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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, March 14 2024

Goodness - a fruit of the spirit

How much we love God is reflected in how we demonstrate self-sacrificing love for others. Goodness does not come naturally (Romans 8:7), but God has a wondrous plan to radically transform our character.

Although our natural inclination is to sin and defy God, He is willing to help us overcome and live a life of righteousness and goodness, made possible by developing a relationship with Him. As the Apostle John explained, "He who does good [as a way of life] is of God, but he who does evil [as a way of life] has not seen God [i.e., has not come to really know Him]" (3 John 1:11). John goes on to explain that those who truly are of God have God living in them through the Holy Spirit: "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit" (1 John 4:13).

Once we have received God's Spirit, we begin to develop the fruits of the Spirit, which reflect God’s character. These fruits, or attributes of the Spirit, are listed in Galatians 5:22-23 as: "love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit of “goodness", as the other fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians chapter 5, is part of God's nature. It often refers to His gracious generosity in providing abundantly for mankind's needs and benefits. It can also refer to God's mercy and patience that allows more time for sinners to repent (Romans 2:4). And in Ephesians 5:9 we see His goodness is also closely associated with righteousness and truth.

The Bible contains God's complete "instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). His standards of goodness are summarized in the Ten Commandments, which are our guideposts for life. Psalm 119:172 tells us that "all Your commandments are [or define] righteousness." If we love God we will demonstrate that love by keeping His commandments (1 John 5:3). Good works always include obeying God's laws.

Jesus wants His disciples to "bear much fruit" (John 15:8) which requires understanding the right thing to do and actually doing it (James 1:22). Simply abstaining from evil and doing nothing is not good enough. Jesus "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38) and, following His example, we should "through love, serve one another…" (Galatians 5:13). Jesus' parable of the sheep and goats teaches that one way we demonstrate our love for God is by how much we exhibit self-sacrificing love for other people (Matthew 25:31-46).

Christ tells us to do good to everyone, even our enemies! "...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you" (Luke 6:27-28). Later He said, "But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same" (Luke 6:32-33).

Jesus is pointing out that doing good to someone who does good to you is not pure goodness. It might just be two people exchanging favors, which can be at least partly selfish. Galatians 6:9-10 exhorts us: "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith [fellow believers]" (Galatians 6:9-10).

God is just as concerned about our heart as He is our actions. James wrote to the early Christians, "Cleanse your hands [actions], you sinners; and purify your hearts [attitudes], you double-minded" (James 4:8). Double-mindedness can mean duplicity and hypocrisy. Jesus hated hypocrisy, which is a false front, being more concerned about looking good to others than in getting rid of the evil within us (Matthew 23:25-28). “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good" (Romans 12:9).

Pure hearts require right motives. Paul said if he did good works without love, "it profits me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:3). Doing good deeds to impress others will bring no reward from God (Matthew 6:1-4). But when the motive is to "glorify your Father in heaven" instead of yourself, doing good works that are seen by others is part of being "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14-16).

One major influence that can impede us from doing good is "this present evil age"—the wicked influences in the culture around us (Galatians 1:3-5), which calls "evil good, and good, evil" (Isaiah 5:20). We are told "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one," Satan the devil (1 John 5:19). That's why we need the spiritual defenses Paul referred to as "the whole armor of God" (Ephesians 6:10-20).

We should be cautious about who we listen to and ensure we are not being deceived by false teachers (Galatians 1:6-9 and 3:1), but our biggest enemy is usually ourselves. Paul often warned about "the flesh," meaning the selfish, destructive and downward pull of our human nature: "The acts [tendencies and temptations] of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God " (Galatians 5:19-21).

There is only one force that can defeat human nature—God's Spirit and the fruit it produces (Galatians 5:22-23), but we have to do our part. Paul instructed us to: "Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh" (Galatians 5:16 and 25). This also includes regular communication with God in prayer. In verse 17, he describes the spiritual warfare that erupts when we try to follow the lead of God's Spirit: "For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want." The ultimate goal of this spiritual war is to bring: "every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). To further understand this, you can read about Paul's personal struggles in Romans 7.

People speak of a life of comfort and affluence as "the good life," but living a life close to God is the truly good life. Paul told the church at Rome, "Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness" (Romans 15:14). We should also strive to allow God to cultivate the good fruit of goodness within us that will lead to the gift of eternal life.