When we are involved in religion, much emphasis is given to following the 10 Commandments and trying to follow in Jesus’s footsteps by loving our neighbour and showing forgiveness, compassion, patience, humility, gentleness and generally being good members of our community and society.
As we know, being a Christian is a very hard act to follow, especially when we are tempted to do something we know we shouldn’t or retaliate in a very un-Christian manner. We know there have been millions of very good and very bad people in history and there are many levels of both of these characteristics in human beings. However, as humans, and as much as we may try not to, almost everyone falls by the wayside at some point in their lives. We believe God forgives us when we are truly sorry for our misdemeanours and we hope we learn the lesson not to repeat whatever it was.
Graham – with all the temptations that can influence our lives these days, how do you think we can become better people more acceptable to God?
Rev Graham replies:
Thank you for your question, Carol, about the relationship between personal goodness and our acceptance before a Holy God. The first challenge is to try and determine what is good and, secondly, how we may find acceptance before a Holy God?
In the creation account ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1: 31). In Genesis 3 the serpent (the Devil) tempts Adam and Eve to eat from the tree that gave them a knowledge of good and evil which resulted in a broken relationship with God and an expulsion from the garden of Eden.
In the study of Christian Ethics; goodness has two main senses: Morality and Goal
Goodness can be viewed as subjective or objective that has a moral or non-moral aspect to it. Subjectively, those who would consider themselves as Hedonists (pleasure seekers) equate goodness as a search for personal pleasure that transcends any moral code of morality which could be restrictive.
A Humanistic point of view may see goodness as an evolutionary process that changes over time and should not be constrained by any religious writings. Those of a Religious persuasion may say that a particular course of action is good because it is viewed as the will of God. However, such a view is problematic as it is only God who knows what His will is or isn’t and if that is good or not! Subjective moral goodness will depend on a person’s own value system which will vary from person to person.
Objectively, it can be said that any moral goodness is attached to certain actions and qualities that is ascribed to people or an object and, in so doing, is considered and described as good and spiritual. Christian theism opposes subjectivism in that, if we call God good, we might merely be expressing a personal opinion that is looking for God’s approval. A Christian views the concept, creatures, actions and objects of God as a reflection and mirror of the very goodness of God.
Teleological goodness is the pursuit of an end goal that a person or thing fulfils, in a specific form or manner. As individuals we may have a goal of attaining fame and fortune but, in time, such achievements will only fade and pass away. A more complete goal, from a Christian perspective, is to know the indwelling presence of a creator God while alive on earth and then one day look forward to meeting face to face.
There are many areas that Christians and non-Christians agree upon in regards to what constitutes goodness – for example shared human qualities, virtues and morals that are found in ordinary life and have been known as Natural Law. Plato and the Stoics considered God as a model for all human goodness.
Jesus conveyed to His followers the character of God in His words; “be perfect, (good) therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5: 48). The goodness of God is identical to his eternal and unconditional love and, in the Jewish law, imitating God’s attributes so as to ‘be holy as I am holy’ (Leviticus 11: 44) affirms a moral goodness in God.
God Is Good!
Close by to where I live is a bookshop that is called Taste and See – it derives its name from the bible verse found in Psalm 34: 8 ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.’ The intention of God is for us to live a good and upright life acceptable to Him. However, God knows that we are a fallen race as proven so many times in bible stories and therefore we require assistance to be able to measure up to God’s standard of goodness which is only possible through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
God’s goodness is unmerited and a free gift of grace for all to accept and receive. Many believe that we can attain some form of goodness by good works but we all know that it is impossible. The apostle Paul sums up this dilemma very succinctly: “What I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7: 15).
Moses spent time with God and was given the Ten Commandments to act as a moral compass for good living, yet it didn’t provide inner power to fully live them As a result of all the good intentions of the kings, priests, prophets and ordinary believers in the Old Testament, the Lord decided that a New Covenant was required to fully defeat the power of sin and evil and put a new heart and spirit within that to enable our sanctification and holiness to exist on a moment by moment basis.
Jesus Bridges the Gap
In his travels and teachings, Jesus shared the Beatitudes which offered different attitudes for people to live by that could be considered good and acceptable to God. The clear message of the gospel points out that it is only through the incarnation of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that any human goodness may be attained as we imitate the love, gentleness, patience and humility of Christ who is the Word of God and the Image of the Father.
Any form of Christian ethical goodness is only based on a revelation of Jesus as a bridge across the gap between a holy God and sinful humanity that imitates God’s character through love, hope and faith and will always be distinctive from anything compared to it. In seeking to be a better person we have to accept that we are not a good person before God which is the legacy we have inherited from Adam and Eve. If we see Jesus as our Saviour and Redeemer, then in confession of our short comings we may find forgiveness from a Redeeming God that brings acceptance as shared in that lovely worship song: I’m accepted, I’m forgiven by a good and loving God by Roger Mayor.
Objectively and subjectively we have a desire to live a moral goodness that has an end goal. After becoming a Christian, the process of sanctification should never be considered as optional or compulsory. As we imitate Christ, we have the presence of the Holy Spirit who is the ‘other self’ of Jesus. Sanctification can be seen as a harvest of the collective fruits of the spirit active in a Christian life of worship and service (Galatians 5: 22 -23).
We should not strive to be good or do good works so as to feel personally accepted before God. It is in Christ, and with the aid of the sanctifying Holy Spirit, where we find a measure of goodness and acceptance each and every hour, day and year, as exampled in Christian saints gone by and in the powerful witness of God’s living and flourishing church.
So Carol in conclusion the more sanctified we become our vision of God will be clearer and we will radiate God’s love and grace accordingly. The ultimate goal of goodness cannot fully exist in a fallen world, its completeness will only be fulfilled in the kingdom of God to come and any growth in personal humility will be a sign of our moral progress for all people to aspire to.
So may goodness and love (God’s sheep dogs) follow us all the days of our lives until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.