Now we come to goodness, the sixth aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. By the way, if you have something against John MacArthur, then you might as well skip this blog for the next couple of days. In his commentary on Gal. 5:22-23 (the passage on the Fruit), he gives a great definition of each of these aspects, and I’m probably going to keep referring to it. Keep in mind that the word in Galatians for “fruit” is singular, not plural: There's only one Fruit of the Spirit, but there are at least nine aspects of it which can be distinguished from each other. So what’s MacArthur’s definition of “goodness”? It’s “moral and spiritual excellence manifested in active kindness.”
I chose today’s passage to jump into a discussion on this subject because it strikes home with a solid point on this virtue. At first it might seem like an odd passage to use, but please bear with me.
If you’re familiar with the Gospels, you probably know the story. A rich young ruler came to Jesus and asked him the question that every evangelist would love to hear: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Now, if we were reading this story for the first time, we'd probably never expect Jesus to respond the way he did, because we never would. Any evangelist worth his salt would undoubtedly start into a recitation of the Roman Road of salvation or some other formula. Not that I’m knocking formulas necessarily, but that’s not how Jesus responded at all. We might also expect him to provide a pretty simple response, like “You want to know what to do to inherit eternal life? Believe in and follow me.” That certainly would've qualified as a good answer, but that’s not what he said either.
Here’s his response: “Why do you call me good? No one is good—except God alone.” Now there are at least three good theories I’ve heard which explain his pretty mysterious response. First, some interpreters say that Jesus was so concerned about the honor of his Father that he couldn’t bear the term “good” being applied to anyone else. It’s certainly true that zeal for his Father’s name consumed him. The other possibility is that he’s trying to get the young man to think a little harder about who he’s talking to. If you follow Jesus’ line of reasoning (No one can be called ‘good’ except God), and mix it with what the young man called him, it might be that he’s subtly claiming to be more than just a human teacher, that he’s claiming to be divine.
The third theory is that he’s attempting to get the young man to think a little deeper about his own righteousness compared to God’s. This certainly would dovetail nicely to Jesus’ further approach in showing the young man his spiritual bankruptcy.
We won’t go into the rest of the story, since we covered it before.
But why do I bring this up? What’s the point I’m trying to make? Whichever theory you hold regarding Jesus’ opening statement, the fact remains that he did say it. In the final and most meaningful sense of the term, only God is good. He’s the standard for goodness. He’s the yardstick against which everything else is measured. And compared to him, everything and everyone else falls short to some degree or another.
Does this mean that it’s always wrong to say that someone or something is good? No. The very first chapter of the Bible tells us that God proclaimed his creation “good” and “very good.” Does it make sense that the Lord makes absolutely no distinction between a good man and a bad one? I don’t think so.
But again, this is talking about relative goodness, not absolute purity. I can be a better man than X in a relative sense. But when compared to the Lord, it’s really not right that the same term “good” is applied to both the Holy One of Israel and me.
Does this mean I’m off the hook, that I don’t need to be concerned about goodness in my life? Um, no. We are called--we are expected--to constantly strive to be morally excellent. We see our Lord as the ultimate goal line. Even though we’re never going to be perfect in this life, we need to continually put effort into being a better follower of Christ, to let his goodness shine though us and out of us. As we spend time with him, talk to him and let him speak to us, be plugged into his Body, and let his word soak into our heart, we will.
And he'll be good through us.
Lord Jesus, I want to be satisfied and not satisfied. I rest in your goodness, but I want more of it. Whatever I need to do, let’s do it.