Gliding Toward Goodness

Romans 15:14

July 15, 2001 | Brian Bill

Several people have asked us if we had a good vacation.  We actually had a very good time.  The weather was chilly, but good.  The girls swam several times each day, went on a good boat ride, and had a good time playing in the forest.  Our family went out for some good ice cream and Beth and I were able to go out on a good date, which we followed up with some more good ice cream.  I had some good runs and took each of the girls on a good long walk.  In fact, everything was good because we were in a good state!

The fishing was really good this year.  Things weren’t so good a couple years ago when I took the girls fishing.  I wanted them to experience the whole process so after we caught a bunch of fish, I made them sit down and watch me scale them, cut their heads off, and take all the guts out.  They were totally grossed out and sad because they had named each of the fish!  Then, I had them follow me into the kitchen where I dipped the fish in flour and fried them in hot oil.  They told me they didn’t want to eat them but I told them that it was good for them to have this experience.

Things went downhill fast.  What I thought was good turned out to be very bad.  Tears were flying everywhere.  Let’s just say that our girls will never eat fish again thanks to me!  Now we practice “catch and release” when we go fishing.  We put them in a bucket with water and watch them swim around for about 15 minutes and then we put them back into the lake.  That’s good for the girls and real good for the fish.

As we continue in our study of the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23, we come to the fruit of goodness.  This fruit is closely linked to the fruit of kindness, which Jeff Williams preached on last week – and did a great job!  Let’s read this passage together: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control…”

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.  I’m going to draw a composite picture from the accounts in Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, and Luke 18:18-23, but will focus primarily on Mark’s version if you’d like to follow along.

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

This seeker of truth had everything he needed, or so it seemed.  He was young.  The phrase, “young man” places him between twenty-four and forty years of age.  He was well respected.  And he had a lot of cash.  But he was not happy with his legalistic, performance oriented, graceless religion.  He could sense that he was missing something and he wanted to make sure he was on the right path to heaven.  The fact that he ran up to Jesus shows us that he was earnest.  By kneeling he demonstrates his sincerity.  It’s really quite a picture, isn’t it?  This loaded leader comes running up to the peasant preacher from Galilee.  All his life he had been taught that he had to do good things in order to be saved, but something was bothering him deep inside.

He 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.  1 Chronicles 16:34 puts it succinctly: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”  The psalmist in Psalm 119:68 worships God by declaring, “You are good, and what you do is good…”  

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

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.  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.”

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

I can’t get over Mark 10:21: “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.  

There was no way he could measure up and Jesus loved him anyway

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.  1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

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.

Goodness Illustrated

In order to get us away from trying to keep a long list of rules and regulations, Jesus summarized the entire Old Testament by saying there are really only two things that we must do.  Listen to Matthew 22:37-40: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Let me tell you about another man who, when faced with the choice to love God and others, or serve only himself, made the right decision.  Instead of walking away in a storm of selfishness, the trajectory of this man’s life was radically altered when he decided to follow Christ.  We know that he was wealthy because he came from the island of Cyprus, which was known for an abundance of mines and forests.  He was a landowner.

He was full of goodness because he was full of the Holy Spirit

Listen to how Luke describes his character in Acts 11:24: “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith…”  He was called a “good” man because he was full of the Holy Spirit and faith.  He was a good man because he put his faith and trust in Christ as His Savior and Lord.  He wasn’t good because he was born that way, or because he kept some of the commandments.  Acts 4 tells us that he was a Levite, which meant that he was pretty religious.  And yet, none of that mattered before he knew Christ.  He was full of goodness because he was full of the Holy Spirit.  

His name is Joseph, but you may know him more by his other name: Barnabas.  He was given this nickname because it literally means, “The son of encouragement.”  He was known as an encourager or a consoler.  He was a good man who went around doing good things because the God who is good worked His goodness through him.

Let’s look at 4 ways that the fruit of goodness was displayed in his life. 

1. He surrendered his good money to Christ. 

Acts 4:37 tells us that Barnabas sold his property and gave the proceeds to the church.  He viewed his assets through the eyes of stewardship, not ownership.  A steward is one who owns nothing but is responsible for everything.  While the rich young ruler served his money and walked away from Christ, Barnabas chose to serve the kingdom of God with his money.  

Greedy people don’t really have a money problem; they have a faith problem.  If God is in charge of your money, He’s in charge of your life.  If He’s not in charge of your money, chances are, He does not reign in your life.  Martin Luther has said, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.”  Of the three, many of us find the conversion of the purse the most difficult.  

We don’t know if it was hard for Barnabas or not, but we do know that he sold his field and gave it all to the church.  His actions stand in stark contrast to the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the very next verses.  Like Barnabas, they sold a piece of property but were deceptive about giving all the proceeds to the Lord.  Listen to Acts 5:2: “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.”  They were judged severely for their lying.  Their actions revealed that money was more important to them than their integrity and God’s holiness.  As a result, they were both struck dead on the spot.

One of the best ways to defeat and disarm the money monster is by regular giving.  Many of you know the joy of giving at least 10% of your income to kingdom purposes.  May I encourage you to give on a regular basis?  As God continues to send His waves of blessings, we’ll need increased funding for staffing and ministry needs.  The more we give, the more good that God can do through this church and its missionaries.

2. He served in a good ministry in the church. 

Barnabas was called a good man because he committed his cash to Christ and because he served in the area of his spiritual giftedness.  Look at Acts 13:1: “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon…”  Because he had the spiritual gift of teaching, he focused on teaching when he was at Antioch Bible Church.

Are you using your spiritual gifts here?  The Bible is clear that we’ve been saved to serve.  We’ve all been given different gifts and abilities to be used for good purposes – to fortify the church, to make you fruitful, and to lead you to fulfillment as a Christ-follower.  If you’re not serving you’re short-circuiting God’s design for the church, and for your life.  

Galatians 6:9-10: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

3. He said good words to believers. 

After Paul was converted, many of the Christians were afraid of him because of how he used to live.  They probably should have been concerned because he was in charge of killing believers.  In Acts 9:26, Paul tried to join the disciples but they wouldn’t let him get close because they didn’t really believe that he was a Christ-follower.  This is where Barnabas comes in.  Look at Acts 9:27: “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles…”  

Later, in Acts 15, when Paul and Barnabas were planning a return trip to the churches they had started, they got into some conflict about whether or not they should take John Mark with them.  Paul didn’t want him to go because he had dropped the ball previously.  Barnabas stood up for John Mark and took him under his wing, giving him a fresh start.

The fruit of goodness is exhibited when we focus on encouraging others like Barnabas did.  Can you think of someone who needs a good word today?  Is there anyone who is battered by life right now?  Let me challenge you to say one encouraging thing to every person you talk to every day.  In the midst of every conversation you have, look for a way to express the fruit of goodness through a kind word.  Hebrews 3:13 challenges us to take this real seriously – people need words of encouragement or they may give in to the flesh and squash the fruit of the Spirit in their lives: “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

4. He spoke good news to lost people. 

The first three good things that Barnabas did relate to the “Great Commandment” where we’re told to love God and others.  This last one has to do with the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28:19, where we’re challenged to make disciples of all nations. While Barnabas was serving God faithfully in Antioch, Acts 13 tells us that the Holy Spirit called him to the work of reaching people with the good news of the gospel.  Acts 14:1 reveals that he and Paul spoke so effectively in a town called Iconium “that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.”  In Acts 11:24, after describing Barnabas as a “good man,” who was full of the Holy Spirit and faith; it says that “a great number of people were brought to the Lord.”

Friends, as we walk by the Spirit and mix it up with lost people, we will see a great number of people brought to the Lord!  One of the best ways to let the fruit of goodness out is to share the good news of the gospel with those you come in contact with.  Think of at least one person right now who you can build a relationship with so that you’ll have the opportunity to share Christ with them.  Oh, and be ready in case the Holy Spirit wants to send you to other parts of the world, just like he did with Barnabas. 

John Wesley told Christians 250 years ago: “Do all the good you can.  By all the means you can.  In all the ways you can.  In all the places you can.  At all the times you can.  To all the people you can.  As long as ever you can.”

One Thing You Lack

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.

Last week when we were fishing, we put the good fish in a bucket and threw the bad ones back in.  If they were too small, or if they looked like they were going to die because of “hook trauma,” we just tossed them back in the lake.  One day, Jesus will do the same thing.  He’ll put the good fish in buckets and throw the bad ones away.  Listen to His words from Matthew 13:47-50: “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Here’s the bottom line.  In any church there are true believers and false believers, wheat and tares, good fish and bad fish.  You can hear the words of Jesus and determine to follow Him like Barnabas did.  You’ll then be a good fish.  Or, you can hear what He says and walk away sad like the rich young ruler.  That will make you a bad fish and you’ll end up spending eternity in a place you don’t want to be.

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.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?