As we continue our series of messages Nurturing A Healthy Heart, based on the Fruits of the Spirit, this morning we come to goodness. How do we define goodness? Let’s listen to how Jesus replies to a question about goodness –
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.
20 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “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.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.
24 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!
25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
Does this passage sound odd to you? There are a couple of unusual elements in this passage. First, is Jesus saying he is not good? And is he asking us, as he does this man, to sell all we have?
This man comes to Jesus asking how he might inherit eternal life. Immediately, Jesus sense the man is asking the wrong question, because he asks what he must do.
This brings us to the first point about goodness that we learn from this passage –
Goodness is not a competition.
We live in a very competitive world. Just wait until football and basketball season start, if you need an example of competitiveness.
Goodness is not a competition.
Recent editions of the Sentinel-News have featured a bit of a dustup between belief and unbelief. A letter from a person who rejects religious belief said it is not necessary to be religious to be a moral person. And he’s correct in that statement. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that even in his rejection of religious belief he is still very influenced by faith and his definition of goodness probably comes from religious belief. The mistake made on both sides of the great chasm that separates belief and unbelief is to argue with one another about who can be moral. It’s not a competition.
We are not out to see if we can be better than everyone else to prove to God that we are more worthy of earning salvation. That’s a fairly easy competition anyway, isn’t it? We can always find somebody who makes us look very good by comparison. I can say well, I’m certainly not like Mother Teresa, but I’m a lot better than the guy next door, or down the street (or maybe in the next seat at church).
This was a mistake made by many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They were very good according to the law, and yet Jesus was very critical of them, and even called them a brood of vipers and compared them to whitewashed tombs, looking good on the outside but containing nothing but death inside.
While that sounds very harsh, it’s more of an observation than it is a criticism. They believed that goodness was solely in a person’s actions.
The man who came to Jesus made goodness sound competitive. What must I do? When Jesus tells him to keep the commandments the man eagerly responds he’s done all that. Come on Jesus, give me something else. What else can I do? Have I done everything?
And then Jesus drops the bomb on him – sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
Would Jesus ask that of every person? I don’t think so. Jesus was trying to make this man understand that if you want to base it all on goodness you’re going down an impossible road, because there’s always going to be something else you can do.
Goodness has to do with who we are.
There is a stereotype of faith that it takes all the fun out of life. It portrays people of faith as puritanical prudes. That really drives me crazy, but that’s what happens when so much emphasis is put on what we do, rather than on emphasizing who we are.
What we do will follow who we are.
The Scriptures seem to assume that who we are is more important than what we do, and that’s because we do what we are. What we do – or don’t do – is evidence of who we are.
Goodness goes to the heart. You can perform good deeds with bad motives, but God is always trying to transform who we are as people. This is why Jesus, in the Sermon On the Mount, talked about our internal lives.
God is looking for transformation.
I have known a lot of saints in my lifetime; people who were such great role models. These saints are people from my childhood right down to the present day.
I used to try to be like many of those people, and that’s a positive thing to do. But they weren’t interested in me becoming like them; they were trying to teach me to be like Jesus. C. S. Lewis talks about this as good infection (Mere Christianity, page 153). It’s like a good virus that sweeps through humanity, as we seek to be like Jesus.
The heart of the gospel is in being transformed. The Scriptures talk about being born again, about putting on Christ, about being a new creation. It really talks more about transformation than it talks about being good, because goodness is an outcome of who we are. If we want to be good, we have to be new and different people.
One of the great examples of this transformation is John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace. A terrible, notorious slave trader, Newton was dramatically converted, and the hymn Amazing Grace bears testimony to the change that came in his life. Perhaps that’s why it resonates with so many people.
Do you want to be good? Be like Jesus.