But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness…. (Galatians 5:22-23)
God will make you good.
Or at least gooder than you are now.
Looking at me, you might want to argue with that. After all, you don’t see a lot of goodness in me. My responses are: a) You should have seen me before and b) you ought to know what I would have been without Him.
Here is what I have learned about goodness through more than a half-century of living as a Christian:
1) Jesus is good. God is good.
2) I’m not. And you are not either.
3) The sanctification process–that growth into Christlikeness which the Holy Spirit initiates in every believer’s life from the moment of spiritual birth and continues until the nanosecond of our actual glorification–involves making us good.
4) You are not the judge of whatever goodness the Lord has managed to perfect in you to this point. Goodness seems to be like humility in this aspect, that the bearer has little idea of what extent he/she has attained this trait.
5) Therefore, there is a sense in which you can regain your virginity. So to speak.
There! Do I have your attention?
Then, let’s go back and work our way through these concepts.
1. Only God is good.
Jesus said that. To the inquiring young man of the quick compliment, our Lord said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good, but One, God” (Mark 10:18).
Had the young gentleman answered, “I know that, and you are God,” I’m confident Jesus would have uttered amazement for his spiritual perception and complimented him on his insight.
The children’s prayer that goes, “God is great, God is good….” is on target. Both are profound and bedrock features of our Heavenly Father.
Nowhere is it written that the Great God who created this universe and peopled it with us was required to be “good” also. So, you might say we lucked up here. We ended up with the best of all possible Gods.
We got the Good God.
2. I am not good. And neither are you.
My heart is a rebel. And so is yours. It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. There is none righteous, no, not one. For all have sinned, and given half a chance, will do so again.
And furthermore, to paraphrase one of the Lord’s chosen from olden days, we’ve not gotten good since the Lord has started dealing with us either. (A reference to Moses on Horeb: “O my Lord, I am not eloquent–neither before nor since you began speaking to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” Exodus 4:10.) This is a point worth making.
Unfortunately, there are among us Christians who think that salvation has somehow made them good. And that’s not good.
Salvation–and all the multisplendored aspects of this work of God in our lives–gives us the capacity to begin becoming like Jesus. But not in this lifetime can it ever be said of us that we are good.
I have a dear friend who is learning to overcome his alcohol addiction through AA. Recently, he received his “90 day pin” (or award or button or whatever it is). During that period, I think he attended 99 meetings of various chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous. He is well on his way to victory, but–and this is the point he will keep learning over and over again–he will never be free of the temptation in this life.
The day my friend believes he has finally overcome the addiction and is free to (ahem) take the occasional drink for relaxation, he’s sunk.
Sin is like that. That’s why the Lord’s churches could well be called local chapters of Sinners Anonymous. Except we are not anonymous. Other than that, we have the same addiction, fight the same cravings, struggle with identical temptations, do the same rationalizations and justifications, and have found the same Source of help.
If you find yourself in a church that either denies this or ignores it, get out quick. As a sin-addict, the last thing you need is to surround yourself with rationalizers and justifiers.
3. The Lord is busy at every moment working in us to make us better…to bear “goodness” fruit within our lives.
God said to Moses, “You have found favor with me.” Knowing an opportunity when he saw one, the prophet said, “Lord, show me your glory.”
Moses was asking for more than he knew. This little man–this puny human–could no more take in all the glory of the Eternal God and survive the experience than a housefly could stand about a half-mile from the sun and enjoy its glow.
So the Lord said to him, “I will show you my goodness.”
The way I get this, the Lord is saying to Moses, “I will reveal to you one part of my glory: my goodness.”
So–you know the story–the Lord hid the man in the cleft of the rock and passed by. Moses heard the Creator’s voice calling out, “The Lord! The Lord God! Merciful and Gracious! Longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth! Keeping mercy for thousands! Forgiving iniquity, transgressions and sin! By no means clearing the guilty! Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” (Exodus 33-34)
God is good. He is patient to a fault (so to speak). He extends forbearance to wrong-doers, forgiveness to penitents, and mercy to whom He chooses. And, as a part of His goodness He punishes wrongdoers. (That last line–visiting the parents’ sins down the line–we will save for another discussion.)
God is like that. And He is making us like Himself.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord (II Corinthians 3:18).
We are becoming like Jesus.
4. We are not aware of goodness within us, even when manifesting it beautifully. Instead, we tend to see how much farther we still have to go to attain the full measure of Christlikeness.
I’m struggling with how to say this. The closer we get to Jesus, the more imperfections we see within ourselves. Not because we become more sinful, but because we see better.
The more Christlike we are, the less we will believe it of ourselves.
I think that’s right.
I said to Marguerite Briscoe, the 75-year-old saintly retired school principal in our church who went about ministering to people and interceding for their needs, “Marguerite, you are the godliest person I know.”
“Oh, honey,” she said, “If you just knew.”
I do know.
I know that Christlikeness within the believer is akin to the glow from Moses when he descended from Sinai, which Paul addresses in II Corinthians chapter 3. Others saw it in him; he was not aware of it himself.
The day I start believing I am “pretty good” or even “very good,” I am in the same kind of trouble as my alcohol-addicted friend when he starts believing himself to be free of that awful lord.
I know that others will see Christlikeness in me if I am living close to Jesus, particularly for a long period. “A long obedience in the same direction” is how Eugene Peterson expresses it.
I know that if someone compliments me for being Christlike or even “good,” I will not take that to heart. I will respond to their words with kindness, but I will not believe it, for–like my friend Marguerite–I know better.
I know how much further I still have to go.
5. Someday I will be like Jesus. When that happens, watch out!
Nothing in our earthly existence even begins to prepare us for what this will be like.
We shall be like Him. For we shall see Him as He is (I John 3:2).
This is a reference to the moment Scripture writers call “glorification.” We are changed. In one incredible instant we go from being human to divine, from physical to something far superior, from mortal to immortal, from weakness to power, from lowly to glorious. (My pitiful attempt to rephrase I Corinthians 15:42-44.)
The Rahabs among us will leave behind the awful memories of moral failures and be made beautiful, pure virgins.
The murderous Davids among us will once more be as innocent as children.
The lying, denying Simon Peters among us will be as though they had never lied or failed.
As for me, I will no longer struggle with impure thoughts, pleasure cravings, and self-centered ambitions that have fought me every step of the way on this long journey to Goodness.
Sometimes, when feeling particularly unworthy and immature and inadequate, I think that the Apostle Paul might have had similar struggles that caused him to long for the Day of Goodness and to cry out, O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)
Paul knew the answer, of course. As do we. God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Amen. Thank you, Lord.