By Pastor Glenn Pease
A young boy had been sent to his room for bad behavior. After awhile he emerged and told his mother he had thought it over and prayed about it. "That's wonderful", said the mother. "If you ask God He will help you be good." The boy responded, "But I didn't ask God to help me be good, I asked Him to help you put up with me." This little guy discovered the path of least resistance. He realized life would be easier if others would just change in relation to him. Let's face it, life would be easier for all of us if people would just tolerate our weaknesses, and put up with our shortcomings. In other words, if everybody else had the fruit of the Spirit we would not have to bother being good. Somebody would have to remain as a pain to give others an opportunity to exercise their fruits.
But since this fantasy is never going to be a reality, the Christian needs to face the fact that goodness is not an option, but an absolute necessity. It is impossible to be Christ like without goodness, the sixth fruit of the Spirit. The subject of goodness is so vast in the Bible it would take hours just to read all of the texts. I counted in my concordance 77 different words and word combinations dealing with the theme of goodness. It is overwhelming to try and convey the significance of this material in one message, but let's begin by seeing that goodness begins in the very nature of God. His goodness is linked to His love, as are all of the fruits.
The only reason there is a relationship between God and man is because God is good. In Psalm 25:7-8 we read, "Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, He instructs sinners in His ways." We see the goodness of God is what makes Him care about sinners and their forgiveness, and their guidance into the truth. Why do we have a Savior? Because God is good. Why do we have a Bible? Because God is good. Why do we have the church for fellowship and encouragement? Because God is good. All the gifts and blessings we have, we have because God is good. If He was only Holy He would have destroyed the world long ago and started over. But God is good, and goodness is love reaching out to give a helping hand to those who cannot make it on their own. The Good Samaritan was good because he helped a man survive who would not have without his help.
Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." Over and over the Bible says the Lord is good, and He expects His people to reflect that goodness in the world. Hannah Whitall Smith, famous for her book The Christian's Secret Of A Happy Life, tells of her discovery of the goodness of God in her other book, The God Of All Comfort. She writes,
"I shall never forget the hour when I first discovered that
God was really good. I had, of course, always known that
the Bible said He was good, but I had thought it only
meant He was religiously good; and it had never dawned
on me that it meant He was actually and practically good,
with the same kind of goodness He has commanded us to
have. The expression, "The goodness of God," had
seemed to me nothing more than a sort of heavenly state-
ment, which I could not be expected to understand. And
then one day I came in my reading of the Bible across
the words, "O taste and see that the Lord is good, " and
suddenly they meant something. The Lord is good, I
repeated to myself. What does it mean to be good? What
but this, the living up to the best and highest that one
knows. To be good is exactly the opposite of being bad. To
be bad is to know the right and not to do it, but to be
good is to do the best we know. And I saw that, since
God is omniscient, He must know what is the best and
highest good of all, and that therefore His goodness must
necessarily be beyond question. I can never express what
this meant to me. I had such a view of the real actual
goodness of God that I saw nothing could possibly go
wrong under His care, and it seemed to me that no one
could ever be anxious again. And over and over, when
appearances have been against Him, and when I have been
tempted to question whether He had not been unkind, or
neglectful, or indifferent, I have been brought up short by
the words, "The Lord is good"; and I have seen that it
was simply unthinkable that a God who was good could
have done the bad things I had imagined."
Bad things happen to good people all the time in this fallen world, but not because God wills it. He, in fact, forbids it, and no one is guiltless who does a bad thing against his neighbor. Jesus went about doing good, and never did a bad thing to anyone. He did have severe words of judgement for the Pharisees, who had perverted the truth of God. They were such religious people, but they were not good. No amount of religion, learning, ritual, or legalistic law keeping is worth a hill of beans if it does not make you good. Jesus blasted all religion that failed the test of goodness. If people are not made good by their faith, their faith is no good. God is good, and what is not good is not of God. That is Biblical theology in a nutshell, and this is to be our guide for evaluating all movements and ideas-are they good?
Before Paul's conversion he was a very religious man. He was learned in the Old Testament law. He was scrupulous in his obedience to the legalistic system of the Pharisees. He was zealous in his promotion of the Jewish faith. Paul had all you could ask for in a religious person, it would seem. He had it all except for one thing, he was not good. He was cruel and hard hearted, and he hurt and killed people who would not conform to his convictions. When he surrendered to Christ as Lord of his life, he had all the virtues he had before, but now he was also a good man. He never again hurt another person for not conforming to his convictions. He did not persecute the Jews as he did Christians. He did good to them as he sought to persuade them that Jesus was their Messiah. He devoted a good part of his ministry to doing good to the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul was converted from being a radically religious man to being a good man in Christ.
The Greek word for goodness is AGATHOSUNE, and Paul is the only one who uses this word in the New Testament. His vocabulary was converted along with his heart, and he had a special love for the fruit of goodness. Paul was converted to Christ and to goodness all at the same time, but not all Christians have this conversion. All are saved by faith in Christ, but they are not good. Many still have prejudices that make them mean spirited toward certain people. The letters of Paul, that comprise almost half of the New Testament, are basically his efforts to get Christians to be good-to be good to one another; to be good to the lost; to be good citizens, and to, like Jesus, go about doing good.
The greatest weakness in Christian history is Christians who are not good. There love for the Bible and for Jesus are not questioned, but they fail to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in relationship to others, and therefore, they are not good Christians, because they are not good. You can be saved by grace yet still live in the flesh, and therefore, not be a good person. A lot of New Testament Christians were not good people. They were prejudiced against either Jews or Gentiles. They were envious and jealous. They developed a party spirit that divided the church. They were power hungry and fought against Paul to get fame and control. Just about every sin you can imagine was a part of the life of New Testament Christians. They were saved but not yet good. Goodness must be a goal for all believer's if they intend to be true disciples of Jesus.
God's goodness saves us. Our goodness does not. Our goodness is a fruit which the Holy Spirit grows in us, when we surrender to Him. If a Christian is not good, it does ot mean he or she is not saved. It means they are choosing to live in the flesh, and not surrendering to the Spirit. Carnal Christians are saved, but not yet good, because they quench the Spirit and live in the flesh. A Spirit led Christian will go about doing good, as Jesus did. Goodness is love in action. It is that which makes Christianity practical, so all can see its value. It makes people good so they are beneficial to society. These are the people who seek to counteract the evils of society. They are the foundation for what use to be called the Social Gospel-the efforts to fight off the social evils that damage and destroy the happiness of people.
Being good does not save anyone, only Christ can do that as they trust Him as their Savior. This led many Christians to oppose the Social Gospel for decades, and some still do, forgetting that the good that Jesus did, also, did not save anyone. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and did many good things for people that did not save them. But it did lead some to get saved because they could tell He really cared about their needs. Love like this convinced them He was one they could trust. But many took His good deeds and rejected Him. So being good, or doing good, does not guarantee people will be changed in any long range way. If you refuse to do good because of this, you are living in the flesh and not the Spirit, for the Spirit is Christ like, and does good because good is the thing to do, whether it leads people to respond properly or not. Goodness does not say, "I'll be good only if I can see the payoff." That is not true goodness, but hypocrisy.
I read of a small town pharmacist who always closed up his drugstore on Sunday, because he believed in keeping Sunday as a Christian Sabbath. Bus as we all know, sickness does not take weekends off, and so people get sick and need medicine on Sunday. He did not hesitate to to open up and fill prescriptions on Sunday. Once a father needed a prescription filled on Sunday for his sick daughter, and after he got it he said to the Pharmacist, "Thank you, now you can go home and get back to keeping the Sabbath." "Oh no!" said the Pharmacist, as he handed the man his medicine. "This is keeping the Sabbath!" That it the spirit of Jesus, who healed on the Sabbath. This made the legalists mad at Him, but Jesus taught by his actions that what matters to God is that we be channels of His goodness in this world.
The reason behind the Sabbath was the goodness of God. He was giving man a break from the toils of life for his health and happiness. It was a day meant for the good of man, and if you could add to their health and happiness by some act of goodness, it was pleasing to Him. God was concerned about goodness, not legalistic conformity. The Pharisees were very religious and they obeyed a lot of rules, but they were not pleasing to God because they lacked goodness.
Barnabas received one of the greatest compliments that can be given to a Christian in Acts 11:24, where it says, "He was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and faith." Barnabas was the man who befriended Paul when all others were afraid of him. He sought him out and gave him a chance to preach in Antioch. He helped Paul get into the ministry of building the church. One good man showing that goodness to a former enemy helped change the course of history for the glory of God. Shakespeare said, "How far that little candle throws his beam! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
In the day of judgement the words all of us are going to want to hear are, "Well done, good and faithful servant.!" We will not long to hear famous servant, popular servant, rich servant, but good and faithful servant. What matters to God is that we are good and faithful. No matter what else you are, if you are not good and faithful, you are living in the flesh and not producing the fruits of the Spirit.
In Matt. 25, Jesus tells the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, which defines what he had in mind by goodness. Those rewarded are those who fed the hungry and gave the thirsty to drink. They showed hospitality to strangers and clothed the needy. They cared for the sick and visited the lonely in prison. In other words, like Jesus, they went about doing good. A good person is simply one who recognizes the world is full of hurting people, and goes about seeking to relieve that hurt where they can. Christians are to be involved in all effort to relieve the suffering of this world. That is the essence of goodness.
How our lives would please the Savior
If we only understood,
What He seeks in our behavior
Is a love for doing good.
On a tombstone in Shrewsbury, England, these words are engraved-
For the Lord Jesus Christ's sake
Do all the good you can
To all the people you can
In all the ways you can
As long as ever you can.
That is to display the fruit of goodness. Like all the other fruits of the Spirit, this one too, is based on the conviction that good will win the war with evil, and in the end all goodness will survive forever, and all that is bad will perish forever.
Goodness is to be a part of our very being. It is not like a bulb we hang on the Christmas tree, but it is to be like one of its branches-a very part of the tree itself. People can do good deeds and not be good people. A Mafia boss can write out a check to help someone out of a jam, but they may have gotten that money by acts that hurt other people. That good act does not make him a good person. Goodness, in order to be truly Christ like, has to grow out of agape love, which is a love that cares about all people and not just those that please you. It is other-centered and not self-centered. It is doing good for the other not just because it makes you feel good to be doing good. The Pharisees wanted to be seen of men and get credit for their good acts. Jesus never did a good act for self glory. Dr. Martineau gives us the gist of the different levels of good. He writes-"To get good is animal; to do good is human; to be good is divine." It is this third level that is the fruit of the Spirit. It incorporates doing good and getting good, but it has its origin in being good, which can only come from God.
This is what Jesus was conveying to the Rich Young Ruler. All three of the Synoptic Gospels record these words of Jesus, which he said to him when he called Jesus good teacher. Jesus responded, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." Was Jesus denying that He was good? No!, He was saying that if you see good in me recognize from whence it comes. It is no mere human virtue. Goodness is a part of God's nature, and if you see it in me, acknowledge that it is of God. The goodness of Jesus was due to His being filled with the Holy Spirit, and allowing his human nature to be controlled by His divine nature. He could have chosen to yield to the temptation of Satan, but he chose, instead, to be loyal to God. The point is nobody is good, not even Jesus, without the Spirit of God. God is the source of all true goodness, and His Spirit alone can produce it in us.
You and I cannot live the Christian life in the flesh. The Son of God Himself could not do it. Jesus could only be good by being filled with the Spirit. He was the perfect man, not by the power of His flesh, but by the power of the Spirit. We need to see this and recognize that we too need to be filled with the Spirit if we expect to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and especially the fruit of goodness.