America is a Santa Clause culture. God is viewed as Santa Clause, giving gifts to ‘good girls and boys.’ Our government is viewed as Santa Clause, bestowing blessings upon good citizens and rewarding upright, profitable behavior with tax breaks and incentives. Even our children view their parents as Santa Clause, expecting those parents to provide the latest gadget and gizmo or pay for college if the children get good grades in school and stay out of trouble. The problem with this perspective is that our culture has shifted to the point that goodness is expected to always bring reward. Goodness is not done for goodness sake but because it will give me something in the end.
The root of this problem does not lie in Santa Clause, although the song about Santa Clause shows that the problem exists there too. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good, for goodness sake.” Trouble is, the song does not truly call for listeners to be good for goodness sake but to be good so Santa Clause will give you gifts. Therein is the issue–we expect a return on our investment of goodness!
One might be excused for thinking that this perspective can be found in the Old Testament as well, such as “Honor your Father and Mother…so that you may live long in the land I am giving you.” But we forget that in the Old Testament the curse was “if you don’t, I’ll send you out of Israel as slaves and curse your land.” Imagine if that song about Santa Clause was “be good for goodness sake or I’ll strike you with boils, keep you from having children, kill off your livestock, and make you a foreigners slave.” That doesn’t seem to rhyme either. Scripture actually teaches that the motivation for striving after goodness comes from the Fear of God, the God who curses the wicked and blesses the righteous. Be good, or be judged!
In the New Testament we see an even more amazing paradigm at work. Humans can’t be good enough to please God, so God sent His son to be good for them (2 Cor. 5:21). Those who believe in that Son, Jesus Christ, are declared ‘good’ in God’s sight. They then strive to ‘be good,’ not to earn something, since Christ already earned everything for them, but in an effort to give glory to God for His amazing gift of salvation. The return on investment of ‘being good’ is not that we as the creatures get something but that the creator gets glory and honor for His goodness and love in saving human beings.
So don’t be good for goodness sake, don’t be good to get something in return, be good to honor the one who declared you perfectly good in Christ Jesus.