In my previous blog post, I covered four ways in which an open-air preacher can be a glory thief. First, we rob God of His glory when we accept rather than deflect praise. Second, we are glory thieves when we praise other open-air preachers without referencing God. Third, we steal God’s praise when we try to solicit praise from others. Finally, we take away God’s honor when we engage in false humility. In this post, we will examine the last four actions that steal God’s glory.
5. We rob God of His glory when we take credit for conversions.
Ephesians 2:8 states that salvation is a “gift from God.” Through the preaching of the Word by regeneration of the Holy Spirit, a sinner is miraculously born again. God rips out their heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh. While God has ordained men to preach the gospel so that people will be saved, our preaching does not cause regeneration. This is the Holy Spirit’s work. We rob the Holy Spirit of His glory when we boast of conversions as if we caused the person to come to Jesus. This comes out when a preacher has a running tally of conversions as if it is a notch on his belt. We must not take credit from the Holy Spirit for whom credit is due.
Our example is the unworthy servant in Luke 17:7-10. The servant who is off out in the field plowing or keeping the sheep comes in to serve his master. He provides a meal and will eat later once his master is finished. Does this servant deserve praise, honor, and glory since he is simply following the master’s orders? Jesus answers in verse 10. “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” If you are preaching the gospel on the streets, then praise God! However, you are simply following our Lord’s command to make disciples of all nations. I praise the Lord for your faithfulness, but it is the Lord who should be glorified.
When you are tempted to be puffed up with pride for the conversions in our outreaches, remember our Lord’s words from John 11:4. “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus allowed Lazarus to die so that He would be glorified through Lazarus’ resurrection. In the same way, Jesus allows us to participate in the salvation of sinners, so that He would receive the honor for saving the lost.
6. We rob God of His glory when we have unrighteous anger towards the apathetic.
There are few things which test the self-control of an eternally-minded man than apathy. Multitudes of people walk up and down the streets thinking about shopping, dinner, the football game, or their vacation plans. Yet, they have not considered how they will one day die and stand before the living God who is a consuming fire. When they walk by the preaching of God’s glorious Word which exalts Jesus Christ for His free offer of salvation, they do nothing. The apathetic person continues to live life as if death will never come.
As an open-air preacher, I am tempted to become irate. How is it that they will not listen? How are they so blind to their spiritual condition? How do they live as if death is a mirage? If you are like me, you may even become sick of preaching to the lethargic. You tell yourself that they do not deserve to listen to this good news. You just want to grab them and shake them out of their apathy. Has there been a time when you just stopped and packed up for the day due to your anger?
When we have unrighteous anger towards the apathetic, we forget the grace of God which opened our eyes. We rob glory from God for our conversions. We are not better than them. Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” We too were apathetic towards the glorious riches of the gospel. If not for God’s gift, then we would walk by the preaching and do little more than yawn.
When we are tempted to steal God’s glory for converting us, then remember Paul’s writing to Titus. Chapter 3 and verse 3 states, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Paul never forgot that he would still be a persecutor of Christians if God did not set His grace upon him. When we preach, we must remember that but for the grace of God we would be apathetic too. When we forget this truth, we steal God’s glory from our conversions.
7. We rob God of His glory when we tell outreach stories as if they are fish tales.
As open-air preachers, we generally enjoy fellowshipping at a restaurant after completing an outreach. On several occasions, the conversation will center on a specific doctrinal issue or a personal life situation which needs counsel. However, there are occasions when preachers will compare stories from past outreaches. This can turn into a competition over who has been persecuted the most. It is like a fish story which men tell at the coffee table. They bring up fishing expeditions from the past in order to show who is the manliest or has caught the largest fish.
In a similar vein, open-air preachers do this when their stories try to boost their credibility among the brethren instead of resulting in praise for God. In 1 Peter 1:7, Peter wrote, “So that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As evangelists, our faith will be tested through the trials of persecution. The details may be different, but we share in being vilified for proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. When we tell these stories, may our goal be to bring praise and glory and honor to Christ. Refuse to give into the temptation to make you the hero of the story. Instead, make Christ the hero since He protected you from the trials of persecution for His glory.
8. We rob God of His glory when we have unnecessary division.
When ministering with other brothers, there are appropriate times to divide. If a preacher has fallen into the error of Pelagianism (denying that humans are born with a sin nature), then you must part ways. If a brother refuses to come under the authority of a local church by becoming a member, then you must warn him and move on. If a preacher continues to listen to heretical televangelists despite your warnings, then you can no longer partner together. While these division are necessary, others are based upon pride, personality differences, or immaturity.
Romans 15:5-6 says, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Paul exhorts the Romans to live in harmony. By doing so, it will lead them to glorify God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ with one voice and not many. The opposite would be true as well. When we divide over unnecessary reasons, then we are not able to glorify God with one voice. We do it with many. This robs God of the glory of seeing His servants united in praising Him. Our preferences become more important than glorifying Jesus Christ.
If you have separated from a brother, what was the reason? Was it over bad doctrine? Or did he rub you the wrong way? Were you fighting over who would be the leader of the outreach? Did you have a miscommunication which led to a dispute? Did you offer forgiveness and reconciliation? Or did you move in bitterness? If you are a younger man, did you split from an older mentor because you were tired of being told what to do? Or you did not like his methodology? Did you stop because he gave constructive feedback on your sermon? Or he told you that you should not preach until you matured in the faith by conquering certain habitual sins?
There are many wrong reasons for division but there is only one who deserves all praise, glory, and honor. As ambassadors of Jesus Christ, may we not forget that our end goal is to bring glory to our Lord and Savior. May 1 Timothy 1:17 be the cry of our hearts so that we are not guilty of being a glory thief:
“To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
The eighth commandment states “You shall not steal.” When we think about applying this precept, our minds usually go to material possessions. God forbids shoplifting from the department store, robbing banks, committing grand theft auto, stealing a person’s identity, and refusing to give to the church. The more studious will relate it to stealing time at work by showing up late, stretching out your lunch break by five minutes, or surfing the internet on the company’s time. Besides stealing time from an employer, we are guilty of robbing time from God when we skip church, fail to spend time reading the Bible, and do not commune with God through prayer.
While these offenses are serious, there is one application in which we are all guilty, especially as open-air preachers. We are prone to steal God’s glory. What is God’s glory? In this article, I am referring to the definition from the BDAG Greek lexicon. It states, “Honor as enhancement or recognition of status or performance.” It can be translated as “fame, recognition, renown, honor, prestige…” A glory thief steals the honor and praise that God deserves by making himself the object of God’s glory. He promotes having other people give praise and honor to him at God’s expense.
One of the best examples in the Bible of this sin comes from Acts 12:20-25. The people of Tyre and Sidon requested a peace treaty with Herod since his dominion supplied them food. On the next day, he gave a speech. The residents responded by saying, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” They gave Herod the glory and praise that is only reserved for God. He did not stop them but accepted it. This sealed his judgment. Verse 23 says, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” God sent an angel to kill Herod as punishment for robbing His glory. We must take this example seriously, so that we do not commit the same sin.
As open-air preachers, our ministries are public. Through preaching in our communities, interacting on social media, and posting videos on Facebook, there are many temptations to pursue our glory and not God’s. Over the next two posts, I will examine eight ways that we can break this commandment. In this first post, we will cover the following four instances.
1. We rob God of His glory when we accept rather than deflecting praise.
Herod gladly received the approbation of the people. If he truly feared God, then he would have stopped the people immediately and said, “Do not praise me, a mere man. Direct your praise to God who created me!” Herod’s pride led to his downfall. For accepting God’s glory, God sentenced him to death.
Open-air preachers have many occasions to receive praise too. When a fellow Christian who passes by your preaching stops to thank you, do you immediately direct it to God? When a fellow open-air preacher praises you on Facebook on a video of you preaching, do you deflect it? You could respond online by saying, “I praise the Lord for any good that comes from my preaching and for the gifts He has given me to communicate His truth.” When fellow church members encourage you after you give an update on a specific outreach, do you direct their praises to God? Or do you accept it because your heart is warmed by the praises of men? If this is you, then you are a glory thief.
Remember brethren that Jesus Christ is the only one who deserves to be glorified by men. In fact, angels and saints praise Him every second of the day. Revelation 5:11-12 says,“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
Whenever you are tempted to steal God’s glory, look with your spiritual eyes to heaven. Observe the multitudes of heavenly hosts who are singing praises to the Lamb.
2. We rob God of His glory when we praise other open-air preachers without referencing God.
Points 1 and 2 form different sides of the same coin. We previously reviewed praise from the recipient’s perspective. Now we will look at the one who gives glory to another person. In our first example, Herod could not have received glory if the citizens did not give it to him. The people robbed God of His glory by giving praise to Herod as if he was God. Their disobedience laid a trap for Herod to sin.
As advocates for open-air preaching, we can unknowingly set a similar trap for our brothers in Christ. Think back through your words of encouragement or comments on Facebook. Were they man-centered or God-centered? For example, did you compliment a preacher by saying, “You are an excellent preacher!” Or did you say, “I praise God for giving you the gift to preach!” Can you guess which one is God-centered?
When we leave God out of a compliment, we subtlety withhold the praise that He deserves for creating and gifting that individual. Revelation 1:6 says, “And made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” God is the one who made us to be kingdom of priests. We did not create ourselves. Second, by centering our honor on man, we fail to remind our brother that he can do nothing apart from the grace of God. This feeds his pride and will puff him up.
If you desire to learn more about giving God-centered compliments, I recommend the book, Practical Affirmations: God-Centered Praise of Those Who Are Not God by Sam Crabree. He reviews Paul’s praises to the churches in his epistles as a guide on how we can affirm our brothers without stealing God’s glory.
3. We rob God of His glory when we try to solicit praise from others.
John 12:43 states, “For they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.” Many Jews failed to confess Christ, because they were afraid of the Pharisees. They did not want to suffer synagogue discipline by being put out. In the end, they desired to have the praise of the Pharisees instead of giving it up to obey God.
With social media, there are myriads of ways to be a self-promoter. Take an inventory of your heart. Why do you post messages on Facebook about your upcoming outreach? Is it to request prayer? Or are you seeking a “That-a-boy!” from another open-air preacher? When you post a video of your preaching on the street corner, are you trying to witness to your unconverted friends? Is your goal to see Christ glorified? Or are you trying to get people to comment to stroke your pride? Do you want people to think that you are a bold, passionate, fearless, godly preacher? Or are you trying to encourage other men to go seek and save the lost?
Brothers, we must remember that our goal is to pursue conversions, so that all people will praise Him. Philippians 2:11 says, “And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” One day, every person from all ages of time will confess the name of Jesus Christ, and this will bring glory to God the Father. Many of these people will be lost. However, God will still be honored on the judgment day. Whenever you are tempted to post a video on Facebook in order to gain praise, think of this verse.
4. We rob God of His glory when we engage in false humility.
False humility is the attempt to present a humble, God-glorifying exterior while the prideful self-seeking heart pursues praise for displaying a humble appearance. The Pharisees were experts in this type of behavior. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus exposes their false humility.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The Pharisees practiced outward religious deeds so that they would be praised. Jesus calls them hypocrites since their hearts did not worship God but themselves. Their behavior tried to encourage bystanders to worship them too by praising them for their “religious works.”
As open-air preachers, we can commit this sin in two ways. First, we put on a facade of religious deeds. We are tempted to talk in a more Christian way when we are around other believers. We post blog articles talking about the exaltation of Christ and the wickedness of man’s heart while our desires are focused on the flesh. An open-air preacher can even take the advice from point two to praise other men in a God-centered way in order to appear to be godly. While these outward actions are not wrong, it is false humility if the motivation is for self’s glory instead of God’s praise.
Second, we sin by speaking poorly of ourselves and our ministries, so that a brother will praise us. Some men are more sensitive to becoming introspective. In their eyes, they can never do anything right. This comes out in their description of their preaching and ministries. They bemoan their speaking abilities. They groan about the fruitlessness of their outreaches. At the end of the conversation they may say, “I can do nothing useful for God.” The brother listening will have compassion for him and will encourage him. However, the open-air preacher may be participating in false humility, so that his brother would commend him. This evangelist may be sincere, but this is a form of pride. The underlining assumption is that they should be better. Yet, the Bible says that we are nothing without Christ. If you are tempted to lament for the purposing of receiving glory, then please repent. This is the behavior of a glory thief.
Every December this question is debated: Should parents tell their kids that Santa Claus is real? Throughout this debate, two arguments have been made in opposition to this question. First, Santa is not real. If you tell your kids that he is, then you are lying to them. This action breaks the ninth commandment. Second, Santa Claus steals the glory which is due to Jesus Christ. The kids look forward to presents from him instead of marveling at the incarnation of God to save sinners. The result is that Santa’s shadow puts the Light of the world in the dark.
While these arguments are persuasive, I want to present a third reason. Promoting this tradition deifies Santa Claus. The incommunicable attributes that belong to God alone are given to an imposter. Santa Claus’ character eerily resembles God’s attributes. To make my case, I will examine a classic Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Since it has been a popular song for generations, the song has informed many about Santa’s qualities. I will compare the lyrics to the Scriptures to evaluate how Santa has been deified. As you will see from my conclusions, it is unwise and idolatrous to promote the myth of Santa in your home since it takes the attributes of the one true God and bestows them to a fictional character.
1. A Book with Names
This classic song contains the following phrase, “He’s making a list. Checking it twice.” Santa has a list separating children who are naughty from the kids who are nice. The Bible alludes to a book with names contained in it too. Revelation 21:27 says, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” A person must have their name in God’s book to enter into everlasting life with the Lord.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you are awake.” The song teaches that Santa is omnipresent. He sees a child as he sleeps in his bed. He knows the hour that the child goes to sleep and the moment when the boy wakes up. This cannot be explained away based on having the north pole elves. Santa is the one who sees the child. Therefore, he must be everywhere to see every child simultaneously.
Second, Santa has the impossible task of visiting every house in the world in one night. How can he visit possibly seven billion people if he did not possess the attribute of being everywhere at the same time?
When we turn to the Bible, it teaches us that only God is omnipresent. Psalm 139:7-10 reinforces the point.
7 Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
By promoting the Santa myth, a person should use this Psalm to describe Santa. No one can flee from Santa’s presence. As a result of buying into the Santa narrative, we take away the unique quality that God alone is omnipresent.
Santa knows everything about everyone. The next lyric in the song states, “He knows if you have been bad or good.” Since Santa is omnipresent, then he knows all the details of our lives. On this basis, he determines if a person has been bad or good. Santa must have an extraordinary mind to keep track of the infinite bits of data for the entire world population. He must have a god-like ability to keep tract of the actions for every person for 365 days.
In a parallel manner, God is omniscient. Hebrews 4:13 says, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” God observes everyone’s thoughts, words, and deeds for the purpose of judgment. A person does not risk losing a present, but they could lose their soul in the Lake of Fire.
4. Total Depravity
This Christmas song teaches a theology of man. “So be good for goodness sake!” It assumes that children have the moral ability in them to be good. Therefore, do it! In theological terms, the song promotes Pelagianism. A child does not need to cooperate with grace (Semi-Pelagian) or be the object of irresistible grace (Augustinianism) to be good.
The Bible advocates the opposite understanding. Romans 3:10 states, “None is righteous, no, not one.” Titus 1:15 shows that man is defiled. He is not inherently good. “To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” Promoting this myth only reinforces the great deception that all men are good.
5. Prophetic Return
Every year Santa Claus returns to town from out of the clouds. “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Santa’s prophetic return is foretold year after year. While we know the date, a child does not know the hour. But he can be assured that the old man with a white beard will come if the boy has been good.
God promises that Jesus Christ will return too. Matthew 24:44 declares, “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” In the Santa myth, we prepare by being good throughout the year and by providing milk and cookies by the Christmas tree. In contrast, the Bible warns us to prepare for Christ’s second advent by coming to Him in faith and repentance.
This Christmas jingle teaches salvation by faith plus works. A child must believe that Santa is real. If he does not believe, then he will not be on the nice list. However, the salvation of Christmas presents is not based upon faith alone. A child must be good. Faith plus good behavior provides presents for the child. If a child is naughty by pouting and crying, then Santa will not visit his house.
Paul instructs us from Ephesians 2:8-9 that salvation is based upon faith alone. “8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” God’s ways are antithetical to the idolatrous religions of man. Every false religion requires human merit to obtain everlasting life. By encouraging a child to embrace the Santa myth, a parent is unknowingly instilling a salvation by works system into their child.
7. Motivation for Obedience
The motivation for obedience in this Christmas classic is self-centered. If a child obeys, then he will get presents. The child does not love Santa for his character and worth. Instead, a child loves Santa in direct correlation to the value and quantity of his gifts.
In Christianity, our primary motivation is God-centered. Our motivation is love. We respond to the love that God has shown to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus died for us despite our rebellion and hatred towards Him. As 1 John 4:19 explains, “We love because he first loved us.” We respond to Christ’s initiation of love by loving Him for who He is and what He has done.
After reading this list, some of you may still hold reservations. You may be thinking, “You are taking the Santa tradition too seriously. It will not do any harm. It is a fun game. It makes Christmas more exciting.” If I still have not convinced you, then let me make one final appeal. Does celebrating Santa cause your child’s heart to rejoice in Santa more than Jesus Christ? Is there more love and excitement for St. Nick? Does your child value Santa’s presents more than Christ’s gift of eternal life? If this is the case, then your child is worshiping Santa as if he is god. The deified Santa rules in your child’s heart.
The Scriptures teach that our hearts should be set on God alone. Psalm 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.” What better day than Christmas to sing praises to God with a whole heart and not half-heartedly! What greater occasion to recount Jesus’ Christ’s atonement for sinners!
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.