possibility of future but unknown rewards. He debates with his friend Hobbes about how good is “good enough” for Santa – if there are any technicalities or loopholes available to him – just how far it may be possible to stick his toe over the line and still get everything he wants for Christmas.
It’s a hilarious debate for a little boy in a comic strip, but kind of sad when you run across it in real life.
I’m thinking of Christians I know who have God confused with Santa Claus.
The rebels, who are always trying to figure out how much they can get away with, what technically constitutes a “sin,” how far they can push it and still stay on God’s good side.
And the grown-up “good girls,” trying so hard to be perfect, please everyone — especially God — and somehow earn His love, acceptance, approval.
I’ve been both, at different times, in different seasons of my life. Sometimes simultaneously. (It’s a neat trick, though I can’t recommend you try it.)
But you know what? We don’t obey God because if we don’t, He’ll take away our presents.
Of course, in His mercy and grace, He’s made it so that obedience is in our best interest. All of His laws either protect us or provide for us.
But He knows we can’t obey them. He remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:8-14 ) They’re there to show us what good is, what right is, what perfect is — and how fall we far short. So that we can also see our need for a strong and mighty Savior. (Romans 5-8)
The truth is that there’s no way we can ever be good enough to earn His love or acceptance or approval. The good news is that we don’t have to. He gives it freely through His Son. In Jesus, it’s already ours.
The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love…
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is His love for those who fear Him;
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on His children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him…
So when — in His strength, by His grace — we choose to obey Him, it’s because we want to.
It’s because we love Him. Because we want to please Him — to honor Him and bring glory to Him — because we’re so grateful for all He’s done for us. Because our loving obedience is the least we can offer Him in return. (John 14:15)