“Our sins, when laid upon Christ, were yet personally ours, not his,” said John Bunyan, “so his righteousness, when put upon us, is yet personally his, not ours.”
Arthur Christmas and John Bunyan might agree on this point. Well, kind of. At least one scene from Arthur Christmas preaches a better gospel than many well known Christian authors and speakers today. I watched Arthur Christmas with my twins on the big screen last year. We rented it and watched it again yesterday to kick off the Christmas season.
I was struck by a scene, a seemingly insignificant one in light of the rest of the movie, that I had completely forgotten about. Early in the movie the audience is exposed to Santa’s new modus operandi. No reindeer needed here, Santa is flying a state of the art space ship. His elves do more than the prep work, they do, pretty much, all the work. And this leads me to Arthur’s gospel.
Instead of a good and bad list, elves now scan children to see if they are over the good threshold and thus deserving of a gift and not coal. One elf scans a sleeping boy, and when his goodness isn’t quite good enough, he turns the scanner on himself to make up the deficit. And herein is a powerful illustration, not a perfect one, but nonetheless, a picture of “imputed righteousness.”
This wonderful doctrine simply says that in order to be good enough for God, that God had to take our sin upon himself and impute Christ’s righteousness to us. We’re not good enough. And so God turned the scanner on himself. This doctrine is at the heart of the Incarnation.
Graeme Goldsworthy described it this way:
“The gospel is saying that, what man cannot do in order to be accepted with God, this God himself has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. To be acceptable to God we must present to God a life of perfect and unceasing obedience to his will. The gospel declares that Jesus has done this for us. For God to be righteous he must deal with our sin. This also he has done for us in Jesus. The holy law of God was lived out perfectly for us by Christ, and its penalty was paid perfectly for us by Christ. The living and dying of Christ for us, and this alone is the basis of our acceptance with God.”
If you have the sneaking suspicion that you cannot measure up to God’s standards, you are absolutely right. Christmas tells us that we cannot get to God on our own efforts. God has to come to us. And he has come. And in Christ, for those who place their trust in him, the goodness scanner oddly spikes to perfect. Not because of the individual’s faith, but because of the object of their faith.
If you haven’t really considered how you might be made right with God, I pray you will this Christmas season, which is after all, above all things, about the extent to which God was willing to go to in order to make you “good.”
Perhaps you are trying to be “good for goodness” sake. And maybe that’s working out for you. But what if it’s not? What if deep down you know you are falling short of even your own standards. How could you ever measure up to others’ standards, let alone God’s?
There’s only one way: God had to take on human flesh and do what you can never do for your self. When you drive by a nativity scene, or attend a gospel presenting Christmas service, or even watch the movie Arthur Christmas, I hope you think about the Incarnation and imputed righteousness. I hope you think about God’s goodness scanner. And I hope you think about the good news of Christmas, that lowly sinners like me, and like you, can be pleasing to God in Christ:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
(2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)