Developing Christian Goodness
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things.” (Galatians 5:22–23, CSB)
As we continue in our study of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, we come to the fruit of goodness. Remember that the love of God brings the joy of God that leads to the peace of God that builds in us the patience of God that outwardly shows as the kindness of God. Goodness is connected to kindness.
In the beginning of our English language, the word “good” carried the same connotation as the name “God.” In Jewish tradition, the title, “The Good” was actually used for God. Goodness may appear to be the most obvious fruit but is in fact, often misunderstood and even maligned. Our culture tends to make fun of those who are “goody-two-shoes” kind of people. While love, joy, and peace step up to the plate and hit home runs, goodness does its best to just get a single. Many don’t consider it very important or even desirable today.
Part of our problem is that we’ve overused the word. We say that we had a good vacation, a good cry, or a good meal. This morning I want us to look at how the word “good” is used in the Bible. In particular, I want to focus on an encounter Jesus had with a man who considered himself to be very good from Mark 10:17-22.
After watching Jesus pick up little children and bless them, a wealthy man ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees, and as he tried to catch his breath said, “Good teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
Jesus turned to the inquisitive man and asked, “Why do you call me good? No one is good – except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
The man did a quick inventory and said, “I’ve kept all these since I was a boy. There’s got to be more. Is there something that I’m still missing?
Surprisingly, Jesus did not argue with him or point out that he couldn’t possibly have kept all these commands. Instead, he looked intently at him with eyes of love and then said, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, his face fell. He walked away sad because he had a lot of money.
I see three main truths from this passage that will help us glide toward goodness.
- God is good
- We are not good
- Goodness comes as a result of following Christ
God is Good
“As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”” (Mark 10:17, CSB)
The young rich ruler starts out by calling Jesus “good.” Jesus stops him and says, “Why do you call me good when only God is intrinsically good?” His answer must have surprised the man because at first glance it had no connection with the man’s question. Instead of answering his inquiry, Jesus makes the man realize the essence of goodness as exhibited in God.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his faithful love endures forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34, CSB)
“You are good, and you do what is good; teach me your statutes.” (Psalm 119:68, CSB)
God is good…all the time.
The young man had addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Perhaps he was trying to compliment or flatter Him. In the definitive sense of that word, Jesus could not be “good” if He was a mere mortal man. Only God was good and that could only mean one thing. Jesus could not be good unless He was also God. Some liberal commentators have suggested that this is one clear occasion when Jesus denies his deity. Actually, Jesus is equating himself with God, “If you know what good really means, you’ll understand that only God is good. Therefore if you call me good, then you’re calling me God. Are you prepared to acknowledge who I really am?”
We Are Not Good
““Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone.” (Mark 10:18, CSB)
Jesus was also making the point that this young man was not good. Only God is. His concept of “good” was mistaken. It clouded his perception of Jesus and it clouded his understanding of himself. Until he could see that Jesus was God incarnate who demanded his complete allegiance, and until he recognized his own sinfulness, he could not truly find the eternal life he was searching for. In short, he thought too little of Jesus and too much of himself. He overestimated his own goodness and grossly underestimated who Jesus was.
It was a common belief in that time that someone had to do something to earn eternal life. That’s still pretty popular today. Many believe that God will add up their good works and their bad works; and if the good outweighs the bad, then they will get into heaven. Friends, we can’t truly find eternal life until we see that we fall far short of God’s standards of goodness and until we recognize that Jesus is God Himself, sent to redeem us from our sins by dying as our substitute on the cross.
The young man thought that he had kept all of God’s standards for goodness and was able to say that he had not committed adultery or murder, that he had never stolen or lied, and that he honored his father and mother. While he may have kept these commands, Jesus is about to show him the true state of his heart.
“All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 14:3, CSB)
Psalm 14:3 says that “there is no one who does good, not even one.” This passage is quoted by Paul in Romans 3:12 and expanded in Romans 3:23 when he writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
“All have turned away; all alike have become worthless. There is no one who does what is good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12, CSB)
“For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” (Romans 3:20, CSB)
While this man was trying to justify himself by pointing to his outward obedience to the law, Romans 3:20 makes it very clear that “…no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”
The purpose of the law is to serve like a mirror that reveals our blemishes and sins so that we see our need for Christ. He may have kept some of the commandments, but it was impossible to keep all of them, all the time. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “That’s really good that you’ve kept these important commands, but you’re still missing out on how to have eternal life. There’s no way you can be good enough to get to heaven. Let me show you what I mean. Sell everything you have and give it to the poor.”
Jesus is showing the man that he had broken the first and second commandments by making money his master. Shekels were his savior and gold was his god. He may also have broken the commandment against coveting as exhibited in his unwillingness to give his money to those who really needed it. The sin of covetousness is subtle and difficult to detect, and yet it can cause a person to break all the other commandments. 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
Goodness Comes as a Result of Following Christ
“Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”” (Mark 10:21, CSB)
“Jesus looked at him and loved him.” Isn’t that amazing? This man loved his money more than anything else and yet Jesus still lavished him with love. Jesus could have told the man he was wrong or judged him or rolled His eyes at him. Instead, He loved him. Wow.
Jesus didn’t love the man because he was good, or because he kept all the religious requirements. Not at all. It was actually just the opposite. Jesus saw that he was trying to do the right things but was deluded. There was no way he could measure up and Jesus loved him anyway.
He does the same for you and me. He sees all of our efforts that fall short. He sees our sins that pile up before Him. And yet, He looks at us with love. Out of this abundance of love, Jesus says, “One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” To be good means to be kind and generous.
This doesn’t mean that each of us have to sell everything we have if we want to be a disciple. Jesus was addressing a very specific need that this guy had, and in so doing, exposed his heart. He personalized the message for him. Because he was rich, he told him to liquidate his estate and give the money to the poor.
Friend, what one thing is keeping you from faith in Christ? What’s keeping you from full surrender? What is that you’re holding on to right now that is getting in the way of you following Christ? Is it money? A relationship? Is it your time? Could it be a bad habit that you secretly enjoy? Just as Jesus pinpointed the root problem for this man, He looks at you with love this morning and says, “This one thing you lack. Let it go, come and follow me.”
This man turned down the gift of eternal life because his fist was so clenched around his money that he couldn’t imagine devoting his life to anything else. When faced with the choice of loving God and others or protecting his possessions, he chose the selfish route. Mark 10:22 vividly describes an individual who is more in love with himself than with God and others: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” The Greek word translated “sad” gives the picture of storm clouds gathering. The man, who had run up to Jesus, now shuffles away while an internal storm ravages his soul.
It’s interesting that Jesus did not go chasing after him. The man was caught in the web of trying to serve both God and money as he realized the truth of Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Money is a marvelous servant but a terrible master. It’s good to have the things money can buy, provided you don’t lose the things that money cannot buy. Of all the people who came to the feet of Jesus, this man is the only one who went away worse than he came.
He had everything that money could buy, and yet he wanted something far more important. He saw it, caught a glimpse of it in Jesus and still walked away. People do this all the time. They recognize that Jesus can satisfy all that they need, and yet they don’t want to fully follow Him by giving up that which they are serving. I can’t think of anything much sadder than that. Are you going to walk away sad this morning or are you going to follow Christ?
Now, how does this passage relate to the fruit of goodness? Only God is good and we are not. We can’t get to heaven by trying to be good because we’ll never be good enough. The only way to be good is to be made good by Christ through conversion. If we want to do good things we must first submit and surrender to the One who alone is good. Then, His goodness will flow through us.
One Thing You Lack
“Looking at him, Jesus loved him and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But he was dismayed by this demand, and he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.” (Mark 10:21–22, CSB)
Before we end this morning, I would be doing you a disservice if you just left here trying to be good. Some of you have not yet put your faith in Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You may be like the young man who sensed something was not quite right and so he came running up to Jesus. His goodness wasn’t near good enough. Jesus told him, and he tells you this morning, “One thing you lack.”
If you have never been born again by receiving Jesus Christ into your life, this is the “one thing you lack.” You may be pretty good. You may even be coming to church. You may be giving some of your money to God. But if you have never repented of your sins and put your faith in Christ alone, you still lack one thing. It’s your choice. God is good. You’re not. But you can be if you follow Christ and submit to His leadership in your life. You can do that right now as we conclude with prayer.