(Originally written 8/28/06)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22,23)
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psa 14:1-3)
Goodness is one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit that I’ve found difficult to understand, thus the lateness of this next installment. One of the toughest things to wrap my mind around is that, if we’re to take the Bible as truth (which I do), we are to believe that a person who doesn’t follow God is incapable of being good. But, how can that be? We all know of many people who are atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans who do good deeds. There are many philanthropists who want nothing to do with Christianity. So, how can the Bible claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in and follow God is not good?
See, this used to be a sticking point for me before I became a Christian. I saw myself as a good person. I hadn’t killed anybody, I tried to be nice to people, and, sure, I told the occasional lie, but that didn’t make me a bad person, did it?
My problem was that I was comparing myself to other people. I put myself somewhere in between Hitler and Mother Teresa, as a lot of us probably do. What we don’t realize is that, being judged under the goodness of God, our goodness accounts for nothing. This point was brought home to me by an effective illustration. This girl was on a farm and happened to see a sheep. She was amazed at how white the sheep’s wool was. At that moment, it started to snow, and when she saw the wool compared to the pure whiteness of the snow, she saw how dingy and gray the sheep really was. That’s how we compare ourselves. We look at each other and measure ourselves against each other’s goodness. “Well, we’re better than our neighbors, who yell at their kids all day long.” “I’m better than my coworker, who cheats on his timesheet.” Here’s the thing. There is none that does good. No, not one. Suppose I handed you two glasses of water. I told you one of them only had a cup of mud mixed in it, while the other had four cups of mud mixed in. Which would you drink? I know I would drink neither and go look for some pure water. Well, we all have some mud in us. None of us is pure. Every one of us has sinned. If you’ve told a lie, if you’ve lusted after someone else, if you’ve hated another person, those are all sins. How many good deeds can you do to counteract those actions? How much water can you add to muddy water to get rid of the mud? You can dilute the mud, but the mud will still be there.
So, if there is none good, how can we possibly cultivate goodness as Christians? Well, that’s the amazing thing. Jesus forgives us of ALL of our sins. He takes the mud out of our lives and makes our water clean and pure again. Unfortunately, since we’re all human, we will stumble, we will sin, and our waters will get muddy again and again. But Jesus is patient with us and He’s willing to continue to make us clean. Some people take this as license to sin continually, since all their sins will be covered. But that is absolutely wrong. As true Christians, as people who have devoted their lives to Jesus, as people who daily take up their cross, the last thing they would want to do is sin, because they know the price that was paid for their salvation, their freedom from the bondage of sin. Why would anyone willingly put the shackles of bondage back on?
One of the most important distinctions about the goodness of the world and the goodness of the Spirit is the intent behind it. People of the world do good things in order to buy their way into heaven. They think that if they do more good than bad, they will be accepted. The question that brings up is, how many good deeds does it take to erase a bad deed? And who’s keeping score? And how does one know for sure that their scorecard has them on the winning team?
Christians do good deeds because it’s what Jesus wants them to do. They don’t need to earn their way to heaven; the ticket has already been paid.
I know these are generalities, and there are plenty of Christians who still try to earn their way into heaven, unwilling to trust that the grace of Christ is sufficient, just as there are some non-Christians who do good deeds for the sake of the good deed. But it’s the bad deeds that will send them to hell, no matter how good they try to be.
Want to see how good you are? There’s a test at www.needgod.com. See how well you do.