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The Fruit of the Spirit is Goodness - Galatians 5:22

Living the good life for God

Galatians 5:22 & 23; Luke 18:18-19; Roman 3:10 & 12; Ephesians 2:8-10; Isaiah 64:6; Titus 1:5-8, 10-16, 2:1-5, 6-8, 11-14, 3:1-8, 14.

Mar 04, 2012 12:00 AM

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According to a slightly biased website (and while ignoring the book, Pilgrim's Progress), the third most widely published literary work of all time, after the Bible and Shakespeare, are the collected works of a writer of 66 murder mysteries which have sold a total of approximately four billion copies.  The author was a woman by the name of Agatha Christie.   Her name comes from the Greek word agathos meaning good.  That a woman named “Good” would make her fortune writing about murder is rather ironic.  Even so, “Agatha” is a good name.  (The pun is intended.)

We come today to number six in Paul’s list of nine attributes of genuine Christianity found in Galatians 5:22 & 23.  Those nine attributes are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Number 6 is goodness.  Like kindness, goodness is more easily observed than defined.  It is difficult to say precisely what constitutes goodness, but thankfully it is seen and demonstrated rather often in Christian circles.  And like kindness, it is also one of the ways in which we express Christian love.

Paul tells us in this text that these attributes which Christians possess are not innate.  They are not native abilities which we can practice at will.  This may be especially true of this practice of goodness because we know we are not inherently good.  That message is taught loudly and clearly in Luke 18 when the rich young ruler approaches Jesus and says:

“Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:18-19 ESV).

What does Jesus mean by this?  Does He mean no one ever does anything that could legitimately be called good?  No.  Obviously, that is not what He means.  What He said was no one IS good except God.   People can, and often do act in ways that may be accurately described as good.  That is because of the common grace of God bestowed on all people, both the godly and the ungodly.

But people, including Christians, are never good because of natural, genetic, innate goodness.  Rather, good works are the evidence that we have a moral nature, a sense of right and wrong.  It is evidence that we are made in the image of God.  We have a natural ability to perform outwardly good deeds without being good, without possessing the kind of inherent goodness that is found in God alone.  

As we all know, Romans 3 speaks of fallen mankind’s lack of inherent goodness: "None is righteous, no, not one; . . . no one does good, not even one.” (Roman 3:10 & 12 ESV).  And while the exact same Greek word is not used here as in Galatians 5, the point is clear that men are not like God who is essentially good.  God, in His person, in His essence, is good.  We are not.  That is what Jesus was saying, and that is what Paul is affirming in Romans 3.

Christian goodness is the product of the Holy Spirit’s influence in the life of a believer.  Only Christians are capable of doing genuinely good deeds with pure motives in a way that is pleasing to God.  This is true because only the Christian possesses the Spirit of God.  When we are motivated by the Holy Spirit to do good things, it is then that we glorify God with our good deeds.  Once again, God moves us to live well for Him, and in some mysterious fashion, we are considered to be good while God gets the glory.  It is a strange and wonderful relationship we have with God through His Spirit.  

So how is it that Christians can ever be referred to as good people?  When God’s Spirit works in us to make us good people.  But sadly, we’re not always thought of in such positive terms by the people around us.  And in some cases, the accusations against believers for behaving badly are legitimate.  We don’t always live as we ought.  Sometimes Christians behave so badly that it causes us to wonder if they are truly born again.

Pastor Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church crowd are a case in point.  They are a disgrace to the name of Christ.  The name of their website is godhatesfags.com.  Some of their sister websites (as they call them) are GodHatesIslam.com, GodHatestheMedia.com, GodHatestheWorld.com, JewsKilledJesus.com, BeastObama.com, PriestsRapeBoys.com, and AmericaIsDoomed.com.  Apparently they have never, ever read Galatians 5:22 & 23 or much of the rest of the New Testament.  

With just a passing glance at their website, you will see that these are some of the most hate-filled people on the planet.  I understand righteous indignation.  I understand God hates sin.  But I also understand we are never in a position to judge and pronounce condemnation upon others.  “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord”, meaning it’s His business to judge and avenge, not ours.  God will repay evil.  God will judge the world.  And before it’s too late, Pastor Phelps may want to take a look at the log cabin in his own eye before he tries to remove anything from anyone else’s eye.  

So with this kind of nonsense being presented by the news media as biblical (or fundamentalistic, Bible-thumping, right-wing, radical) Christianity, it makes it harder than ever for true believers to be seen as good people.  Thank you, Pastor Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church.  You are the epitome of so-called Christian bigotry and hateful intolerance.  You are not part of the solution, you are very much a part of the problem.  May the Lord have mercy on you, open your eyes, and grant you repentance for your self-righteous arrogance and Pharisaism.

So let me repeat the question: How is it that Christians can be referred to as good people?  The Scriptures say no one is good except God, and sometimes even Christians are blatantly and demonstrably very, very bad.  The only way we can be called good is when we are enabled by the Spirit and grace of God to obey His command to do good.  We are good when we do good, and we are repeatedly commanded by God to do good.  In fact, God has even ordained the good things He has commanded us to do.  Look at Ephesians 2 with me.

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. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 ESV)

We are fond of quoting this passage to remind ourselves that we are not saved as a result of good works.  In fact, the prophet Isaiah says all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isaiah 64:6 ESV), or as another version translates it, filthy rags (KJV).  We understand there are no good deeds with which we can gain the favor of God and secure our salvation.  We understand our depravity, our inability to be good like God is good.

So when Paul says we have been saved not as a result of our good works, we agree.  We have been saved by the grace of God alone, apart from works.  But Paul then goes on to say that while we have not been saved by being good, we have been saved to do good, to perform the good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  God has ordained that we should be good people who perform particular good deeds which God planned for us to do even before He saved us.  And, wonder of wonders, when we are good, we get the “credit” because we are the ones actually doing these things, and God gets the glory because He is the one who has ordained it to be so and empowered us to do them.

Look with me at the book of Titus for a moment.  This is a letter to a co-worker of Paul’s on the island of Crete.  Paul is giving him instructions as to how groups of believers, churches, should conduct themselves.  First, Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders who are godly and among other things, good.

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you-- 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Titus 1:5-8 ESV)

Notice Paul says the leaders of the church must not only be good, but be lovers of good, excessively good. Very good themselves and eager to do good.  Then Paul goes on to describe others in the church, or at least some who are around the church family.  Look at verse 10.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 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. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. (Titus 1:10-16 ESV)

These are the people of Westboro Baptist and multitudes of other churches.  These are those who talk the talk but have nothing to back it up.  Their faith is worthless because their faith is workless.  They are not Christ’s and therefore they are not fit for good works.  Nor are they outfitted for good works because they demonstrate by their bad works that they do not possess the Spirit.  Now notice chapter 2.

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. 2 Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. 3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, 5 to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind (literally, good/agathos), and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. (Titus 2:1-5 ESV)

So not only does God outfit us to do good, and not only has He ordained particular good works for us to do, but He even commands us to teach each other to be good.  The older women are to instruct the younger women to be good.  Why?  That the word of God may not be reviled.  Notice Paul doesn’t say, “Teach one another to be good in order to maintain a good reputation as a Christian.”  I think that probably goes without saying.  Rather he says we are to conduct ourselves as good people for the sake of the word of God!  If we behave badly as believers, it has a detrimental effect upon the testimony of the church as a whole, and the Gospel in particular.

Every once in a while when we’re having a casual conversation and we’re talking about some kind of questionable behavior on your part or my part, the question will be asked, “What church do you go to?”  That’s meant to be a friendly and humorous reminder that our behavior is a reflection on our entire church family, and on Christ, and on the Gospel.  Look at verse 6.

6 Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. 7 Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8 ESV)

The word here translated “good” is not agathos.  It is actually more intense than that.  It can be translated “beautiful” or “excellent”.  We are to be admirable in our conduct as believers, and this command is directed here specifically toward young men.  Admirable young men are hard to find these days, even among Christians.  But that is the kind of goodness that is supposed to characterize all believers so that those who oppose would be forced to lie in order to say anything evil about us.  Like they did towards Jesus.

Then, if there is a biblical definition of goodness, verses 11-14 must be it.

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

Last week we saw a zealous display of goodness.  Bethany had a birthday and I (Finally!) had a birthday.   Not only did you provide a cake for us and invite others to join us in the celebration, but because of the good things which God has ordained for us to do, you also asked people to give to Grace Deaf Missions.  Some of you contributed as well.  

Why would you do such a thing?  Because it was good.  Because of the good you want to see happen.  Because of the inherent goodness in taking the gospel to Mexico and to the Deaf.  And, to tell you the truth, I even surprised myself over my own joy in seeing you give to missions instead of giving money and gifts to me for my birthday!  I wasn’t resentful at all!  I was happy!  And that was good!  It was all good.  These are some of the good things God has prepared beforehand for us, Grace Fellowship Church, to do for His glory.

Now look at 3:1

1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 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. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.  These things are excellent and profitable for people. (Titus 3:1-8 ESV)

You would almost think from reading this text that the will of God for us is to be good people.  And you would be right!  We must be good people devoted to doing good because it was a good and kind God who saved us.  Through His goodness and loving kindness in saving us, the Lord Jesus gave us the ultimate illustration of goodness: It looks like salvation by grace alone.  That is the goodness of God toward us, and therefore we should be good towards others.

And finally, in case you missed it before, look at verse 14.

14 And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful. (Titus 3:14 ESV)

Not being good when we have the opportunity to do so is unfruitful, not bearing fruit, the exact opposite of what the Holy Spirit is working in us.  In other words we quench the work of the Holy Spirit within us when we neglect to do good.  We must DEVOTE ourselves to good works!  He says that exact phrase twice within six verses.

Several weeks ago, we had an opportunity to do good and to help in a case of urgent need, to use Paul’s words.  Bob and Bethany had an urgent need for a car.  On the spot, we were able to come up with the money for the downpayment for a car they had been looking at.  Our Benevolence Fund is one way in which we can regularly devote ourselves to just such a good work as that.  

But I want to make a brief comment about this matter.  We all understand that God calls us to be good stewards of the things He has given us, and that is especially applicable to how we use our money.  If we are careless or undisciplined in how we use our money, it puts us in a position where we are sometimes unable to do the good works we ought to be doing because we’ve wasted our wealth on things that don’t matter or things and are unimportant.  Consequently, the good we could have done was impossible.

I believe this is one reason why Paul says we must devote ourselves to good works.  Other things will need to be neglected.  Sometimes we will need to deny ourselves things for the sake of supplying someone else’s urgent need.  And it may be that if you don’t have the finances to help in some situation, you will need to sacrifice your time instead.  Either way, whether it is time or money, devotion to doing good for one another is not optional.  It is the Holy Spirit who is provoking us to do such good things.

Finally, Paul says we must “devote” ourselves to good works.  The Greek word literally means to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set or to make firm, fix establish.  Green, NKJV, ASV - “maintain”.  The sense of the word in this context is that of commitment.  We sometimes talk about “planting the flag” like the Marines who planted the flag at Iwo Jima during WWII.  It symbolized their taking of that piece of ground and their commitment to keep it.

This fruit of goodness which the Spirit of God works in us is not an automatic thing.  It is something to which we must devote ourselves.  We must plant the flag, make the commitment to do as much good as we can for the sake of the word of God and the proclamation of the Gospel.  We must commit ourselves to doing good for one another because of the command to love one another.  We must be zealous for good deeds because Jesus was zealous in His goodness and mercy in saving us.

So we should be asking ourselves a most serious question, “Am I really devoted to good works for the sake of the name of Christ and for the sake of the people He loves?  Am I committed to doing good, even if it costs me time or money or both?  Can the spiritual fruit of goodness be easily seen in me?”  

The fruit of the Spirit is goodness.


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